The most difficult moment during Seattle’s candlelight vigil for the victims of the early-Sunday mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando came as the crowd counted the lives out loud.
One, two, three, four … forty-seven, forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty lives lost. “We love you!” someone in the crowd shouted.
The thousands-strong crowd of people that gathered late yesterday at Cal Anderson park—a park named after Washington State’s first openly gay legislator—held candles and phone lights aloft as the numbers echoed across the lawn. It was the moment that many of those in attendance, previously in good spirits, broke down in tears—audible sobbing filling the air. A Muslim family at the front of the crowd embraced a woman in a rainbow windbreaker as she shook and cried.
The scene was visual confirmation of one of the most stirring speeches of the evening—delivered by community leader and organizer Sonja Basha. “I am Muslim. I am queer. And I exist,” Basha told the crowd while standing onstage next to the city’s first openly gay mayor Ed Murray and Governor Jay Inslee. “Lasting change and community accountability comes from compassionate, critical, and complex world views. As we mourn, we move forward. Every article that you read, every news clip that you see, and every conversation that you have, know that the LGBTQ community and the Muslim family are not seperate. We mourn together.”
Throughout the night, the theme that was delivered from the podium was one of unity and love, Gov. Inslee telling the crowd, “I can say unequivocally this: There are seven million Washington hearts in Orlando tonight,” before listing cities across the state that he said stand in solidarity. “In the days to come our family will have a discussion about this, our elected leaders will have a discussion about this, and the wisdom will come. I don’t have the answers, but I know this: It cannot be inaction in the face of intolerance, it cannot be passivity in the face of gun violence, it cannot be status quo in the face of this type of division.”
“The epidemic of guns must be treated,” Murray said more directly, to some of the loudest applauses of the night, “I urge you not to give in to the sense that nothing can be done.”
After the speeches and the count, impromptu cries of “I love you!” from the crowd proved contagious. The phrase rung out over and over as everyone turned to the strangers and friends around them for hugs.
“Remember!” a man shouted from across the park, “We are still alive! Let’s kiss!”
GIFs by Sofia Lee, words by Kelton Sears.