Carrying brightly colored signs and waving American flags, a large crowd at the “No Ban, No Wall” protest spread out along the roundabout at 5th and Federal streets in Lynchburg, their chants of “No hate, no fear. Refugees are welcome here,” echoing around them.
More than 200 gatherers united Sunday afternoon to take part in a demonstration against President Donald Trump’s recent policies, including the Jan. 27 immigration ban that has stirred protests throughout the nation and his plan to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.
“I was a ninth grade high school teacher. [Trump’s] behavior would not have stayed in my classroom,” said Gloria Simon, a retired Heritage High School English teacher. “We didn’t bully, we didn’t make fun of, we didn’t taunt and we respected. … I’ve got someone leading my coun-try who doesn’t behave as well as a teenager.”
The demonstration served as the first event of new Lynchburg organization the Seven Hills Progressive Society (SHPS), which was founded in November following the election.
SHPS (pronounced “ships”) was created as a grassroots response to the current political cli-mate by several members in the Lynchburg community who felt the government was not re-sponding to their needs, said Nick Castanes, a founding member and organizer of Sunday’s demonstration. The group’s mission is to create a network for communication among those in Lynchburg who feel they are at risk and disadvantaged under the new administration.
“Rather than waiting for the government to deliver or protect our rights, why don’t we take it upon ourselves to see what the needs are in the community and see if we can address that on a local level?” he said.
Sunday’s protest, Castanes said, came together with about a week of planning. By Sunday morning, the hastily organized event on Facebook had about 75 confirmed to attend.
The turnout was more than double.
Some came together in groups, with globes carrying the words “no borders here” and banners calling for an end to white supremacy. Sam Crowder, age 7, and 6-year-olds Oliver McGovern and Madeline Yarzebinski held a sign reading, “Refugees in Trump out,” as they stood with their parents and joined a chant of “no justice, no peace.”
A few people joined when they saw the crowd, parking their cars in nearby lots and rushing up the sidewalks to file into the group. Several motorists shook their heads, seemingly in disa-greement, and a few yelled criticisms, but many simply beeped their car horns in solidarity as they drove along the roundabout.
For the crowd, which cheered at every honk, the gesture was enough.
“Even though I feel like I’ve stepped back 40 years to have to march again for rights, it’s very heartwarming to see so many people of different colors, different ages, different religions all together for one reason,” Simon said.“That we want a better country.”
The protest followed on the heels of an announcement from the Office of the Virginia Attorney General the state would move forward in its lawsuit against the immigration ban.
“President Trump’s unlawful, unconstitutional, and un-American immigration ban is causing real harm as we speak to Virginia families, students, businesses, and our colleges and universi-ties,” Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement that accompanied the Feb. 3 an-nouncement.
According to a news release, the state will argue in favor of a motion for a preliminary injunc-tion during a hearing this Friday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
“The legal issues in this case are complex, but in many ways this case gets to the heart of who we are as Americans,” Herring said in the statement. “We are a country and a Commonwealth that are welcoming and open. We do not discriminate based on religion, race or national origin. That is why we will continue to fight.”
SHPS plans to continue Sunday’s momentum by setting up free food pantries and getting in-volved with local soup kitchens and national organizations such as Food Not Bombs in addition to creating discussion groups and more demonstrations in the area.
“It’s very encouraging,” said Castanes as he looked out on the crowd as marchers continued to chant and wave their signs. “The fact that we’re in Lynchburg, Virginia, speaks volumes about what we’re witnessing now. If it can happen here — if we can organize a grassroots resistance in Lynchburg — it can happen anywhere.”