Sunday, July 3, 2022

‘History repeating itself’: 200 rally in support of immigration rights at Williamsburg courthouse

Before Saturday morning, Amy Watson, 52, had never been to a rally or protest for a political cause.

Her involvement started slow, helping organize the first Williamsburg Women’s March a couple of years ago. However Watson, a book editor, did not march.

But on Saturday, Watson joined the ranks of other activists under the hot Virginia sun and in 90-degree weather, protesting for the rights of immigrant children who have been separated from their families after crossing the U.S. border.

It’s something Watson said she’s been meaning to do for a “long time.”

“This is one small way I can add my voice,” said Watson, a 25-year resident of Williamsburg.

Watson was one of about 200 people who stood in solidarity Saturday on the lawn on the Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse, near the intersection of Monticello Avenue and Courthouse Street.

The rally comes in response to recent news of immigrant families being separated after crossing the border under President Donald J. Trump’s immigration policies. Marches and rallies were planned across the United States on Saturday.

The rally at the Williamsburg courthouse, organized by Williamsburg JCC Indivisible, attracted honks from supportive drivers passing on Monticello Avenue, some honking a dozen times in a row. Rally participants held signs reading “Honk If U Care” and “Refugees Welcome.”

‘Their children were taken’

Heather Meaney Allen, 55, is one of Williamsburg JCC Indivisible’s leaders, and wore a costume similar to women in the TV show “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Allen wore the costume because the children of handmaids in the TV show were taken from their mothers, similar to immigrant children at the U.S. border.

“I’m in tears looking through pictures each day” of children separated from from their families, Allen said.

Alongside Allen, Marge O’Neill, 75, also wore a handmaid’s costume. O’Neill has protested in the past over issues she feels passionate about, such as a woman’s right to abortion and immigration. O’Neill’s family immigrated to the United States from Ireland and helped contribute “to the greatness of our country,” O’Neill said.

Allen said she counted more than 200 attendees at the rally.

Williamsburg JCC Indivisible protests at the offices of local elected officials as well, such as U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st. Allen said she once was approached by a gun-carrying “white supremacist” while protesting at Wittman’s office, but had not seen counterprotesters at the courthouse Saturday.

Williamsburg Police Maj. Greg Riley said the protest was “fine,” and people were expressing their First Amendment rights “in a safe manner.”

From church

A group from the Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists stood on the law with signs as well, one reading “REUNITE FAMILIES.”

Austen Petersen, the director of religious education at the church said there were about 10 members of the church attending the rally.

“We’re against children going in front of judges without lawyers or a guardian with them,” Petersen said. “We’re against children in cages.”

“When I think of my ancestors, none of them had permission from the Native Americans to settle here,” she added.

Kimberly Richards-Thomas said she attended the rally because she is a mother, and cannot imagine having her children separated from her.

“No infant should have to endure that,” she said.

‘Outraged’

One of the younger rally attendees, Alexia Preston, 18, also spoke up in opposition of Trump’s immigration policies.

Preston, who has epilepsy, and her grandfather, Bruce Wolff, endured the heat to stand for a cause they believe in.

Speaking from the shade of the courthouse’s front steps, Preston said she was attending the rally because she is “outraged” about the state of the country’s politics.

“It feels like history’s replaying itself,” Preston said.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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