Some 240 people attended a peaceful “Families Belong Together” rally Saturday in front of The Dalles Post Office, opposing the separation of immigrant families crossing at the southern border.
After brief opening remarks from organizer Widge Johnson and others, protesters lined both sides of West Second Street at the post office, holding signs and chanting slogans, including “Where are the children? The whole world is watching!”
Many were dressed in white as a sign of solidarity, at the request of protest organizers at the national level. About 750 such protests were held across the country Saturday.
One protester was overheard saying, “It is kind of exciting, look at all the people here!”
Two protesters had matching green coat-shaped signs that said, “I care do you?” First Lady Melania Trump drew an outcry when she visited a detention shelter for children wearing a green coat that said, “I really don’t care, do u?”
Another sign, backed by a foil blanket like the ones being used by children in photos of them at detention centers, said, “This is not a baby blanket #FamiliesBelongTogether.”
The Trump Administration announced a “zero tolerance” policy in April of criminally charging all adults crossing the border and separating them from their children as a form of deterrence against illegal immigration. By the time President Trump ended the policy June 20 amid a huge public outcry, an estimated 2,300 children had been separated from their parents.
Reactions from motorists passing the protesters were fairly infrequent, but drew cheers when a supportive tap on the horn was heard. Those who appeared to oppose the protesters seemed to lay on the horn for sustained periods.
Bruce Lumper said he only saw three raised middle fingers during the roughly hour-long rally, which began at 11 a.m. He said there were fears it would be a “10 ‘finger’ day.”
Motorists were seen giving the thumbs up or a raised fist or the sign language symbol for “love,” which is a raised pinky, index finger and thumb. One supportive motorist drove by the crowd three times, honking all the while.
Protester Sherrin Ungren said driver reactions were fairly muted. She has been joining daily protests at the regional jail in The Dalles for the past 14 months, opposing the housing of immigration detainees at the facility, and said it is common to have people rev their engines and flip them off. “They seem to be more subdued today because there’s a lot of us,” she said.
One truck turning left onto Second honked steadily at a pedestrian in the crosswalk, who had the right of way. Another vehicle with an American flag sticking out the back revved its engine as it drove by.
Johnson started by telling the crowd, “A lot of us are waking up in the morning in complete panic, wondering what the day will bring. You wonder if the world has gone insane.”
She said of the reason for the day’s rally, “I can hardly talk about, it’s that bad.”
Taking kids from parents “Is the lowest we’ve ever gone,” she said. “Hearing cries of these children are more than we can bear.”
She said there is no apparent plan for reunifying the children with their parents. “Who does that? Not this country, you’d think. You’d think it’d be some violent regime … but it’s us. It’s our duty to act if you want to protect our democracy.”
A federal judge ordered the administration to expedite reunification, but said a lack of detailed information may hinder the process. The judge called it a “chaotic circumstance of the government’s own making.”
The judge wrote in his order, “The unfortunate reality is that under the present system, migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property” catalogued by the government, according to Bloomberg News.
Johnson added, “Please know when you wake up and feel that panic … others feel the same way. Not everybody lives in hate and fear.”
She said they were “taking a stand for kids and also helping ourselves.”
She urged people to keep calling congressmen, even if they don’t return calls or agree to meet with you. “Most important, five months from now, get ready to vote out every single solitary” person who backs Trump’s immigration policy. It drew a loud, sustained cheer.
She asked for a show of hands from those who were from out of town. A number of hands were raised and she said, “We appreciate the help because you know where we live.” It was an apparent reference to the conservative leanings of the town.
Tina Cady next read a letter from Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley opposing the Trump Administration policy. Then Connie Krummrich encouraged people to protest at the regional jail after the rally. “This is an opportunity to take your despair and put it to good use.”
About 35 people protesting at the jail after the rally.
Protesters spread to all four corners of the intersection of Second and Union and lined both sides of the street along the post office. At the northeast corner, one protester was overheard telling another one, “be prepared to get behind this” column, and acknowledged it was a “horrible thing” to have to say.
The protest was peaceful and a patrol car was parked in a parking lot kitty corner from the post office for the entire rally as a precaution. Protester Antonia Kabakov said she was grateful for the police presence, saying she truly felt they were there to protect her. “Not all towns can say that.”