Amid chants of “We won’t stand for that” and “Immigrants are welcome here,” close to 1,000 area residents gathered at Lake Sumter Landing on Saturday morning to show their disdain with the way immigrants and their children are being treated at the border.
Billed as a “Yes We Care” rally and march that was organized by Villager Cindy Grossman, many came holding signs denouncing President Trump, his policies and the issue of children being separated from their parents at the border.
“This is why we’re here today, because every one of you show that you really do care,” said Grossman, who lives in the Village of Caroline and is on the board of the of The Villages Democrats Club. “This country is our country and we care when our country does something that violates our moral code.”
Christine Dance, a ministerial intern at the Tri-Counties Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summerfield, said she agreed to speak Saturday at the Market Square event because she is extremely upset with what’s happening to immigrant families.
“We believe and uphold the worth and dignity of all people – all people,” she said to a round of applause.
Imam Abdurrahman Sykes, director of ISLAM Inc., said as a therapist he worries about the children who have been taken from their parents.
“I’m concerned about the long-term impacts, trauma and irreparable harm that forceful separation has on children,” he told the crowd.
For speaker David O’Brien, a community activist and professor at Saint Leo University who recently returned from Uganda after working with child soldiers and the victims of a 30-year war, peaceful solutions always are the answer.
“We cannot dehumanize, demonize or dismiss those we disagree with,” he said. “We cannot shut them down or shut them up, even if we find their ideas and their language not just lacking compassion, but repulsive.”
Pastor Bruce Edwards, of Resurrection House in Dade City, said it’s OK to be upset with President Trump over the immigration issue, even though it’s much bigger than just one person. He said it’s really more about changing the people who write the laws and those who stand in the way of that happening.
“I don’t care which side of the aisle they’re on, if they’re not getting it done, they need to get gone,” he said.
Diana Padro, of Ocala, who was waving her sign in the crowd throughout the event, said the entire immigration issue is very disturbing.
“I can’t stop thinking about it,” she said. “What’s happening to our country is wrong. Everybody needs to get out and vote to bring about change.”
Jeanie Ward, a registered Independent who lives in the Village of Belvedere, said she doesn’t think what’s happening at the border accurately reflects the values of our country.
“We need to get back to caring again and make America a more compassionate country,” she said. “This is just not the country that I recognize right now. It’s very disappointing. Putting kids in cages – how immoral is that?”
Villager Linda Hobbs said the country she loves values children first.
“My belief is that when we value children, all of our other values will align correctly,” she said. “I used to say this breaks my heart, but I realize if my heart breaks, I can’t serve well. So I have to be strong and I have to claim my country.”
Hobbs, of the Village of Winifred, said she believes the American flag stands for everyone being created equal.
“If we can’t treat those children well, we can’t treat our children well,” she said. “So I’m calling for all my brothers here in this country to stand up with the values that we held dear for so long and are being disseminated.”
Linda’s husband, Lamar, said people have to do more than just attend rallies and hold signs.
“The only way they’re going to get rid of it is to vote,” he said. “The people that are representing this country are destroying it. Literally it’s an atrocity.”
Linda Fogg, who was holding a sign claiming she is an “Ashamed Republican,” agreed.
“Anybody who supports Trump is part of a cult,” she said. “Trump is not a Republican. I don’t know what he is, but he isn’t a Republican. You know when people like George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, John McCain and Susan Collins oppose him, something isn’t right.”