Tens of thousands gathered in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., Saturday to call for an end to family separation. Braving a scorching 95-degree heat, people had come from all over the country to attend the Families Belong Together event. Organizers had three demands for President Trump: Reunite families, end family detention, and reverse the “zero tolerance” policy.
Toting handmade signs, mothers and fathers pushed children in strollers through the grass. For Maggie Jackson of Takoma Park, Md., bringing her children, age six and three, was a no-brainer.
“It’s important to be seen as a family,” Jackson told Sojourners, “to represent the unity that we have the privilege of having and that should be extended to every family.”
Linda Gomao and her aunt, Lou Hamilton, had traveled from New York and Vermont to be at the rally together.
“As the daughter of an immigrant, I find it absurd that Trump feels it is OK to separate children from their families,” Gomao said. “This has been going on for a long time in the U.S. and we need to stop it. It’s high time we start standing up.”
Across the park, a 5-year-old girl put the finishing touches to her poster. “Queremos familias unidas, no dividas,” the sign read in vibrant colors. Her mother, Bertha, rested in the shade behind her. Originally from Mexico, Bertha said she felt it was important to stand in solidarity with the families being detained at the border.
“We need better policies for immigration,” she said. “This is unnecessary and we are not going to tolerate it.”
Etzy Salazar-Lopez and her mother, Gladys Salazar, immigrated as a family to the United States in 1983. The pair held hands as they made their way toward the front of crowd. Salazar is mother to nine children, all of whom are now citizens.
“I feel blessed to have been able to live my dreams in the United States,” she said. “Everyone comes here to work and to prosper.”
Organizers encouraged attendees to wear white as a symbol of unity and peace. Rev. Molly Blythe Teichert of Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church topped her white blouse with a multi-colored stole. Blythe said her faith compelled her to take action. She was happy to see that many other female clergy had been similarly moved. Rev. Debbie Kirk of St. Alban’s Episcopal was one of them.
“We need to follow Jesus and embrace the stranger in our midst,” Kirk said. “We are all one family.”
Donning a wicker hat reading, “Presbyterians for Justice,” retired minister Robert Angus came to make sure that the administration understood that the zero-tolerance policy is not just immoral, but inhumane and unbiblical.
“The Bible does not condone this sort of thing,” he said. “Children need to be reunited with their parents.”
The D.C. march was one of more than 700 that took place on Saturday. From New York to Nevada to Idaho, people flooded the streets chanting sayings such as, “No ban, no wall!” Protesters even stood outside the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., to make sure that President Trump, who was there for the weekend, got the message.
Wearing a shirt bearing an outline of the United States with “Made by Immigrants” screen printed over it, Cristina Celis of Newport News, Va., said she wants the administration to know that she isn’t going anywhere.
“We have to show them that it’s not just one person,” Celis, an immigrant herself, said. “There are a lot of people saying that what is happening at the border is horrendous.”
Isra Chaker, Campaign Advisor for the Refugee Campaign at Oxfam America, took time to address the allies in the crowd: “I need you to commit yourself to this fight,” she said. “It’s not enough to take off one Saturday and come to a protest. I need you to make this the start of your activism, not the end of it. I need you to mobilize your privilege. This fight is not just for today.”
Diana Smith, a member of the Herndon-Reston Indivisible group, understands this. For her, the big test comes in November.
“I hope that other Democrats and Independents will realize that they have to take a stand,” she said.” There are enough of us who didn’t vote in 2016. This rally demonstrates that something has to be done.”