Published by The Critograph on May 3, 2017
Katherine Graves, Copy Desk Chief-
The “Trump’s Non-Welcoming Committee” anti-Trump protest will be held along Wards Road in Lynchburg in response to President Donald Trump giving the keynote address at Liberty University’s graduation on Saturday, May 13.
The Seven Hills Progressive Society (SHPS) is organizing the event to protest Trump, to protest LU President Jerry Falwell Jr.’s involvement in politics and to send a message about what is needed in education.
Although the group’s protest permit has not yet been approved, SHPS’s co-founder Nick Castanes said he is confident that it will be.
The protest will take place from 8 a.m. to noon along the Wards Road sidewalk between the Harvard Street intersection and the street entrance to Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Buffalo Wild Wings.
“It’s important that we be there so that the media and the nation sees that, even in Lynchburg, Virginia, [Trump] will be challenged. His narrative will be opposed. His policies will be opposed, and nowhere is safe for Trump politically,” said Nick Castanes.
The protest has received opposition from Democrats and Republicans who believe holding the protest on LU’s graduation day is disrespectful. Nick Castanes stated that the protest is not meant to be disrespectful to the students.
“This protest is not about the students graduating. We’re not going to ruin their special day. We’re not going to disrupt it. We’re not going to riot. We’re not going to, in any way, question the integrity of the students,” said Nick Castanes. “Our primary purpose is to vocalize our disapproval of Trump coming to Lynchburg.”
When asked if the university would like to comment on the protest, LU’s Executive Director of External Communications, Len Stevens replied through email that LU respects the right to free speech and would not like to comment further.
Nick Castanes says he and others take issue with Falwell’s involvement in the Trump presidency.
“The problem is Jerry Falwell Jr. and people within that organization have ambitions to influence public policy. And that’s where it becomes a problem because, the moment Jerry Falwell entered the Department of Education as an advisor to the Trump team, basically the Liberty University narrative and their ideology is becoming ingrained in public policy. And then you’re seeing a conflict between church and state,” stated Nick Castanes.
Nick Castanes said he is concerned with Trump’s policies and his administration’s views that have a tendency toward exclusion.
“The collusion between Liberty University and the Trump administration is very worrisome for many people who do not feel like they’re included in the future and in the America that Liberty would like to create,” Nick Castanes stated.
Nick Castanes said he believes that Trump was elected because people turned to him for hope since they are disillusioned with the government and struggling economically. He believes Trump does not follow a personal ideology but rather adopts whatever ideology will provide him with support
“It’s important that you challenge the narrative that he’s a populist. He’s not. He’s an opportunist. And he’s basically taken the opportunity to enrich himself and his family. And you need to counter that narrative by saying, ‘No, the majority of Americans do not support you,’” said Nick Castanes.
For those interested in joining the protest, Nick Castanes recommends bringing signs, food, water and sunscreen. He suggests bringing signs that promote education and signs that challenge Trump, his policies and LU. He also stated that people should not bring signs that create conflict.
“I would stay away from signs that are very antagonistic toward Liberty, unless you’re a Liberty student,” Nick Castanes said. “I think, if you’re a Liberty student, that gives you a certain amount of privilege to come out and say, ‘Listen. I pay money to this institution, and I would like the institution to behave in ways that I think are appropriate.’”
In response to the protest, there may be conflicts and counter protests, stated Nick Castanes.
Protesters should stay alert, watch out for unfamiliar people and, in the case of a conflict, deescalate the situation. Nick Castanes suggested that people should break up fights if they occur but also not put themselves in unnecessary danger.
Members of SHPS will act as security, remaining vigilante throughout the event to try to avoid or diminish conflicts from people within and outside the protest, Nick Castanes said.
“You do not want your demonstration to devolve into chaos. You want to make sure you’re on message, on point and there’s no aggression. So you want to make sure your group is doing the right thing,” stated Nick Castanes.
Protesters should wear comfortable casual clothes and red to support public education if they wish, stated Nick Castanes.
SHPS will set up a tent at the start of the event with food, water and first aid, said Nick Castanes. The event is rain or shine.
Nick Castanes stated that he will get permission for protesters to park in the Central Virginia Community College parking lots. He stated that protesters who park in the parking lot of a private business should receive written permission from the business to park there.
The group organizing the protest, SHPS, has only been operating for four months. Nick Castanes said he started the group in the wake of the election with his brother Chris Castanes, David Dawson, Mason Decker and others. He stated that the group’s goal is to affect local change.
The group currently consists of Democrats, Green Party members, Moderates and Libertarians, but Nick Castanes stated, “We’re welcoming of all people who want to see some type of change in the community.”
SHPS organized two previous protests in Lynchburg, the “No Ban, No Wall” protest opposing the immigration ban and another opposing proposed legislation restricting protesting, Nick Castanes said.
SHPS has meetings every other Sunday at 2 p.m. at the First Unitarian Church in downtown Lynchburg. Their next meeting is Sunday, May 6.