Dozens of demonstrators gathered at Main Street and First Avenue Wednesday evening, joining scores of other groups in cities across the country protesting President Donald Trump and his administration’s policies.
The demonstrators opted to stand with signs and candles rather than march and chant. Chris Nelson, an organizer and Walla Walla Progressives member, said a vigil was more fitting with his feelings about the state of the nation.
A vigil, he said, expressed people’s concern and sadness that democracy as they know it is under threat, pointing to federal ethics investigations, private interests influencing public matters and Trump’s lack of condemnation for Russia as reasons for worry.
“It’s not new in American politics,” Nelson said. “It’s just been at warp speed in the past 18 months.”
He started organizing the demonstration a little late because he only heard about the planned nationwide “Confront Corruption” protests a few days ago. He said he started promoting the event through the Walla Walla Progressives’ mailing list, social media and word-of-mouth. He estimated about 75 people demonstrated Wednesday.
Nelson said he hoped the protest would encourage people to engage in local politics more in the future, whether that means registering to vote, being aware of community issues or dropping by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ office downtown to share some thoughts.
Mary Lou Yocum, another Walla Walla Progressives member, said she wanted to attend the demonstration because she wants to know local Republicans’ stances on Trump’s behavior.
“I want these people to stand up and see where their loyalties lie,” said Yocum, who carried a sign reading, “Are you a Putin Republican?”
At the local level, she said, the Trump presidency has made people angry and distrustful of each other. Yocum said discord has gotten bad enough for her to think twice about putting politically charged signs outside her house.
“Do I want to be at risk?” she said. “All Progressives ask themselves this.”
More broadly, Yocum said, she worried about the impact of trimmed-down social services, anti-immigrant sentiments and tariffs.
She said the community stands to benefit from bipartisan solutions to local problems, but it is hard to reach across the aisle in this political climate.
“I’ll be realistic,” Yocum said. “Nothing is going to change overnight.”
The state of civic engagement has reached crisis levels, said Jan Corn, who carried a sign reading, “Mitch McConnell started ‘this.’ Let’s end ‘it’ 11.6.18.”
Corn said that while her sign specifically named the Republican Senate leader, she wanted to be clear she was not singling out any particular politician because the system is broken as a whole. But she also named House Speaker Paul Ryan and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as contributors.
It has gotten hard for her to keep up with news stories as they break, she said, because they come so fast it’s distressing.
“Monday was a tragedy,” Corn said, referring to Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Tomorrow it may be something else.”
She said she also still wants to know what is going to happen to the thousands of immigrant children separated from their guardians at the border, as per Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
“The biggest concern I have right now is the apathy,” Corn said.
Civic participation has declined, she said, indicating crisis-levels of disillusionment among eligible voters. Corn said past generations have not taken advantage of their right to vote, and now that right may be slipping away.
“If you don’t use it,” Corn said, “you will lose it.”