Oxford families gathered in the shade beneath the stage and trees in Uptown Park on Saturday morning, weathering the heat to attend a rally against child separation and detainment at the border.
The rally, called “Families Belong Together/Familias Unidas,” was one of more than 700 similar events that occurred on Saturday across the country, in all 50 states as well as Washington D.C. and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Jessica McCarty-Kern, a local mom and a Miami University assistant professor, co-organized the Oxford branch of the event, making sure it was advertised, handicap-accessible and open to anyone.
“[We’re rallying] to end family separation, to end child detention, and more importantly to end this onslaught against asylum seekers,” McCarty-Kern said. “I personally have opinions on immigration and border security and I’m sure no one here 100 percent agrees, but you can show humanity and civility… without punishing people and punishing children.”
Event planning for the rally began shortly after the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy went into effect.
This policy mandated that all immigrants who crossed the border illegally be prosecuted. Children, however, cannot legally be detained for long, and as a result were regularly separated from their families in the past few weeks while their older relatives remained in custody.
Although President Trump has since signed an executive order to ensure families are detained together, many families remain split and it is often a long and difficult process to navigate the system and reunite them.
But to many, including McCarty-Kern, the executive order was not enough.
“I would think that we would want some kind of clean bill that would end family detention and family separation, reunite families and abolish these tender-age facilities,” she said, referring to shelters meant to house migrant infants and children below the age of 12 who are separated from their families.
Organizers reached out to several state representatives on both sides of the aisle, believing the issue of child separation to be non-partisan, but none of the four—Sherrod Brown, Rob Portman, Warren Davidson and Candice Keller—attended the event.
The rally began at 11 a.m. and lasted about an hour and a half. Around 140 people attended the event, many of them Oxford residents from various backgrounds. Some rallyers brought their children, who blew bubbles and spun pinwheels while members of the community took turns at the microphone in the center of the Uptown Park stage.
Amy Shaiman, co-organizer of the event, kicked off the rally and introduced the speakers.
“I individually take a stand. We as a community take a stand,” she said. “We are here, we are standing up, we are saying ‘not on our watch’ because this is what democracy looks like.”
She was followed by speakers such as Mayor Kate Rousmaniere, Prue Dana, co-president for voter service of the Oxford League of Women Voters, and two local candidates running for Congress: Vanessa Enoch, running for the Ohio 8th district, and Rebecca Howard, running for the Ohio 53rd district.
All of these women spoke in support of the rally’s cause and concern for the treatment of undocumented migrants in detainment centers.
“What we see coming out of this administration regarding this policy is nothing short of a travesty of justice,” Enoch said. “We should not aspire to be this America.”
After the official speakers had finished, the floor was open for anyone from the community who wished to speak. Several people took the offer, including Hugo Olaiz, a man who immigrated from Guatemala. After Olaiz spoke about his experience he led an impromptu rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” a popular rallying song during the civil rights era.
Sara Palmer, a Presbyterian minister who immigrated to the United States from England over 30 years ago, also spoke.
“I have been welcomed everywhere,” she said. “I hope we can extend the same courtesy to our southern neighbors.”
The event also included a table where attendees could register to vote or write letters to state representatives. Throughout the course of the rally, people occasionally repeated chants of “Resist, vote, change!” and “Tell me what democracy looks like— this is what democracy looks like!”
The rally ended with the singing of “This Land is Your Land” and other folk songs as the crowd dispersed.
The event was peaceful, without noticeable police presence or any counter-protesters. For some attendees, it was their first political demonstration. For others, it was yet another one of many.
Hugh Morgan, a former professor at Miami , was one such experienced demonstrator. Sometimes, he takes his signs and walks or stands alone Uptown, taking a one-man stand on the issue of the day.
“We have to love one another,” he said. “We first must look for peace within ourselves before we look for peace in the world.”