Thursday, June 28, 2018

One Summer Sunday on the Square--Families Belong Together Woodstock

With a host's indispensable clipboard in hand the Old Man consults with speakers Peter Janko, Robert Rosenberg, and Rev. Eric C. Fishler as Off Square Music folk  prepare to warm up the growing crowd at Sunday's Families Belong Together Woodstock Rally. Photo Courtesy Peter Janko

Note—This is a few days late, but has been hugely enhanced by the photos of InSight Digital Media and Peter Janco.
It couldn’t have been a nicer summer day than we had in Woodstock, Illinois this past Sunday.  Under pleasant blue skies the temperatures hovered around 80—warm enough to send most of the crowd of about 350 or so under the shade of the Square’s old trees.  But there was serious business to be done at the Families Belong Together Woodstock March and Rally.  It was my job as the principle event organizer for a coalition of organizations that included Illinois League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), McHenry County Progressives, Democratic Party of McHenry County, and Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation Social Justice Team and as host of the program to see things came of smoothly.  Amazingly, due to the hard work and enthusiasm of a lot of people over a very short amount of time, things did.

Ken Johnson warms up the crowd .  The Old Man prepairs take the microphone as host.  This and all most other photos are the work InSight Digital Media.

Ever generous with time and equipment, Keith Johnson and musician pals with Off Square Music were on hand as they have been for so many events on the Square to entertain the crowd and make sure our speakers could be heard.  We go way back with this sort of thing, more than 20 years, since the first Peace and Justice Festival was organized as a counter event to the Ku Klux Klan rallying at the County Court House.  That event became the annual Diversity Day Festival which ran another dozen years or so.  Since then there have been anti-war rallies, immigration events, the recent annual Labor Day Celebrations, last year’s six month celebration of the Women’s March, and this spring’s March for our Lives.  The whole community owes them a debt of gratitude for such un-stinting service.  Featured during the preliminary music were singer/guitarist Ken Johnson and Don Humbertson leading the crowd in the Star Spangled Banner—a bitter-sweet moment for the many of us who mourn how far our nation has fallen during the Trump maladministration.

Rev. Lou Ness.
A good rally needs an inspiring benediction, and longtime Woodstock community activist, non-profit maven, and tireless volunteer Lou Ness was the woman for the job. Now an ordained Episcopal deacon, Rev. Ness customarily pulled no punches, exposing the hollow religious hypocrisy of the administration and its unbiblical and inhumane justifications of wanton cruelty.  Her prayer was one like the prophets of the Old Testament who called rulers to heel and the People to righteousness.  It was a prayer of Resistance by one who proudly proclaims her Christianity revolutionary.  That set a general tone for the whole rest of the event.

Maggier Rivera.
None of the speakers who followed failed to live up to that challenge, each speaking with conviction and passion fueled by their own unique personal experience.  Like Lou Ness, Maggie Rivera, a longtime McHenry County activist is a member of a large and loving family that came from Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood and started out as agricultural laborers and by hard work rose to leadership in the growing Latino Community.  She was a founder of an annual Latino Festival on the Square, worked with families to regularize their immigration status, and organized protests when the racist, anti-immigrant Illinois Minute Men tried to organize in the county.  It should be noted as ample evidence of how low the Party of Trump has sunk that a main leader of the Minute Men was recently elected Chair of the McHenry County Republican Party.  Today Maggie wears two important hats as Director of Illinois LULAC, the nation’s oldest and largest Latino civil rights organization, and as Interim Director of the Illinois Migrant Council.  Sunday she spoke eloquently on behalf of LULAC.

Robert Rosenberg.
Robert Rosenberg cut his political teeth with the Bernie Sanders Campaign and went on to be one of the outstanding leaders of the McHenry County Progressives.  He has also been a principle organizer for the Labor Day Celebrations in the Square the last three years.  He is a proud Democratic Socialist.  To the delight of the crowd he illustrated his speech with a ripe tomato, and example of the produce rotting in the ground due to artificial labor shortages created by Trumps draconian immigration policies.  The crowd roared approval when he smashed the tomato into the face of a cartoon Trump.

 Carlos Acosta.
As the long-time leader of the former Latino Coalition Carolos Acosta was frequently the most visible Latino voice in McHenry County.  The Columbian-born professional social worker has remained a tireless activist.  Currently he is a candidate for County Board from District 5 and District 5 Chair for the McHenry County Democrats.  Carlos challenged the old emcee for bragging rights on the best hat on the stage.

Attorney Beth Vonau.
Beth Vanau is a partner at KRV Legal, a law firm that has done outstanding work representing immigrants including those held in ICE detention in McHenry County Jail.  She was quoted extensively in the Northwest Herald’s coverage of the event.

Annika Martinez introduced by her grandmother.
Perhaps the unexpected star of the afternoon was 11-year old Annika Martinez who came to the stage with her grandmother to ask that she be allowed to give a short speech she had written for the occasion.  And who could deny her?  After an introduction by her grandmother, Annika confidently read her speech to the roaring delight of the crowd.

Peter Janko,
Another emotional high point was provided by Peter Janko, Democratic Central Committeeman for the 14th Congressional District.  But Janko’s message was not a partisan one.  He brought the small, well-worn teddy bear that had been his comfort and security when he arrived as a 4-year-old refugee to the United States with his family from war devastated Europe.  He contrasted the welcoming home he eventually found to the harsh rejection and punishing abuse the greets refugee children today.  Not only are those children torn from their parents and thrown into prison-like conditions, but they are stripped of their own stuffed animals, dolls, toys, and even rosaries that might give them a shred of comfort.

A contingent of Latino Youth arrived in masse.
All during the program a table set up in front of the Gazebo was doing a brisk business collecting signatures on a Families Belong Together petition to Congress.  Early in the program a large contingent of Latino youth entered the Square and arrayed themselves along a sidewalk toward the rear of the crowd with their signs and flags.  During the program the marched en masse to the table to sign the petitions.  They were an inspiring sight and cheered by the crowd.

Ruth Scifo.
Ruth Scifo spoke for the Democratic Party of McHenry County.  As many other speakers had done, she emphasized the importance of voting this November and also of working to elect candidates on every level from Congress to the County Board respect human rights and dignity.  Ruth also organized the marshals for the March Around the Square after the Rally, a critically important job.

Many of the more than 350 in attendance.  

The Rev. Eric C. Fishler.
The Rev. Eric C. Fishler, Lead Minister of the First Congregational Church of Crystal Lake provided a powerful and prophetic benediction. 

Sam Jones asks a question on many minds.

Off Square Music performers played as the crowd formed up and then began their March Around the Square under an increasingly hot afternoon sun.  A couple of laps on the sidewalks, and folks drifted off energized and re-committed to an on-going struggle.

On the march around the Square.

Tree of Life's Lisa Messinger took care of a very busy petition table. 

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