By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – Thursday’s protest at the Courthouse – the fourth event organized in the area in three weeks – brought with it more signs, more testimonials and an added dimension – a pronounced call to vote.
While the crowd was decidedly smaller than the first protest at the Kosciusko County Courthouse that attracted 200 to 300 on June 3, it did include three people in the audience who have filed to run for county-level seats in the fall election.
The three candidates – all of whom spoke previously at other protests – did not address the crowd on Thursday, but there were calls by others for people to take their concerns to the ballot box on Nov. 3.
While organizers have repeatedly said they don’t have a problem with local law enforcement, the candidates – Travis McConnell, Noemi Ponce and Paul Morales – say their campaigns are an opportunity for more diverse representation among elected officials compared to the traditional conservative leadership that has dominated local politics for decades.
Ponce was distributing campaign literature at the rally. At least one person was providing voter registration forms to those attending. Calls to register were made numerous times.
The local candidates were not the focus of discussion Thursday, but President Donald Trump’s name came up and was assailed. Trump has been criticized for his handling of the national protests and angered some when he suggested the US military be used against protesters.
Walter Johnson stressed his Christianity to the crowd of about 60 and said he prays for Christians who support Trump.
Johnson mentioned Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL player whose name is widely associated with calls about racial injustice, and expressed anger over Trump calling him an S.O.B.
He said he was angered by the death of George Floyd, but found solace in his Christian beliefs.
He said he thinks the country took a “bad turn” when Trump arrived in the White House. He didn’t endorse Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee in the upcoming presidential race, but urged everyone to vote.
“If we don’t choose the right president in the next election we will not have a democracy,” Johnson said. “We need to vote, but we also need to pray.”
Markinia Gooden, Warsaw, a black man who attended the rally with his children and girlfriend, said the movement is gaining momentum.
“We have the ability to change things. It starts with a conversation that we are having right now in this country,” Gooden said.
“Vote – It matters. We’re moving in the right direction and I am moved,” he said, drawing strong applause.
Some of the supporters addressed the backlash and attacks directed at the organizers, specifically Maria Medina and Ofy Rios.
In some instances, critics have suggested Medina is aligned with Antifa, the extremist group blamed by President Trump for violence during recent nationwide riots.
Breon Jones addressed the issue.
“We gotta stay diligent,” Jones told the crowd. “Just keep coming out and showing them that enough is enough. We’re not going to take it anymore. They’re scared. That’s why they’re resorting to the tactics they’re resorting to right now.”
Medina mentioned the issue herself.
“They can run my name through the mud all they want,” Medina said, adding she’s been called to action “as a community member.”
“I need you guys to put that drive and that passion – put it to work,” she said.
While the rally remained peaceful, an attempt to disrupt the event appeared to backfire.
A motorcyclist, who protesters claim has shown up at previous rallies, circled the courthouse repeatedly and revved his engine along Buffalo Street near the rally.
Protesters reacted by chanting loudly to drown out the engine noise. After the third time the motorcyclist and a woman passenger passed by, they were quickly pulled over by an unmarked police car on South Buffalo Street two blocks away. It was unclear what action was taken by the police.
Meanwhile, protesters, angered by the motorcyclist, gathered at the corner of Center and Buffalo Streets with signs and delighted in repeated honks of support and raised fists from passing motorists.
Medina’s voice grew resentful as she talked to the crowd after the motorcyclist momentary interrupted a young black girl as she was getting ready to speak.
“This is the community we live in and I’m tired of it,” she said.