Students, activists and concerned community members alike gathered on Duke of Gloucester Street Thursday, Nov. 8, in the wake of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ resignation and President Trump’s installment of Attorney General Chief of Staff Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general Nov. 7.
The protest, titled Nobody is Above the Law, was organized by Williamsburg resident Heather Kinser, alongside MoveOn Civic Action, a political advocacy group.
“We are protesting tonight to make sure that [Mueller] is protected by the law, and send a message to Trump that he can’t stop Mueller,” Kinser said.
“We believe that Trump has crossed a red line,” Kinser said. “The Mueller investigation is part of our right to know what happened. We are protesting tonight to make sure that [Mueller] is protected by the law, and send a message to Trump that he can’t stop Mueller.”
The protest in Williamsburg was one of approximately 900 small protests organized through MoveOn taking place across the nation Thursday in response to Sessions’ removal, according to the organization’s website.
Sessions, who recused himself from the investigation into Russian involvement surrounding the 2016 election, resigned after Trump asked him to, according to The New York Times. Sessions’ recusal caused U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to oversee the investigation in his place. However, after Sessions’ resignation, Trump tapped U.S. Attorney General Chief of Staff Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general.
As the new acting attorney general, one of Whitaker’s roles will be to oversee the investigation led by Mueller. In a 2017 column Whitaker wrote for CNN, he called Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt,” leading to public concern for the future integrity of the investigation post-Sessions.
On its website, MoveOn notes that Whitaker has publicly detailed ways in which to suppress the investigation and demands he immediately refuse to assume supervision of the investigation.
Kinser estimated 60 people were in attendance at the protest, with more joining as the protest continued. Because the event was organized within one day, the organizers did not obtain a permit, which restricted groups to marching in packs of 15 through Colonial Williamsburg.
Restrictions did not stop the protesters from expressing their voices as they chanted, “We are not a mob, let Mueller keep his job,” and, “This is what Democracy looks like,” as they made their way down Duke of Gloucester Street. Protesters carried signs reading “Save Our Democracy!” “Protect Mueller!” and “Trump — Enemy of the People.”
Garrett Autry J.D. ’20 said he doesn’t see himself as a typical person who comes to a protest, but emphasizes that Sessions’ resignation is a bipartisan issue that should be a concern for all.
“I’m not super liberal, but I still think it is important that this investigation isn’t [going to] be thrown,” Autry said. “It is important that people realize that the structures of our government are being used to impede justice in this case. It’s a lesson we will have to learn the hard way, and I hope that this [protest] helps.”
Jack Notar J.D. ’20 agreed with Autry, saying the appointment of Whitaker is a significant issue of concern.
“We think what’s going on is important, with the appointment of Whitaker,” Notar said. “We knew there was all these rapid response protests planned around the country, so we looked up where this one was because it’s important to come.”
Karl Palenkas ’21, who sported a shirt reading “Impeach Trump,” said his values are what drove him to join the protesters.
“I came here because I value our democracy and I value the rule of law, and I don’t value anyone who tries to undermine it,” Palenkas said.
Among the chants and cries, one group of protesters paused to sing “America the Beautiful.”
As Sarah Sheridan M.Ed. ’18 observed young and old alike united in the protest, she felt inspired.
“I think it’s powerful to get people of all ages together, united, to show that this cannot happen,” Sheridan said.
When asked about her reasons for joining the protest, Sheridan said that she felt it was necessary to show the president that he must be held accountable for his actions.
“[I]t’s important to show that people are watching what the president is doing, that his power is not absolute, and that no one is above the law.”
Beth Cymerman M.Ed. ’18 corroborated Sheridan’s words.
“I think the sign says it all,” Cymerman said. “No one is above the law.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Karl Palenkas’ last name as Palenkis.