BUCKHANNON — When Weston resident Kara Vaneck learned about President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order blocking the entry of refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, she was devastated.
“After I heard about the Muslim ban, I thought about my next door neighbor and best friend growing up, who was from Jordan and she was Muslim,” Vaneck said. “When I heard about (the executive order), it just broke my heart because her grandmother came here when I was probably in middle school. The thought of leaving this old person behind and her not being able to come in the country just broke my heart and made me think we’ve got to do something.”
Trump’s executive order suspends the United States’ refugee program for a period of 120 days, suspends the Syrian refugee program indefinitely and bans entry of nationals from the seven Muslim-majority countries of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days.
News of the order spurred Vaneck to take action. So she started small — making signs supporting inclusion and diversity and marching alone in the towns of Elkins and Weston.
Vaneck was startled, scared and saddened by what she encountered during her solitary marches.
“There’s a lot of hate out there,” she said. “I don’t want to mention specific things that were said to me, but they were not friendly gestures.”
That’s when Vaneck decided to organize a movement in small towns — like the ones that have popped up in large cities across the United States. Vaneck organized the Main Street March for Human Rights in Weston on Saturday, and word quickly spread via Facebook, which she used as a platform to encourage other small towns to start their own marches. Now, Main Street Marches for Human Rights have been scheduled for Fairmont, Morgantown, Weston and Buckhannon — and even Hanover, N.H.
Mountaineer Voices for Change is organizing Buckhannon’s Main Street March for Human Rights, which will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Upshur County Courthouse at the corner of Main Street and Route 20. According to its Facebook page, participants in the march plan to bring signs and stay at the courthouse for about an hour. Then, they’ll walk down to West Virginia Wesleyan’s Performing Arts Center.
Although it’s largely a grassroots movement, Upshur County residents April Pierson-Keating, Nancy Heinrich Bevins and Ellen Mueller are doing much of the legwork to set the march in motion. They’re asking that participants bring signs, flowers and prayers to read that come from all faiths and cultures. In addition, Bevins is encouraging marchers to carry flags from their ancestors’ countries or wear traditional clothing from their country of origin.
Vaneck said she hopes the march will be effective in getting people out of their houses to have real face-to-face conversations, rather than more feuds on Facebook.
“It really is an effective way to start the conversation about how valuable our freedoms are and how lucky we are to have our First Amendment rights — freedom of religion, a free press, all the wonderful things that make the United States the United States,” Vaneck said. “If we don’t stand up for our rights, we’ll lose them.”
“I guess I just want to make sure people realize that it’s a peaceful march, and a demonstration of love of our freedoms and love for one another regardless of religion, nationality or political persuasion,” Vaneck added.
Mueller, a professor of art at Wesleyan College, said the march is in direct response to Trump’s executive order, which has been trending on social media outlets as #MuslimBan.
“It’s also standing up against any other actions that infringe on human and civil rights,” Mueller said.
Pierson-Keating is encouraging residents to come out and join the movement at a pivotal time in history.
“Marching is important to call attention to social problems and get people engaged,” she said. “This travel ban has targeted Muslims and refugees. The Geneva Convention requires member states to take in people fleeing away. Of the countries banned, not a single Muslim from one of them has ever committed an act of terrorism on U.S. soil. This ban actually makes the U.S. less safe because we are angering people around that globe that already hate us. It is unwise, unkind and un-presidential.
“We stand with all oppressed people and hope that people will call and write their representatives and write letters to the office of the president by the thousands to let him know that we do not approve,” Pierson-Keating added.
Heather Anderson, a Buckhannon resident who plans on attending Saturday’s march, discussed the reasons she wants to take part.
“I think it’s important for our communities to come together in solidarity with those from different backgrounds, nationalities, countries, races and religions,” Anderson said. “It’s important to remember that we owe a lot to immigrants; most of us wouldn’t be here if our ancestors didn’t immigrate here. This country was founded on freedom of religion and we need to protect that freedom, as well as continue to ensure that other constitutional rights are being upheld.”
For more information, log onto Facebook and search Main Street March for Human Rights, Buckhannon, WV, or visit the movement’s official website at mainstreetmarch.org.