By Kayla Tucker, Kendra Turley, and Rachael Yadlowsky – Collegiate Staff
Over 100 people protested at the “Build Bridges, Not Walls” demonstration on the Blue Bridge in downtown Grand Rapids Thursday. The event was organized via Facebook to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order to build a wall on the Mexican border and provide support for Muslims, refugees and immigrants.
Kelsey Herbert organized the event via a Facebook event. She works in the social justice department of the Christian Reformed Church.
“This event came together very organically because this is the heart and soul of Grand Rapids … a place that’s always welcomed refugees,” said Herbert, 25.
Herbert said the community needed to send a message to the government and the media that this is not what they stand for.
“I hope they continue to speak out to Congress, to oppose this executive order, and that they will ask Congress to do whatever they can in their power to get it reversed, and that they’ll continue to engage Congress,” Herbert said. “We need better, more just, laws that are more inclusive to refugees, more welcoming to immigrants and recognize the dignity that they have and the blessing they are.”
Crystal Slater and Melanie Mays are friends and mothers, who brought their kids to the protest this afternoon. The three young boys held handmade signs welcoming immigrants and refugees.
“The way that I can see our country going right now, it’s important to teach our kids about love, about respect, about what America’s really about, about how helping others is the American quality and forcing others out doesn’t help us,” Slater said. “We have to show our kids this because they’re the ones that are going to be taking over for us and I don’t want to be in the same spot again.”
Esther Vanhaitsma, 39, of Grand Rapids, brought her two sons and had them holding signs.
“I used to be an ESL teacher and I knew a lot of immigrants.” said Vanhaitsma. “They’ve impacted my life and it’s important to come here and show our support.”
Caleb Opp, 25 of Denver, shared his story of how he and his dog, Frankie, marched in Washington, D.C. and now are protesting together as much as they can in Grand Rapids.
“I’m trying to fight in any way that I can,” Opp said. “Everyone should be included, our country was built on immigrants.”
Kristin Sturdy, 19, of Grand Rapids, came with some friends and held up signs they made together.
“I’m here because I believe our country should be a safe haven for people coming from other countries that aren’t safe,” Sturdy said.