Hundreds of people gathered at the foot of Long Wharf for speeches, poems and a prayer followed by a peaceful parade up and down the sidewalks on Main Street in the midday heat on Wednesday, July 4. The event was billed as an “Interdependence Day” demonstration against the separation and detention of families at the U.S border with Mexico.
As many as 400 people participated in the event, which drew bemused gazes, thumbs up and a few cheers from pedestrians and drivers. “ICE isn’t nice, say it twice,” chanted a man in his 20s in front of Schiavoni’s Market. A teenager crossing Main Street glanced back at the walkers over his shoulder and said out loud to no one in particular, “They came here illegally.”
The walkers, young and old, many with banners and signs, at one point filled the sidewalk from the head of the march as it passed the Golden Pear, across Main Street to Fishers Home Furnishings and down the sidewalk on the west side of Main Street to its tail at LT Burger. The procession took about a half hour to make the entire circuit back to Long Wharf.
“Usually I’m in Southampton” for the big parade on July 4, said Denise Silva Dennis of the Shinnecock Nation, one of those who spoke to a crowd that by 11 a.m. jammed the foot of Long Wharf and the lawn around the John A. Ward Windmill before the walk began.
“I’m on the float and I like to dress up in my regalia as we all do,” she said. “But this was a very special day because this is the first day ever, after all those parades,” of “actually speaking about justice and equality and really what the true meaning of what the Fourth of July is about. It’s about independence, independence for everyone.”
Quoting Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, she said, “This Independence Day let us remember that patriotism is not really watching fireworks and parades but also shining a light on injustice when we see it.”
“The United States was founded as an act of bold resistance,” she said. “The Declaration of Independence we celebrate today expresses the right to protest and exercise that right and that is what we are doing today.”
“It’s immoral to sperate families and immoral to lock children in cages,” declared Kimberly Quinn Johnson, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork, “and I will say that this is not a new moment in this country’s history. We have a long and dirty, shameful history of separating children from families, of separating children of enslaved people, selling them off as property, of separating, stealing away indigenous children from their families, putting them in boarding houses to civilize them. We can do better and we as a community must demand that we do better.”
“We’re here because we heard a call,” said Minerva Perez, executive director of OLA (the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island), an organizer of the event and the first speaker. “We heard a call and we were led by our hearts, we were led by our wombs, we came together to say that today will not be like just any other day, that today we are going to come together with the knowledge that right now something has to change, that we will not accept the fact that children are separated from their families, that families are criminalized that are seeking safety on our shores, and we will not accept that fact.
“You are here because you care, and you refuse to cower in hate or anger,” she continued. “And we will not walk away from this challenge. Together we will not walk away. We will stay here, and we will throw as much love, as much truth, as many votes as it’s going to take to reverse this.”
Commenting that “not a day goes by” for OLA “that we don’t receive a call for help from a vulnerable Latino in our community,” she noted about the support organization that was founded in 2002 and said, “we will be here long after this administration is gone.”
Initially sponsored by Temple Adas Israel, OLA and the South Fork Unitarian Universalist Congregation, by Wednesday more than 25 organizations and individuals had signed on as sponsors of the event, including Racial Justice East End, the Children’s Museum of the East End, the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, Canio’s Cultural Café, PEER (Progressive East End Reformers), Solidarity Sundays and the Hamptons Lutheran Parish.