On Saturday, June 30, more than 100 locals joined with people in more than 650 other locations nationwide to participate in the Families Belong Together March. The Wheeling We Care march was organized locally by MOVE — Marchers Ohio Valley Empowered.
MOVE has organized a number of other marches in the Wheeling area including the March for Our Lives Rally in March of 2018. This local group was inspired by the Women’s March and encouraged by the political activism in the local area.
On this hot Saturday morning, young families, older couples, high school friends and many others joined together to protest the treatment of families with young children attempting to enter the United States. Pictures of toddlers in cages have dominated the news and created a stir on social media in recent weeks. National civic and political action organization MoveOn spearheaded today’s rally with a goal to “permanently end the separation of kids from their parents. End family internment camps. End the ‘zero-humanity’ policy that created this crisis. And reunify the children with their parents.”
The chair of Wheeling’s MOVE, Martha Polinsky, was touched “on a mother-level and heartbroken by the recent images in the media.” She felt the need to speak out about the current immigration policy of separating children from their parents at our southern border. After being vocal on social media platforms about her views, she received an enormous amount of feedback from “people who wanted to do something. Even people who had never talked about political issues were approaching me about what they could do in this situation.” At the march, she encouraged everyone to call their representatives. “People think it doesn’t do anything, but it does. They need to know.”
Marti Starkey, treasurer of MOVE, handled all of the logistics making the march possible. Her passion for the oppressed is evident by the emotion in her voice as she speaks. “It’s just wrong,” she says. “It takes us to the bottom of humanity. They are putting children in cages who are fleeing atrocities in other countries.”
Frank Calabrese from the ACLU spoke before the march. He is involved with the ACLU on a national, state and local level and is proud of the fact that Wheeling is the only city in West Virginia that hosts its own ACLU chapter. At the event, he encouraged attendees to vote and help others register to vote so their voices can be heard. He acknowledged in this time of 24-hour news and an internet that moves even faster, it’s more important than ever to find reliable news sources and to listen to a variety of voices on every topic. He ended his fortifying speech with “go love your neighbor” and rousing cheers.
Amy Jo Hutchenson from the Poor People’s Campaign and her daughter McKenzie spoke about their experience in Washington, D.C., with activist groups and how the current policy of family separation has upset them as they imagine the lives of these parents and children. Teenager McKenzie was brave enough to speak in front of the group because of the compassion she feels for the children who do not know what will happen to them next and are without the comfort of their parent.
Following these speeches, the group walked from the Stone Center Plaza to Independence Hall. The large group repeated chants such as “a family united should never be divided” and “no hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.” Just as instructed by national organizers, most participants wore white shirts, many with slogans like “together we fight for all” and “I care.” Along with signs printed with the theme of the march — Families belong together — there were many hand-made signs demanding reunification, kindness and policy change.
After reaching Independence Hall, several marchers spoke. One woman, who is an immigrant herself, recollected her experience coming to the U.S. as a child and the opportunity that has been afforded her here that was not available to her had she stayed in the country of her birth. Samantha Pearl, a young adult spoke about wanting better for her country. “Our country has lost its morality and forgotten its roots,” she says. “We are all the product of immigration, and it’s unacceptable that our government doesn’t care about doing the right thing.”
To conclude the event, the entire group joined in singing several verses of “This Little Light of Mine,” wishing light and love to the Wheeling area and to immigrants who are currently suffering while separated from their loved ones.
MOVE is a Wheeling organization. Their events and information about membership can be found on their Facebook page.
• Stacey Sacco is a Wheeling native currently living in Martins Ferry with her husband and four children. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work and previously worked for several social service agencies. She is currently the production editor for InWheeling Magazine and a blogger at OV Parent.