Just over 24 hours after President Trump fired his attorney general, area residents and college students gathered on Middlebury’s town green to advocate for an open inquiry into whether Russian operatives influenced the 2016 presidential campaign.
The demonstrators were responding to what many see as a threat to the transparency of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian collusion after Jeff Sessions’ forced resignation Wednesday evening. Sessions’ removal opened the door for Trump to tap Matthew Whitaker, a Trump loyalist who has echoed the president’s complaints about the scope of the investigation, as acting attorney general.
About 70 protesters bearing signs with slogans like “keep Mueller independent” and “no one is above the law” had gathered on the green by 5 p.m., the planned start time for Thursday’s protest. Former Middlebury College Chaplain Laurie Jordan, local volunteer Fran Putnam and Otter Creek Yoga owner Joanna Colwell, who organized the event along with Middlebury resident Dorothy Mammen, greeted demonstrators and made impassioned opening remarks in support of Mueller as the crowd eventually swelled to more than 100.
“I really love this country, I love my community and I care about the constitution,” Jordan said. “We’re a community and we want to come together in support of those ideals. That’s what brought us out here.”
The demonstrators were Middlebury town residents of all ages, college employees and a few college students — all of whom shared a common interest in seeing Mueller’s investigation play out free from interference of officials in Trump’s circle who might seek to alter its outcome, according to Putnam.
“The people who are here are from all walks of life,” Putnam said. “And we all just want the truth to come out.”
After opening remarks the demonstrators crossed Main Street and walked through downtown Middlebury, chanting and waving to passing drivers, before stopping on the Cross Street Bridge — the same place hundreds of protesters stood in silence for the March 14 student walkout against gun violence — for around 30 minutes before dispersing.
Thursday’s protest drew parallels to demonstrations held in Middlebury earlier this year, like the March 14 event and Sept. 27’s rally in support of Christine Blasey Ford, in more ways than one. Like those events, Thursday’s was just one of hundreds locally-organized protests that gathered around the country.
Putnam and Jordan organized the demonstration through Moveon.org, an online forum popular among community groups that was used to plan the nation-wide protest.
“This might look like a small group of us standing on a green in a small New England town, but we are one of over 900 demonstrations that are happening at 5 p.m. local time today,” Colwell said to the crowd. “We are just one of many.”
Some of the handful of students present heard about the the demonstration directly from Putnam through her involvement in the college’s Sunday Night Environmental Group (SNEG). Leif Taranta ‘20.5, an SNEG member, said town residents and students can only benefit from working collectively in forums like the SNEG and Thursday’s protest.
“I think it’s very important for students to realize that everything we do and learn has a direct relationship to the experiences of people in Vermont,” Taranta said. “We are all stronger when we stand together.”
Organizers were happy with Thursday’s turnout, but also had a message for the coming months as the Mueller investigation plays out: pay attention, keep organizing, and don’t be silent.
“One of our messages for tonight is keep up the pressure,” Putnam said. “One rally is not enough. We need to keep our eyes focused on this and look at the actions that come from this firing.”