Hundreds of protesters at Rittenhouse Square on Tuesday evening chanted their disapproval of Vice President Pence, who was attending a nearby fund-raiser, but it may have been small stitched samples of canvas and rubber that spoke the loudest:
Rows of children’s shoes, set on the sidewalk as a silent shout against the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the county’s southern border.
Images of children in chain-link pens, or crying for missing mothers and fathers, have provoked national outcry and discussion of the administration’s “zero tolerance” enforcement tactics.
“I’m so angry,” said Stephanie Hagan, 35, who was at Rittenhouse Square. “I’m so fed up.”
Hagan, who is 7½ months pregnant with her first child, sat beside her husband, Sam Bryant, 35, who held a sign covered in biblical passages that preached generosity.
Pence was appearing at the Rittenhouse Hotel with Scott Wagner, the GOP nominee for Pennsylvania governor, during a fund-raiser for the Republican Governors Association. The event was closed to reporters.
Demonstrators holding signs that read, “What if they were your children?” and, “End family separation now,” crowded the southwest end of the square. Over a sound system came the 1971 song by Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On?”
“Today they’re locking up asylum seekers, and calling them criminals, and separating children from their family — which is beyond the pale,” said Gary Kopp, 56, of Philadelphia. “What’s it going to be in three months? Is it going to be people of Islamic faith? Is it going to be the gay community? Is it going to be people who speak out against them? It’s a slippery slope that we are starting on.”
The square wasn’t close to packed. People playing with dogs or setting out blankets had plenty of room. But more than a thousand turned out, and a steady stream of people was coming to the square as the work day ended.
“I thought there would be a much better showing,” said Janet Campbell-Taylor, 84, of Philadelphia. “It’s not like the old days. Like Vietnam. Everyone is on their phone.”
Brian Lee, 37, from Somerset, NJ, said he was compelled to protest today after listening to the audio of crying children being separated from their parents that was released by @ProPublica yesterday #penceprotest @phillydotcom pic.twitter.com/21EpwiCHRd
— Max Cohen (@maxpcohen) June 19, 2018
Police said that one man was given a citation for disorderly conduct after he jumped onto the back of a vehicle driven by a Secret Service agent.
The protest was organized by groups including Refuse Fascism Philly and Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates. Demonstrators here and across the country used the hashtag #KeepFamiliesTogether, which was near the top of Twitter’s U.S. trending, second only to the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council.
“I have grown kids,” said Ina Shea, a retiree from Springfield, Delaware County, who came to the protest. “I have friends who are immigrants. I have friends whose status is a little bit of a gray area.”
Children’s shoes in the park, about 40 or 50 pairs, representing children who were separated from their parents by immigration officials. pic.twitter.com/R8gy7lPf7j
— Jason Laughlin (@jasmlaughlin) June 19, 2018
The use of children’s imagery has become a regular component of the demonstrations against the administration’s policy. Earlier this month in Philadelphia, protesters left a row of children’s toys — stuffed bears, baby rattles, and soap bubbles — outside the Center City offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to symbolize children who were missing from their families.
“There have to be some regulations, maybe some standards, but you can’t criminalize it,” said Frances Castoriano, 58, of Philadelphia, who emigrated from Peru when she was 14. “As a teacher, I had a lot of kids who were from Mexico and Central America, very hardworking kids with beautiful families, and you can’t break up families, it’s just appalling to me.”
Despite an uproar over the administration’s separation policy, President Trump has refused to back down. He tweeted that “Democrats are the problem,” that “they don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13.”
Wagner, a former state senator, is running against Gov. Wolf, a Democrat seeking a second term. Republican donors were being asked for up to $50,000 at Tuesday night’s fund-raiser, a GOP source told the Inquirer and Daily News last week.