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'Rally for Humanity' planned for Hillsville

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Organizer says the event is a peaceful march inspired by recent changes in immigration policy

By Shannon Watkins

Samantha Castor of Hillsville was talking with a co-worker when the idea of a rally first came to her.

“We were talking about the so-called ‘Muslim ban,’” she said of recent immigration executive orders that prohibit or limit entry by those from some Middle Eastern countries. “My heart literally hurt to think of these people and their families, packed and ready to come here to the U.S. for a brand new life, only to be turned around and sent back to refugee camps.”

Castor said she watched news reports of lawyers and citizens rallying all over the country to help people who had legally come to this country and were detained. “That’s the moment I knew it had gone too far. That I had to speak up.”

It was around this core concern that Castor and her co-worker, Agustina Silva, started brainstorming and decided to set up the Hillsville Rally for Humanity, set for Feb. 19.

While not the first or only citizens to become concerned in the wake of the executive orders, which are facing legal challenges, Castor and Silva decided the way forward was through civil but heartfelt protest.

“At an almost simultaneous moment we said we should march somewhere,” she said. “We searched a bit online and I said we could just do it ourselves. So I went about clearing it with the town... The very nice town associate I spoke with actually went about contacting [the Virginia Department of Transportation] and doing the necessary checks to make sure we wouldn’t come into any issues.”

Unlike other public unity rallies, such as last year’s Hearts United gatherings to address racial unrest and antagonistic feelings towards law enforcement, this event is not church-sponsored or -oriented. But it does share the common goal of striving for kindness and sanity instead of chaos, which Castor has repeatedly told people, including the town employee.

“I told her I’d been sure to emphasize that this event is family-oriented, and that profanity and hate speech wouldn’t be tolerated by anyone,” Castor said emphatically. “This is about love. Humanity. Not hate … This is something that I’ve become so passionate about and I could never write enough words to convey that emotion.”

The rally is scheduled to meet at the public parking lot across from the Dutch Oven on Court Street in downtown Hillsville and proceed to march down Main Street and go down 58 to the VFW, where it will end. It’s not expected to take much more than an hour, and people are welcome to bring signs.

The rally’s Facebook page describes it as “[A] family-friendly event in defiance of unjust events transpiring in our nation and around the world. Families are being torn apart and American residents are being turned away from their homes. Our children’s futures are put in jeopardy. The very meanings of truth and justice are being tarnished.

“Let us stand united in our belief that together our voices are stronger than alone. Let us stand together behind the true meaning of America. Let us stand together and prove that no voice is too small to be heard and make an impact. Let us show them that our hope and peace are far more powerful than their hate and anger!”

While Castor’s stance on immigration and Muslims may edge towards the liberal, she also made it clear that this is not about party affiliation. “I, personally, am a registered independent,” she noted. “I don’t lean heavily one way or the other. This last election was a killer for me. It was a hard choice for who would best reflect what I want for my family.”

The rally is less about bashing a particular political affiliation or ideology and more an awakening to a need for kindness and inclusion, and a turning away from paranoia and divisiveness.

“I would love for people of all walks of life to be represented there,” Castor said. “Anyone and everyone who sees how dark this cave is we’re walking into is. People who support human rights. Compassion. People who look at the bigger picture. People who believe in a bigger table, not a taller fence, as the saying goes. People who just believe in what brought all of our ancestors together in this melting pot.

“That’s what it’s all about. Let’s stop talking about fear and hate. Let’s get back to those basic principles of us! It’s never wrong to do the right thing and we’ve let fear and political agenda poison that idea.”

The Hillsville Rally for Humanity will take place on Sunday at the public parking lot across from the Dutch Oven on Court Street in downtown Hillsville, starting at 12:30 p.m. It is expected to take about an hour, but may run shorter or longer. All participants are welcome and may carry signs no larger than one person can hold, with no profanity or hate speech. All participants will be required to stay on the sidewalk areas due to city codes. More information about the Hillsville Rally for Humanity can be found at www.facebook.com/events/1468070809890883/.