Small town rally garners large crowd, national coverage

The group gathered on Saturday marched from its gathering point of the baseball field, through town and onto Sylvan Park. MICHELLE ROWLEY/NEWS LEADER
By : 
Bluff Country Newspaper Group

Throughout the nation and Minnesota, citizens gathered together as part of the “Families Belong Together” Day of Action on Saturday, June 30. The day of action was planned in opposition to the separation of children and their families at the United States and Mexico border, prior to President Donald Trump’s June 20 executive order, and a call to immediate reunification of families who were separated. Among one of the nation’s smallest towns participating was Lanesboro, population 739, for which it garnered national attention.

Peggy Hanson, Kay Wold, Enid Dunn and Jane Peck organized Saturday’s Lanesboro rally through word-of-mouth and the “Families Belong Together” website, which is operated by the social action group

Hanson said at the rally that the organization has been “very helpful to us who are not professional organizers.”

The News Leader contacted Families Belong Together on June 29 to ask if Lanesboro was the smallest town participating. Brett Abrams, MoveOn spokesperson, replied via email “Actually, I believe Antler, N.D., is the smallest — population 27 — but Lanesboro is definitely one of the smallest hosting an event.”

For a small town, the Lanesboro rally received a large turn-out. An initial approximation of 60 participants gathered by the baseball field at 10 a.m., marching through town on Parkway Avenue to Sylvan Park chanting “Love not hate, makes America great.”

When the speaker program began at 10:30 a.m., over 100 people were gathered. Although the following media coverage has not been confirmed, when Hanson asked who had learned of the event Saturday morning on the national network MSNBC, seven people raised their hands.

In between the speakers at Sylvan Park, a woman announced that Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn, “tweeted” about Lanesboro’s event. Confirmed by this paper, the Twitter post regarding Lanesboro reads in part “A protest on a baseball field, in a tiny town in Minnesota. Don’t let anyone downplay the breadth and intensity of this movement.”

The Lanesboro rally did have an intensity of purpose, which Hanson summarized. “We have three messages we want to convey today,” said Hanson. “One - we call for reunification of the 2,000 plus children recently separated from their families; Two – don’t substitute one trauma for another –family detention or incarceration is not the solution. Three – do not treat asylum seekers as criminals – America is better than this.”

The program at Sylvan Park began with a prayer read by Kay Wold, Lanesboro resident and a Lutheran pastor, which conveyed to the audience the need to be “agents of change” beyond the day’s events by writing to officials and exercising the “privilege to vote.”

Following the prayer, Hanson read from written statements provided by Congressman Tim Waltz, who is a DFL candidate for the 2018 Governor’s race, and Dan Freehan, who is the DFL endorsed candidate for the Congressional District One seat being vacated by Waltz. Both Waltz and Freehan expressed support of the “Families Belong Together” principals. Although he did not provide a written statement, Jim Hagedorn, the Republican endorsed candidate for the Congressional District One seat, was also invited.  

The organizers extended the invitation to Hagedorn because they felt it was important to be bipartisan in organizing Lanesboro’s rally. “I called Jim Hagedorn personally and was pleasantly surprised when he answered the phone himself at his campaign headquarters,” Hanson expressed. “We had a civil conversation and he said that he appreciated the kindness of our invitation.”

Although Hagedorn declined the invitation stating to Hanson that he was “for national security,” she felt it was important to remember that the message of “Families Belong Together” was not specific to one political party. “There are many Republicans across the country that share the concerns we are demonstrating here,” Hanson stated to the rally’s audience.

Those congregated at the rally were invited to sign-up to convey their concerns and opinions. In total, 12 speakers, including one child, took to the microphone. According to Families Belong Together press release, more than 710 events in all 50 states were scheduled to be held on June 30 with the main protest at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.