Hundreds of demonstrators descended on the Woodstock Square March 4 for a pair of dueling political rallies held in support of and opposition to President Donald Trump.
Backing the president were attendees of a midday Spirit of America rally in the Park in the Square, where the keynote speaker was former Congressman Joe Walsh, now a conservative radio talk show host.
Others countered with a simultaneous Hate Has No Home in Woodstock rally, where anti-Trump demonstrators circled the sidewalks of the Square carrying signs with messages ranging from “Immigrants Make America Great” to “Marching for First Amendment Freedoms.”
Both demonstrations were part of larger nationwide movements.
At the Spirit of America rally, participants said they were eager to show support for a president they believe has been unfairly maligned in the media and for policies they said will put “America first.”
“I’m a grandmother, and I want my grandchildren to have a beautiful country, and Trump is the one to do it,” said Margaret Soukup, who traveled from Crest Hill to take part in the rally.
Red “Make America Great Again” hats and Trump/Pence signs were ubiquitous in the park, as were handmade posters bearing messages including “Beware, News Media Lie” and “Legal Immigrants 4 Trump.”
In addition to Walsh, speakers at the Spirit of America rally included McHenry County Recorder Joe Tirio, McHenry County Republican Party Chairwoman Sandra Salgado, Pastor Scott Barrettsmith of Spring Grove Bible Fellowship, rally organizer Teresa Kopec, and representatives of local veteran and immigrant communities.
Woodstock’s Randy Whiting said he came to the rally partly out of “curiosity.”
“[The rally] is good, positive, upbeat,” Whiting said. “I also came because I wanted to hear from Joe Walsh. I’m pro-gun, anti-illegal immigrant, pro-legal immigrant.”
The crowd cheered as Walsh, who represented Illinois’ 8th District from 2011 to 2013, called for reducing the size of government and celebrated the results of the November election.
Of the counter-demonstrators circling the Square, “I do not believe for the first moment that they don’t have the right to do what they’re doing,” Walsh said. “And I do not believe … for a moment that they live in the same America we live in.”
Across the street at the Hate Has No Home in Woodstock rally, participants said they hoped to counter the pro-Trump message coming from the Park in the Square. Most marched quietly, or even silently, as the Spirit of America rally took place, many carrying placards in support of liberal causes.
“I wanted the community to see that there are people in support of immigrant rights, LGBT rights, who support public schools,” said Shannon Mahlebashian of Woodstock, who held a poster reading “Support our schools and a diverse community.” “Not everyone in McHenry County has the same [political views].”
Her friend, McHenry’s Mandy Ragan, concurred.
“Our nation was built on immigrants,” Ragan said.
Woodstock’s Lauretta Wolf said the last time she took part in a protest was “a long time ago,” but she said she was marching in the Hate Has No Home in Woodstock rally because, at 70 years old, “the battles that I fought as a woman years ago, we’re still fighting them.”
“People who support a hateful agenda as espoused by No. 45 [Trump] aren’t really what we want Woodstock to be known for,” Wolf said.
Demonstrators occasionally traded barbs with one another, but both rallies were orderly, Police Chief John Lieb said.
“All in all, I could not be more pleased with the performance of our officers, and, for the most part, the behavior of the attendees,” Lieb wrote in an email.
Updated 9:48 a.m. Wednesday, March 8.