Despite frigid, 20-degree wind chill Wednesday morning, dozens of protesters gathered outside the SunTrust building in downtown Richmond to express growing dissent for newly-appointed U.S. Attorney General and Alabama’s former Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Men and women of varying races and ages stood huddled together against the cold, holding up picket signs and posters. They also passed around hastily signed clipboard petitions.
Their chants – “no hate, no fear, Sessions is not welcome here” – could be heard from a street over, easily overwhelming the busy din of downtown.
Sessions remained separate from the crowd the entire time. Inside the building, he spoke to a media-only audience about public safety and combating crime. Sessions has been criticized for his stance on immigration policy, race relations and LGTBQ rights. He has also been accused of perjury during a confirmation hearing where he failed to disclose meetings with a Russian ambassador.
Mary Ellen Bushey, an elderly woman and Richmond-native of over 34 years, said that Sessions is the most unfit attorney general she has ever seen.“I’ve been around for many years, but I’ve never seen an administration like this. Frankly it’s scary — I’m concerned about the future," Bushey said, "I have not really protested other administrations before this one."
Morgan Girimont, a 25-year-old protester, shared this sentiment.
“It feels like the country is going downhill way too fast, and I’m terrified of what will happen,” Girimont said.
When asked what she would say to Sessions if given the opportunity to speak with him, Girimont responded swiftly and passionately.
“You should resign. You should leave the country. You should just get right out of my city,” she said. “All the things he has done combined – any of them on their own is way too much, but the fact that he has done them together makes him seem like some kind of cartoon villain, only less cute.”
Scattered through the crowd was sign after sign proclaiming “We Stand with Corretta,” referencing the letter Coretta Scott King wrote in 1986 imploring Congress to prevent the nomination of Sessions for federal judge. She wrote that Sessions holding such an office would “irreparably damage the work of my husband,” who was the late Martin Luther King Jr..
“Anywhere that this administration goes, they need to be met with resistance to their agenda of white supremacy, exclusion, anti-immigration and xenophobia,” Ruth Morrison, another protester, said.
When asked if she thought protests such as these affected Sessions and the administration, Morrison shared her perception of the federal government’s attitude.
“I think they’re pissed that we’re not celebrating them,” she said. “They think they should be perceived as victors, champions and the people’s heroes – but they’re only heroes for a certain kind of white person, and I’m not that kind of white person, that’s going to stand out here and support them.”
Some younger members in the crowd were calling to Sessions directly, asking him to come out and speak directly to the people. They voiced concerns over why Sessions had not chosen to have this meeting open to the public. Eventually, the crowd began marching laps around the block.
Bill Howe, a Richmond resident of seven years, voiced his concern with the Trump administration as a whole.
“I think a lot of the Trump administration is about deconstruction, and not actually the needs of the people. Sessions in many ways embodies that,” Howe said. “And he lied under oath. We established with Bill Clinton that if you lie under oath there are going to be consequences. This man lied under oath and it’s time for him to face that.”
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