A progressive group that's been staging vigils in Bloomington every month for the last three years plans to continue its demonstrations because organizers feel their efforts are making a difference.
Stand Up for Social Justice advocates for health care, immigration reform, gun control and other issues. Its volunteers can be seen protesting with large signs on the lawn outside the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts on the second Tuesday of each month.
Organizer Linda Unterman spoke with pride as she explained the group hasn’t ever canceled a vigil. It postponed one because of a threat of lightning.
She said on WGLT's Sound Ideas the group felt the community needed a progressive voice after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016.
She said many in the grassroots group appreciate having a venue to express their views openly in a community that's not always receptive to them.
“Occasionally we will say, ‘Is this vigil still relevant to you for what we should be doing?’” Unterman said. “Universally our supporters are saying, 'Please don’t stop, please don’t stop. We need these.’”
Unterman said the group has about 30 regular attendees, while the numbers can grow to as high as 200 for some vigils. She said immigration often draws the largest crowds, though she said some undocumented immigrants stay home for fear they will be targeted by police.
Organizer Sara Holthaus Weidemier said the group largely focuses on the day’s headlines when deciding which issues to advocate for each month.
“What we try to do is what’s going to be important in two weeks to us?” Holthaus Weidemier said. “What’s coming down the mainstream of Congress? What are they up to? What is POTUS (President of the United States) up to?”
Unterman said while there’s no way to accurately judge the community’s response to the group’s efforts, she doesn’t feel the constant barrage of public protests is watering down the message or leading to protest fatigue.
“I guess we hope not,” Unterman said. “There’s no way people in the general audience are going to tell us perhaps they are fatigued. We are certainly seeing a continued interest among our supporters.”
Unterman added the group is about more than just public protests.
“If we just stand here with our signs, we aren’t doing enough,” Unterman declared. “We need to reach out to our legislators. What we do usually is hand out a flyer at the end of the vigil with phone numbers for our legislators.”
Unterman said the group will reassess its future after the 2020 elections.
The group calls itself a nonpartisan coalition. It counts Not In Our Town, the YWCA of Bloomington-Normal and the ACLU of Illinois among its supporters.
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