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‘A direct threat to our democracy’

November 9, 2018

GREENWICH — Calling the “rule of law” at stake, nearly 300 people gathered at Greenwich Town Hall Thursday evening to demand that Congress protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Donald Trump.

“When the president controls or takes steps to end a lawful investigation, particularly when that investigation is into his own behavior, that is a direct threat to our democracy,” said Joanna Swomley, co-founder of Indivisible Greenwich.

“We need our Congress, which is the only body with the constitutional power and obligation to reign the president in, to do so. Our presence here tonight and the presence of our fellow Americans across the country sends a message to our representatives that we want them to act now,” she said.

The protest in Greenwich — one of hundreds held across the country — was put into action after Trump asked for and received the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday, the day after the midterm elections. Trump had repeatedly criticized Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation.

Nine hundred groups took part in protests nationally, including 14 in Connecticut, led by Indivisible, Move On and other activist groups, said Swomley.

“We should take heart that so many of us are here standing today,” Indivisible Greenwich co-founder Nerlyn Pierson said. “Not just in Greenwich but in the entire state and in the entire country, fighting to protect our country and our democracy. Let this show of solidarity strengthen our resolve and energize us for what is to come in the days and weeks ahead.”

This was not the first protest in town for Indivisible, which was formed in 2016 after Trump’s victory. The group has demonstrated at Town Hall against the Trump administration’s immigration policy, and held a “teach-in” on Greenwich Avenue last year to protest efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

The group became a major player in municipal elections last year, driving unprecedented performances by Democrats in local offices. That trend continued Tuesday when Greenwich elected its first representative to the state House in a century, and its first Democrat to the state Senate since 1930.

Both houses picked up Democratic seats as Ned Lamont, a Democrat from Greenwich, was elected governor.

The gains by Democrats were applauded by several speakers at the rally, including U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th, also a Greenwich resident, addressed members of the Republican Party.

“You have to listen to the people of Connecticut and see what happened Tuesday night,” Himes said. “I know it is hard to break with your president, but look at what happened on Tuesday night. You can differentiate yourselves and show your thoughtful independence if you are a proud Republican — but stand with all of us on the essential topic of preserving the foundational democracy that allows us to have the partisan argument that makes this country strong.”

Swomley told the crowd the subject at hand went beyond partisan politics.

“This is not a Democrat issue and it is not a Republican issue,” she said to loud applause. “This is an American issue. This is an issue about the rule of law, the constitution and of our very democracy.”

Other cities and towns in the state that hosted protests included Norwalk, New Haven, Danbury and Fairfield.

In Norwalk, close to 200 protestors were about to disperse from the Norwalk Green when a small group of counter protestors appeared across the street, on East Avenue.

The counter group wielded an American flag and a traffic cone, which members used as a bullhorn to chant “Lock her up” and other messages. A large group of those rallying on the Green crossed the road, interrupting traffic. The two camps stood feet apart as the counter protesters — four men — made sexist and racist comments toward the group rallying to protect Mueller. Police units were called to the Green, and both sides shouted profanities at one another as officers looked on.

Around 5:45 p.m., the demonstration broke up without any violence.

Norwalk Mayor Harry W. Rilling asked police to speak with organizers of the protest as well as with members of the counter protest.

“We’re asking them to just disperse so there will be no problems,” said Rilling, the city’s former police chief. “But from what I can gather, it’s been peaceful on both sides.”

Earlier, Rilling addressed the protest on the Green, stating his concern over the departure of Sessions.

“Vocal opposition is very, very important,” Rilling said. “Groups like this, not only here, but across the state, are critically important.”

Signs in the crowd at the Greenwich rally said “Protect Democracy” and “No One Is Above The Law.” Greenwich resident Beth Finger was one of the many holding a sign — and earning approving honks from passing vehicles on Field Point Road. She said it was unclear whether the elections nationally, in which Democrats took back control of the U.S. House but Republicans gained in the Senate, showed support for protecting Mueller.

“I hope so but I’m not 100 percent sure,” Finger said. “The president is the president and I think he’s got something up his sleeve to interfere with the investigation. I’m concerned and that’s why I’m here tonight.”

Greenwich resident Jacklin Ross said she wanted more people to get involved and speak out.

“For the most part, I think there is support but I think some people have given up,” Ross said. “They don’t want anything to do with it. They think both parties are crooks. I don’t agree, and I’ve tried to change their minds but they’re so fed up they don’t want to deal with it.”

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com

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