Chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go!,” hundreds of activists paraded around the Morristown Green during Thursday’s evening rush hour to demand protection for the Mueller investigation.
So much for a post-election victory lap.
“Nobody wants to be here tonight. Everyone wants a couple of days off, to see their families again, cook a nice meal, even clean out their closets…but we are not too tired to stand up for justice,” said Elizabeth Juviler, political director for NJ 11th for Change.
The grassroots organization played a key role in Tuesday’s election of Democrat Mikie Sherrill to Congress, by mobilizing opposition to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.) and galvanizing support for Sherrill against GOP opponent Jay Webber.
But before the champagne could go flat, the President sacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday and replaced him with a loyalist, Matthew Whitaker. It’s widely anticipated that Whitaker will move to quash special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The activist group MoveOn.org prepared months ago for Thursday’s “Nobody Is Above the Law Rally,” and fired off alerts to organizations around the country when news broke of Sessions’ firing, said Lisa Bhimani of NJ 11th for Change.
“It was a ‘Break Glass in Case of Emergency’ moment,” she said, asserting that 900 rallies were scheduled nationally.
About 400 people participated in Morristown, estimated Police Chief Pete Demnitz, who characterized the demonstration as orderly.
Toting signs proclaiming “Protect Mueller,” “You Can’t Fire the Truth” and “I Can’t Believe I’m Protesting the Firing of Jeff Sessions,” activists posed for photos before an inflatable, golden-domed chicken.
“I’m really scared about the actions this president is taking, and about his restricting the press and undermining the truth,” said Montville resident Sarah Foye, wearing a red-white-and-blue hat and brandishing a sign: “Americans Deserve the Truth.”
“Now that the midterm (election) is behind us, he’s going full-monster,” Foye said of Trump. “He needs checks and balances. I want to know what Mueller finds.”
The President on Wednesday vowed to fight back if the new Democratic majority in the House attempts to investigate his finances or political dealings–even it means “government comes to a halt.”
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Although NJ 11th for Change achieved its objective by ousting Frelinghuysen, “it’s important to show we’re not going anywhere,” said the nonprofit’s executive director, Saily Avelenda.
“This is about preserving democracy and democratic institutions. (Trump) is pushing us toward a constitutional crisis. It’s devastating to watch. He’s moving us from a democracy to a regime. I’m Cuban. I know all about this,” said the West Caldwell resident.
At least one observer on the Green saw things differently.
“The economy is booming, my 401K is so good I might actually be able to move back to New Jersey,” said Steve Veibl, a Trump fan visiting from Melbourne, FL, where he said he owns a printing business. “You people are torturing yourselves up here. This is a horrible lifestyle.”
‘THE FUEL IN MY FIRE’
One might forgive Avelenda for gloating after this week’s election handed Frelinghuysen’s seat to a Democrat for the first time in decades. She says the Congressman cost her a job.
Long regarded as a moderate voice in Washington, the genteel Frelinghuysen followed the GOP’s lurch to the right, and declined to publicly defend his pro-Trump votes. He opted to retire rather than face the first election challenge in his 24-year Congressional career.
NJ 11th for Change and allied groups kept up the drumbeat through most of Frelinghuysen’s final term, marching outside his Morristown office every Friday, in bitter cold and blistering heat, demanding a town hall meeting.
When Frelinghuysen ignored the activists, they staged their own town hall. A cardboard cutout stood in for the 71-year-old lawmaker, wealthy scion of a New Jersey political dynasty.
Politics got personal for Avelenda, a daughter of Cuban exiles with a University of Pennsylvania law degree, when Frelinghuysen outed her last year to her employer as an activist “ringleader.”
Under pressure, the mother of two resigned as a bank senior vice president and legal counsel. Finding a new job has proven difficult, she said.
But gloating is not her style.
As anti-Trump signs swirled behind her in the gathering darkness on the Green, Avelenda thought for a moment when asked what she would like to say now to her lame-duck Congressman.
“Thank you,” she answered, “for being the fuel in my fire. Enjoy your retirement. You gave me a lot to fight against.”