Evie King, Capital News Service
Arriving by bus from across the state, protesters gathered at the Capitol continuing to call for Gov. Ralph Northam’s resignation. Their reasons were printed in bold on signs participants carried: “No to racism. No to infanticide. Northam must go.”
The Feb. 23 afternoon rally was held in response to Northam’s support of legislation that would loosen restrictions on third-trimester abortions under certain circumstances, as well as his admitting to dressing in blackface in the 1980s.
“Racism and infanticide have long gone together,” said Rev. Dean Nelson, chairman of the Douglass Leadership Institute.
Citing historical practices of eugenics and population control, Nelson said black people are disproportionately affected by the two issues, but all Virginians should stand up for what is right.
“We are here because we are united rather than divided. Black, white; Protestant, Catholic; rich, poor; men and women — we gather together in one voice saying racism and infanticide have no place in the commonwealth of Virginia,” Nelson said in his keynote address.
As the rain relentlessly poured, leaders of faith organizations and anti-abortion groups spoke to the crowd of nearly 100 protesters.
“Someone asked me what kind of weather we have today, and I said, ‘We’ve got some marching weather,’” said Andrew Shannon, president of the Virginia State Unit of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to the crowd.
Not all of the demonstrators wanted Northam to step down as governor.
Scott McKenzie made the 2 1/2-hour trip to the Capitol from Java, a town near Danville, Virginia. McKenzie, a pastor at Corner Row Church in Java, said he would like to see the governor change his mind about his stances on abortion. But overall, he said, he supports Northam in office.
“He’s done a lot of good work,” McKenzie said, citing the administration’s initiative to restore rights to over 10,000 Virginians previously convicted of felonies.
McKenzie said he is most concerned about the choices Northam is making today, rather than dwelling on his controversial past.
“If I was to be judged by what I did 30 years ago, I wouldn’t be pastoring now,” McKenzie said.
Gloria Jordan is an advocate for vulnerable populations whose priorities align with McKenzie’s.
“What Ralph Northam said in regards to Del. [Kathy] Tran’s late-term bill is even more damning than his racist medical school past,” Jordan said.
During a live radio interview, Northam explained the practices of a third-trimester abortion. Many people in the anti-abortion movement interpreted his remarks as supporting infanticide — the act of killing a child within a year of birth.
Northam, a pediatric physician, responded to the backlash in a tweet: “I have devoted my life to caring for children and any insinuation otherwise is shameful and disgusting.”
Balancing umbrellas and signs, the group marched two-by-two from the Capitol steps to the Governor’s Mansion, chanting “No means no. Ralph must go!”
Nelson said if Northam does not resign by April 3, the group will send out a national call for more supporters and louder voices.
“We’re giving him 39 days to do the right thing,” Nelson said.
The rally ended in prayer for the governor, who did not come out to address the protesters.