WOODSTOCK – In response to criticism aimed at President Donald Trump during his first month in office, “Spirit of America” rallies were held Saturday in cities across the country, including in Woodstock, to show support for the new president.
When the Woodstock rally kicked off at noon, Trump supporters filled the lawn on the south side of the Park in the Square, many wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and holding signs reading a range of messages from “Legal immigrants 4 Trump” to "Thank you Trump.”
At the same time, a stream of people walked on the sidewalks surrounding the historic Square as part of the “Hate Has No Home in Woodstock” counter rally. Organizer Crystal Squires has said the counter rally was meant to show the diverse viewpoints of people of Woodstock, and participants who walked held signs saying “Hate never made any nation great” and “Immigrants make America great again.”
The “Spirit of America” event in Woodstock was meant to be a “nonpartisan celebration,” organizer and McHenry resident Teresa Kopec said, to recognize what the president has done and plans to do.
“We have to back our country,” Kopec said. “We have to back our people, and we don’t have another country, so we’re not going to stand by and be silent.”
Looking out at the crowd as she stood on the gazebo, Kopec said it was amazing to see the people who came out to stand up for their country and for their children.
Upbeat songs played as some “Spirit of America” rally participants danced and waved American flags in the air. Fred and Susan Gartner of Rockford were among those holding signs supporting the president.
“What I like about Trump is he is saying what a president really should say,” Fred Gartner said. “The president’s primary job has been to protect his citizens. By saying 'America first,' he is saying, ‘I am taking my job, my oath, seriously in that I am putting my people first.’”
Marlene Koerner of Huntley said she likes the enthusiasm in the Trump rally, and hoped that those with differing views would listen to the other side. Her sign read “We are all Americans, united we stand, divided we fall.”
Speakers on the gazebo included Pastor Scott Barrettsmith, of Spring Grove Bible Fellowship; Sandra Salgado, chairwoman of the McHenry County Republican Party; Eric Chrest, a millennial college student; Ed Chambers, a local veteran; and keynote speaker Joe Walsh, among others.
Walsh, a conservative radio talk show host and former congressman, drew cheers from the Trump supporters when he said he believes in the right to openly worship his God, follow the Second Amendment and keep the money he makes.
He acknowledged those walking around the Square, saying that while they are within their rights, they do not believe in the same America that he does.
“I believe in an America where I am a free man, and I am responsible for my own life, and government stays the hell out of my life,” Walsh said.
Standing across the street from the “Spirit of America” rally outside of the Old Courthouse, Woodstock Police Chief John Lieb said the day couldn’t have gone better from a law enforcement perspective.
“Woodstock is a welcoming community, and I think with the Square, it’s the perfect venue for something like this,” Lieb said. “… I think both groups have acted, for the most part, very respectful.”
Corinne Chopin of Harvard also stood outside of the Old Courthouse, holding a “free hugs” sign. People in the counter protest, who marched silently, stopped by to hug her on their way around the Square.
“I’m lesbian, so I like to stand up for myself and people around me,” Chopin said of why she came to the rally.
Collin Morris of Woodstock said he wants people to be able to live free and openly, and fears how the Trump administration could affect the rights of the those who are gay or transgender.
“I’ve just seen a lot of progress over the last eight years, and I don’t want to see that be rolled back,” Morris said.
Morris said he hopes those participating in the counter rally can see that there are other like-minded people to them who want what’s best for the country and everyone in it.
Support for black lives, science, clean water and Planned Parenthood were among the positions Julie Billimack of Crystal Lake said she stood for as she walked around the Square. “America is already pretty great,” her sign read.
“I thought it was very important to have a visible reaction so that people in our community, and even further, know that there is opposition to this,” Billimack said.