RACINE — In cities across the country Monday, protesters held signs and marched in opposition to President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency regarding border security. But for a group of protesters in Racine, it was just another Monday.
For the past two years, a group of protesters has been meeting at the intersection of Sixth and Main streets every Monday to protest different issues.
On Monday, about a dozen Racine protesters gathered on their corner to protest against the national emergency declaration — but they would have been there anyway, declaration or not.
John Polodna, a Wind Point resident, began protesting with the group about two months after it started.
“I could sit at home and do nothing and complain … or I can come down here and try to make a difference,” Polodna said.
Polodna said the group of protesters had different signs for different issues like gun reform and immigration.
At Monday's protest the group’s focus was on Trump and the national emergency he declared on Friday in regards to funding to build a barrier on the southern border.
“There’s a lot of concern now about the recent declaration of emergency by the president,” Polodna said.
Karen Hermansen, a Mount Pleasant resident and one of the original protesters, said her husband spent 20 years in the Marine Corps and is shocked by Trump’s actions as president.
“This president is a real security threat and it frightens me,” Hermansen said.
The group evolves
The group originally started meeting to urge then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, who’s Racine office was just a half a block away from the intersection, to speak out on various issues.
Racine resident Saunnie Yelton-Stanley, who has been protesting every Monday for nearly 24 months, said the group would give the employee’s in Ryan’s office letters and tape messages to the outside of the door.
“Originally it was to put pressure on Paul Ryan to actually meet with his constituents and not just his donors,” Yelton-Stanley said. “We’d like to think we have a tiny bit of responsibility for helping Paul Ryan to make his decision to retire.”
Ryan, who represented Racine County in Congress from 1999-2019, decided last April to not seek re-election.
With Ryan gone, the group had to evolve beyond just people holding signs on a street corner. They started becoming more active by organizing talks with prominent area politicians and nonprofit groups.
The group has invited candidates for local office to speak and has encouraged other residents to do research on the issues affecting the community.
“You don’t want to just believe what a candidate says, you want to look at their record,” Yelton-Stanley said. “Anybody can say anything but you need to check out to see if their efforts, if their actions match their words.”
Yelton-Stanley said the weekly event has created a feeling of camaraderie with the group which helps them keep their streak alive during harsh weather.
“We’re extending our activism,” Yelton-Stanley said. “We feel like we’re having a big ripple effect with each other.”
As the group continues to add different political activities to its agenda, the cornerstone of the participants’ motivation are the protests on Mondays.
“We realized we were bringing forth awareness,” Yelton-Stanley said. “We’ve gotten in good conversations with people on both sides of the aisle. And I think that’s really important.”
While the group encourages drivers of passing vehicles to honk as a show of support, occasionally people drive by with their middle finger hanging out the window. Polodna said that on rare occasions people might curse at them.
On Monday, a car drove by and a person yelled “build the wall!”
The group hopes to reach more independent voters.
“We’re here for that middle group,” Polodna said, “not the people that are never going to change their minds, not for the people who are already in favor (of the protest) but for the people who are undecided.”
Rick Wiegel, a resident of Mount Pleasant, considers himself a “rookie” because he’s only been attending the protests over the past year.
“If you don’t do anything, then you’ve gained nothing,” Wiegel said. “I’m glad I’m part of this and I’m glad people are out here.”
Even if he can’t make it on some Mondays, Wiegel said he’s impressed with his colleagues’ tenacity for the protest.
“They’re diehards; they’re out here in 20 below zero, it doesn’t make any difference,” Wiegel said. “They’ve been here. There’s always someone on this corner the last 24 months no matter what the weather is, they’re dedicated to bringing this out in the open.”
“They’ve been here. There’s always someone on this corner the last 24 months no matter what the weather is, they’re dedicated to bringing this out in the open.” Rick Wiegel, protester from Mount Pleasant