Hundreds gathered in downtown Silver Spring on Sunday at a rally designed to bolster spirits and remind people that Maryland’s largest county remains a place that values diversity, inclusion and respect for all.
Dubbed “Stand Up for the Montgomery Way,” the rally came as county officials sought to calm a community roiled by one of the most divisive elections in U.S. history.
Since Election Day, students unhappy with the election of Donald Trump as president have staged protests, and several churches have been vandalized with racist graffiti. Officials said Sunday that there has been a spike in hate crimes in recent days.
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and other speakers, including Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who was recently elected to the U.S. Senate, and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez were flanked by dozens of religious leaders.
All sought to assure the crowd that the values the county residents have long embraced will not change with the election. They also sought to quell fears that people would be targeted because of their religion, immigration status or race.
“We are a county that welcomes all people and treats people with dignity and respect,” Leggett said.
Montgomery Police Chief Tom Manger told the crowd that his officers had no interest in a person’s immigration status. Rather, his department goal is to keep all residents safe. That message was echoed by Montgomery County schools chief Jack R. Smith, who was also at the rally.
John and Nancy Paul and their children, Amelia and Miles, were among those who braved the high winds and low temperatures to be at the rally.
Nancy Paul said that she had been feeling anxious following Trump’s election and uncertain about how best to address those feelings.
“Instead of sitting and reading Facebook, I was looking for direction,” she said. She found it in the message of tolerance that speakers emphasized.
“I feel uplifted,” John Paul said.
The rally was one of several solidarity events held across the region.
Earlier Sunday, people from across the county joined the congregation at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour for morning worship services, which drew worldwide attention after an incident last week.
Church leaders had arrived for services at the Silver Spring church on Nov. 13 to discover “Trump Nation” and “Whites Only” painted on the back of a church sign. The same messages was scrawled on a brick wall in an alcove outside. No arrests have been made in connection with the incident.
The Rev. Robert W. Harvey of the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour said he was overwhelmed by the messages of support that had flooded in following the incident. He said he had done interviews with news media from Japan, the Czech Republic, Spain and Brazil.
“This has been a remarkable week,” Harvey said. After reeling from the shock of the graffiti incident, Harvey said, the conversations that followed have reinforced his belief that while such attitudes exist, they are held by a minority.
It’s not clear why the church was targeted, but its congregation is the most diverse in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, Harvey said. Members of the congregation come from more than 50 countries. Eighty percent of those who worship at the church are immigrants, he added.
Michelle High, of Chevy Chase, Md., was in a group of folks who gathered to hand out yellow carnations. Yellow, she said, is the color of friendship.
“We just want [people] to know that the voices of hate are by far the minority,” High said.
After the second of three worship services at the Episcopal church held Sunday, worshipers, encouraged by Harvey, gathered in a circle in front of the building and sang “We Shall Overcome.”
“We want to show our neighborhood that we stand against hate,” he said.
Bundled up in scarves and heavy coats, people leaned on each other and held hands as they sang the hymn.
Nearby, children from the church joined with children from the Unitarian Universalist Church two blocks away and scribbled messages of hope with chalk on the sidewalks along busy New Hampshire Avenue.
Ten-year-old Noelani Sithole’s message in yellow chalk on a sidewalk was simple: LOVE — something she said, everyone needs more of these days.