Protesters, Trump supporters gearing up for Wednesday

New London — A dozen local grass-roots organizations, collectively calling themselves the Unify and Resist Coalition, want to send a message during President Donald Trump’s visit here on Wednesday.

The message is contained in the name of the coalition and the overriding theme is “stand against rhetoric of hate and division,” said Carolyn Patierno, pastor at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church and group organizer.

Trump is giving the keynote address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduation Wednesday.

It’s still unclear just how many demonstrators will show up for the planned walk from Parade Plaza to McKinley Park but organizers say Trump’s presence in the city has served as a good motivator.

“It’s hard to know what to expect,” Patierno said. “We’re obviously expecting more than typically are involved. Beyond that, I know that information has spread further than it has in years past.”

Among expected participants are groups like the Immigration Advocacy and Support Center, Neighbors Making Noise, Rise Up Mystic, New London Green Party, St. Francis House and Start Fresh, New London’s refugee resettlement agency.

Marchers arriving at McKinley Park are likely to be met by a group of Trump supporters who have been planning a free speech rally with speakers that include constitutional conservatives, legislators and guests such as a former senior intelligence officer and chief weapons inspector Colonel Ahmed Beermann, according to the flyers for the event.

That event is spearheaded by Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh, founder of the American Liberty Center, who has sparred with city officials over the past week in an attempt to gain exclusive use of McKinley Park.

While attempts for exclusive use have so far failed, Hopkins-Cavanagh said the gathering will take place just the same and as of Tuesday was pursuing legal remedies.

Hopkins-Cavanagh said the city violated the permitting process and collaborated with protesters "in a very biased manner." She said she has filed a lawsuit against the city and secured a hearing Wednesday morning in New London Superior Court, where she will ask a judge to order the city to issue her a permit — prior to her planned gathering. She also is seeking monetary damages and lawyers fees.

She said her gathering was meant to be a peaceful welcome to Trump and she remains frustrated by the fact that protesters could be allowed to mingle, adding that the police chief and Mayor Michael Passero would be to blame if there are any safety issues.

Ron Ward, co-leader of Start Fresh, said from his point of view the rally has less to do about politics than it does about celebrating the diversity in the community and showing solidarity among different groups.

“This is a celebration, not a protest, from my point of view and for many of the organizers,” Ward said. “We’re all about celebrating the New London community and our values of inclusion and diversity. We just want to be a voice that is in support of refugees and immigrants and other displaced persons."

“There is nothing about this gathering that has anything to do with far-left politics,” Ward said. “The people that I know that are participating in this are very mainstream Americans who hold mainstream values about what community means and celebrate diversity.”

The group is expected to meet at 8 a.m. at the Parade downtown and arrive at McKinley Park later in the morning.

McKinley Park is one of the few areas designated by police as gathering areas for visitors.

Pastor Patierno said all of those gathered on her side follow a strict nonviolent protocol and planned to walk in silence to McKinley Park.

“We want to emphasize that, in addition to our disagreement with this administration, we also want to honor graduates for all they have accomplished. Our issue is not with the cadets but with the commencement speaker,” Patierno said.

City police will be visible during Trump’s visit and have called on support from officers at neighboring departments such as East Lyme, Waterford, Norwich and Stonington. Acting New London Police Chief Peter Reichard said there will be zero tolerance for any type of violence and none is expected.

New London Chief Administrative Officer Steve Fields said the goal of the city is to provide a safe environment for Coast Guard visitors, Trump supporters and protesters alike.

g.smith@theday.com

What You Need to Know

Police urge members of the public to assemble in designated areas only: McKinley Park, a grassy site on Williams Street just past the highway overpass and the grassy site across from the Coast Guard's main gate.

No backpacks are allowed and no masks or face coverings can be worn. No signs with sticks or posts are allowed and any amplified sound can be used with a permit only.

Beginning at 5 a.m. police will restrict parking on River Ridge Road, Deshon Street, Nameag Avenue, Oneco Avenue, Farnsworth Street, Winchester Road and Uncas Avenue.

Riverside Park will be closed throughout the day and is deemed to be part of a security zone recommended by the U.S. Secret Service. There will also be periodic road closures around the Coast Guard Academy depending on the president's schedule. Additionally, Bluff Point State Park and Coastal Reserve in Groton will be closed from dusk Tuesday until mid-afternoon Wednesday in connection with Trump’s visit, state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection spokesman Dennis Schain announced Tuesday evening.

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