Despite the chilly weather and winds reminiscent of those that damaged the Midwest the previous night, approximately 60 individuals gathered Saturday afternoon at the courthouse bandstand in Waterloo for We the People of Southern Illinois’ “Mental Health and Constitution” rally.
Six speakers addressed the crowd, including U.S. Senate candidate Peggy Hubbard of Belleville and attorney Thomas DeVore, who has challenged the legality of schools’ masking mandates in several courts across the state. One such lawsuit filed this week involves two Waterloo teachers.
While each speaker brought their own perspectives, two themes were present throughout the four-hour rally: the importance of mental health and harnessing one’s own power to bring change.
“The main goal (of the rally) was to raise awareness of the impact of the mental health aspect that keeps getting overlooked,” Ciera Flinders, one of the rally’s organizers said.
Erica Avellone, another event organizer, said this is a foundational concept of the grassroots group.
“I would say mental health is kind of the glue to this movement,” she said, later adding, “A lot of us came together because we met by going to school board meetings and being concerned about our kids’ mental and Constitutional health.”
Avellone said that, for the group, individuals having the right to choose how to best manage their own health is of utmost importance.
“(For) someone who wants to wear a mask, they absolutely have that right to wear that mask! If you want to use hand sanitizer, absolutely use hand sanitizer! If you don’t want to use it, you have that right,” Avellone summarized.
In putting together the event, Flinders said the process of finding speakers “happened organically,” with herself and other locals speaking as well.
“I think a lot of people within our community are watching Peggy Hubbard, are watching (Monroe County Sheriff) Neal Rohlfing and are watching Tom DeVore and they’re curious of what they have to say,” Flinders said. “For me personally, I think that community voices are very important right now.”
Many discussed how the pandemic is often politicized.
“There is no doubt it’s a health issue, but a lot of the things our politicians are doing (is) weaponizing it politically (and) using it politically, unfortunately,” Rohlfing told the crowd at the rally. “It’s just not right.”
As Hubbard and others repeatedly stressed, pandemic-related policy can impact children.
“Our children are being masked – I call it being muzzled,” Hubbard said. “They are using our children as political footballs. They are using our children to push their agenda.”
Also in what he termed a political move, mental health in light of the pandemic is often painted a certain way, said Josh Kurth, a licensed professional counselor and education specialist.
He said despite what may be stated on websites like WebMD, children’s mental health is being impacted by mask mandates.
“The thing is masks are not the enemy, but the biggest part of that is how we’re handling it,” Kurth said. “We’re not having the real conversations. We’re not teaching them other means of how to read social cues, and yet we have adults in leadership positions … correcting children for not wearing masks properly. They’re now being disciplined for not wearing a mask properly and being told ‘Don’t you know that you could kill someone?’”
Many speakers said they have seen harmful impacts from rhetoric such as this in their own family members’ lives.
Jessie Liefer, one of the speakers, said one teacher at a local school told a class that by not masking, they were killing her unborn child.
Hubbard said she has seen her grandchildren struggle with COVID-19 requirements in schools.
“(The government and schools) are telling us that they have to wear these masks (and) that they have to be isolated – these children are not used to being isolated. They are stuck in a situation that these grown-ups have made for them. It’s a nightmare … I’ve watched my grandchildren struggle with isolation,” Hubbard said, later adding, “My daughters have now started homeschooling my grandkids because they could not tolerate the school district telling them that their children must wear a mask eight hours a day. That to me is child abuse. It’s satanic.”
Flinders said that pre-pandemic, she made strides in improving her mental health by educating herself beyond just what the doctors were telling her. By the same token, many speakers said harnessing one’s own power is the only surefire way to “put an end,” as DeVore said, to what they see as harmful COVID-19 mandates and policies.
“People are always in control. They don’t really know that, but they are,” DeVore told the crowd. “You guys are in control of everything. What is government? Government is you if you participate.”
Often, he said, people will turn to political officials or basic governing principles and expect change to be enacted.
“I hear people say all of the time, ‘Oh the Constitution, Tom, it protects me.’ No, it doesn’t,” DeVore said. “You know what the Constitution is? It’s a piece of paper … that’s all it is, you can burn it! It doesn’t protect you from anything. You know what protects you? (You), because those documents are no more than the writings of principles that we the people are entrusted by God to protect.”
He said seeking other solutions might take longer.
“You’ve always had the power. But you have to wield it, and if you’re not willing to wield it and you’re willing to sit around and wait for court, it can happen … but you may be waiting awhile, and depending on which court you’re in, you may not get the answer you’re looking for.”
Hubbard said action against school masking policies can begin at the local level.
“We do have a say. We will have a say!” Hubbard said. “We will march into those school boards and ask questions. If we don’t like the way they’re running our school boards, parents, it is our job to vote these people out of office. Get them out, let them know you hold the power and not them.”
After a full day of speaking and engaging with community members about the topics presented, Flinders said she hoped the day sparked fruitful conversations.
“Like I said when I was speaking, this isn’t about saying, ‘I’m right and you’re wrong.’ This is about initiating conversation with both sides. Because regardless of how we think and feel, we have to work together for our community to thrive,” Flinders said. “For our community to be taken care of, we have to find solutions.”
Saturday’s event is not the only time one could have connected with We the People. The group hosts Route 3 Roadside Rallies on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The group meets along Plaza Drive in Waterloo before taking to the sidewalk along Route 3.
Flinders said these rallies are to bring awareness of schools’ COVID-19 policies.
“It’s just raising awareness and really just showing our love for our country,” Flinders said of these roadside events. “It’s a bit controversial, because when people see you waving a flag they somehow think you’re racist now-a-days, or at least that’s the common misconception, but we come from all walks of life and we are not speaking on behalf of any political mentality. We are solely here for our community, for everybody, for all people, to be able to make the choices that (they) feel are in (their) best interest.”
View a video from the rally by clicking here.