With patriotic balloons, live guitars, homemade tortillas and a dog parade, the Herndon Embraces All with Respect and Tolerance group, HEART, staged the "Speak up for Herndon" Rally in Town Square last Sunday as a forum for Herndon citizens to interact with local non-profits and political leaders as to the current state of the town.
"We really just wanted to speak up for Herndon and have a rally to unite the community," said Jennifer Boysko, a HEART member and stay-at-home mom. "It was really about getting everyone who was getting mad at each other to remember that we all live here in Herndon together."
The rally was held as a way of reminding everyone that Herndon is a positive place and not a divisive one, Boysko added, calling attention to the contentious issue of a municipally-provided day labor site for workers, many of whom are immigrants, in the town limits that has sparked fierce debate in recent months.
"The anti-immigration activists have been very vocal, very irresponsible and divisive [on this issue]," Boysko said. "We wanted to show people that the people of Herndon are more tolerant than that. Herndon is a place that is about respect and tolerance."
HEART, a local group of approximately 25 residents from a variety of backgrounds, was formed in November 2005 in response to the opposition of the day labor site in Herndon.
"We were upset because we believed the town came to a very reasonable decision within the framework of the law," Boysko said, calling attention to the firestorm of attention the day labor site garnered from groups and individuals opposed to undocumented workers in the United States. "We finally said 'enough is enough' and we wanted to respond to their non-factual claims [about immigrants] and support the day laborers."
HOWEVER, not all candidates and local organizations were invited to attend the event, according to George Taplin, Herndon resident and the director of the Virginia Chapter of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, a group that has been actively opposed to the day labor site since the plan was adopted by Herndon's town council last year.
"What we're opposed to is using government resources to aid and abet any illegal activity," Taplin said. "All my group has done is follow the law and asked our politicians to do the same."
"If [HEART] wanted to show unity, they picked a funny way," Taplin said of HEART's refusal to invite them.
Taplin denied the HEART claim that the Minutemen Organization and others like it opposed to undocumented workers at the day labor site are divisive.
"By bringing up a question and standing up for what we believe in, does that mean that we're being divisive?" he said. "This town is not divided, there is only a difference of opinion on a few issues that our elected officials have made."
ALTHOUGH the "Speak up for Herndon" Rally seems to coincide with the record-breaking marches and rallies in support of immigration rights that have taken place throughout the country, Boysko said that the timing was merely a coincidence.
"We've been planning this for over two months," she said.
Several public officials and community leaders took the opportunity offered by HEART to give speeches, including Mayor Mike O'Reilly, Herndon Chamber of Commerce chairperson Pat Williams, state Del. Tom Rust and HEART spokesperson Suzanne Flegal.
"We all know that there are problems to be solved," Flegal said. "We can either stick our heads in the sand or we can look and see that we have plenty of good ideas to make the best of it."
Flegal insists that the group is in its essence about the everyday citizens of Herndon.
"We're a grass roots organization," Flegal said, pointing to the number of ambassadors from Herndon's four-legged community who made it out for the dog parade, many of whom wore slogans painted and sewed on small cloth sheets on their backs.
"Herndon's Historic Heritage is 'Fetching,'" read the sign on Storm, a yellow Labrador retriever. Her owner, Nancy Meyers, a project manager that has lived in Herndon for 14 years, says that she made it out with Storm and her other dog, Jess, "to support our town and the wonderful things that we have accomplished."
O'Reilly said that he really appreciated the efforts of the people of Herndon to become more active in the community.
"What a great community it is where we can have all of these visions so our community is vibrant and diverse," O'Reilly said.
"I think it's very interesting to see the organization uniting everyone," said Maria Medrano, a naturalized U.S. citizen who immigrated from Bolivia in the early '90s. "It's good to see support for the Hispanic community."
Medrano, a nurse at Reston Hospital and a resident of Herndon, is an active supporter of Town Council candidate Jorge Rochac. She said she signed up to become a member of HEART at the Rally.
"It is great to be able to come out and see all of the people who are running your community," she said.
Boysko estimated the full turnout of the event to be about 200 people, a number that she says met HEART's expectations and left them feeling satisfied.
HEART's next step as a community organization will be to announce endorsements for Town Council candidates in the May 2 elections sometime this week.