They trickled in slowly, about 40 people who spread out in chairs at long conference tables at the Senior Center at Cascades in Loudoun County last Tuesday.
They were mostly residents of Loudoun County and they had come to hear the political strategies used by a grass roots organization of roughly 100 people called Help Save Herndon — a group that largely takes credit for the efforts that led the people of Herndon to "throw out" a slate of Herndon Town Council candidates for support of the town’s controversial day labor site last month.
The meeting itself was the kick-off for a new branch of the grass roots organization entitled "Help Save Loudoun," and it began with a tutorial of the methods employed during Herndon’s election season by those opposed to illegal immigration.
The Loudoun branch may only be the first step in many as the group opposed to illegal immigration may be looking to expand to a statewide level, according to Help Save Herndon representatives.
AS TWO OF the key players in Help Save Herndon, local conservative activist Nathan Muller and former Herndon Town Council member Ann Null, spoke to the crowd and presented strategies for influencing politics as they relate toward immigration issues, some attendees took notes while others shook their heads after hearing examples of negative experiences with foreigners suspected of being illegally in the country.
Following the presentations made by Muller and Null, Sterling Park resident and Help Save Herndon member Diane Bonieskie stood up from the crowd and addressed the people in the room.
"I think it helps to know that a lot of us are all experiencing the same things and that misery loves company," Bonieskie said. "We all need to come together and work like we did in Herndon. It was a wonderful experience, and I think we can do it here in Sterling and here in Loudoun County."
WHILE THERE IS no official day labor hiring center in Loudoun County, the group’s first meeting featured the distribution of information about reporting instances of overcrowding and featured a presentation about ways to spot and report residential overcrowding in local neighborhoods. Muller said that it was the Herndon Official Workers Center’s close proximity to the border of Loudoun County that worked to increase instances of residential overcrowding in neighboring Sterling.
"Some of the issues that they were concerned about are overcrowding and zoning issues," Muller said in a phone interview after the meeting. "There’s a large overcrowding problem growing especially in Sterling and if these things aren’t addressed they’re only going to get worse."
"Some of the members of Help Save Herndon involved from the very beginning were residents of Loudoun [County] and a lot of them saw a direct impact of the [Herndon] day labor center," said Joseph Budzinski, a member of Help Save Loudoun. "What we’re going to do first is that we’re going to be facilitating for the people who don’t know what to do with zoning violations in their neighborhoods."
SITTING AT A TABLE throughout the presentations wearing a shirt with small splashes of the American flag was Janice Lowden, a resident of Sterling since 1965, who said she came out because she wanted to see what could be done about illegal immigration.
"You can’t just sit back and let the illegal alien invasion of this country happen," said Lowden. "If you look at the illegal immigrant population, they don’t know English, they don’t want to assimilate, all they want to do is just lay a cover over our culture."
"They used to say in Miami that the last American to leave needs to take the [American] flag with them," she added. "Well that’s how I feel about my neighborhood. I’m going to have to take the flag with me."
"These aren’t instances of xenophobia, this is about people who aren’t assimilating," Muller said in a phone interview after the event. "It conveys the idea that these people are just here to take advantage," of the economic prosperity of the United States.
STANDING UP to question those in attendance at the meeting was Ruth Tatlock, a Herndon resident and an occasional speaker in favor of the former Town Council members and town mayor defeated in last month‘s election.
"I found out about the meeting on the Internet and I wanted to come and ‘get educated,’" said Tatlock in a phone interview after the meeting. "I sort of feel that I know what they are up to."
"The Town of Herndon is a contained unit. We have a Town Council and a mayor, but in Loudoun it’s a lot different, it’s the whole county," she added. "They’re trying to use that to gain more intensity in their campaign against the illegals."
"I guess all I wanted [the people of Loudoun County] to do is to be alert and to find out why this group is really doing what it is doing," Tatlock said. "They’re coming in trying to divide people, not trying to help the situation … it’s all about getting more national attention."
BUDZINSKI SAID that the efforts to further expand the grassroots organization beyond the border of Loudoun County rest on how successful the movement is there first.
"It’s going to be a gradual process, and it will be a function of how many people will want to be involved," Budzinski added. "I think the ultimate objective of the group would best be stated as forcing, or rather, influencing our elected officials to enforce the rules" on immigration.
"Political activism works and ordinary people can affect policy and I think that the momentum is now with us," said Muller. "Everywhere we look we’re seeing a nationwide level of progress."
"It is part of a larger national movement," he added. "Several people mentioned that the impact of the Herndon elections were phase two, while phase one was the educational phase."
"Hopefully phase three will be the changes made in this country after the November elections when we see more people come out who are angry about national security and illegal immigration."