The death of George Floyd in Minnesota has impacted people around the world.
That impact was felt here in Switzerland County last Friday afternoon when a group of approximately 100 people gathered for a peaceful protest on the grounds of the Switzerland County Courthouse.
Those attending the protest stood behind the fence on the courthouse lawn on the southeast corner; and held signs and yelled chants for about two hours.
Several members of the community walked by to see the event; while others drove by, both honking their support or in some cases their differing viewpoint.
Like all demonstrations being held around the nation, in the days leading up to Friday’s protest there were rumors of outside influences coming to Vevay in an effort to promote their points of view. With that looming threat, many Vevay businesses closed their doors during the protest, and the Switzerland County Courthouse also closed. Barriers were brought in on Thursday and placed on the sidewalk of the main entrance to the courthouse; and a barrier was also zip-tied to the posts where the courthouse sidewalk met the Main Street sidewalk.
Switzerland County Sheriff Brian Morton and Vevay Chief of Police James Richards had additional deputies on standby in the event that issues arose, but had a strong plan in place where the group could assemble peacefully while measures were taken to assure no violence or property damage took place. Both top law enforcement officials stood nearby the protest near the main entrance to the courthouse. County Commissioners Josh South and Jamie Peters were also on the premises during the protest; as was Vevay Town Council President Keith Smith.
Overall: both the protesters and local government and law enforcement did an excellent job of both assuring free speech while protecting personal and government property.
The idea for the protest here came from a group of young adults who are still living here in the Switzerland County community while they attend college or work.
Ariel Oeffinger was one of the people who helped plan and coordinate the protest, and said that she was proud that they were able to express themselves without the threat of violence.
“It was pretty much just a group of friends who graduated together,” Oeffinger said of the idea for the protest. “We were talking about doing this, and nobody knew what we needed to have — whether or not we needed permits or whether or not we needed permission from the town.”
She said her leadership and organizing skills help get the protest in order.
“I’ve organized things in the past, so it was just best if I could use the things that I knew to make sure that everything was actually organized and not a huge mess,” she said. “So that’s how I got involved.”
Oeffinger said that the idea to hold the protest started to take shape last Tuesday, so things came together pretty quickly.
“We were pretty happy with the amount of people who came out — but it’s really not about the number of people,” she said. “Still, it was nice to see a lot of people take the opportunity that we gave to show support for the movement. We did get quite a bit of hate on Facebook and social media about it; but we showed up and we show out — and a lot of people came. It surprised us, but it was a good surprise.”
A large majority of those attending the protest on Friday were in their late teens and early 20s, young adults who wanted to make their voice heard.
“It was kind of refreshing to see a lot of young people there,” Oeffinger said. “I know I am a young person; but a lot of people are going to stay in this county, and to see them at the protest — these are going to be the people who are going to be holding positions in the future. It’s good to see them standing up for things now. It’s really nice.”
So does Oeffinger feel like this group of young adults will continue to take an active role in community, state, and national issues in the future?
“I really do think so,” she said. “We’ve been talking about different ways of keeping the conversation going. The protest got people talking — but we need to keep them talking. You make people uncomfortable and that’s how you make progress and change. We’re working on things like that. We’re trying to find something good to do. I can definitely foresee that everyone here who disperses off to college or stays in town, definitely standing up. I think this gave a little bit of a push to do more.
“That’s exactly what we wanted to do, just want to start a conversation in our hometown.”