Incensed by a policy of family separation, protestors held their candles, glow sticks and cellphone flashlights up high in honor of thousands of recently detained immigrants.
The tribute came as part of Saturday night's Families Belong Together protest at Five Points Park in downtown Sarasota. More than a thousand people crammed into the tiny plaza to hear speakers who decried the policy and promised to work toward reuniting families if elected.
Nick Guy, a candidate for the District 1 seat on the Sarasota County School Board, was one of the first to address the crowd. He explained that he never thought he didn't think he'd run for office, but he couldn't sit aside while immigrants dealt with "immoral acts."
Before calling on elected leaders to represent "our values as American people," Guy told the crowd that he came to the event with his family, his wife and two daughters.
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"We brought [our daughter], they're four and three years old, because we want them to see what it takes to protect democracy in this country," Guy said.
Speeches centered on how migrant children have been the primary targets and victims of a policy that President Donald Trump ended with an executive order on June 20. Trump's reversal will keep families together but there are still questions regarding the estimated 2,300 children already separated from their parents.
Liv Coleman, candidate for the District 73 Florida State House seat, said she has studied the issue and underscored the psychological trauma that children go through when families are torn apart.
"I can’t imagine the agony of having a child ripped from my arms, but as a family policy scholar, I can say that I have a strong, longstanding interest in the well-being and care of children," said Coleman, who is a professor at the University of Tampa. "I teach a course called 'Politics of the Family,' have done extensive research into how to sustain & support families and I know that all available research suggests the importance of keeping loving families together for children's development and well-being."
Protestors said they felt similarly about how the policy might have lasting effects even after families are reunited. Lauren Aycock, a 22-year-old medical student, said she couldn't stay silent while family separation was happening.
"I want to be a pediatrician one day and I don't think I'd be able to do that if I didn't speak out about kids being kept in cages," she said, holding a double-sided sign that read "Living the American nightmare" and "I really care, do u," referring to First Lady Melania Trump's controversial jacket.
Glenn Wolvington, 64, said he attended the Saturday night protest because he's become fed up with "how crazy the country has become."
"Obviously we need change in the White House," Wolvington said, "but it's not just [President Trump]. No one's doing anything and we need to get back to the country we were before."
The Families Belong Together March was a nationwide movement organized by MoveOn and the American Civil Liberties Union. There were many other demonstrations throughout the state of Florida, including in Tampa, Orlando and Miami.