Anyone traveling the 5300 block of Memorial Ave. on Tuesday afternoons will notice a group of protestors in front of U.S. Senator John Cornyn’s office building. This dedicated team arrives rain or shine each week to exercise their First Amendment right to have their voices heard. Members of Cornyn Office Protest Crew know their efforts are not a magic wand for change, but they recognize the importance of sustained demonstration, and they have demonstrated – to date – for 229 weeks.
"...(T)here’s a core crew – a pretty reliable crew – making signs on their own time – that’s basically been with us the whole four-and-a-half years.”
“We feel very focused on showing up in the First Amendment sense,” said Neil Aquino, one of the group’s organizers. “We began conventionally. We opposed Sen. Cornyn’s policies. As it’s continued, it’s become in some respects about civil liberties.”
Although the size of the group changes each week, Aquino says there are individuals who show up every time to participate.
“Sometimes when there’s something big going on we get a big crew,” he said. “But there’s a core crew – a pretty reliable crew – making signs on their own time – that’s basically been with us the whole four-and-a-half years.”
"Don’t wait for someone else; don’t sell yourself short. Just physically show up.”
“We’ve got a whole range of ages, but many of us are in our 50s, 60s and 70s – people with odd schedules, retirees, people who take a lunch – since we’re here from 11:30 to 1,” Aquino said. “Some people we see only during the Christmas holidays. In the summer, people show up out of the blue.”
Aquino has long recognized the importance of political engagement. His parents encouraged his interest in politics at a young age.
“When I was 9 or 10 years old my parents had me meet all of the Democratic candidates running in the Rhode Island primary…. It goes back to then. And then I was involved in Cincinnati politics. I ran for the school board once in Cincinnati. I’ve been a blogger and have been involved in just a lot of stuff.”
He says people should not underestimate their circle of influence.
“As issues of democracy become more central, we are going to continue to show up...."
“Right now, we need these types of displays, these types of protests and this type of activism… Don’t wait for someone else; don’t sell yourself short. Just physically show up.”
“As issues of democracy become more central, we are going to continue to show up – for friends and foes and police to see. For those people who see us online and people who drive by us every week.”
“It’s a commitment,” he said.
[If you are interested in joining the Cornyn Office Protest Crew on an upcoming Tuesday, Aquino says to “just show up at 5300 Memorial Drive between 11:30 and 1. We have extra signs. We have extra flags. All are welcome.”]