WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WWBT) - President Donald Trump delivered the keynote address as national and state leaders assembled in Jamestown for Virginia’s 400th Commemoration of democracy in the New World.
While some state Democrats boycotted the event, others attended with messages of their own.
Tuesday’s ceremony marked the first meeting of a representative legislative assembly, the House of Burgesses, in Jamestown on July 30, 1619. The year-long commemoration is also meant to honor the people forced into slavery and brought to the New World 400 years ago.
“The United States of America and the great Commonwealth of Virginia are just getting started," Trump said in an event that he called "a momentous occasion.”
Gov. Ralph Northam spoke at the day’s opening event at the Memorial Church, saying, “There are a number of inequities that continue to exist in Virginia and beyond—inequities in access to a world-class education, inequities in access to healthcare, inequities in access to business opportunities, to the justice system and to the voting booth.”
Northam said the ideals of freedom and representative government spread from Jamestown in 1619. But he also noted the first assembly was significant for those not included: women, enslaved Africans and Native Americans, which he called the paradox of Virginia, America and its representative democracy.
“If you don’t know where you came from then you don’t know where you are going," Northam said Tuesday morning. “We need to understand our history.”
Then the current General Assembly convened in the re-created historic church on the Jamestowne Settlement, just as the House of Burgesses did.
Trump spoke in a tent to a few hundred attendees of how that first representative legislative assembly shaped what became American democracy.
“In America, we are not ruled from afar. We govern ourselves," Trump said. "So help us God, we always will.”
Del. Ibraheem Samirah (D - Herndon) interrupted the president’s speech with a sign that said, “Deport Hate” and “Reunite My Family” in protest of Trump’s immigration policies. Police quickly escorted Samirah out of the tent.
“It stems from a system of discrimination that has consistently made brown and black people less,” Samirah said.
In a tweet, Samirah said Trump is “unfit for office and unfit to partake in a celebration of democracy, representation, and our nation’s history of immigrants.”
Samirah is a representative of Virginia’s 86th District and is the “youngest Virginia State Delegate and youngest American Muslim legislator anywhere,” according to his Twitter profile.
The president did not address Samirah and continued with his speech.
Both the Black Legislative Caucus and state Democratic leaders boycotted the event to protest Trump’s recent tweets about four Congresswomen of color. However, some Democrats attended saying they wanted to represent a message of inclusion.
“I represent everyone by being here today and in particular I’m hoping we’re able to send a different message about the value of inclusivity, equality, equity and diversity here in the commonwealth,” Del. Danica Roem (D - Prince William) said.
Trump spoke about equality during his address, noting, “our Declaration of Independence recognized the immortal truth that all men are created equal” and “we remember every sacred soul who suffered."
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairax, who attended the event, said the president’s words don’t go far enough.
“I listened to the words, but they rang hollow and were very empty because they are not reflective of the actions of this administration,” Fairfax said.
The 400th Commemoration includes a series of events this week and later this year, featuring many more elected officials and educators talking about democracy and honoring people who were enslaved. You’ll find a listing at AmericanEvolution2019.com.
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