Athens residents and Ohio University students rallied in support of the “Bobcat 70” following their appearances in court Thursday.
About 40 people gathered in front of the Athens Courthouse after the students arrested during the Baker sit-in on Feb. 1 appeared in the Athens County Municipal Court on Thursday morning. Fifteen of the 70 charged with criminal trespassing pleaded “no contest,” accepting a reduced charge of disorderly conduct.
The rally was organized by Appalachia Resist, an organization of Athens County and Meigs County residents who focus primarily on local environmental advocacy.
Tessa Evanosky, a member of Appalachia Resist, said they organized the rally “last minute” to provide community support to the “Bobcat 70.”
“What the Bobcat 70 did was super important to the community because it got the ball rolling,” she said. “We want to make sure the community knows that there are a group of people that want not only OU to be a sanctuary campus, but for Athens to be a sanctuary city.”
Protesters during the sit-in demanded OU officials declare the university a “sanctuary campus,” a term used to describe universities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration services.
“I’d like to think that we’re a welcoming community,” Judy Smucker, an Athens resident, said. “If we were a sanctuary, that sounds wonderful to me. We have a lot of diversity in this town. … I want them to know they’re welcome here.”
The rally was a good way to show solidarity, Bobby Walker, a senior arrested during the sit-in, said.
“It’s always important to put pressure on university administration,” she said. “(The rally is) a good way to keep pressure and keep up support and show a very visible sign of solidarity with the people arrested.”
Attendees stood near the street holdings signs with phrases such as “Support Bobcat 70” and “Refugees are welcome here.” Some demonstrators sat on the courthouse steps, talking and eating baked goods provided by Claire Seid, a member of F—RapeCulture.
“As someone who believes in the cause that my friends got arrested for, I think it’s important to support them in all ways we can, including baking, showing up, providing emotional aid, contributing to the legal fee fund, showing up to rallies and protests, helping organize,” she said.
The Athens community should continue to pursue the work of the “Bobcat 70,” Peggy Gish, an Athens resident, said.
“They really did work that we all should be doing,” she said. “I really want to honor them and their courage. They were doing that not out of any gain for themselves. They were doing that out of love and care for the students from countries that will be discriminated against.”