BLACKSBURG — Members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League — denied a booth at Steppin’ Out — said it’s a double standard that festival organizers granted a spot to the NRV Indivisible group.
NRV Indivisible is an organization that opposes President Donald Trump and other Republican politicians — but group members say it’s non-partisan.
“They apparently like their politics better than our politics,” VCDL President Philip Van Cleave said Friday of the festival’s leadership.
Van Cleave continued his criticism of a decision by Steppin’ Out’s organizer, Downtown Blacksburg Inc., to deny a booth to his organization this year, despite having approved his group over the past several years. The Roanoke Times has determined that at least three groups were denied booths: the VCDL, and the Montgomery County Republican and Democratic parties.
DBI, which has not provided The Roanoke Times a list of denied groups, said its decision was part of a restructuring that aimed to steer the festival’s focus away from politics and more toward activities such as arts, crafts, music and food.
For Steppin’ Out, NRV Indivisible took up a spot near Cabo Fish Taco, under a tent that is also housing representatives from a few other organizations.
NRV Indivisible treasurer Teresa Cassell described her group as non-partisan, which she said is one of the reasons they were approved. She said her group is also helping festival goers register to vote by providing forms that the organization itself plans to file with registrars across the New River Valley.
Cassell acknowledged that the group does support progressive causes that she says include climate change, opposition to gun violence and other environmental topics such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline opposition.
At about this time last year, NRV Indivisible drew some attention for buying advertising on Fairlawn, Pulaski and Christiansburg billboards that criticized U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, for his votes on health care and the environment.
The organization also supported a nationwide vigil last month to take a stand against the existence of the border detention camps used by the Trump administration.
Cassell, however, said her organization is not exactly a left-leaning group.
“We’re not an arm of the Democratic Party,” she said.
Despite the fact that it didn’t affect her organization, Cassell shares Van Cleave’s view on one of the outcomes of Steppin’ Out’s restructuring.
“Personally, I think it’s short-sighted,” Cassell said.
The festival should not appear unwelcoming to differing political viewpoints, Cassell said.
“The elections are coming up, they’re [festival goers] going to want to talk to Republicans and Democrats,” Van Cleave said. “I just don’t understand it.”
While the VCDL was denied a booth, about two dozen of its members came to Steppin’ Out Friday to walk the grounds, hand out orange “Guns Save Lives” stickers and speak with other festival goers about gun laws.
VCDL members’ main gathering point was around a bench at Market Square Park, the home of the Blacksburg Farmers Market and where the organization would usually set up a Steppin’ Out booth in prior years.
Earlier this week, members of the Montgomery County Democratic and Republican parties shared VCDL’s and Cassell’s criticisms of DBI’s decision to deny booths to political groups.
DBI Director Laureen Blakemore couldn’t be reached for further comments on the issues raised by VCDL on Friday.