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Activists rally ahead of GOP summit protest

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Federal Republican lawmakers began their policy retreat Wednesday evening at the Greenbrier resort with Vice President Mike Pence speaking about the Trump administration’s areas of focus for the year.

The three-day summit will continue Thursday with a scheduled appearance by President Donald Trump, as well as protesters voicing their opposition to the policies of the Trump presidency.

Around 150 people attended a rally Wednesday evening at the Charleston Marriott hotel, where organizers spoke about a planned march from Dick Gunnoe Memorial Park to the front gates of the Greenbrier, which is owned by Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican. Eighteen organizations are sponsoring the protest according to a Facebook event page.

Sammi Brown, the federal campaigns director for Our Children, Our Future, said this started after activists in Greenbrier County reached out to individual groups, and word of the action reached organizations in West Virginia and other states shortly afterward.

“It is folks all along the East Coast that are standing in solidarity with West Virginia. We are expecting upwards of 600 people tomorrow to march with us,” she said.

Brown said the protest was not about Trump but rather the agenda of what she called “attacking health care.”

“Get off of the social issues, put people back to work, really invest in what’s going to help people survive and thrive, especially here in this state,” she said. “This is not an issue that we should be going after. We shouldn’t be going after social issues yet again.”

Republicans tried multiple times in 2017 to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law. As part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the individual mandate of “Obamacare” was repealed, which means people are no longer required to purchase health care insurance.

Jade Jackson drove to Charleston Wednesday from Charlotte, North Carolina, to take part in the protest. Jackson, a committee tri-chair with the Poor People’s Campaign, said she is marching against wealthy Americans that she feels have held back middle- and lower-class Americans through policies.

“We’re the majority, not the top 1 percent. It’s no color. It’s not black, it’s not white. It’s not party, if you want to be honest,” she said. “It’s about doing the right thing. The humanitarian thing.”

Gary Zuckett, the executive director of West Virginia Citizen Action Group, said policies need to be directed toward growing the middle class.

“Until we rebuild the middle class and bring people into the middle class that have enough spending power to keep the economy going, we’re going to continue this boom-and-bust cycle,” he said. “Our current president seems to be more interested in being a divider rather than an uniter.”

Zuckett and his fellow West Virginia activists have been busy since Trump took office in January 2017; groups have led protests throughout the state regarding the multiple Republican health care bills and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“We’ve seen people literally come out of the woodwork, come out of the hills and hollows, people that had retired and decided to hang up their activist shoes,” he said. “We’ve seen them put them back on.”

More than 100 people gathered Wednesday afternoon protesting outside of the United Bank building — where the office of U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is located. Capito spent the afternoon with Pence, who spoke at Worldwide Equipment Inc. in Lewisburg before heading to the retreat.

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