Lobby Day, the annual tradition where Virginians from across the state gather in Richmond to engage lawmakers on pressing issues, is going to look quite different this year.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) Lobby Day 2021 is set to take place on Monday in Richmond, but this year, instead of a massive gathering of mostly armed individuals at the Capitol, the gun-rights advocacy group is organizing a car caravan through the heart of the city.
“We’re sending a message to the General Assembly [that] we don’t want gun control and we need to start rolling some of that gun control back,” VCDL president Philip Van Cleave, who is organizing the event, told The Virginia Star in an interview. “Plus, it will also be sending that message to people all across the state as the caravans work through all these areas and go down major roads.”
In total, there will be four main caravans led by buses coming into Richmond from all four directions and roughly nine smaller caravans joining the larger processions at specific locations before entering Virginia’s capital city. The caravans will also be staggered to arrive at different times with one each hour from noon to 3 p.m., according to Van Cleave.
“Every vehicle should be decked out with pro-gun messages,” Van Cleave said. “The idea there is to show unity and strength for gun rights, people that want their rights protected.”
Last January, some 22,000 people came to Richmond and peacefully demonstrated against gun control legislation, but Lobby Day 2021 will be nothing like previous years.
According to a release from the Virginia Department of General Services, Capitol Square has been closed off to the public for at least a week starting Thursday due to the violent mob storming the Capitol and an FBI bulletin warning of planned protests before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Enhanced security measures like additional fencing and fortifications to nearby buildings have also been made.
A number of streets in downtown Richmond that surround the Capitol grounds and the Robert E. Lee monument, are being closed from 6 a.m. Sunday until 6 p.m. on Monday to prepare for Lobby Day, a police department release said.
“Richmond is aware, we’re prepared and we’ve been planning for weeks for the upcoming Lobby Day,” Mayor Levar Stoney said at a press conference on Thursday. “Our goal is the same as it’s always been and that is [to] respect and protect the right to peacefully demonstrate regardless of your viewpoint and to safeguard the public health and safety of Richmond’s residents and their property.”
Richmond police have also put up signs around the city reminding people that firearms are prohibited under an ordinance passed by the city council unanimously last year.
Reminder: Signs (as pictured) have been put up throughout the City of Richmond to inform those who may gather that firearms are prohibited at permitted events and events that would otherwise require a permit, as well as areas adjacent to such events. pic.twitter.com/sOMZhPEKie
— Richmond Police (@RichmondPolice) January 15, 2021
Another factor to consider is that Virginia is still operating under COVID-19 restrictions put in place by Governor Ralph Northam in December that limit outdoor social gatherings to 10 people or less, so a large demonstration would be in violation of that measure.
Van Cleave told The Star he suggested to people in the caravans to stay in their vehicles, not block sidewalks or traffic and leave if they see any trouble, but ultimately has no power to enforce anything.
The caravans will primarily be traveling both directions down Broad Street between Interstate Highways 195 and 95, on either side of the city’s downtown. Unlike a parade, the expected mass line of cars will still be following traffic lights, signs and speed limits, Van Cleave said.
In terms of numbers, Van Cleave did not have an exact amount of people that would be participating on Monday, but is “hoping for a huge caravan.”
Richmond residents who work or live in the downtown area should expect disruptions to their normal routines on Monday, police said.
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