Protesters Await Biden’s Arrival in East Palestine

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – With loud chants of “Let’s Go Brandon,” a derogatory euphemism directed at President Joe Biden, as well as a group of silent protesters asking for the president to address their health care concerns, the sidewalks in East Palestine were full of messages Friday.

No one is certain if the president will see any of them, and some feel the president’s visit, a year after the Feb. 3, 2023, Norfolk Southern train derailment, is too late.

Biden is expected to arrive in East Palestine and receive an operational briefing on response and recovery efforts at about 4:20 p.m., according to the White House. The president is expected to deliver remarks related to how the administration is holding Norfolk Southern accountable and working with state and local officials to support the community. 

“Too Little, Too Late,” Mike Young, who organized a rally downtown for former President Donald Trump, posted on the Columbiana County Republican Party’s Facebook page. Young called it their slogan for the day and said he has heard the town needs $250 million to repair everything. He said the Biden administration’s lack of a disaster declaration, which was requested by Gov. Mike DeWine, has kept that federal funding from flowing to the village.

“The Biden administration needs to do more for this town,” Young said. “To me, this today, it’s a slap in the face.”

Protesters line a street in East Palestine on Friday.

Near East Palestine Village Hall, Timothea Deeter held a large sign that read “Declare the  Emergency.” Deeter, who has one of the village’s creeks going through her backyard, joined with the efforts of River Valley Organizing, which has been pushing for answers to some of the residents’ nagging health concerns.

“Our biggest concerns are that we have these health care problems and they haven’t been addressed,” Deeter said. “We need independent environmental monitoring. We’ve been asking for an emergency declaration from the beginning, and he did sign an executive order to send this FEMA guy down, but we didn’t see any results from that. He needs to finalize this so we can unlock some aid and resources.”

Deeter said independent environmental monitoring would allow people who want to stay in the village to know they are safe to stay here.

“We want them to speak to residents and hear our stories. You’re not going to know what’s happening unless you speak directly to the source,” Deeter said.

Yet, as far as she knows, the Biden administration has not spoken to anyone from her group about meeting with them when he visits the village.

Some locals came to simply check out the spectacle Friday. But some people downtown were not local. One man waving a white Trump flag came from Buffalo, New York.

Horns beeped as people drove through town, and the TV cameras returned to shoot the scene again.

Kathy Bolan was standing outside Flowers Straight From the Heart watching all the protesters. She had headaches after the derailment, which her doctor said was related to high blood pressure. It bothered her asthma. A friend who lives closer to the tracks had dioxin found in her system.

She is concerned about what the mixture of chemicals will do to people long-term, especially for those who live close to the derailment site.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” Bolan said. “I’m born and raised here, so I’m not going anywhere.”

Bruce Campbell, an East Martin Street resident who has footage on his phone from the night of the derailment, came downtown to use the village recycling roll-offs a block away, but he could not resist walking up to Market Street to see the crowds that had gathered.

He said he believes everybody is entitled to their opinions and has the right to speak, but in his mind, Biden waited too long to come here. He said he wishes it was all over with, including all the protests, no matter whether they are for Trump or Biden. He said he does not believe a country divided is good for anyone, especially the veterans.

Pictured at top: Protesters in East Palestine hold up signs ahead of President Joe Biden’s visit to the village Friday.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.