This is a guest post from a dear friend and colleague in Chicago who was on the ground at the March 11, 2016 Trump protest in Chicago. Ashley is a white woman who works in higher education and is also a member of Showing Up for Racial Justice-SURJ.
I was one of the protesters at the Donald Trump campaign event in Chicago. This is some of what I experienced.
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Men in the crowd of Trump supporters on the floor of the UIC Pavillion, wearing loafers, blazers and disgust in their eyes as they unabashedly stared at us, trying to figure out if we were friend or foe.
Outside, during the several-hours wait in line. The family ahead of us had a son who wore a confederate flag hat and they held up their posters with nasty statements about “illegals” so that children of various races in the school bus at the stop light next to us could see what they’d written. News cameras came to interview them and they were in their full, hateful glory.
My friend, a queer Black woman, leaned on me inside the arena while we were waiting for the event to begin. She told me that she was trying to keep her mind on positive things so that she wouldn’t think about the people surrounding us who want to harm her just because of who she is. I told her that I’d do my best to protect her. I wasn’t sure I could keep that promise.
The way their eyes narrowed and widened, the way they expressed dismay and then what seemed to be wicked delight, as exuberant UIC students of all races joined us. They had been suspicious of us—White people who might or might not be Trump supporters—but when the UIC students joined us, oh, now they KNEW. We were plants! We were protesters! We were anti-Trump! They were going to get us.
I don’t even care that much about Trump. Of course he’s terrible, and I’m awake enough to know that he could be elected. But I’ve been focusing on local issues, local people. I’ve been frustrated that all the attention on Trump allows Cruz and his bigotry to stay in the race. It’s strange to see so many people coming together against Trump when they’re not showing up for the same issues locally. But who am I to judge? I don’t show up for everything, either.
I feel special, I did something special. I feel guilty. I’m getting too much attention. I was just one small piece, there were thousands of other pieces.
Hours and hours of standing next to people saying the most vile things, people talking about how they hope protesters show up so they have an excuse to beat them up, people who held their phones and cameras up directly in our faces and film us, take our photos and send them . . . somewhere . . . and we can’t say anything. We didn’t antagonize anyone, we avoided political talk. We had civil, neutral conversations with a few of them. I hoped talking to me would humanize me for them so they wouldn’t hurt me later. It didn’t work.
In the hallways of the arena. On the street where thousands were already gathered. Down on the floor of the arena. Trump supporters picked fights with protesters. Police typically defended the White person in the altercation, no matter who started it. Police led Trump supporters outside and directed them to where protesters were congregating.
Dancing, singing, clapping, holding up fists, flashing the peace sign, hugging each other, pointing at people in the stands who couldn’t come down to the floor. We couldn’t believe it, we’d gotten him to cancel his event!
WE GON BE AIGHT!
THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!
I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!
Boredom. We try to fill the time with songs or pattycake games, but it draws too much attention. We sit on the floor. We tell jokes and then feel guilty because we’re supposed to be serious. Talk about something nice. Lift each other’s spirits.
Cars honking as we walk down the street with our shirts and our sign. They know we were there. Fists raised from windows.
Reporters everywhere. Reporters I didn’t know were in our group. I confronted the creepy guy with shoulder length gray hair who’d been filming us from two feet away for hours. He shrugged.
When the event cancellation announcement was made, the rage on the faces of the Trump supporters. The rage! They turned on us and began shoving, grabbing and assaulting People of Color in our group. We were surrounded on all sides and had to form our unity circle—the one we’d intended to form in silent protest during the speech—just to get safely away from people who clearly intended to harm us. We were threatened, we were groped, we were punched, pushed, yanked. Men a foot taller than me stood in my face and screamed about how they would violate me.
USA! USA! USA!
The media blitz. People coming out of the woodwork. Calling, texting, emailing, messaging, tagging. We saw you! You were on the news! I told my family I know her!
I met an Indian American who is a Trump supporter. He’s about to spend a few months in my hometown, where many will look at him, assume he’s Muslim and wonder if he’s a terrorist. The same hometown where a Muslim man and a Latino man were recently attacked and beaten by a White man who told them to go home and that Trump will make American great again, with his wall.
Such love for the people I’m with, who used their bodies to protect me. Who asked how I’m holding up. Who planned and trained and sacrificed to be a part of this together. People who inspire me to try a little harder and give a little more and speak up without fear. Such love!
People are concerned that I infringed upon Trump’s right to free speech. They want me to know I’m hurting democracy by protesting. I could have used other methods to make my voice heard. I needlessly put myself in harm’s way. He’s not going to win anyway, he’s planted by the Democrats to make Republicans look racist. Instead of protesting I should just vote. Yes, he’s talking about destroying millions of lives, but people were going to yell at him! Yelling is unpatriotic. I can’t complain about strange men threatening to violate me, after all, I was planning to stand next to them silently with a t-shirt that says racism is bad. WHAT OTHER CHOICE DID THEY HAVE?
And now, what? How long will we let this go on?
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