Caveat- This post is not trying to explain or justify my POV as a WOC Christian activist. I’m not doing an apologetic about why Trump is bad news (others have written plenty on that). Usually I try to define terms and explain my POV more. This is not that post. This is for those who already understand why I would go to a Trump rally to protest, specifically as an expression of my love for Jesus and my commitment to justice. And for those who understand my passion for multi-ethnic community.
When I arrived in Chicago three days ago I didn’t even know Trump was coming to town. Mostly out of curiosity and a bit on a whim I registered myself and my friend Terrance for the rally. Tickets were free.
Word spread among the crew I was with and more tickets were reserved.
The night before the rally I turned to Terrance. I had spent a portion of the day watching videos of black men getting punched at Trump rallies, the other portion of my day I spent reading a ricoh theta s review which I found very interesting.
Terrance is a friend, pastor, worship leader, active in Christian community development, and a spazz that makes jokes in the most serious of conversations. He is also an African American man.
“So Terrance- are we going to this thing to observe or to protest?”
“Erna- my body is a protest.”
I went to sleep meditating on that answer.
By two in the afternoon, the day of the rally, I was in a room with my fellow protesters.
I hadn’t realized that my friend Bethany had decided to attend. Bethany is a passionate social justice leader. She runs a program for youth, she’s a grant writer, Latina, and oh yeah- she’s 7 months pregnant.
The thought of going to a Trump protest with a Latina woman that is 7 months pregnant scared the crap out of me. I have been watching video after video of the hateful treatment of protesters. And have watched the shocking video of a man sucker punching a protester leaving a rally.
“Bethany- are you sure you want to go? Is it wise?”
Instantly- with tears in her eyes, total confidence in her voice “I..AM..GOING. I am second generation Mexican American. My great grandmother was Indigenous Mexican. My kids are scared. ( She was referring to the Latino youth she works with.) I want to be able to look them in the eye and say that I made them see our humanity.”
So that was the end of that conversation.
We discussed different possible disruptions. We had no idea what to expect in terms of other protesters. We knew there would be some outside of the event, but not sure how many would be in the rally itself. We prepared for the worst.
We assigned three people to Bethany and two of us to Terrance. We practiced blocking Bethany from people that might push her or shove her. We chose a song that we would sing. We prayed.
We were dropped off several blocks from the event and within an hour we were seated in the auditorium. There were far more people of color than I expected. I assumed most were not Trump supporters, but you never know. There were several yelling matches that broke out, and the atmosphere felt like a bar at 1am on a Saturday. People were gunning for a fight- just for entertainment.
Soon two people were yelling at each other and it became clear that an entire section was college students from the school- there to protest. We all sighed with much relief. There were other protesters in the room.
As we waited, several snapshots that locked into my brain.
A group of 5 young Latino college students were walking around our area. And one young woman was carrying a sign that said- UNDOCUMENTED UNAFRAID
I teared up immediately.
There is no way, as an 18 or 19 year old, I would have had the courage to walk into a room of Trump supporters and hold up that sign. Shoot- I was afraid. Afraid for me, for Terrance, for Bethany. I was afraid for her.
There was something beautiful about her courage- saying I am here. I am a person. I won’t hide.
A few rows in front of me were a group of Middle Eastern college students. All of the women were wearing hijabs. One young woman had an hijab that was a US flag. Ever so often she would turn around and look back at the rows behind her. She was quite beautiful. Not only in the superficial sense, but the beauty of being herself. Bringing her body into a space where people have been encouraged to reduce her to a caricature. Courage and beauty everywhere.
I can’t recount every detail.
There were a few yelling matches. One black man in a muscle shirt ardently supporting Trump. One old grandma with a cowboy hat and head to toe flag outfit walking around yelling at the crowd.
It was already 40 minutes after things were supposed to start when it was announced that the rally was cancelled.
It’s hard to explain what happened in the next 30 seconds, but my favorite thing was watching half the crowd go through some sort of transformation. I unzipped my jacket to reveal my protest shirt-the name of a dozen black men that have been shot by police. Like Clark Kent, white people who had been down on the floor, pulled opened their button up dress shirts to reveal “White supremacy is the enemy” written with puffy paint on t-shirts. Signs were pulled out of backpacks, coats, and pockets. A giant rainbow flag was unfurled and several young women waved it together. Everything people had been waiting to do once Trump was on stage exploded, as well as delight and triumph.
I’m clearly a sucker for college students. I’ve been in campus ministry since 1997. But I fell in love with college students all over again. Their passion. Their incredible courage to be themselves. Their willingness to bring their full identities into a space of hostility. To say “I will not be turned into the enemy or into a caricature.”
Ironically it may be the most diverse crowd I have ever been in. The spaces where I usually experience racial diversity, marginalize the queer community. The spaces where queer folks are centered, I don’t usually see Muslim people.
Everyone was chanting together together. First “Shut It Down!” But then “Education not Deportation” and “Si se Puede!”
It was a good night.
The size of the protest reflects the fact that organizers have been on the ground for a while in Chicago, especially in response to Laquan McDonald. I have to give the city credit for showing up. I was honored to add my voice to theirs for this one day.
We were bracing for hostility and to see the worst. Instead I saw something beautiful. Thank you Chicago. And special shout out to the students of University of Illinois- Chicago. You did it.
Addendum- Since I have seen a lot of news reports and FB comments describing the event as very violent. I will speak to what I saw. I was inside the Pavillion. So I can’t speak to the dynamics outside between 5pm and 7pm. Inside, I witnessed 4 to 5 scuffles as people waited for the event, a few very angry Trump supporters and a few angry protesters. Some people were just gunning for a fight. But overall I found the energy less tense than I expected. There were several scuffles after it was announced that the rally was cancelled. There was a very jubilant celebration by protesters in the pavilion after the cancellation. I thought the police were appropriate in their use of force, for the most part. I would not have described the night as violent. I would describe it as tense at multiple occasions.