fifth principle

The Right to Protest is What Makes America Great

At the rally in Elkhart, Indiana last Thursday, President Trump announced the slogan for his re-election campaign in 2020: instead of “Making America Great,” it will be “Keep America Great.” As if he has already made America great. Instead, his slogan should be: Keeping America Racist, Sexist and Homophobic which is exactly the sign I waved during the protest and held it up so he could see it for himself as the motorcade rode past on the way back to the South Bend airport.

I was with the protesters outside of Northside gymnasium last night for President Trump and Mike Pence's visit to Elkhart. The news coverage didn't show the diversity of the protestors as opposed to the homogenous crowd waiting in line to see Trump. I counted about 15 people of color out of the 7,000 waiting in line to get inside. Outside I stood with a crowd that was very diverse chanting "this is what democracy looks like" and "this is what diversity looks like." We were met with foul gestures and words -- at one point a group of obnoxious counter-protesters got a microphone and started yelling personal insults at Latinx people in particular, telling them to get a job, get off of welfare, to leave if they didn't like America. At one point a woman started asking a person near the front row whether they identified as a woman or a man because "she couldn't tell." The personal insults were horrible. I have not experienced such a display of vitrol and racism since I grew up on the south side of Chicago back in the late 70s and early 80s where race riots happened regularly on my high school grounds and the KKK march in Marquette Park.

Our crowd of about 1,000 protesters tried to yell over their racist and homophobic and anti-trans* slurs, but was not always successful. And the worst part about it all is that one of the worst racists and taunters was shown on the evening news, wearing the American flag as a cape (which according to a federal code that was put into place in 1923 is considered disrespectful) probably only giving him more incentive to be so cruel to others. The news coverage didn’t show him giving us the middle finger or his nearly constant rude hip gestures. It got really heated at one point and more and more police, some with dogs, began to show up and situate themselves between us and the Trump supporters who remained and deliberately taunted us. And as they created that barricade with their bodies and the dogs, they faced us -- the protesters -- not the racist people who were yelling personal attacks. They were protecting them and allowing them to spew their hatred while making sure we didn't step out of line.

I tried to think what I would have done if when I was waiting in line to see President Obama the two times he visited Elkhart while President I was met with peaceful protesters from the other side. I remember my own yelling and screaming at anti-choice protesters when Obama came to speak at Notre Dame, but that was because I had to hide their horrible misleading signs which depicted dead and bloody newborn babies from my children who were in my car as we made our way to church. But I did not make personal attacks at them. I did not give them the finger. However, I got lots of middle fingers flashed at me yesterday and insults were hurled at myself and the others who stood with me, many of them personal attacks. At one point, I asked the taunters why they weren't asking me whether I worked and had a job. Of course they ignored me. I have white and professional class privilege.

They felt brave spewing their racist and homophobic rhetoric at us while safely across the street with police forming a literal barricade between us, using the F-word and the p-word despite the fact that there were families with children waiting in line for the opportunity to hear the President of our country speak. But this is the kind of behavior President Trump encourages. And while I was happy to see some friends and fellow Unitarian Universalists speak articulately about why they were protesting, even the media didn't choose to interview (or air the comments of) the many people of color who were there. In fact, from the news coverage it was not clear at all how much diversity there was on the protesters' side. The whole story was how great it was to have our president visit the city of Elkhart. Trump talks about “fake news” all the time, but this was a living example of news that was presented impartially. I felt sick about the entire experience, but stood proudly with the others who protested. This is still a democracy, and we have the right to express our opinion. The First Amendment gives us the right to free speech and to peaceably assemble. Our protesting does not make us hate America or want to leave it. We protest because we care and believe our government is heading down the wrong path.

For me, it came down once again to our children. This President is teaching our children it is okay to lie and to cheat. He is discrediting scientific facts, discouraging our children from being able to separate fact from opinion and anything he does not agree with is untrue in his mind. And he is encouraging his supporters to treat any opposition as un-American. How wrong this is. In America, we can protest. That is what makes our country great. Not encouraging racism and mistreatment of people who appear to be Latinx. Not encouraging misogyny and dismissing sexual assault as inconsequential. Being an American gives us the right to speak out in protest and criticize the President. If more people understood and actually were familiar with the United States Constitution instead of wielding it as a weapon and hand-picking parts to throw in the face of dissenters, then maybe we could have a more civil America.