A MULTIRACIAL crowd representing people from all over Chicago turned out to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Pavilion on March 11 to tell Donald Trump his racist message isn’t welcome here–forcing him to cancel his rally and send his supporters home.
Socialist Worker was inside and outside the UIC pavilion to report on how racism and bigotry was successfully shut down in the Windy City.
Trump, currently the frontrunner for Republican presidential nomination, was scheduled to take the stage at 6 p.m. in front of a packed house on Friday night. But 30 minutes after it was supposed to start, a Trump representative walked to the podium and announced:
Mr. Trump just arrived in Chicago, and after meeting with law enforcement, has determined that for the safety of all of the tens of thousands of people that have gathered in and around the arena, tonight’s rally will be postponed to another date.
It was clear victory for protesters, as cheers went up throughout anti-Trump forces in the crowd, and a clear defeat for Trump supporters.
For almost five hours, the air was tense inside the pavilion as Trump supporters and activists that had gone inside the pavilion to protest waited for the event to start. Waves of violence, vulgarity and hate ebbed and flowed from Trump supporters to anti-Trump protesters.
This pro-wrestling-type spectacle seems to be the bread and butter of the Trump PR strategy, as he typically whips his crowd into frenzy against immigrants, Muslims and anti-Trump protesters themselves. According to people inside the venue, some Trump supporters ran around the arena wherever a protester was discovered to yell at them and flip them off. There were also supporters who turned out for the event in black party dresses, tailored suits, gold watches and designer shoes.
Others wore “Blue Lives Matter” buttons and whenever a row of police passed by, clapped and chanted “CPD! CPD!” (Chicago Police Department). The front rows were reserved for the wealthier supporters, and it was rumored that Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had reserved a seat. In the upper decks, there were people sporting “All Lives Matter” T-shirts, military haircuts, Confederate garb and KKK patches.
At his rallies, Trump is fueling people’s fears and anger and directing it at easy scapegoats, like immigrants and Muslims. One Trump supporter complained, “My family is struggling for my son to go to college and he has an illegal friend who is getting a free ride. This society is not recognizing people who are struggling.”
For some attendees, this is a place where they can find an outlet for their racism and xenophobia. Trump has encouraged his supporters to physically attack any anti-Trump protesters that turn out to his events, and some people are turning up to his protests eager to do just that.
Trump’s security approached people inside the venue that they thought were protesters, usually non-white people, to ask their names and look them up on their smart phones. Officers from three police departments were also part of the security detail for the event.
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FOR PROTESTERS outside, the day began earlier that afternoon at the UIC campus quad, where hundreds turned out for a student-led speak-out, organized largely via social media, before marching to the UIC Pavilion.
The protest was organized very quickly, as the announcement of Trump’s event came just a week before the event. A UIC student started a MoveOn.org petition to get UIC to disinvite Trump that gained some traction. A collection of student groups and activists at UIC started a “Stop Trump” Facebook group and event that within 24 hours had thousands of people signing up to attend.
An opening organizing meeting on March 7 drew about 100 students representing groups such as the Muslim Student Association, College Democrats, the Black Student Union, student immigrant rights groups and Black Lives Matter activists among others, including members of Service Employees International Union Local 73.
Protesters developed an inside and an outside strategy for the Trump event, and over the course of the week, the numbers of people who wanted to come out and stand up to Trump ballooned.
On March 11, as news helicopters hovered above and traffic lanes were paralyzed, on the ground the crowd swelled to some 3,000 mostly young, multiracial and very animated anti-Trump activists. It was like a festival of solidarity as a broad spectrum of left and progressive organizations and many individuals who had never been to a protest before marched as one through the UIC campus and headed to the arena.
As people marched closer to UIC Pavilion, barricades and hundreds of Chicago, Cook County, and UIC police on foot, car and horseback separated the protesters from the people waiting in line to get in.
Chants of “Dump Trump!” accompanied the thousands of posters, banners, horn sections and even a mariachi band as the crowd surrounded the arena.
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WALKING THROUGH the crowd on Harrison Street was like seeing the different ethnicities of Chicago’s segregated neighborhoods come together, with protesters carrying signs in Spanish, Arabic and English. There were groups of queer activists, Black Lives Matter activists, Latino Sanders supporters, anarchists, socialists, artists, workers and professionals–all of them gathered to shut down Trump.
A young couple holding hands, Diego and Caroline, were among them. “This is the first time coming out [to a protest]. We were debating to come out or to go support Bernie,” Diego said, referring to the fact that Sanders had a campaign event the same day. “But we decided to come over…we want to stand together in solidarity against Trump, no matter what he says.”
An overwhelming number of people supported the Bernie Sanders campaign. Sandra Puebla, a student at Dominican University, proudly pasted a “Unidos con Bernie” (United with Bernie) sticker on her sweater and proclaimed, “[Sanders] is bringing up issues that aren’t usually brought up. He’s spoken about the importance of Black Lives Matter movement, xenophobia, and that’s not something Democrats usually talk about. Even if he doesn’t win he’s still impacting the election.”
Others didn’t affiliate with any presidential candidate, but stood firmly against Trump. “Trump needs to be stopped,” said 20-year-old Madeline Frankie, who goes to school in Pittsburgh and was home for spring break. Talking about the racism of the Trump campaign, she added, “It’s disgusting. We’re all humans, we’re all people.”
Contrary to Trump’s lies that his event was disrupted by “professional agitators,” Jacob, a 20-year-old holding a sign that read “#DumpTrump,” explained, “This is honestly my first protest. It was shared on Facebook. UIC students have been talking about it a lot on campus, and one of my friends in class shared it with me and I shared it with all my friends and now they’re all here with me.”
Next to him, 20-year-old Ashley from the Mexican neighborhood of Pilsen expressed her anger: “I’m Mexican and when Trump made his statements about how we’re all rapists and criminals, that really hit close to my heart because a lot of my family is undocumented. They are amazing hard workers. Trump is wrong–not all Mexicans are rapists, not all Muslims are terrorists.”
She added, “My first protests was in 2012 for Trayvon Martin, and since then I’ve been politically active.”
This new youth radicalization is thirsty for multiracial unity and while organizations still need to be built, the desire for solidarity is strong. Twenty-three-year-old Alex Wiggins from Chicago’s South Side encapsulated the anger:
Honestly I don’t fuck with Donald Trump, I don’t believe in his motivations. I have a lot of Mexican friends, and I’m African American. He’s trying to make America white again; I don’t think America is white. It’s a melting pot, isn’t it? I think it was made for all of us. My people died for this country, we may have been forced, but our blood is on this land. Mexican blood, Native American blood is on this land.
This is our country, and we’re not going to let money run it. We’re not going to let the top 1 Percent take everything. My father is almost 70–there was a time when he was young, when a man could work 40 hours a week and support his family, send his kids to college, spend time with his kids. Now people working 70 hours a week can’t raise their kids.
In turn, their kids are on the street and now we’re getting violence, we’re getting poverty. And people like Donald Trump have never been anywhere close to anything like that. They don’t understand what it’s like to walk into a store and be judged or even walk into a classroom and be judged. So that’s why I’m out here.
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THE ONLY way to stop the right is to directly shut them down with mass actions that unite people against their racism.
The vile celebrations of hate at Trump rallies have recently drawn protests at nearly every campaign stop, with activists going inside the events to hold up banners and disrupt the event. These incidents are so commonplace that Trump now begins his rallies by instructing the crowd to deal with disrupters by chanting “Trump!” to draw attention of security.
Trump has also condoned his supporters physically attacking protesters on multiple occasions, including at a recent North Carolina rally where a protester was punched by a Trump supporter. Trump sanctioned this action by offering to pay the assailant’s legal fees.
Chicago protesters expressed the sentiments of many anti-racists across the country and demonstrated that Trump and racists of his ilk can actually be shut down. At the rally, the workers and students of Chicago–Black, Latin@, Arab, Asian and white–did what few in the Democratic or Republican Party establishments or the media have done: tackle his bigotry head on. The right-wing demagogue who prides himself on never backing down was humbled not by a witty retort in a debate, a slick social media campaign, or even an elaborate set-piece direct action–but by the thousands of Chicagoans who turned out to oppose him.
Days before the rally, the Chicago Tribune ran the headline, “Trump to face protest by Latino Leaders,” claiming that “Latino elected officials and leaders said Monday they are organizing a protest to counter…Donald Trump’s appearance.” In a classic display of opportunism, Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Alderman Danny Solis held press conferences in an effort to gain political points for the Democrats.
However, it wasn’t the elected officials, but thousands of ordinary Chicagoans who gathered and marched on Trump, pushed police lines back and took the streets. Hundreds more protested inside the UIC pavilion and, through sheer force of numbers, forced Trump out of their city.
The strategy used by protesters inside the arena was effective through both the magnitude of participants and quality of organization. The activists inside didn’t act at random to avoid being picked off one by one but were disciplined so as not to be provoked and determined to act together.
As the radical historian Howard Zinn once wrote, if you’re going to disrupt a right-wing rally, “do it with 2,000 people.” While the protesters inside were decisive in canceling the event, the large, highly visible mass march outside was equally important in sending a message to the people of Chicago and beyond that racism and bigotry aren’t welcome in our city. While Democratic politicians stand up against racism or homophobia only when it’s politically convenient for them, it was the masses of Chicago who sent a message to Trump this time: You’re fired.
In the aftermath, the media described the protests as “violent clashes.” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who was also in the Chicago area campaigning on the day of the protest, weighed in, decrying the “violence” of both sides and making a bizarre comparison to the racist mass shooting by a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina.
In reality, peaceful protesters were attacked by mobs of angry Trump supporters when they learned the event was canceled. This has been–unsurprisingly–underreported by the corporate media, as was the fact that a number of protesters were beaten by the police and arrested.
At the same time, Trump has whined about his “freedom of speech” being violated. The fact that Trump can run for president with his inherited millions and buy a pulpit where his every word is carried by new stations as though his views automatically have merit, however, is a violation of the freedom of speech of the thousands upon thousands of working people who he targets with this scapegoating.
The protesters in Chicago didn’t ask the state to interfere by the restricting his speech. Instead we drowned out his hate ourselves with the power of our collective voices. Protests like that of Chicago are what are required to build a movement against racist scapegoating, endless war, border walls and deportations, no matter which political party–Republican or Democrat–is at fault.