I’m reluctant to write this piece, but I want to tell you about my experience. I feel like someone who just saw a gorgeous sunrise or a horrible tragedy; like someone who just won the lottery or lost a good friend. I want to tell others.
I’m not looking for a response. Please don’t offer one. Really. Don’t.
I just want to tell what I think is a really special story.
Last week, I participated in a peaceful protest against the rhetoric of Donald Trump and his campaign. The rally was held at Lenore Rhine University, a small Lutheran School in Hickory, NC.
When I arrived at about 8:30, a long line of Trump supporters stretched across the campus. I followed the crowd, particularly those who weren’t in the long line, and came upon the group of protestors standing in front of the college chapel. I had expected the group would be small — maybe twenty or so, but I think there must have been over a hundred people there. They were diverse. Young. Old. Hispanic. Black. White. Dressed up. Not so dressed up. And ministers. About ten or fifteen, sporting clerical collars, stood among the crowd. Most of the protestors had signs. Most of them were singing songs — Lutheran hymns, folk songs (yeah, folk songs!) and contemporary songs. I felt like I was back in the ‘60s (as described in my novel, 7 Sanctuaries).
The line of Trump supporters passed by on the sidewalk about seventy-five feet in front of us. (I called the grassy space between us, ‘the Jordan River’). They were all white. Most were middle-aged and older. Some had signs. Many seemed surprised to see us there.
Generally, everything was civil. At times they would chant (at us), “Build the wall. Build the wall.” We’d respond with, “Build a bridge. Build a bridge.” Then they’d shout, “USA. USA.” And we’d shout back, “USA. USA.” (That seemed to kinda confuse them).
We continued into the morning, waving signs and singing songs. Then some of the emboldened Trump supporters came forward in a more threatening way. A guy waving a Trump tee shirt and shouted at us for over a quarter of an hour. News crews began to interview people in the grassy area between our two groups and The Jordon got a little muddier. Some sub-groups on our side became agitated themselves, and began yelling and chanting. Finger pointing and finger raising took place. One Hispanic yelled at the Trump supporters that they weren’t going to build the wall, but the Mexicans would, ‘cause they built everything else. When I mentioned to him that it was impossible to change their minds, he yelled even louder.
When things got a little too heated, several men jumped out and formed a line in between the two groups, in the Jordan, as a buffer. I joined them. We all linked arms and stood silently, like a wall -- a good wall. The ministers came forward and formed another line in front of us. We slowly moved the protestors back to the chapel where a hundred other protestors continued to wave signs and sing hymns. Our line turned around to face the line of Trump supporters who were slowly moving toward the auditorium entrance. The presence of the line had a calming effect on both crowds.
Someone in the agitated protest group behind us announced Trump was about to arrive in the back of the auditorium and they hurried around the building. Our buffer line of protestors and ministers broke away and we followed them, assimilating with them and moving toward the front where we waited for about forty-five minutes, shouting, cheering (except for the ministers) and watching up the street for Trump’s limo. Some Trump supporters were there — mostly on a little incline to our left — also looking for his car.
When he arrived, it was anticlimactic. The car pulled into a tented area and everyone (except the ministers) screamed and shouted.
Shortly after that, I headed back to the chapel, where a service of reconciliation was scheduled to take place. I eventually slipped away and headed home. I’d later learn that five or six protestors inside the auditorium were cited. One was taken away in handcuffs.
Unsurprisingly, the news people portrayed the event as being much worse than it was (gotta get that advertising revenue, after all). The event was powerful, but contained. I was impressed with the maturity displayed by most of the protestors and by most of the Trump supporters. Sure, we disagreed, but we didn’t let that disagreement turn nasty.
And that was just what I had hoped would happen. We showed others we could peacefully stand up for our beliefs even if it had the potential for turning negative.
Why was I there? I wanted to demonstrate to those I love, especially my kids, how important it is to take a stand. And, I wanted to show others who don’t think they can make a difference that they can. Maybe they’ll take a stand, too.
Did we accomplish those goals?
I hope so. I sincerely hope so.