Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump held a campaign rally during the afternoon of July 11 at the Phoenix Convention Center – and I was there.
I’m not a Trump supporter. I consider him a con artist and a jerk. But local Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s mounting legal troubles, the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage, and South Carolina’s decision to take down the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds had given me hope that the U.S. had turned a cultural corner and the right-wing purveyors of ignorance and hate were finally on the run.
After all, it had only been a week since Trump had received widespread condemnation for claiming that most of the undocumented immigrants from Mexico were rapists. And Arpaio, who was scheduled to speak before Trump, had recently been forced to admit that his office had committed racial profiling against Latinos in response to a lawsuit file by the U.S. Department of Justice. Since Arizona’s population is about a third Latino, and most of them live in the Phoenix area, I figured there’d be a good turnout of protestors. I wanted to join them and help celebrate a bright new dawn for politics in Arizona. To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement.
I drove downtown with a like-minded friend to the Phoenix Convention Center and discovered there was an enormous line of people waiting to get in. Afterwards, Trump claimed that more than 10,000 people attended the rally, although the local Arizona Republic newspaper claimed it was only about 4,200. But I think Trump’s number was closer to the truth. The convention center building takes up an entire city block and the line of people waiting to get in wrapped around the building twice. It was even more depressing to see that so many people were willing to wait outside without water in health-threatening 106 degree to hear him speak.
Still, we didn’t give up and looked for some protestors. We didn’t see many as we approached the building, just a few scattered about with signs denouncing Trump and Arpaio. So we decided to walk around the entire place to look for more.
At one of the corners there was a lot of foot traffic from Trump supporters using the crosswalks to get to the event. There was a single protestor with a sign standing near the corner to greet them. We overheard one of Trump’s supporters complain to a Phoenix police officer that the protestor shouldn’t be allowed to obstruct pedestrians, and the officer should arrest him for breaking the law. The policeman told the man to keep moving and then rolled his eyes and said, “It takes all kinds.”
We finally found most of the protestors grouped in front of the event’s main entrance, on the building’s north side. There were only about 100 of them, but they were well organized and had plenty of signs and were using bullhorns to coordinate some clever chants. It was encouraging to see that all races were represented. Many of the Trump supporters, which were almost entirely white, seemed dumbfounded to encounter people that disagreed with them. (Maybe they were worried they were going to get raped.)
The protest leaders with the bullhorns would change the chants every few minutes. Their best one was probably, “No more hate!” But I also liked, “White silence is racism!” My friend’s wife had suggested, “Don’t let Trump, stump Arizona!” He asked one of the young latina protest leaders if she wanted to use it and she said yes and it was a success.
At one point the Trump supporters waiting in line began chanting “USA!” But the protestors countered by chanting it even louder, drowning them out. That was a good moment.
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Every now and then one of the Trump supporters would break from the line and approach the fence the police had set up to separate the two groups to launch a personal verbal assault against the protestors. There was one old white woman with long, unkempt gray hair, dressed in cowboy jeans and boots with a Western style shirt of red, white, and blue that kept running over to scream at the protestors while pointing a hate-filled finger in their faces. The protestors would yell back at her and a policeman would come over to stand in front of her and tell her to calm down. She would nod her head and return to the line, but she came back to scream at the protestors again at least three times.
It was hot and we didn’t have any shade or water so we only stayed about a half hour. As we walked back around the building to go to the parking lot across the street we still couldn’t see any end to the line of people waiting to get in.
On the way home we talked about our experience and we both agreed that it made us ashamed to be Arizonans to see that there were so many people in our state that supported Trump. We also agreed that maybe we should consider moving to a more educated part of the country. The only encouraging thing about our experience was the realization that Trump was helping to make it clear to more Americans that the modern Republican Party bears no resemblance to the party of Lincoln.