Chicago held up its reputation as the Windy City Friday night when a Donald Trump Rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) campus fell into disarray as anti-trump protesters and Trump backers clashed in the stadium and on the street. It all started out innocently enough (for a Trump rally). The turnout for the night was truly spectacular. The line to get in stretched for blocks, city blocks, wrapped around buildings and gardens. Red hats dotted the lines, all promising to ‘make America great again’. With the exception of a handful of protesters which took to the streets with signs and chants, there was little opposition to the event. Honestly, most were more concerned with finding a way to cut in line.
That was to change, though. More joined in chants against Trump as the sun set. 6:30 came, and people began pouring out onto the streets, back to cars in the nearby parking tower and the nearby blue line metro stop. Mind you; some had waited in line for multiple hours to get in.
With the protestor situation beginning to get out of hand, Trump cancelled his rally. It had not even started.
Reports from those in the stadium say that anywhere from 40% 60% of attendees were there to protest the rally, not support the frontrunner in the Republican race. More and more revealed themselves as protesters in the audience, gaining confidence from others doing the same. The Students from UIC, Black lives matter, Bernie Sanders supporters, and countless thousands of others were there to show what Chicagoans will and will not stand for. Unfortunately, several large fights also broke out in the stands and on the floor. An hour or two later, I got myself back in the building, and the stage area resembled a circus more than the site of a political event, with food and trash (possibly used as projectiles) strewn everywhere.
Police quickly cordoned off streets with mounted units and lines of officers wielding batons, but the demonstrations still spilled into nearby intersections and blocked the exit to a parking tower, making it impossible for rally attendees, many of them Trump supporters from the suburbs, to leave. Eventually, police were able to clear a small pathway down Congress for cars to exit.
If my description thus far of the event makes the Trump’s supporters sound like the victims, allow me to clarify. It was not from protesters from which I heard numerous calls for a revolt or civil war. Protesters were not leaning over the edge of the parking tower, spitting on those below and hurling racial slurs over the side. Protesters were not the ones telling their fellow Americans to “go back to where they came from”. Those “assholes who want communism for a country” were not who the police lines were needed for.
I’ve described many Friday’s attendants as ‘Trump supporters’. What does that mean, though? That’s a more complicated question than it appears at first glance. From what they told me, I don’t know how they can all possibly support the same candidate. There were plenty of your garden variety Trump supporters: the ‘let’s build a wall!’ and ‘he will stand up to China” type. Some caught me off guard by the lack of even those famous sound bites to justify their support…The man who said, “I want less war, but Trump would make the wars more, so if we have more wars, it’ll make the wars end.” Others, worried for completely the wrong reasons, like the pilot fretting about illegal immigrants coming for American jobs. An Asian woman, not even born in the United States, took a swipe at a Middle Eastern woman protesting, also telling her that if she doesn’t like it here, she should leave. We could make a list of these from tonight, but you get the point.
Fueled largely by fear and anger, the Trump Train chugs on.
No matter how little sense their arguments may make, they may have a profound impact on the Illinois primary, which takes place on March 15th. Michigan was thrust into the spotlight as the tragedy in Flint was uncovered. A heightened sense of political awareness there may have allowed Mr. Sanders to pull out his win, while being down over 20 points in the prior polling. Will seeing these levels of bigotry and general idiocy convince otherwise unlikely voters to cast a ballot? Is this Trump rally that wasn’t a wakeup call for all Chicago voters?