The first time I participated in a protest was January 2017. President Trump had just been elected, and I joined my mother at the Women’s March in Downtown Columbus. I was pleasantly surprised by the behavior of all attendees on both sides of the equation.
A year later, I co-lead the walkout at our school following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The same impression of solidarity and order from my first protesting experience remained.
I wish I could say that the same civility was present when I protested the arrival of President Trump at Orange High School. He was holding the rally in support of candidate Troy Balderson. I witnessed racism at levels I had never seen before, and it has stuck with me ever since.
It first came as a major shock, that a man who I viewed as a catalyst for hatred within our country, was going to be in our school. I now recognize that the school is a public space, and essentially required to rent their property, especially when the president is in town.
Following the initial bombshell, I immediately put my anxious hands to work, painting protest signs and tweeting announcements to encourage others to join me in my show of resistance.
In my previous protesting experiences, I rarely faced opposition, or felt as if I was in a minority group. As we neared the school, I knew I was not mentally prepared for what I was about to face.
I don’t believe we made it five minutes without being sneered or laughed at. We began to chant simple phrases, only to be met with a crowd roaring “U-S-A” back at us. Were we not there practicing one of America’s most sacred rights, freedom of speech?
As we walked down the sidewalk parallel to Orange Road, people would take videos or pictures without our consent, usually laughing as they passed. Once we reached a stopping point, we spread out along the beginning of Walker Wood Boulevard.
Cars would drive up and down the road with simple signs hanging in the window reading. “Resist” or “Thank You.” They would wave and force a smile, but it was obvious that they were holding back tears. Most of these cars carried people of color, who I assumed felt as if their security may be at risk if they chose to express themselves openly.
We travelled back to the sidewalks lining Orange Road. A man walked past us several times, mumbling disjointed phrases, until finally he gathered enough courage to voice his hatred with some amplitude.
As he sauntered by, he turned to a young African-American woman next to me and sneered, “Go back to your own country.” I don’t believe that I have ever been in the presence of such blatant racism. She was extremely pained and began to ask him why he would think that, especially since she graduated from the district just a few years ago.
He gradually got louder and louder, and attracted attention from InfoWars- a web show which is now banned from posting on YouTube and Twitter due to their malicious, libelous content. They asked him, “How does it feel to be harassed at a rally for your own president?”
He then began to falsely claim that she told him she was an immigrant, and then claimed that he never said anything in the first place.
This experience, although not directed towards me, was utterly heartbreaking. The school did have to rent the space for the purpose of the rally, but the crowd that the event attracted was is no way beneficial to our community.
We pride ourselves on being a safe place for diversity and inclusion, yet the interactions that I witnessed could not be further from those values. I was extremely disappointed with the abundance of bystanders, on both sides of the political spectrum, who failed to realize the severity of hostility towards the opposition, especially protesters of color.
The divide between political parties has always been clear, yet when it becomes an excuse for blatant intimidation and racism against fellow American citizens, a line must be drawn.