By now the rally that Donald Trump had planned last week in Chicago is famous and has been covered countless times. I was there and I’ll try to provide yet another perspective on a rally that is probably going to be one for the history books. As far as I can tell, it’s the first rally that has been canceled by a presidential candidate this cycle due to highly organized protesters. Shortly after this rally he announced that he was canceling a rally in Cincinnati (although after canceling it, he announced that it was still on).
But what was it like to be there in person? This was my experience, and mine alone, but here’s what I saw.
Traffic: by the time we were about half a mile to the UIC Pavilion the traffic was basically at a standstill, so the group I was with hopped out and we walked to where the rally was set to be held. I was able to hear the protesters in the street from a few blocks away, and once I got there I thought there was going to be a problem getting into the rally because the line to get in stretched around the block for a while. The whole atmosphere felt like a sports game because people were selling concessions like Trump hats and pins everywhere you looked. Fortunately, the line bent around the block and, like so many others, I just hopped in and saved myself several hours of waiting. On the other side of the street, the protesters were lined up on the street jeering at everyone who entered the rally. My favorite protester was definitely the one who was dressed up as the Pope.
Once I got in, I was actually surprised at how many empty seats there were. I’ve since read that some of Trump’s supporters had been there since 3 in the morning, and here I am, getting inside at a little after 5, and I still got a seat. Within the area, there was the floor where you could only stand, and that’s what the people who got there early got to get. They were all given orange bracelets that meant that they could be on the floor while everyone else got to sit down. The security line to get in wasn’t actually too bad, and when I walked past them I had seen a couple of posters that they confiscated, but as everyone now knows, they didn’t get nearly all of them.
Shortly after I was sitting, the protests began. Since there was no way to filter out who was let in and who wasn’t, they had all gathered in one section of the bleachers and started chanting. Some were taken out, but most of them stayed there. Then things more or less calmed down for a while. When I said earlier that this event reminded me of a sports game I wasn’t kidding. I saw people walking around with hot dogs and French fries that they bought from concession stands that were on site.
The event was supposed to start at 6, and as time passed by, I thought that they were delaying its start because they were waiting for the bleachers to fill in more, because they were way more empty than I had been expecting to see. Then came the announcement. The rally was going to be postponed (although this meant it was as good as canceled because there’s no way they were going to have another one in Chicago in the days before the primary). I learned later that although I might have thought that Trump was going to speak, he never actually left his Trump building in downtown Chicago.
As soon as the event was canceled, the protesters in the audience revealed themselves and started chanting various things, including Bernie Sanders’s name. A decent contingent had been known to everyone, but I was shocked at just how organized it had been. Throughout the entire stadium, people took off the shirts they had that had been covering their shirts they were going to wear in protest, pulled signs out, and started chanting. People started fighting and Trump signs were torn and thrown into the air. The Trump supporters surged towards the protesters and for far too long the two groups were left face to face. After what felt like forever, both crowds headed for the exits. When the pro-Trump crowd tried leaving the nearby parking garage where many of them had parked, they found the anti-Trump crowd blocking the exit to the garage, so they had to wait until the police cleared them away.
During the course of all this, I was barely able to get any reception on my phone (probably because there were so many people within such a small space), but the second the event was canceled I got push notifications from just about every app that I had on my phone notifying me that it was canceled.
In the days since the protest, it’s become clear that this was a highly organized protest that went well beyond what even the protesters had been expecting (Politico has an excellent profile on what went on behind the scenes). I personally don’t think that they should have shut the event down because, as much as they may disagree with Trump, he has a right to be heard. However, Trump’s claim that the police supported canceling the event were completely false. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given that it certainly seems as if his campaign has been doubling down on false statements this week (even more than usual!). Trump has also been endorsed by Ben Carson (in what may or may not have been due to an illegal promise of a job in return for Carson’s support).
Finally, I’ve seen a lot since the protests with one side blaming the other for the violence but I think that there’s plenty of blame to go around.
This video is a good summary of some of the crazier things seen at the rally:
As I said, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
I think it’s helpful to compare this to how other candidates have dealt with protesters at their events, because dealing with protesters is the name of the game. Just this past week someone shouted at a Rubio event that Rubio is trying to steal his girlfriend!
When he has more serious protesters, this is how he reacts.
The rally was definitely an interesting way to spend an evening, and I’m glad I went because it was an opportunity that I feel like required me to be there in person to see it. Hopefully this helped you feel like you were there too!