Uncle Sam, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Mexican worker, a Muslim. These were a few of the characters my husband and I portrayed during our protest outside the recent the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. We carried appropriate signs to match each costume with phrases such as, ‘Build A Wall Around Trump,’ and ‘The Supreme Court Matters,’ and ‘Ban All Trumps, Not Muslims.’ And yes, the man dressed like Jesus with the sign, ‘Trump is the Antichrist’ was indeed my husband.
Each day we stood in Public Square, we walked the designated protest parade route a few times, we wandered around downtown a bit, but our favorite hang out was on East 4th Street. Many RNC delegates and guests used that street to enter and leave the convention arena. These were the people responsible for Trump’s nomination. We wanted these people to see our costumes and signs, more than the curiosity seekers, religious zealots and gun toters in the designated protest park.
On our first stroll down East 4th, one man said to me, “You’re in enemy territory. Be careful.” I tried not to be fearful.
We got countless responses on our outfits and signs from Republicans, and also from Democrats and Independents on East 4th. Actually, the experience left me a little dazed in the days that followed. Dazed is one word to describe some Republicans, as well. One delegate stopped in front of me to say: “I’m with you. I don’t want him either.”
He was alone, but his anti-Trump comment was not the lone one. A few other Republicans walking by themselves would mutter something about not wanting Trump, either. The majority of GOP members who passed us were in small groups of two or three people. They averted their eyes after reading our signs with phrases like, ‘Trump: Making American Hate Again’. With the messages read, their eyes forward, or down, they shuffled along, like sheep, ready to file back into the arena to play the sport of American politics. Sometimes when a larger group walked by, people in unison proclaimed their allegiance to Trump as their leader – “Trump! Trump! Trump!” – and dismissed us as being “silly little protesters.”
It was pack mentality. Dogs on the street, looking to fight. Bullies on a kid, puffed up with ‘Trump Righteousness.’ We tried not to say anything most of the time. I smiled and smiled and smiled, and flashed the peace sign.
There were only three times during the four days of the RNC people really confronted me – screaming in my face, and one time when a young man tried to start a scene by walking into my sign, which wasn’t moving. He tried to say I hit him with it near the corner of East 4th. Witnesses quickly called out his lie.
One screamer on East 4th was inches from my face. I could see veins bulging out of his neck. He was telling me I should be home because I’m a woman and I have no right to protest. Yes. That. In 2016. My silence infuriated him, and he kept going with his insults. I put my sign between our faces. He put his camera around the sign. I kept moving away. Eventually, he stormed off. A woman watching two feet away was red-faced with some kind of emotion. “Please be careful,” she said, then walked by.
I encountered two other screamers at Public Square – a small park the city designated as a peaceful protest zone. One of those screamers used a bullhorn. He was saying if a wife votes for Hillary, and a man votes for Trump, the wife cancels out his vote and so the man should force the wife to stay home. His nonsensical barking eventually forced us to reposition across the park. I took a video of this man, just in case the trouble escalated. Another screamer at Public Square recorded video of us – while shouting insults and trying to bait us for retort. We refused, mostly. My husband did tell the man he must’ve been a Trump University graduate. Couldn’t resist. I made a peace sign and smiled, again. After several seconds of our silence, the graduate moved on.
It could be argued that our appearance was over the top – that it encouraged heated responses to our messages. To that I will say: Trump’s candidacy is over the top, so why not protest with ridiculous, over-the-top costumes? Some people said our outfits were culturally insensitive. Really? When your candidate is calling Mexicans rapists and demeaning women with menstrual remarks? Really? Doesn’t your candidate claim there is too much political correctness in our world today? Like your candidate says anything that pops into his head to get attention, we wore the costumes to get attention. If the graduates had read our signs, they would have realized we were supporting the people we portrayed.
On the last day of the RNC, my husband wore a keffiyeh, a type of Muslim headdress worn by men. Some ignoramous in the crowd shouted at my husband a few times, “Where are you from – Saudi Arabia?” Yes. That. In 2016. “I’m American,” my husband calmly and loudly responded. The heckler was silent a moment. Maybe the man had not thought of that possibility. Ultimately, he didn’t seem to believe it. As he walked away, he said, “Go back to Saudi Arabia.”
Meanwhile, I wore a lighter-hearted costume to counter-balance the heavy nature of husband’s message on that last day. I wore a lab coat and a toy stethoscope. My sign read ‘Free Trump Counseling Here’ on one side and ‘Our Political System is Sick’ on the other.
More people gave me shows of support on this day than any other. More thumbs up and big smiles with happy eyes. More people who said ‘right on’ and ‘thank you’ – and more requests for photographs. Many people chuckled or laughed. It’s an easy message to understand: you don’t have to wonder what Justice Ginsburg was ‘right about’, and you don’t have to be up on current events to understand ‘Little hands, small minds, big A__hole.’
I didn’t have to force any smiles that day for cameras – they were all genuine. Maybe by the last day of the RNC, people realized there weren’t going to be crazed riots. No terror attacks. Maybe everyone relaxed a little bit, and found that if they tried, they could laugh at the ridiculousness of this moment in American history. At least, for a little while – for a few hours before Trump’s speech laced with ‘Fear of Everything’. I especially enjoyed those hours of protest on that last day.
Finally, a switch. The pack mentality – on my side. People on the street, looking to relate. Friends with a friend, filled with Democracy’s Virtue.
Now – whether or not all the people in my pack get out and vote against Trump in November – is another issue entirely. From now until then, I’ll try not to be fearful.
“Prophecy is the gift of God and everyone has a smidge of it.”
― Stephen King, The Stand
Other cultural commentary:
- Twilight Zone: protesting the RNC in Cleveland
- Why people say they want to retire early and travel the world, but don’t actually do it
- Mental health message on my ‘cancerversary’