The feeling is real – on protesting a Trump rally in Ashburn, VA

I walked a mile to the line for the Trump rally in Ashburn, Virginia. Parked along the side of the road outside the perimeter of Briar Woods High School where SUVs, minivans, and sedans lined the street, I booked it past everyday families with children, professionals that took time off from work, and others presumably just there for the curiosity factor. Although I support Hillary Clinton, when I found out the rally would be held in Loudoun County, I felt it was my duty to go and represent myself in protest of a Trump presidency.

A line of protesters holding signs convened along the beginning of school grounds beside a busy road. Some yelled anti-Trump slogans and others more explicit warnings like, “Think of your daughter’s vagina.”

I high fived as many of them as I could. “I support you, I support you,” I kept repeating. I had to make it clear that because I looked like most everyone coming out to support Trump (white), I wasn’t. I stood in the line snaking around the high school, recording overheard conversations on my phone. The man in front of me said, “There must be five thousand people here – that means only two thousand are complete idiots.” I’m not sure what he meant because he was wearing a hat with a picture of Trump that said, “Make America Great Again.”

The women behind me twittered with excitement. One recounted the “vagina” comment from the protestor and her horrified reaction.

Three boys played together along the chain link fence. One held a small stick, the other a yellow flower. The third boy held a small rock he threw like a baseball to the boy holding the stick like a bat. Two of the boys were black and the other white. I snapped a picture. This was the US I knew and grew up with.

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I was born at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Fort Belvoir, VA but grew up in Springfield and Chantilly. I moved to Round Hill in 2015 after quitting my job in NW DC to start my own freelance writing business. I never envisioned moving to Loudoun County but the appeal of free rent, when my income was iffy, won out over any feelings of the sense of isolation I felt from living an hour from DC. I began to love Loudoun County for its friendly residents and wide open spaces.

Demographically, Briar Woods High School is a lot like my alma mater, Chantilly High School, high achieving and diverse. The largest segment of the student body may have been white but over forty percent were of another race. I didn’t know anyone that didn’t have a multi-racial friend group.

Growing up in Fairfax County, I had close friends that were first or second generation immigrants from Vietnam, Greece, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Peru, and India. My best friend since preschool was African American.

Diversity was a given and it made life more interesting. I don’t remember ever hearing a racial slur until fourth grade when someone called my friend a wigger – translation, white n-word. My friend was arguably into what could be called African American culture but so were most of us. Did it matter how we expressed it? Was liking rap music, walking with that limp swagger and wearing baggy pants only for brown-skinned people?

In the seventh grade, someone called my Korean friend an egg roll. She was rightfully upset. What a ridiculous thing to call someone – especially since the egg roll, according to author Andrew Coe, who wrote “Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States,” – was likely invented in New York sometime in the early 1930s.[1]

Racial harmony and discord prevailed at the rally. Anyone wearing a hijab was rejected at the door. I filmed a Sikh man in an American flag polo shirt clapping for Trump and a biracial little girl yelling and screaming in support of the candidate. I talked with students of the high school from various backgrounds that would not tell me who they supported in the election and those who felt it was a “mind f-” to see the Trump supporters rallying at their high school.

I was awed to see the majority of the crowd standing outside the rally clear out less than one third into Trump’s speech. Maybe they felt they didn’t need to hear what the candidate said because they already heard it before, made up their minds, or simply didn’t care.

I cared. I heard the entire speech blaring out of a single cheap speaker with a pencil-written sign that read, “Listen to Trump Here.” I held back my anger as he made non-congruous and conflicting statements about China, Russia, and improving the trade balance.

I listened to see if he spoke something resembling the truth. I heard Trump attempt to get a Lieutenant Colonel in the audience to come on stage to speak on his behalf but he wouldn’t. Trump quoted him as saying, “No Sir, I’d like you to just keep saying what you’re saying.”

Trump said, “20 people gave her [Hillary Clinton] $60 million dollars. And that’s what I’ve been saying folks – I know the game better than anybody. They own her.”

Arguably, Trump owns Trump.

“Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!” chanted the crowd at one point.

“We’re announcing that we’re going to have more than $35 million dollars from a group of people, like almost 60 thousand people averaging 61 – think of it – 61 dollars apiece. This is a Republican now – because I’m putting up a lot of money. This doesn’t happen to Republicans.” He said.

“USA! USA! USA!” the crowd kept repeating.

“When you look at what’s happening around the world and when you look at the hatred, think of it, we are like the whipping post…”

“You know the safest place to be is at a Trump rally.” He said.

Safe for who? I wondered.

The rally ended around 12pm and as the crowd began to pour out of the school doors, I turned around and recognized my USA. They stood in a line with their backs to the crowd, holding up peace signs. They said nothing.

I put my arm around a woman wearing the hijab – four others joined the line alongside me. I heard Trump supporters shout anti-Muslim slurs and asked the woman if she was ok. “I get it all the time.” She said. We began to chat quietly – she mentioned she was the school valedictorian.[2]

I shook, my two peace fingers wavered in the air. I felt the power of the protest line and the buzzing hatred of the crowd.

A woman sent three of her children up to the line to taunt us. Some Trump supporters stood behind us, yelling anti-Hillary slogans, trying to get us to say something, trying to engage in arguments, verbally bashing us for being silent.

There was one man who walked up to the line and shook our hands. “I respect you. I respect you.” He repeated.

“I respect you too,” I assured him.

When a white Trump supporter began to have words with a black protestor holding up a sign that said “Dump Trump” he ripped the sign from her hands and flung it to the ground. The other protesters broke up what could have easily evolved into a fight.

For a moment we protestors were all quiet again and then, spontaneously, began singing the Star Spangled Banner. The Trump supporters joined in song. There was something we could agree on.

 

[1] Monica Eng, “Tracing the History of the Egg Roll,” http://www.mercedsunstar.com/living/food-drink/article3273863.html#storylink=cpy, (January 30, 2013).

[2] Moriah Balingit, “When Trump rallied at her high school, this Muslim valedictorian spoke up, felt targeted,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/08/02/when-trump-rallied-at-her-high-school-this-muslim-valedictorian-spoke-up-felt-targeted/, (August 2, 2016).

 

Wandering October

I get sad when summer begins to end. September weather is like waiting too long to eat dinner and realizing it’s cold.
Screen Shot 2016-10-11 at 3.23.50 PM.pngI wandered by the Little Egg Harbor Soap company on September 30, relishing the product arrangements from outside, and smelling faint perfumes emanating through the cracked screen door.

The air felt like a cold damp towel, too chilly to go swimming so I went to the arcade, played ski ball for an hour, and gave away my tickets to hopeful children near the prize counter.

I stood courageously on my ocean front balcony with the wind and rain; facing the elements instead of avoiding the cloudy fall beach. I left the balcony door ajar and lounged on my couch, rereading “Sonny’s Blues” between snoozes.

It was good weather for cozying up with cups of green tea or cappuccino. I indulged in Frank and Louie’s Italian Specialties (had been thinking about their Tiny Dancer sandwich and butter cakes since August).

Frank and Louie, characteristically charismatic, remembered me. The curly-haired lady at the counter called me Liz. Frank, always hospitable, gave me an Italian wedding cookie (made by his grandmother) to eat while I was waiting for my eggplant parmesan to heat up in the oven.

Today, amidst pumpkins, apple cider, and my recently picked out Halloween costume (Katy Perry does the campaign trail) I savor the fall weather, which as my niece Gaby pointed out – is beginning to smell like snow.