Let me preface this entire thing by stating that I’m not one that goes to rally’s/protests/pop up sales. In all honesty, I almost didn’t even go to this thing. My best friend wanted to go though, and he had asked both me and my girlfriend if we wanted to go as well.
Now, I’m not one to jump at the chance of going out in a short amount of time, but the prospect of experience a protest for the first time of my life was enticing, to say the least. Also, I wanted to make sure my friend would be ok, due to the fact that the events of Charlottesville were still fresh and raw in everyone’s mind.
For those wondering why I didn’t worry about my girlfriend: I did, but she can kick any man’s ass three times over and look cute while doing it. She came along to make sure both my friend and I would be safe.
So, on Tuesday, August 22, 2017, we loaded up in a car and headed out to the rally.
It wasn’t a great start as there was a crash on the freeway that made a 20-minute drive into a 45-minute one. So, in the car we sat, waiting in traffic, trying to muster the courage to ask whether or not it was still worth going.
I need to emphasize the fact that I kind of didn’t want to go. I believed I would have a bad time because of the heat, and because a large gathering of people congregating to yell profanities at a building that contains an orange man and his followers while police stand guard in riot gear was just something I knew was going to be unenjoyable.
The worst thing was the heat. By God, was it hot. Wearing black jeans, and two layers of shirts was, at the time, the seemingly worst idea that I had ever had.
It should also be noted that capitalism was still alive and well, with people selling anti-Trump merchandise, only asking for “donations.” Of course I “bought” a few things, because what’s an experience without a souvenir?
The one thing that is constant in all protests and rallies is the chanting. No matter what the protest is about, there will always be a variety of choruses that encompass your ear holes, and all of them are catchy.
There was an argument or two that I had noticed from a few protestors. I didn’t catch everything, but someone in casual clothing was yelling at another in what appeared to be a bastardization of riot protection not to be stupid.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I wrote down what happened.
When we arrived, there were a variety of chants being yelled out, with some profanities strewn in for god measure. A few of my favorites were:
“Sí, se puede,”
“We will win,”
“Hands to small; can’t build the wall,”
And “Walk of shame,” coupled with a chorus of boos as President Trump arrived and people started entering the convention center.
Other notable aspects were the signs, all unique, either handmade or professionally done, with different slogans and humorous puns.
The Trump chicken had also made an appearance.
Of course, the Hitler comparisons were abundant and fierce.
It wouldn’t have been a Trump protest if Putin wasn’t involved.
There was this energy that encompassed the protest and affected everyone, including me.
Again, I didn’t want to be there, but going to the front of the line, amongst everyone else chanting and screaming and waving signs, either handmade or not, you couldn’t help but be a part of the crowd. When you’re at a rally, with that much energy, with everyone focused on a single goal, you no longer are a bystander.
As scary as protestors are, they are actually quite nice and full of energy. People were helping others move around and hand out bottles of water (which were luke-warm by the time we got there, but water is water) and people just trying to have their voices heard. You felt a part of the crowd as you chanted, which made some people stick out like a sore thumb.
There were people in masks, calmly looking around, as though they were waiting for something. They were scattered about, but they provided an uneasy feeling. It wasn’t until later, after my friends and I started walking towards the back to rest up, that we realized that a few people there were part of Antifa.
They had set up in the middle, directly across from a line of police officers.
Now this is the part that a lot of people will tell you that they started hurling rocks and improvised weapons, but the truth of the matter was that they stood there with a banner in hand chanting along with us.
Whether this was an intimidation tactic or not is beyond my knowledge. All I know was that they were there, protesting like the rest of the people.
And although it made me feel uneasy, they weren’t doing anything provocative or violent. They were respectable, and although they made some feel uneasy, they did nothing but stand there.
And so, I let my worry about that group vanish, because they were doing nothing that no one else there was doing; peacefully protesting.
After my friends and I chatted for a bit, and provided updates of the rally to a few people on the front lines via Twitter, we decided to get away from the heat and humidity to get some air and maybe sit down for a second.
We ended up walking to the back border where a kind of wall was set up to kind of separate the general public from the protesters, where we talked and listened and watched as the Trump rally apparently ended.
And then we saw people quickly getting away and a cloud of smoke billowing in all directions.
People I asked all said the same thing: tear gas was thrown with no warnings.
I saw people being dragged from the front, crying and in pain because of how hard they were hit by the gas.
There were others still in the front lines, shouting and yelling at the police. And then the loud sounds of explosions thundered throughout the block.
I didn’t register it at the time, but after reviewing a video I shot, after the tear gas and the flash bangs were deployed, I heard the police asking people to leave lest they be arrested.
They asked this after they unleashed tear gas and flash bangs.
My friend had his gas mask on (he brought it as a joke, never realizing that he would actually have to use it) and had already run back to try and get the car.
I stayed behind, along with my girlfriend, to check on a few people, offer water, taking pictures of the general chaos of what was happening,and just try to ask a few people what had happened .
More sounds of explosions and more screams were, and I was bumped into several times.
My girlfriend started coughing, and I soon realized that we were downwind from the tear gas. I need to say here that we never got the full brunt force of the tear gas, and that we were lucky to not have to experience the full force of it.
But because we were downwind from it, we felt the same effects as those people in the front, albeit milder. People trying to recover, to splash milk and water on their faces, going to the barricades and resting there, were hit again.
And so were the people across the street.
My girlfriend and I had on some scarves around our mouths, trying not to cough up our lungs and attempting to see through the uncontrollable watering of our eyes, and, for me at least, snot started running down my nose.
We had run across the street as the flash bangs and the sounds of the explosions sounded closer and in quicker succession (there’s a possibility that I may be overexaggerating here, but I literally couldn’t tell you if I was; all I’m doing is writing what I experienced).
We stopped by the Hooters, mainly because they had the mist on for the outside seating because of the heat.
I didn’t even notice the heat at this point, and was only reminded of it because of how cool and refreshing the mist felt on my face. Or perhaps that was the tear gas being washed off. I couldn’t tell you.
I can tell you though that my girlfriend, the other protestors, and a few others sitting outside of the restaurant, started coughing.
The tear gas was making its way across the street.
It’s weird when you think of it: the barrier was set up as a way to separate the general public from the protest, a kind of imaginary line that provided a false sense of security when you were on the opposite side.
Nothing that I had written before had made me angry; I half expected something to happen and my expectations were met.
What makes me angry was the fact that people who weren’t protesting, who were sitting at a restaurant outside, passively waiting, were, essentially, tear gassed.
My girlfriend and I went down the street farther, eventually meeting up with our friend. He couldn’t get to the car as the tear gas and smoke was denser one street over.
We had another friend, my best friend’s girlfriend and a good friend of ours, come to our rescue. She was lucky enough to be working at the time and had avoided everything we experienced. She picked us up from a parking lot of a hotel where others from the protest had been staying. We chatted with them before we left.
I had contemplated on the drive home and had come to the conclusion that I was lucky. We were lucky, my friends and I had been I mean.
We had avoided being arrested and any permanent injuries.
We were safe and relatively unscathed.
And we were peaceful.
I can’t tell you what set everything off and everything else that had happened. I know reports have come out explaining what caused the chaos and whatnot, but I didn’t see any of that.
People were loud, shouting profanities, and there were arguments, but we were peaceful, until things became violent.
And then we were scared.