Throughout the day on Thursday students on the University of Tennessee campus gathered to protest the presidency of Donald Trump. At the height of the protest there was up to 300 students participating in both the protest and the counter-protest. Students, forming a ring around the sitting ‘marginalized’ students, chanted and repeated slogans from the speakers of the event. In an explanation of the purpose of the protest, one of the speakers elaborated that it “is not a pro-Hillary protest, it is a fuck Donald Trump protest.”
I joined the protest around 2:00 pm on my way to class and stayed for a few spare hours. Just walking close to 100 meters away from the gathering I knew instantly what it was, the police cars parked along the road with flashing lights only confirmed my suspicion. I gathered later that it was organized by the campus diversity organization. After positioning myself in the crowd I found myself chanting along with them, although abstaining once or twice when I found their slogans distasteful. A few of the favored rallying cries were “Not my president”, “Fuck Donald Trump”, and the now famous “No Trump, no KKK, no fascists USA.” The chorus to Kendrick Lamar’s song “Alright” was also frequently chanted, which is always expected.
The only time I found the speakers to be distasteful is when they handed a microphone to a young man standing in the corner. I’m paraphrasing but his words were along the line of “I’m against all forms of bigotry and I stand with you, but maybe we could give Trump a chance first.” I didn’t care too much for that and the crowd lost interest, but then a girl standing next to him was given a microphone and said something along the lines of “I don’t agree with him but we should respect all opinions even if we think they are wrong.” The crowd cheered for that one. Now, one of the main speakers (there were close to 4 of them) responded with the following “I agree, but are you saying we should respect hatred and bigotry?” and continued with that. She was so quick to shut down the opposition even when one of the true protesters stood up for it. I should note that the main speaker shutting them down didn’t get hardly as many cheers.
It was close to this time that the counter-protesters began to arrive in greater numbers. There people with Trump signs drawn onto pizza boxes, Trump flags wrapped around them as capes, and even one young man dressed as Donald Trump himself, wig and all, carrying around the United States flag. They made their way to the outskirts of the protest and began their own chants and openly mocking the protesters. Only one scuffle broke out from what I could see. Shortly after those in the middle resumed sitting and the speakers reminded the crowd that they were nonviolent.
Various other people in the crowd got chances to be given a microphone and tell their story, the crowd was overall very receptive. This went on for some time and officially dispersed close to 4, however the vast majority of the crowd stuck around. As time went on more and more Trump supporters came with signs and flags even though the protest was considered to be over. The less organized the event look the more the police had a reason to surround and infiltrate the crowd, but nothing ever came of it. At one point near the end the cops began handing out snacks to the protesters that stuck around, something I made sure to thank them for.
I want to keep this post brief, but one point I can’t help but make is that the Trump supporters had an obvious air of triumph, bordering on smug. They had already won and from what I’ve heard is that many of them feel the protests are just a nuisance. This is exactly why we need to keep fighting. There is much I would have changed about the structure of this particular protest but I’ll deal with that in a future article, for now I would like to add that a loosely unified left is better than nothing else. And with that I’d encourage students on campuses everywhere to do the same and protest.