The Empty Podium in the Hall of Broken Privilege.
One of the things you learn attending your first Donald Trump rally as a middle aged man with, what could be seen as a rather conservative haircut and no clear signifiers, is that people want to tell you things. By people, of course, I mean White Men Of A Certain Age (heretofore to be referred to as WMOACA). They want to lean in and tell you things about “goats” and “rape” and the “Koran” and “Those People” and “Us”. Oh, and they want to tell you things about women, the “hot ones” and the “bitches” and “whores”. They want to tell you what they want to do to them. Do to them all. They are bursting with it, they just can’t get it out fast enough, it comes in a rush of euphoria, a glee. They get to share it with you, they get to say it, because we are all here for him. Donald Trump. They have received that peculiar, rambling bat signal to weaponize their white privilege and they can’t believe that they finally get to get away with it. One after the other, they see “Them” (in this case, college protesters across the street) and they are “scum” and “garbage” will be “destroyed” or “raped” or that they “rape goats”? (There was so much use of “goats” and “rape” it was hard to keep track of, frankly.) And this is all in the 10 minutes it took for me find and download the e-ticket app that would allow me entry into the UIC Pavilion, this March 11th, to see Donald Trump do the the Mussolini Dance.
Why would I do such a thing to myself, you ask? Um, because it was on the away home? Not reason enough, surely, but true all the same. Coming out of a bit of business in the South Loop, UIC Pavilion was on my way and it was warm and I could use the miles in the saddle. Plus, let’s be honest, there was a bit of “it can’t happen here, right”? It also provided me a bit of a challenge, to go out and “Chant Down Babylon” as was my want as a younger man, to take a stand against the fascist creep of the current political dialogue. I also discovered that opening the doors of the hall, one of the entrances was wide open and the hundreds of other Trump lemmings were all circling the block in the other direction. I decided to take off my “Bernie” pin (which I picked up at the official campaign offices on my way West, maybe looking for a bit of a Mitzvah or maybe just a whiff of determined sanity) which was a smart move as it provided the WMOACA that little boost they needed to tell me all of the terrible, terrible things that they wanted to do to “Those People”. Wink, bump, “Bro…….this going to be awesome.”
I managed to get myself close. What I might describe as “blow dart close”, if I had my wind right and technique squared away. And there I sat, for a good long while. I found that my device and it’s social media channels were giving me the hee-bee gee-bees, a cascading, mounting tension and dread. I turned it off and spent some time with “The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World” and let my mind have an easy wander through a rejection of the “internal and the external” as it relates to the interconnected worlds of nature, experience and poetry. Splendid little retreat from throbbing mass of humans before me working themselves into a minor frenzy. There was chanting, and then, “What’s that? Is it one of them? Smash them, we want to see them smashed!” No, it’s nothing, not yet, but it’s coming. They can feel it coming and they can’t wait. They are breathless for spectacle, for the promise of violence at every rustle of bodies on the other side of the hall. “Is it happening? Are we getting them?”
Now, let’s be clear this throbbing mass is in the hundreds and does not fill more than a third, at best, of the hall (see photo). People will seem to trickle in, but I keep being a little amazed that considering the line outside, attendance seems a bit thin. Those in attendance are revving themselves up. They are college bros bouncing around, giddy at the thought of just being Dicks, sun-ruined elderly couples in ill fitting trends of another era, and dudes that blew some real money driving their trucks in from the far reaches, fists clenched, searching the room, seeing “Them” seeing each other seeing “Them”. Nodding, quick knowing smiles.
I am not getting much of a read on the presence of the Rebel Cells, the students, punks and rad kids because it seems like there would be more of them out for this. After all, “this can’t happen here, right?” Not now. Now we need new action, new voices to lead this town out of the corruption, apathy, mismanagement and straight up dumb-fuckery that it’s put up with for so long. Pie in the sky, dreamy optimist fantasist you say? Maybe. Or maybe I’m a realist. Maybe it can no longer hold, maybe something is coming and we have a bit of a window to guide it or get crushed by it. I encourage three students of East Asian appearance to sit in the seats next to me. I get the sense that they’ve been looking to sit for bit and have not found a welcome spot, but I do not inquire. I get back to my book and let them get settled in. Every 5 minutes or so, there is some manner of rustling on the floor and everyone jumps up to see. I notice that the old white people immediately turn in the direction and raise high the signs they’ve been given and begin to yell. I notice that my three row mates and other young people, mostly but not all, of some brownish hue, reach for their phones and point them out like shields.
Donald Trump is clearly enamored with “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John, it’s the first loud, recognizable song from the PA that seems to announce that things are about to begin in ernest. They do not and I will hear “Tiny Dancer” many, many more times. And the Stones. And it sounds like they are playing You-Tube versions and have a bad connection because the same songs keep clipping in new and different skull crushing ways. The PA booms with a human voice announcing that while Mr. Trump is, like, the biggest fan of the First Amendment ever, tonight is bought and paid for by him and it’s his message that matters. All other voices are “Hijacking” his bought and paid for space and will be dealt with by the crowd pointing their signs at them and shouting “Trump”. “Do not touch them” we are told, just “locate them and people will come and remove them.” I can see the WMOACA begin to search around, they want to be first to find “Them”, to scream at “Them”, have “Them” removed. They like that they get to wave the signs. They want signifiers. They could do with a bold logo to announce their freshly aired grievance. They will line up for the brand that announces their dominance, no matter how hot. Amidst the cacophony of bubbling hate and breathy loathing, I start to hear what sounds like laughter.
The three young men sitting next to me have attempted to engage with folks in the area, which goes about as well as you would expect. There is, what appears to be, a mother and daughter team in the row directly in front of us. “Why do you like Donald Trump?” is met by the mother jumping to her feet and screaming a bunch of gibberish that I half hear about how they “don’t belong here” that “we don’t know who you are” and the “you should just go!” The daughter jumps up and starts yelling about how she “shouldn’t have to even look at you” she “shouldn’t even have to hear you” It’s all very “unfair” and she is “so tired of it”. The young gents look on with what is bit of bemused curiosity mixed with a genuine concern about the possibility of getting bitten. “Go back to where? We’re from here. We were born here,” they say. No. That’s not possible, our brave ladies in Trump gear and outlet mall togs insist. “No you are not!!!!” They scream.
Except they are, of course. All three are from the suburbs, in their last year of school at UIC. The fellow next to me is majoring in Bio-Medical research, one is in some wing of computer science that I do not recognize but sounds like some wing of AI and the other is a math major. They are smart, engaging dudes, looking to see what the political process blew into their University; a University that they are clearly very proud of and a community that they consider home. “What’s it’s going to take to make these white people happy?” one of the fellows asks me. “Your corporal suffering,” I do not replay. Instead, we chop it up about how Trump has lit the bat-signal that has allowed these people to crawl out amongst decent folks and how it’s just weird and sad.
Close to 6:30 and some Opera jams interrupt “Tiny Dancer”. The crowd feels it, they sense that it’s about to happen! The whiteness of the Opera choice is made manifest by a quick survey of WMOACA seeking out the knowing gaze of their tribe. Not sure if it was actually Wagner, because it was a crap PA playing stepped on You Tube compressed tracks, but the intent was implicit. This was for the them, their time was coming. As I scanned the room I noticed that it was noticeably fuller than when I last checked! And, oh yeah, there are the Rebel Youth, the Dreads, the High Top fades in throwback Bulls gear, the Rockers in leather and crust-core t-shirts, the Latinas, the giggling red headed boys chatting up girls in hijabs who are looking nervously around and the Ballers given them the gentle nod that their back is got. They are out there. It’s hard to get a read on the numbers, people seem too keep coming in and the ruffles of disturbances keep blowing more smoke than actual heat.
And then it happened, they announced that The Great Clown would not be showing up, after consulting with various in law enforcement, yada yada, whatever. The crowd erupted! “We did it,” they yelled. People were jumping up and down, celebrating! There was some commotion and hassles, of course. “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie!” was the loudest chant I heard in the room all night. A bunch of kids in the back begin to clear out and it hits me how actually out numbered the Trump supporters actually were, a couple hundred around the stage and some small, dazed groups in the stands. Some stray punches get thrown, a couple of fights get to the ground for a bit. From what I was able to see the Chicago Police Department did a uncharacteristically good job of breaking up the few fights that sparked and moving people along. I am not trying to be uncharitable here, it was just clear that they had their orders to keep the peace and that they felt that they had control of the room. My previous experiences with CPD have often been markedly different.
As the crowd starts to move out I am drawn to a commotion just across the aisle from my seat and find a pod of old white people screaming hysterically at a young african-american couple that look to be University students and a handful of Latino boys that look to be all of sixteen. I see an old white women lash out at the teens ripping things out of their hands, clawing their at their phones. Then I hear it.
“You people are animals!”, “You belong in cages!” screamed inches away from these young kids faces.
“Am I? Is that what I am to you? Am I an animal? Tell me again!” phones pointed directly in their faces.
There are two large men(+6’2” +375 lbs.) on either side of the elderly women grabbing at the teens. I can see them scan the room for police or sympathizers and then I see them start taking little body shots at the boys. I step in, get the boys behind me and show the old men my chin.
“You fucking commie, faggot, we’ll kill you!”
“Sorry, pops, didn’t quiet get that,” leans chin in.
They continue to get pump out their chests which is weird look when you’ve got as much gut as these fellows have, frankly. There is a lot of “You think you are tough!?!” on repeat, as is the wont of old windbags.
“Sorry, pops, didn’t quiet get that” leans chin in. “I’m just hear to make sure these children get home safely.” They realize that no one is coming to remove us, that no one will help shield the violence they so desire and scuttle away in a cloud of empty threats.
Donald Trump fucked up and held a Bernie Sanders rally and was to thick to know it and too chicken to show for it. It all starts to sink in. “These kids did something, here!” There was more thinning of the crowd, more pods of Old White People screaming that the young brown people with cameras were “animals” that needed to be “locked up in cages” from several, safe rows away before they got the courage to scurry up the stairs. (Really. So much of that. You’d think they would dust off some other dusty racist bits of yore but no, that, lots of that.)
Outside there were random scuffles and puffy chests, cops on horses, people with signs and bullhorns and all the usual trappings of civic engagement in these parts. There were also happy, engaged kids celebrating a victory over the darkest of forces in our body politic. This did not come out of nowhere. For many months the youth of Chicago have taken upon themselves to organize against the destruction of their schools, the murder of their friends and constant threat of violence and exclusion that would just simply not be imaginable to most of my cohort. They did this without threatening violence as Trump will say and the media will parrot. They did this by keeping their cool and sticking to together. Yeah, everything is going to be “Alright”.
I’ll admit that I was drawn to the flame of spectacle as much as I was out of concern for the future of this country. I felt the hate wave through the room, felt an actual thirst for violence and dominance of a clearly defined other by a wheezing collection of miscreants. Donald Trump and his followers who have been activated by his calls to violence and intimidation are cowards. They are sad, broken people that should not be allowed to continue to intimidate and harass their fellow citizens to further a grab for power by a grifter. If Donald Trump continues to call for violence from his stages, he needs to be brought up on charges.
I put my bag over my shoulder after they announced Trumps failure to appear. I knew I would want to be mobile. It didn’t take more than few steps for me to be reminded that I had my Bernie Saunders pin on full display. They want to say shit, these WMOACA and their women, but they sure don’t want to say it too close to a body with signals, whether those signals be of skin tone or badges of affiliation. They want to say shit at safe remove without consequence. To bad. Things matter. There are consequences. This is Chicago, we getting to be done with some shit. Run up.
Shout out to all the amazing young people that managed to shut down this hate brigade with such restraint and dignity. Had this happened to me in my youth I would be typing this in my head from a jail cell, likely with a cracked skull. That’s not a boast, that’s an attempt at an acknowledgement that I was privileged, undisciplined punk that knew that shit flying would not cost me my life. A great number of the people that put themselves out there for this have never known that comfort. I am sure that the media will find every opportunity and video clip to demonize you and diminish you. I was there. I know what I saw and ya’ll did this city proud. Trump and his tribe are scared and they should be, ya’ll are smatter and tougher than they ever will be. The youth are our future, indeed.