Members of the Central PA chapter of SURJ – Showing Up for Racial Justice – were on hand for last night’s Donald Trump rally in Harrisburg. They called on Donald Trump and his supporters to stop the hateful rhetoric and violence they have been advocating throughout the presidential campaign. Trump’s appearance drew thousands to Harrisburg’s Farm Show Complex and Expo Center.
Lynn Crockett, co-founder of Central PA SURJ, explained that “It is our job to show that many Pennsylvanians are united for peace and tolerance. Our aim is to provide a loud and clear message of love and acceptance to the targeted communities: African Americans, Muslims, Mexicans.” “Showing up,” according to Central PA SURJ, is even more important when it comes to Trump rallies, because these campaign events have become sites of violent attacks where supporters push, shove, beat, and grab youth and people of color in the audience with Trump’s encouragement.
In a very real sense, Trump’s campaign has emboldened a segment of the population – especially a segment of right-wing, white men – whose views were once thought expunged from legitimate public discourse. Left unchallenged, the racist, sexist, and violent rhetoric will undoubtedly lead to even more violent clashes – particularly, attacks upon communities of color and immigrants. To paraphrase JFK’s famous (but erroneous) invocation of Edmund Burke, the only necessary for racist, sexist, anti-immigrant violence to triumph, is for good people to stand by and do nothing.
— Central PA SURJ (@SURJCentralPA) April 21, 2016
According to PA SURJ co-founder, Susan Prill, that is exactly why she thought it was so important for her group to “show up” at the Trump rally – as way to physically demonstrate that Trump’s message does not represent the feelings of many if not most Central Pennsylvanians. “As a Pennsylvanian, and as a white person, I feel a responsibility to show up and say that my vision for this country is one of welcoming and inclusion,” Prill said. “My ancestors were immigrants, and I believe this nation is made stronger including people of different faiths and heritages. I want my daughter to grow up in a welcoming country.”
PA SURJ activists arrived to the PA Farm Show Complex as hundreds of Trump supporters stood in line to get in. The activists walked parallel to the line holding banners and signs that carried messages such as “Love Trumps Hate,” “Muslims are Americans,” “Trump: Making America Hate Again,” “Blame Billionaires, Not Immigrants,” and “No Hate in Central PA.” Initially, they walked in silence to the designated “free speech zone.” However, once Trump supporters began yelling “Bolsheviks!,” “parasites,” and “no hate for the Gulag victims” (my personal favorite), activists let out a few chants of “No Hate in PA.”
Other protesters not affiliated with Central PA SURJ, made their way into the Trump event. And, once again the familiar scene of protesters being dragged out of a Trump event being harassed and insulted by Trump supporters unfolded. Unlike past Trump events, however, PennLive reported that this time there was at least one attempt to prevent violence directed at protesters:
With a crowd of thousands still piling into the stands and onto the dirt floor Thursday evening, the PA system at the Farm Show Complex’s large arena crackled to life with an unusual announcement, one it had likely never made before.
“If you see a protester, do not harm them. This is a peaceful event,” said the man’s voice on the other end.
It was an unusual public appeal, not only for the venue, but also given the context.
Despite that appeal, Donald Trump returned to his usual refrain of “Get ’em out! Get ’em out!,” when a protester disrupted Trump’s introduction just under ninety seconds into the event (here at about the 1:15 marker). That protester’s name was Rod Webber, a peace activist and filmmaker known for passing out flowers to this year’s presidential candidates. Here his his video of his protest and arrest:
Lynn Crocket of Central PA SURJ, told Raging Chicken Press that her group made the choice to end their action around 8:00 pm, in part because they were worried that once Trump supporters began getting turned away at the door, they’d would be “riled up and frustrated.” “Our whole approach was peace and inclusion, so as a group, the members of SURJ did not yell back unless it was ‘no hate in PA,’ or, “Black lives matter,” she said. “SURJ is not endorsing a particular candidate. We were there as citizens concerned about racial justice, not as campaigners for a specific person.”
There were other groups of protesters outside the event as well and those numbers grew as the evening unfolded. PennLive reported on some of the more sensational aspects of the confrontations between Trump supporters and protesters; and, as you can see from the video, there were times when the exchanges, especially from Trump supporters got crude and threatening:
Most media outlets made little distinction among groups of activists, preferring instead the nice catch-all and simplifying category “protesters.” However, groups like Central PA SURJ and other activist groups did not simply spontaneously pop out of the ground outside the Trump rally. They have been doing the work of organizing long before yesterday.
We will continue to follow the 2016 campaign locally, state-wide, and nationally right through November. Tune in to our Out d’Coup podcast on PA primary day, April 26, 2016, for our wrap up of all this week’s events! You can find it our our website, or can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or SoundCloud.