A team effort guest post today: Three perspectives on the Trump rally in downtown KC over the weekend. This is a long post, but think of it as 3 mini-posts. Variations on a theme…
Rev. Tabatha Johnson
Given all that has been happening at Trump rallies these past few months it may seem irresponsible– even downright dangerous– to take my kids into the midst of hundreds of people, holding signs affirming the humanity and dignity of those Trump and his campaign have vowed to suppress.
Folks both for and against Trump have gotten violent, loud, and angry. But I cannot allow my kids to witness my silence any longer.
I am not what I would describe as a ‘political person.’ Sure, I vote, even proudly wearing my red, white, and blue sticker ALL day. But that’s it. I have never protested anything publicly. Never carried handmade, brightly colored poster-board signs proclaiming my opinion on anything. And even though I’ve protested plenty at home, or with close friends, I’ve never had the courage to proclaim my convictions to strangers.
Part of that has to do with my ideas of my responsibilities as a pastor. I’m a pastor to all people, regardless of their political affiliation. I would hate for any political opinion to come between me and any person in need of pastoral care.
Furthermore, as a pastor I have to be careful what I say in the pulpit (or as a representative of my church) that could be taken as promoting one party over another. My church’s reputation in the community ought not be abused by my desire to exercise my civic rights.
BUT… promoting hateful, racist, riot-inciting speech is not a political right. And as a pastor, a mother, and a proud American citizen I feel obligated to speak out and say that this is not okay with me. It is not the community I want my children inheriting. I do not want to have to apologize to them at any time in the future because I failed to stand with those more vulnerable than I.
So tonight, I and several of my clergy friends got together and made some simple signs. It was like re-uniting the Order of the Phoenix, Kansas City style. “Love Thy Muslim Neighbor,” “Love Thy Black Neighbor,” “Love Thy Immigrant Neighbor,” “Love Thy LGBTQ Neighbor.” And, two smaller signs, “LOVE” surrounded by hearts and smiley faces and “Be Nice. Use Kind Words. Be Gentle.”
Those last three from my kids, 15, 7 & 4. I couldn’t be more proud as they stood for hours in the drizzly rain, smiling and waving at those who shouted curses and flipped the bird–the younger two not understanding what it all means, but showing love anyway because “We’re supposed to be nice like Jesus.” The older one showing love, because he was PROUD to stand in for his friends who are Gay and Bi-sexual. Who says, ‘They’re my friends, Mom. I have to do this for them.” Thank You, Sweet Jesus, for giving us that lesson. It’s a hard one sometimes.
Have my husband and I actually raised these kids? These amazing, beautiful, wonderful kids who think it’s like Jesus to stand in for those who are more vulnerable than they…and who are totally all in and willing to say it to anyone, anywhere?
We did this protest because we are to, actually, love our neighbors.
For awhile we got lots of love in return too. My daughter won the protest. She smiled for more pictures than if we added up all the pictures of her entire four years together. It’s hard to be an angry racist when a four-year-old with ponytails is smiling up at you with a brightly crayoned sign that says, “Be Nice. Say Kind Things. Be Gentle.”
Eventually, though, the mood of the crowd changed just enough for me to mama bear up and take my kids home. And, to be fair, the escalating hostility came from both sides of the crowd. After we left, some folks tried to break through the barriers in front of the theater and received some pepper spray in response. I hear their frustration and anger at hateful rhetoric, but am glad our peaceful protest did not end so violently.
Tonight, my kids got to see me follow their example. I will no longer be silent in this onslaught of hate. I will be as brave as they, calmly and gladly showing love for ALL of my neighbors. Even the ones with Trump signs in their yards.
Tabatha Johnson is an ordained minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She and her family live in the Kansas City Metro. In addition to writing on her blog, she is the co-editor and contributor of the newly released Still A Mother: Journeys Through Perinatal Grief.
—Rev. Lara Blackwood Pickrel
We went to the Trump rally for a number of reasons. Those reasons ranged from a desire to stand for our faith, to a simple “mom said so” — but we all shared a desire to declare what we are for, instead of just shouting against Trump. So we made signs urging love of neighbor, and held them proudly. My sign read, “Love thy refugee neighbor. #kindness”. Others swapped descriptors, changing refugee to Muslim, black, LGBTQ, Hispanic, immigrant, and even wrong. A friend’s kids held signs declaring “LOVE” and “Be Nice. Say Kind Things. Be Gentle” — the deep wisdom of preschool and Kindergarten that we seem to forget as we age. Standing on the same stretch of sidewalk across from the Midland Theater, we created a poster wall of love for our neighbors.
During our two hours there, we met lots of other protesters with similar signs that spoke of love’s power over hatred. We also met people whose signs called out the racism, xenophobia, and misogyny that have characterized much of Trump’s campaign. And yes, we met people whose words were angry, people who spoke with voices and fists raised high. Though most Trump supporters were inside the Midland, an occasional supporter wandered through the crowd as well. In other words, it was exactly what a public demonstration is supposed to be: a place where perspectives are given voice out in the open; where people express their ideas, values, hopes, fears, and anger in the public square. That’s a part of our political system that I hope we never lose – the right to peacefully gather and protest whenever and wherever we feel we must.
Eventually though, the protest heated up. Children are excellent barometers of mood, and our kids grew restless as the air around us began to change. Thanks to their fidgety warning (and hunger), we left the street and stepped into the grocery store that sits across from the Theater. Shortly thereafter, the first blast of pepper spray hit the crowd. A lovely Methodist woman whose sign spoke of love was one of the first people hit. She and I had stood side by side only minutes before.
It was surreal, watching through the grocery windows as protesters surged away from the spray. We were simultaneously grateful and worried. On the one hand, the children in our group were safely oblivious as they munched on their snacks. On the other hand, two in our group were still outside.
We left through the parking garage, because store employees would no longer let people in or out through the street entrance. Though it was a safety measure, it also meant that pepper-sprayed protesters couldn’t buy milk — the only thing that would relieve the pain. After exiting the garage, we were reunited with our two friends. They’d found themselves trapped in a group of people preparing to rush across the barricade (an action that prompted the first use of pepper spray). Thankfully, they managed to push through the pressing crowd before the spray was used.
On the ride home, each person in the vehicle moved in and out of reflection, trying to make sense of what we’d experienced. For me, that reflection focused on the question: “Why did I come here, really?”
In some ways, I didn’t know why I went until after we’d returned home. While the action certainly doesn’t require defense, I think it is important to share why the day was so important to my life of faith.
- For observation – We receive very different accounts of protests depending upon which news station or pundit blares from our screens. Some describe protesters as anarchists and thugs. Some describe protesters as heroes. Both fail to take into account the diversity of people who show up to these demonstrations, the wide range of folk who are jarred by the rhetoric of this campaign season. Thankfully, still others view protesters as people with real concerns, hopes and dreams, who protest because they want to stand against what they see as a swelling hatred in the United States. Knowing that the people of my congregation would hear widely varying reports of what took place, I wanted to see for myself so that I can help separate fact from fiction.
- For justice – The groups of people named on our signs are the very groups that Trump (and other candidates) speak against. As hateful rhetoric increases and translates into acts of violence, many of our neighbors feel increasingly unsafe. Though we have never met, these people are my brothers and sisters. They deserve to see people holding signs that name and proclaim their full humanity and dignity, especially in public places where they are rhetorically and/or physically attacked. I was moved by the number of people who stopped and thanked us for carrying signs that named them as neighbor instead of other or enemy.
- For the little girl in me – I grew up in awe of the social justice activists of the Civil Rights Movement, the suffragists in both Britain and the US, the anti-colonial activists from around the world, the feminist leaders, the activists who protested injustice not despite their faith but because of it. As a teenager, I regretted being “born in the wrong time” because I naively believed that all the good fights had already been fought and won. As a college student, I began to see that there was so much left to be done…and with every year that passed, I began to find excuses not to show up. My own activism slowly morphed into words backed by little action, and that child-who-was looked at me with very little respect. I want to be someone the younger Lara would be proud of, which means putting myself where my words are, where the need is, where my faith tells me to go.
- Because I am afraid – I almost didn’t go yesterday. The pull of a lazy Saturday at home was strong, but my fear of what might happen was even stronger. What if the protests became violent? What if church folk criticized me for attending? What if… At the last minute, I settled down just enough to hear the quiet voice inside me whisper “If you are afraid, then you MUST go.” She was right. The things in life that really matter are worth taking thoughtful risks.
- Because it’s not about me – As honest as my self-reflection may be, this place that we’re in – this hatesplosion – is bigger than me or any other individual. It is about all of us, together. If we are to find our way out of here, it will require all of us working together. That means showing up and doing the hard work of reconciliation and compassion, even when our hands and voices shake.
- Because the Bible tells me so –The Bible reveals that God is intimately concerned with the welfare of the other. Widows, orphans, immigrants, strangers…all are named as beloved, and all make it to the list of folk we’re not only called but commanded to love.
I’m not telling anyone who to vote for, because I value the separation of church and state. But I’m also no longer hiding behind that separation, as though being a pastor means I can’t have personal convictions. I can, and I do. I’m standing for love.
Lara Blackwood Pickrel is one of the pastors at First Christian Church of Smithville, Missouri. Her first love in ministry is work for and with young people. Lara is also passionate about writing, intergenerational ministry, creative worship, and knitting. Her husband, Chuck, is also a Disciples minister. Together they binge on science fiction shows, grieve the cancellation of Firefly, direct/counsel summer camps, and make a home with Shelby, Faith, and Hanna (the fur-kids).
—Josh Helmuth, 41 Action News
The tension really ebbed and flowed throughout the night. It was evident early on the police were going to have their hands full. Roads were already blocked off and security was in place when I arrived outside the theater at 3 o’clock. Also at that time, a long line of Trump supporters wrapped around the block waiting to get inside the Midland, with a healthy string of protestors on the other side of the street holding up signs and chanting.
As Trump’s expected arrival time grew closer, several confrontations had to be broken up by police before they turned violent. There were a couple of arrests, one in which a protestor threw a bottle from across the street attempting to hit a Trump supporter. It nearly hit me instead. Once Trump got there, there were hundreds of his supporters who were disappointed they couldn’t go inside. They were told the theater was full due to fire code. Others say it was because of safety reasons.
Within 5 minutes, Trump protestors who had made it inside were booted from the theater. Cheers erupted from across the street as they left the theater. Police gently escorted them to the other side of the street, as the front of the theater was fairly crowded. At this point in time, many Trump supporters were leaving, as protestors continued to gain in numbers. There was aggression and frustration from both sides throughout the night, but based on what I saw from the 6+ hours I was there, 90 percent of the aggression was coming from the protest side. Some of the confrontations began simply because protestors purposely walked across the street to hold their signs and shout in the faces of the Trump supporters head-on.
One man, who was standing right next to me, walked up to a young couple who were Trump supporters, and shouted “Fight Me” over and over again, until police escorted him away.
The peak moment of the tension came around 7 PM when a group of protestors were heavily pepper-sprayed. I was in that crowd trying to get interviews when it happened. It was a very intense and scary moment, but one that may not have been unwarranted, from the looks of it. There is video proof that shows the crowd pushing and shoving one another, going into the street — it even starts to spook the horse of the mounted officer. (See video, here).
The questions I have regarding the pepper-spraying incident are: how much warning did the officers give the crowd to get back on the sidewalk? And was the amount of pepper-spray used justifiable? I was standing about 20 feet away from the epicenter of the conflict, and I was hit. I think the police did a good job of allowing peaceful protest… they even allowed protestors to go to the same sidewalk Trump supporters were on, and only removed people when exchanges became possibly dangerous. From my perspective, there were a fair amount of people willing to protest in a legal and healthy manner. But there were several others there simply looking to pick a fight.
On the whole, it’s a miracle things didn’t get much worse.
Josh Helmuth is a journalist, storyteller and all around sports guy who recently moved to the KC area from California. He is a reporter for a member at Saint Andrew Christian Church, where he volunteers with the youth group. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Because all the cool kids are doing it.
*More about photographer Gloria Baker Feinstein.