By Emma Austin, F/G Scholar
Thousands of Donald Trump supporters lined up outside Eastern Kentucky University’s Alumni Coliseum on Oct. 13 in the hours before his rally to campaign for Republican congressional candidate Andy Barr.
Some were turned away after the venue hit capacity, but not everyone in Richmond was there to wear Make America Great Again hats or even to see the president.
Across the street, hundreds gathered early in the afternoon to protest the president’s visit as his supporters were bussed in from across town.
“Most of us feel that our president should be a unifier, and this man is anything but,” said Bowling Green activist Claudia Hanes. “This country has never been so polarized, and he’s one of the reasons.”
Hanes saw a Facebook event page and said she knew she had to make the three-hour drive to participate. The protest was organized by the Bluegrass Activist Alliance, which founder Julie Martinez said she initiated shortly after Trump’s election in 2016.
“When I show up to a protest, or when I organize them, first of all I’m making my stand as an American and saying this is what’s important to me, these are the values I care about,” Martinez said. “I think it puts pressure on our elected officials because they understand that there are people who care, and they’re active, and they’re loud, and that makes a difference.”
The alliance had a table set up behind the protesters, distributing campaign material for Barr’s Democratic opponent, Amy McGrath, and passing out Donald Trump baby balloons.
Protesters chanted in unison: “No justice, no peace” and “Donald Trump’s not welcome here” as cars drove by and honked, and Trump supporters adorned in red walked past to the entrance at the coliseum.
EKU students and professors, school teachers, parents and kids where there, holding signs with phrases including “I am mad and disappointed” and “No Southern Hospitality for the Whoo-Haa Grabber.”
Sheet Metal Workers Local 110 union organizer Jeremy Waugh stood in front of his sign that read “These boots vote,” which he said was a reference to a protest he took part in when Gov. Matt Bevin repealed prevailing wage and passed right-to-work laws.
“They locked us out of the chamber, so we were out in the halls making noise and just trying to let them know we’re here and we know what you’re doing,” Waugh said. “His response was, he said, ‘The boots out in the hall think they can dictate what the suits are going to do in here.’ And so we remembered that.”
Waugh said protests are “an avenue to be heard.”
“There’s strength in numbers in anything,” he said. “That’s obviously what unions are about. Protests are just a way to bring like-minded individuals, or people on the same side of the fence, to come together and grow their voice.”