As we get ready to tally our ballots May 17, candidates have been pushing their platforms locally. While our state is generally not seen as a massive battleground state, the May 6 Donald Trump rally in Eugene certainly showcased that not everyone is on the same side.
Amidst hip-hop music blaring from what appeared to be a car parked on West 13th Avenue, cheers, chants and trumpets competed for airtime at the Lane Events Center on that Friday evening. A man cruised proudly by on a bike that, to put it gently, had been outfitted with a long cylindrical fixture protruding from the bike seat between his legs. At its tip was a replica of Donald Trump’s head.
It is impossible to know exactly how many bodies came out in force, but a lot can be said for what they brought to the table. The protesters numbered a significant portion of the attendees as the evening progressed, while ever more Trump supporters gathered near the gates on 13th Avenue hoping to see him in the flesh.
The rally represented a variety of political views. While Sanders’ recent appearance on the UO campus was fodder for guess-who-I-saw-today bragging from many of my peers, the knowledge of having Trump in town was cause for anger among others.
Some students I talked to supported Hillary, others Bernie; some for Trump, others Republican but against him.
One individual, a 28-year-old University of Oregon student hailing from New Orleans, stood among the crowd in support of the Republican frontrunner. “[I’m] hoping to get a hug from Donald Trump,” he said. “He looks very huggable.” An 18-year-old high school student had come from Corvallis to also see his candidate of choice, and stuck around to “soak up” the political atmosphere.
As the loudspeakers periodically reminded the crowd that the gates were closed and it was futile to wait for entrance, the message fell on impassioned, deaf ears. Protests and shows of support continued all the same.
Patrick, another UO student, came to the rally without ascribing allegiance to any particular candidate. “Honestly, I just thought it’d be entertaining,” he said.
As I observed and chatted with students in the crowd, a surprising number of them had come for the same reason: the spectacle. Though many people came out to the rally to proclaim a political view or allegiance to a party, many more students might as well have brought popcorn.
It was surreal, watching the carnival that had sprung from such a serious calling. It was never more evident that this election season has brought with it such fanfare and tactics reminiscent of the reality TV to which Trump is so accustomed. At some point in the night, I watched as people on both sides lost themselves in the argument, subsumed by the drama and the energy that surrounds this campaign season.
Multiple attendees I talked to argued that there was more aggressiveness from the protesters than the supporters. One young Trump supporter commented, “The anti-Trump supporters are negative. Very negative.”
Personally, I witnessed two attendees slow dance to the music in the middle of it all, swinging their arms while they rested their cardboard signs on their shoulders. This is why having a candidate like Trump come through Eugene creates such a perfect storm for entertainment.
Having been to both a Sanders rally and a Trump rally, I can attest that the entertainment value is marked for rallies in this election period. While blood stained the ground outside the Trump protest after an apparent altercation, the most offensive thing I witnessed at the Sanders crowd was a sign that read “Show me your caucus.” There were cheers, there were yells, there was dancing, but there was a noticeable absence of protest.
Whereas Sanders volunteers had ushered us through security gates for the Democrat’s event, black SUVs and police officers maintained the area in force at Trump’s. The hostility of the Trump rally, from all sides, was palpable. Fear, hate, pain, bitterness, ashamedness, betrayal, pride, patriotism, excitement: All these emotions blended into a sort of sick Long Island Iced tea.
As we head into our elections this Tuesday, I understand that this race is for many people a chess game, a stratagem whose end is not necessarily progress but the prevention of another candidate taking office. I can’t help but wonder how many of my neighbors will be inking their selections out of faith, out of love, out of hope; and out of pride, out of spite, out of hate, out of fear.
I am both grateful to and anxious about those who will be casting ballots this week. I am equally conflicted about those who have decided not to: about what hand the political system will deal us, given (or perhaps regardless of) how we as voters play it.
If nothing else, the May 6 showing indicates that Oregonians aren’t aren’t apathetic about their politics.
The last student of the night that I talked to was Trevor, a 24-year-old Eugene native. His reason for going out to the rally seemed to bring a sense of peace to an otherwise anything-goes contest. “[I’m] not a big fan of hate,” he said. “I don’t think they’ll listen, but as long as we stand here to show them what we’re here for, it’s worth something.”
Hannah Golden is a writer graduating with degrees in journalism and Spanish from the University of Oregon. A California native, she has lived in Eugene for the past four years.