In Parts 1 and 2 of this series I described the prelude before the Veterans Day rally on the Oval protesting the implications of Trump's election victory. By now it was nearly 4:30 pm and the rally was still in its organizational phase. I turned to a couple of students and we began to chat. Both were freshmen; unsurprisingly, this was their first protest demonstration. It wasn't mine, although my last (and pretty much only) demonstration occurred forty years ago, when I attended a rally at Kent State University, protesting the imminent construction of a gymnasium addition that would encroach upon the crest of Blanket Hill, where on May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard--what an outraged poet had called "the olive drab conscience of America--had turned and fired upon a crowd of students, some protesting, some simply walking from one class to the next.
I told the students about both the shootings and the "Move the Gym" protests. The Guard had wounded nine students had killed four students. Two of them, Jeffrey Miller and Allison Krause, were part of the demonstration (which is commonly thought to have been about the Vietnam War but was in fact a protest against the presence of the Guard on campus). The other two, Sandy Scheuer and William Schroeder, were simply walking to their next class. (Ironically, Schroeder was an ROTC cadet.)
I also told them that at the time of the shootings Ohio State was in the midst of a student strike sparked the reluctance of the university administration to meet demands for action on a variety of issues. The demonstrations attracted most students as well as thousands from outside the university. At one point the Oval was completely filled with an estimated 100,000 protesters. Afterward a graduate student in political science conducted a survey of students who reported that they had participated in the almost continuous demonstrations. Ten percent said they had done so for political reasons. The other ninety percent had gotten involved because it was a happening, something interesting to experience. As a 17-year old researching the strike I found this a bit disillusioning. At this distance it sounds like simple human nature.
I kept an eye on the students to make sure--as sure as I could, anyway, that I wasn't starting to bore them. But it wasn't boring stuff and anyway it was certainly connected to the situation in which we found ourselves. All the same, after a few minutes I excused myself and ambled off to see if there were any faculty present whom I knew.
I still didn't like my placard with its pathetically bad lettering, so I folded it up and stuffed in the pocket of my hoodie.
I didn't see anyone I recognized. Presently the rally began, with someone standing on the base of the William Oxley Thompson statue and bawling something indistinct through a megaphone. Then he led the crowd (about 200 people) in its first chant.
"Fuck Trump! Fuck Trump! Fuck Trump!"
I wasn't about to participate in that one.
Then someone else took the megaphone and bawled something indistinct. Then he too began to chant:
"Not my president! Not my president! Not my president!"
This was an improvement over "Fuck Trump." But since I took the view that, however much I didn't like it, Trump would indeed become my president when he took office in January, I didn't join that one either. I had never felt like I really belonged at this rally and by now I was on the verge of feeling like a complete outsider.
Someone else took the megaphone. Third verse, same as the first. Then:
"The people, united, will never be defeated! The people, united, will never be defeated!"
This was a blast from the past--a chant dating back to the 1960's--but it was at least something I didn't mind saying. The trouble was, I soon got about a syllable ahead of the crowd and a few people turned to look for the idiot who couldn't chant properly.
That pretty much did it for me. I drifted a few yards from the crowd and assumed the role of amateur journalist, taking photos of the rally with my iPhone. It occurred to me that this was exactly the role I had taken in the "Move the Gym" protest, and that it suited me a lot better.
There was a group of Trump supporters about 50 yards away, just seated in chairs and kind of smirking at the protesters. I was curious to know what they were thinking and ordinarily I would have just walked up and introduced myself, but since I had already been with the group of protesters I knew my approach would have been misinterpreted.
But one of the Trump supporters did begin to approach the crowd. I could tell he wasn't belligerent, just clueless about the optics of such an action. Before he got close enough for anyone to notice, however, a journalist arrested the young man's progress, and I heard him explain that he was probably the only reporter interested in interviewing him. I'm pretty sure the journalist did it in order to stop the student from advancing further. He asked the student what was doing there and I partially overheard the response, which was basically that Trump had been elected fair and square and we should respect the election.
Which of course was a common but complete misreading of the purpose of the rally. Everyone knew Trump had been elected fair and square. That's what made everyone feel scared and vulnerable, if not for themselves than for persons who happened to be Hispanic or Muslim or just plain different.
I ended up seeing only two faculty whom I recognized. Both were latecomers, and both quickly sized up the demonstration as what in Army terms would be called a gaggle fuck, which is to say a step beyond a cluster fuck.
A few days ago a Facebook friend opined that the Democratic Party was inciting the demonstrations. That would have come as news to the protest organizers. By this time I had circled around so as to be directly in front of the megaphone, so I could hear one speaker explain that "the Democratic Party has betrayed us and we're on our own." The Democratic Party had betrayed them, apparently, because Democratic leaders were working with Trump and his team to begin the transition of power.
Strike three. I was totally done with the rally. So was one of the faculty--I doubted the other would tarry much longer--and we walked back toward our everyday lives together.