Donald Trump spoke with supporters and members of the S.C. African-American Chamber of Commerce in North Charleston Sept. 23
Maria Rodriguez had never participated in a protest before she interrupted Donald Trump during a rally aboard the USS Yorktown Monday night. The College of Charleston freshman was nervous as she and her boyfriend waited in the sea of supporters gathered to hear the Republican frontrunner on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. Rodriguez and the other members of her group met before the rally to discuss their plan to disrupt Trump’s speech. They were told to blend in as best they could. They were also warned that things could get out of hand.
“The crowd seemed very excited. Everybody was happy. We were prepped before to be very careful about what we said in line, so we wouldn’t be suspected. We went in and had no problems whatsoever. There was a bit of a hold-up with our disruption. Some of our group members were not able to get inside, so we had to make a split-second decision. Are we going to make this disruption or not?” says Rodriguez. “I was scared. We were told, ‘There is a chance you could get injured tonight. People will turn and push you. They’re going to start yelling at you,’ which they did. People started pushing and trying get us out of there. They were yelling in my ear, but what’s one of the most important things to remember when you’re doing something like that is that you’re there for a cause. You’re not there because you want to share the same level of hatred that Donald Trump has. Trump has his ideologies that grow based on hatred — hatred toward black people, Hispanic people, hatred toward anyone who is different from Donald Trump.”
Waiting for a pause in Trump’s speech, a quiet moment in an evening that included a call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, Rodriguez and her fellow protesters scattered throughout the audience began shouting “Black lives matter.” The group was quickly identified and removed from the ship, but that didn’t stop them from spreading their message.
“People immediately turned to us. I had a person in my ear, yelling at me, ‘No, black lives don’t matter. You don’t matter.’ I was with my boyfriend, who is black. They were screaming at him,” says Rodriguez. “All through that I couldn’t stop screaming, ‘Black lives matter,’ because I knew if I stopped, I would start to take it personally, and that was not what I was there for. I was there to make an impact. I didn’t want it to get unpeaceful.”
Maria Rodriguez is one of the protesters who interrupted Donald Trump during his rally on the USS Yorktown Dec. 7
Caity Fitch, another protester at the rally and one of the founders of the People’s Solidarity Society, had a similar experience at the rally. Wading through the crowd of loyal Trump supporters, Fitch’s first challenge was remaining quiet while confronted with the commercialized aggression and adoration at the core of the event.
“It was extremely disturbing. I tried to dress up like a Republican to look like I was there to support him. I had Donald Trump stickers all over me and stuff. While we were standing in line, there were people coming up to us, asking if we wanted to buy ‘Bomb the shit out of ISIS’ pins.’ I had to hold my tongue the entire time and go on shutdown mode, but people were saying some really awful things,” says Fitch. “When I finally outed, everyone was really confused because I had Donald Trump stickers all over me. There were a lot of people in there, and as soon as I started shouting, people immediately all turned around and looked at me. They were telling me to kill myself. People were telling me that I should get bombed with ISIS. People were getting up in my face, screaming at me. I got very aggressively escorted out.”
For Fitch, taking a stand against Trump is a matter of letting the candidate know he’s not welcome in Charleston. For Rodriguez, the threat posed by Trump reaches beyond just the city’s borders.
“One part of his campaign that really affects me is the literal wall that he would like to build to lock out the Mexicans. I’m Hispanic. I’m from Puerto Rico, so I do have Mexican people in my family. I know people from Mexico. We speak the same language. I’m very close with the Hispanic community,” she says. “I totally understand what he is trying to do, but I wanted him to see that we are out there and we understand what he is trying to do to us. He’s trying to block us out, but we come to America to get a better life. We’re not coming here to take all the jobs or take whatever they think we’re trying to take. We’re here because we want a better life, and isn’t that what the American dream is all about?”
Although Trump may have moved on from Charleston, his presence still lingers. By taking such a public stand against the presidential hopeful, Fitch, Rodriguez, and the others who made their voices heard that night on the Yorktown face the challenge of deciding what to do next. And while they may have been able to blend in during the first protest, now people are watching.
“One of our leaders, she got home yesterday and there were ‘Support Trump’ stickers all over her door. They clearly know who we are. We’re not hiding,” says Rodriguez. “We are very strong with what we stand for. I think the best thing for people who are against Trump, if they don’t want to get involved with the protest and they don’t want to get involved with any of the action, their vote is going to make it or break it. If people hear us and they do agree with us and they want to make a change, then give us your vote.”