CLEVELAND — In response to a proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall that Donald Trump’s turned into a hallmark of his presidential campaign, activists at the Republican National Convention built a wall of their own on Wednesday.
Using a combination of banners and brick wall-patterned costumes, activists surrounded the Quicken Loans Arena for about two-and-a-half hours to highlight the harm caused by the GOP nominee’s immigration policies.
Hundreds of people took part in the Wall Off Trump action, including many undocumented immigrants as well as a group of veterans who protected the demonstrators from interference. About 150 people came together to create the wall, which stretched for about 2,000 feet around the arena.
“In polarized times we need to be building more bridges between us and less walls that divide us,” said Marisa Franco, director of Mijente, the NGO which organized the protest, in an online statement.
“But if Trump is set on building a wall. We’re going to give it to him. But we’ll be walling off his hate. We won’t go quietly as he campaigns to put us back in the closet, back across the border, or to the back of the bus,” she continued.
Police allowed the protest to continue as long as access to the convention was not obstructed, but traffic to the event slowed to a crawl for the duration, creating delays for Republican delegates. During the event, which grew in size as members of other activist groups joined in, protesters chanted, sang, and gave speeches about the need for immigration reform.
"The walls that they build…"
— AJ+ (@ajplus) July 20, 2016
Although Trump, who promises to build a border wall that analysts suggest is impossible, was the main target of the protest, organizers were also critical of the Obama administration, which has deported thousands of people over the past seven years. In an op-ed published last month in The Nation, Franco, along with Carlos Garcia, director of the Puente Human Rights Movement, took aim at what they called “The Deportation Machine Obama Built for President Trump.”
“When [President Barack Obama] leaves office he will leave behind to his successor the most sophisticated and well-funded human-expulsion machine in the history of the country,” they wrote.
In an interview with Democracy Now! during the protest, Mijente organizer Eva Cardenas said:
Today we are drawing a line in the sand to demand respect for our communities and to ask for folks that are stepping on the sidelines, not knowing what they should do, to come and join us and to start walling up hate in their communities, to start protecting their people, because we, as a community, know the solutions. No one else is going to do it for us.
Watch “‘Wall Off Trump’: Activists Erect Mock Wall Outside RNC to Protest GOP Border & Immigration Policy” from Democracy Now!:
Police target flag-burning protest with violent arrests
While there were no arrests during the Wall Off Trump action, police arrested 18 people after a flag-burning protest organized by the Revolutionary Communist Party turned violent on Wednesday.
— Luke Rudkowski (@Lukewearechange) July 20, 2016
Protesters claimed they were sprayed with pepper spray, but city officials issued a denial via Twitter, saying police used fire extinguishers. In videos of the protest, a police officer can be heard yelling, “You’re on fire, stupid!”
— City of Cleveland (@CityofCleveland) July 20, 2016
Two activists face felony charges of assaulting an officer, and 16 face misdemeanor charges for failing to disperse. Members of the National Lawyers Guild reported that police failed to give a dispersal order before making arrests, and attorneys for the activists told cleveland.com that no one should have been arrested, because flag burning is Constitutionally-protected free speech.
“We [are] alarmed at how the protesters were treated by the police,” Jacquiline Greene, a member of the NLG, told cleveland.com reporter Adam Ferrise. “We had 10 legal [observers] there and none of them heard a failure to disperse order.”
Gregory Lee Johnson, a Revolutionary Communist Party activist, was arrested in Dallas, Texas, for burning an American flag outside the 1984 RNC. In Texas v. Johnson, the Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that desecrating the flag, including burning it, is protected speech.
Overall, MintPress observed sparse attendance at most protests, with activists often outnumbered by police, who frequently used their bicycles to prevent gatherings from growing in size. Some activists may have been hesitant to attend, especially after some received visits from the FBI and police.
Robert Opsahl, who came to protest outside the RNC from nearby Parma, Ohio, told MintPress about a visit to his family from an FBI agent, in what he believed was an unsuccessful attempt to prevent him from attending.
Opsahl told MintPress:
I don’t think that [police] should be going around and looking at leftist activists if they want to know who’s going to be violent. I think that they need to be going to the Ku Klux Klan, and they need to be going to the Westboro Baptist Church and all these other hate groups that are here, because they’re the ones that are sparking violence.