By: Penelope Padmore
Recently, I took part in two political rallies which happened in Phoenix, Arizona. The two candidates could not be more different.
The first one to arrive in town was Donald Trump. His rally was very well bankrolled, but not terribly well organized. Slick, pricey custom-made street signs pointed the way to the rally, and an army of armed security was highly visible. There was a phalanx of police in full riot gear. The line of people waiting to get in stretched for blocks. Most of the people in the line waiting to get in were white. There were some among them with anti-Arpaio shirts and other such slogans. There were also a few people of color. I estimate about 20% of the people that I saw going into the venue were there to protest inside.
Outside protesters were given a cordoned off area near the entrance. We addressed ourselves to the world in general, and those waiting to go in to see the spectacle. There was a sort of no man’s land between us and them. Occasionally, people from one side or the other would populate that space, and start a jeer, cheer or a chant, they would run up and down the line, or film one side or the other. One blonde elderly woman would tear signs out of the protesters’ hands and rip them up. There was a whole cart full of signs to replace the ones that fell victim to her wrath. There was cat calling on both sides. There were people who laughed at the protesters, there were those who made a great show of recording us. We faced cops in riot gear, their heads tilted back so that they were looking down at us, their feet spread in authoritarian stances, eyes hidden behind mirrored shades. Some people in plain clothes sporting guns got close to the protesters front line, and were being verbally confrontational with a few at the front who did not respond well to intimidation.
Among the protesters, there was chanting, and drumming, and the faint smell of weed. There were chants in English and Spanish which rose and fell, or which fizzled out quickly. Among the protesters were people of color, people of all ages, white people, brown and black people. One man showed up with a cart, and provided water, someone else provided sunscreen. There were discussions about the different views of those who were in attendance. There was sign waving. At one point, a young man had a US flag draped around him. I helped him hold it up, so as to show respect for it. Later in the afternoon a motorcycle cop started rolling slowly through the protesters’ area, but by then the smell of pot had long since dissipated, and most of the protesters were heading home.
There were about 4000 people attending, and it took several hours for them to get in. About 25 people were turned away. Later, I laughed along with others when Trump claimed 20,000 people came to his event. No. Not even close.
Bernie’s rally, on the other hand was a different story. No show of intimidating force, no need for a roped off area to safely contain those who might disagree with him. There had to be two trainings, since there were so many volunteers. We got there an hour before the doors were to be opened, and waited to go down to the lower level and get our training to take part in this rally. The organizers were vehement that no one go through the turn styles which led into the venue until the attendees were let in. This was the source of the head count, and they wanted to make sure the count was accurate. I was part of crowd control, and was assigned my section of the floor. We were given instruction on how to handle various situations. One thing that was emphasized was that we needed to make sure that all voices were heard, even those who were in opposition to Bernie, because as our crew leader said: “Democracy is messy.” We were only to intervene with people if their behavior made it impossible for those around them to hear the guy we were all there to see: Bernie.
No one calls him Mr. Sanders. He is Bernie to everyone. He was a captivating speaker, he was funny, down to earth and inspiring. . There were no hecklers and I saw no protests. I did hear a great deal of cheering, and was a little hoarse myself, at the end. There was a lot of hope and love in that giant sardine can of a room. And it’s only just started. Oh, and the official count was over 11,000 people.