I live in a little place outside of the actual city of Phoenix but we’re all lumped into “Phoenix” because we’re all in the same Valley of the Sun and you can’t really tell where one little town ends and the next begins. One corner has every corner in a different city.
We’re a big city because of this and we have lots of high profile things happen here — Super Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl every year, huge concern venues, visits from Presidential Candidates and Presidents. When we heard that President Trump was coming here tonight the mayor of Phoenix (the actual city, downtown, where the venue was that he scheduled to speak) wrote an official letter asking him to read the temperature of the room and not come to Phoenix when things were as heated nationally as they have been since #Charlottesville.
Unsurprisingly he didn’t listen and insisted on showing up for a Campaign Rally (can I just say that I am still beside myself that the seated President in his first year of of his first term of office is already campaigning — okay, that’s for another time.)
In response, several Facebook groups started up for organizing protest rallies across from the Phoenix Convention Center (where Trump was speaking). There was one organized by one of our State Representatives, one organized by cos-players, another organized by a woman who has been doing several Trump protests since he started coming to the Valley, and one organized by the UCC — a march for unity and and to end bigotry. I volunteered to help out at the Sanctuary Space they were setting up and let them know I would be late because of a regular commitment I have on Tuesdays. (I was never able to make it to the Sanctuary Space because of the size of the crowds when we got there — another friend who is clergy and I were both heading there when we ran into another clergy friend and we stayed in the area we could all gather).
It was lovely. It was peaceful. We met several very nice individuals. I did some live streaming about it on Facebook. We had to go farther out than we expected because they shut down the light rail stop right by the venue. That was fine. We had to reroute around a very large building to get to the protestor area because a small fight broke out as people were leaving the convention hall saying it was over (this was about 7:30ish). We had seen a lot of Trump supporters passing us leaving but one who ended up going the same direction we were tried to provoke us. We just ignored him.
I was able to zoom in on the picture and see our group – this is where we were standing. There was a tent and tables set up with protest signs and bumper stickers that were free but they were accepting donations. I got some bumper stickers and a sign. Overall I saw maybe 10 people who appeared dressed the way Antifa is described. Two or three of them looked like the might be part of a group. There were no doubt others closer to the main protest area but 10 ish out of an estimated 10,000 isn’t that bad!
We were standing in our area about a block away from the where the main protest was taking place and where the Sanctuary Space we were supposed to be was located. Suddenly people start running past us and we hear loud noises and pops and loud bangs and we asked people what was going on. Someone said, “Pepper Spray” and we turned and saw the cloud coming towards us.
I cannot say exactly what happened as I was a block away – neither can my friend who was 5 people back from where the police started shooting rubber bullets and pepper spray into the crowd. There is video posted by Cheb Ator who was at the frontlines that shows what happened before the pepper spray and tear gas.
We felt the effects of the pepper spray very quickly — skin and throat burning, eyes burning. Thankfully we were far enough away that we had only minor exposure. We moved away from the area very quickly and got a safe distance. When our group was all back together we headed to the light rail. We didn’t figure anyone running into that was doing so with good intentions and we didn’t want to be in a riot. As we walked there were helicopters circling overhead and warning everyone that they needed to leave the area or they would be hit with pepper spray. After what we had seen already we believed them and left.
The light rail ride was it’s own interesting experience and almost turned into a brawl but it avoided getting that bad and those who know me would have been shocked at how well I held my tongue. I could tell this was not a moment where reason was going to prevail. We got back to where we had left our vehicles and I drove my friend home and came home and took a very soapy shower to get the pepper spray oil off of me.
I was interviewed by a couple of ASU journalism students and one asked me why I was there — I said it was because I am clergy and I think there are times where those who are supposed to weigh in on the moral issues of our day need to speak up if we disagree with what is going on and if we don’t then we’re complicit. I told my daughter later that I look back on history and often ask, “Where the people saying NO!?” Where were the people standing up to register that they were not okay with the direction things were going. When something shaping history is happening in my lifetime, in my town, I have to go and register my opposition. I have to be able to live with myself in the future and not look back asking why I didn’t speak up sooner.
I think nothing poor of anyone who stayed home — I get it and part of me wanted to stay home with my family in the comfort of my own home. Instead something compelled me to go and be counted and register my displeasure with what is happening in our country.
When you serve in the role of clergy you have a unique vantage point for the pain in our society, for the hurting and the challenges that are very real and not some hypothetical or “heard from a friend of a friend.” If you really pay attention to that it changes you and the weight of the current situation isn’t just about other people somewhere else. It’s about people I know, and love, who are scared and seeing our country go in a direction that would reverse a lot of the progress they have worked for so hard and prayed for so long.
I don’t hate Trump.
I don’t hate Trump. I do hate what his Presidency is doing to our country. I don’t hate those who voted for, still support, and even love Trump. I do hate that there are so many obstacles to real people listening not to what they think is best for them but, rather, considering what is better for others too — for everyone. It isn’t an either/or. It isn’t you or me. It can be everyone. There is enough of everything to go around and someone getting some when they have been without for far too long is not stealing from you even if it means you have a little less for the moment — if you have enough, that is a blessing!