It’s there. Driving to Donald Trump’s rally at the New Orleans Lakefront Airport, I can feel it.
As a Cuban-American male in the United States, I’ve grown up feeling it. That energy, that understanding that I am somewhere I am not wanted. That I am somewhere I probably don’t want to be myself.
I park my car and wait for the next bus to take me the mile or so to the hangar the rally is being held in. When it comes, I take an inside seat near the front, with an open one next to me. Families, groups of friends and solitary persons walk by, opting instead to crowd into the back. The man who finally takes the seat immediately says something about the Prius I’d parked half an hour earlier. It’s odd; I feel eyes have been on me, but I say nothing.
People are drinking off-brand energy drinks, and he says, “I didn’t know it was BYOB.”
“You can’t bring open containers into the event,” I tell him.
“That’s for you. Because you look like a terrorist.”
I look out the window. There are people outside, drinking, selling t-shirts and banners and spilling into the road and then getting moved off it by the cops, as if it were game day in a college town.
When we reach the hangar, I walk through the crowd, feeling eyes drift from the stage to me. I listen to Trump. Every time a protester appears, he yells “Get ‘em out! Get ‘em out! Get ‘em out!” a rhythm forming. He sounds like he’s enjoying it.
The crowd is. People are looking around, trying to find the next protester. It’s an actual witch hunt.
At one point, Trump notices a sign, asks, “Friend or foe?” It’s a friend, he decides. The crowd makes noise, and Trump adapts, deciding they are a foe and declaring “Get ‘em out!”” The sign clearly read: “K.K.K. for Trump.”
The crowd feeds on it. The conflicts. The crisis. The expulsions.
Heads turn to see who’s protesting now. People crowd every altercation, like in a grade-school fight. People take it on themselves to walk around, searching for protesters, even as the NOPD and Secret Service are there. Hell, CNN reported that Trump had his own “private security detail dressed in civilian clothes,” too.
As a person of Cuban descent, I feel it in this great White space. I hadn’t come to get thrown out. I didn’t want to play into Trump’s ritual, to give him or his supporters the satisfaction. But I was worried my presence alone would get me thrown out and didn’t want to resign myself to that fear, to let it control my actions.
I spotted my friend Michael “Quess” Moore, just as he was locking arms with people. They are pulling out signs: “Your Hate is Killing People” and “Stop Hate.” For just a moment, I no longer feel that I am in an unsafe space. We join voices, and start yelling “Black Lives Matter.”
A moment later, the crowd envelopes us, as people try to break the circle we have created. People surround us, grabbing at our arms and trying to pull us apart. I can’t hear what Trump is saying; he’s drowned out by the screams and curses raining down from all around us, overlapping. I hear, punctuated with profanity, “Get a job,” and “Get out of my country” as I’m grabbed from behind and thrown from one set of hands to another, not sure who’s security, who’s a cop and who’s just shoving as I’m bounced roughly through a sea of hate. Eventually, the last push leads me back into the fresh air.
Outside, there are tears, fatigue, dehydration, elation as other protesters join us over the course of the rally. We subjected ourselves to the unknown, in a space where the leader has started a mob and does not care to control it.
That feeling of hatred being spewed stuck with me long after the rally ended, much as I’m guessing the confidence in voicing their hate stuck with the people who came to cheer Trump, and curse at us.
Not feeling safe on the buses, we walk in groups the mile or so back to our cars as the rally ends. I am with several black women when a group of clean-shaven white kids, in their late teens or early twenties, step into our path and stop there, forcing us to walk around them. The men stare hard, and a few them move from side to side in front of the women, blocking their path. Finally, we make it around them and keep walking doing our best to bite our tongues. When I made it to my car, the roads out were clogged, so I sat inside it writing down my thoughts. I found myself crying, and thought of a phrase my grandfather used to say: “Yo no lloro por miedo. Lloro por rabia,” or “I do not cry of fear. I cry of rage.”
A couple of parking spaces down, people are dancing in the bed of a pickup truck, drinking beer and joking about the all the “funny” and “real” things Trump said.
I felt sadness, wanting to call my father before he’d turn on the news, and see video footage of me being thrown out, but having to wait until I could make it to the highway, so that I could tell him I was safe.