Envisioning a Chicago university and harnessing his storied legislative muscle to sweep away all dissent to his ambitions, Mayor Richard J. Daley managed to produce the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) on the city’s near West Side in 1961.
Once the domain of a tightly-knit Italian community, Daley’s political tack would eventually demolish a majority of the community and permanently draw the ire of civic leaders, many of whom considered his action an unfathomable betrayal of the neighborhood.
Grateful trustees of the university later named the school’s library in Daley’s honor.
A neighborhood nearly unrecognizable decades later and dominated by college students, I wandered north toward the intersection of Racine and Harrison streets and easily gained entry for Donald Trump’s rally at UIC Pavilion.
After passing through metal detectors and security volunteers searching through bags, I was directed to the Trump media area where two congenial Trump communications women issued my media credentials.
Upon arriving in the press area two hours prior to the scheduled start of the rally, I saw the first of many protesters being escorted from the building by security. Donning white tee-shirts with anti-Trump phraseology adorning the backs, the men were chanting as they were disqualified from the function. Their fate unknown to me or others, I learned later five were eventually arrested and two police officers injured during the disturbance which followed.
Security officials would be occupied all evening long, both inside the pavilion and on the streets.
Over the course of the next two hours, the media pool swelled and, spectators ourselves, we grew curious as to what would prevail from the erupting discourse between the hundreds of students standing in sections, segregated from Trump supporters across the pavilion. From their platform, students began their chants of “F*** Trump!,” to which Trump supporters rejoined with repeated chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” and “USA! USA! USA!”
As the simmering air of crisis dilated with a second, third and fourth ejection from the seating area, the anti-Trump gang — some revealed to be members of Black Lives Matter, others Bernie Sanders’ supporters — shouted “Let him stay! Let him stay!” in an attempt to shame security into letting unruly protesters remain.
Concurrent with one expulsion, a P.A. announcement was made instructing the crowd to alert security of any trouble and not touch any of the protesters, but to allow security or law enforcement to handle any disruptive behavior.
Anticipating Mr. Trump’s expected 6 p.m. arrival, protests, insults and disharmony grew louder and more heated with a number of scuffles breaking out on the floor immediately followed by a phalanx of security rushing the scene to diffuse the crisis and exile the offenders. Pushing and shoving was common. A few punches were thrown, resulting in the swift attention of security. An EMT unit was situated next to the media area just in case.
I wondered aloud about the entry of Mr. Trump, expecting him at any moment and my query elicited several quizzical looks and shrugged shoulders. By 6:15, I began to witness more Trump posters decorating the ground, torn to pieces by those UIC students and Black Lives Matter protesters who had infiltrated the rally.
Growing more brazen by the zeal of their hollow convictions and their swelling ranks in the seating area, anti-Trump chants increased in frequency, volume and intensity.
Just past 6:30, the broiling climax was reached when a Trump spokesman took the podium and announced to the hall Mr. Trump, acting on counsel and citing security concerns, had determined to postpone the rally.
Upon the conclusion of the Trump spokesperson’s address, the entire hall was consumed with cheers from anti-Trump protesters and the bellowing of disgust from Trump supporters, followed by chants of “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” overtaking the pavilion.
Immediately, I noticed one protester — later established to be local community activist Jedidiah Brown — storm the stage and attempt to seize the podium to address the crowd, as if his voice and the voices of his company had been suppressed all evening and needed amplification. Brown was forcibly removed.
Surrounding me were anti-Trump protesters celebrating what they considered a victory and taunting Trump supporters. Numerous demonstrators ran about the floor cheering and serving up obscene hand gestures in observance of the rally’s postponement.
Almost immediately upon the announcement, two dozen Chicago Police Officers filed in and attempted to restore order to what had descended into utter chaos. Struggling to resolve one political dispute, police chased one fearless young man up a flight of stairs where he was ensnared by security.
Pushing and shoving was in abundance in my final half hour at UIC as were loud chants announcing “We gonna be alright!,” which appeared to be the adoptive victory motto of dissidents on Friday. I reconciled it would be in my best interest to remain inside the area cordoned for media. While not immune to insults or the wave of profane language wafting through the air, I was certainly sheltered from being assaulted by the aggressive behavior of a distinguished member of UIC’s next graduating class.
Watching protesters filing out after their three-hour-long display of political theatrics, I had a moment to draw some conclusions from the evening:
- Anointed by their college professors or the graduate assistants who often do the classroom instruction, these students were masquerading as political knights avowing their undertaking was a legitimate expression of free speech and they were possessed of an enterprising method of safeguarding civil liberties.
- The students’ only political expression is rage.
- The Trump function was an excuse for UIC students to become profane and indulge in their worst instincts.
- In disrupting a licensed political assembly, their actions devoured the beauty of free speech.
- Their interpretation of victory was the suppression of another’s free speech.
- Our colleges and universities have declined into incubators of hate where the most fertile minds are activated by irresponsible educators endeavoring to inspire young adults through their personal political prejudices instead of the great class of political theorists.
Stepping out the doors on Racine and Congress, I was instantaneously confronted by one young UIC student who glared at me, mistaking me for a Trump supporter. When she demanded I surrender my political convictions publicly for her friends, I responded I was a member of Chicago’s media here to cover the event.
Her attitude cooled and she saw an opportunity to reach an audience, however large or small. She recited a host of problems she faces, student debt primarily, and proceeded to say Bernie Sanders has the plan and stiffness of spine to reverse the dismal prospects she faces upon graduation in May.
As she continued, rude as I was, I glanced over her shoulder and noticed traffic on the 290 expressway leading away from the city had been halted from protesters pursued by police. I snapped out of my mania and returned my attention to the young girl who had continued to confess during my emotional absence she was a part-time pole dancer and had skipped work on Friday to protest Mr. Trump.
I wished her luck, bid her farewell and marched south on Racine and turned east on Harrison where I was nearly overrun by students and police, some of whom were attempting to stop protesters who had taken refuge in a multi-level parking lot and were enjoying the activity of tossing rocks and bricks off the roof of the building at passerbys.
Forty minutes later, on the last leg of my return journey to my car, I walked across Polk Street to hear several masked men screaming “F*** Trump” out their car windows.
I pointed to the west, thinking the behavior I had witnessed this Friday evening more closely resembled Animal House than the dignified atmosphere of a college campus.
The fiasco created by anti-Trump demonstrators, most of whom were UIC students, on March 11 was hardly what Richard Daley had in mind.
[Photo courtesy NPR.org]