ORLANDO – On March 5, Donald Trump continued his increasingly vulgar campaign with a stop at the University of Central Florida’s CFE Arena. The 9,993-seat arena was just under capacity for the event, but interactions with the people inside and out point to the reason for the turnout having just as much to do with curiosity and animosity than with support.
As I waited in line to enter the arena, a crowd of more than 200 stood in the free-assembly area in front of the main doors. The crowd was young and diverse, and they carried signs decrying Trump’s vitriol against everyone from Muslims to immigrants to Megyn Kelly.
Phil and David, graduate students at UCF, were waiting in line for the event. Their “Trump: Make America Great Again” flag promised a good conversation on the man and his policies.
“We’re just here for the fun of it,” Phil said “I actually don’t vote.”
Not the enthusiasm I was expecting from someone willing to pay for a professionally printed flag.
Next, I spoke to Mash and Sam, seniors at a local high school. They were supporters of Bernie Sanders.
“We’re here to see what he has to say about quote, unquote ‘making America great again’.” I spoke to a bunch of our friends and they’re all coming, not because they support him. They’re supporting him as a joke, honestly,” said Sam.
Mash told me that his “whole school is here, and they’re planning on walking out.”
Dominic, a 19-year- ld sophomore, was there because his mom told him that Trump “would do a lot for STEM majors” and that Trump was “offering a New Deal for jobs.” When asked if he follows the election, Dominic said he hadn’t but that he did like Donald Trump’s tweets.
The opening acts for Trump were seemingly curated for two things: to paint Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as a sell out to the conservative cause and to gin up fear of “the foreign hoards.”
Leo, an IT-worker fired by Disney, spoke about having to train his foreign replacement. After facing that indignity he said that “Marco Rubio was nowhere to be found” and that he co-sponsored “a corporate-backed plan to triple foreign guest workers.” The Immigration Innovation Act of 2015 raises the cap on foreign guest worker visas from 65,000 to between 115,000 and 195,000. It was never voted on in the Senate.
Next, Laura Wilkerson of the Remembrance Project spoke. She was introduced by the emcee as the mother of a child killed “by a DREAMer,” a common name for those undocumented persons brought to the United States by their parents when they were infants or small children. Her story was graphic as it described the unfathomable pain of a mother having lost her son.
Shortly after taking us through a blow-by-blow of identifying the body and tearfully recalling the trial, Wilkerson said, “I support Donald Trump over Marco Rubio because he is not afraid to tell it like it is. This happens every day whether its rape, murder, drunk drivers, it happens every day in every state and every city. America’s immigration system is broken,” she continued, “Americans not only have a right, but a duty, the American government has the duty to protect us and to know who is in this country.”
Her speech was punctuated with cries from the crowd: “Build the wall!” they chanted with one man even shouting, “To hell with the Republican Party.”
The ruckus begins
Donald Trump showed up 45 minutes after he was supposed to take the stage. By this time, I was able to find my way down to the VIP section on the floor of the arena.
“We’re not going to be the stupid country anymore, we’re not going to be the stupid people any more. We’re going to be the smart country, we’re going to be the smart people,” the Donald said to great cheers.
The speech was devoid of policy content, as is Trump’s custom. In fact, he took the first few minutes to defend the size of his hands against Rubio’s claims that they are “small.”
“We’re not going to let our politicians like Marco Rubio, he said some nasty things, he even complained about my hands, look at those hands.”
Shortly after saying that the media were “disgusting, dishonest human beings,” two men in front of me unfurled a banner and held it high. On the banner there was a large swastika made out of T’s for “Trump” and it read, “Make America hate again.” The men were quickly swept up by security. I followed them outside.
“Donald Trump is straight out of the worst parts of the 60s. His racism and bigotry aren’t welcome in Central Florida,” said the protestor. He declined to have his name published because of work concerns.
A party protest party
As the speech continued, the crowds of protesters outside grew larger as person after person was ushered out by security. Each new protestor walked in front of the barricades to applause. Some took the signs they had been given by event staff and tore them up in defiance.
The audio of the speech was blared outside and each time Trump ordered a protestor to “get out” the young crowd burst into cheers.
The event was bleeding attendees. Even a steady stream of people unaccompanied by security persisted throughout the rest of his speech. Many had to go to work, but one such person said that the reason he was leaving was that “he’s too general, he’s loud but he has no specifics.”
Ofelia Sanchez, president of the Student Labor Action Project at UCF told the People’s World that she “showed up to the protest not to protest Trump, he doesn’t need anymore attention. I showed up to represent and to let his supporters know that there are real people affected by his words and that we won’t stand idly by and let it happen.”
Carlos Smith, UCF alumnus and candidate for Florida House district 49 (UCF’s district) spoke to People’s World about the battle against Trump’s toxic ideas.
“I’m proud to be out with the UCF community to stand against Donald Trump. Even though I’m running for the Florida House of Representatives and I’m not running for president, so many of us on the ballot in November are running against Donald Trump’s message. I’m a progressive Democrat but I’m also a gay Latino, so I represent everything that Donald Trump hates. I’m proud to be out here with so many people against Trump, it’s a good day.”
Photo: Patrick J. Foote/PW