Groups plan protests ahead of Trump’s arrival

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Groups plan protests ahead of Trump’s arrival

Rebecca Griesbach, News Editor

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From a crowdfunded blimp, to silent protests, to creative clothing, several groups are planning to exercise their full First Amendment rights on Saturday, when a certain visitor will be attending a “certain game” at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

That visitor is President Donald Trump, who confirmed at a Monroe, Louisiana rally on Wednesday night that he’d be headed to this Saturday’s matchup against Louisiana State University, an already-tense rivalry that has recently become the subject of even more national press.

“This Saturday I’m going to be at a certain game,” he said to the crowd. “It’s LSU vs a pretty good team from Alabama.”

The confirmation came two days after a tweet by BamaCentral’s Christopher Walsh leaked news of Trump’s potential arrival, which quickly went viral. 

After news broke Wednesday morning that the UA Student Government Association (SGA) was planning to remove students who engaged in “disruptive behavior,” however, a national audience began to question what exactly that behavior entailed and whether protest would be a possibility inside the stadium.

The SGA has since released a statement clarifying that their original warning did not intend to threaten students’ First Amendment rights, and an anonymous SGA official told USA Today that the statement was in response to a fight that broke out at the last home game and had nothing to do with Trump’s potential arrival, which was still unverified at the time. 

Students, locals and outside onlookers have reacted to the news in myriad ways, but several have made clear that the warnings, whatever their intention, would not stop them from resisting Trump’s arrival. 

BABY TRUMP

A GoFundMe campaign to bring a Baby Trump blimp to Tuscaloosa was created Wednesday night and has almost doubled its $4,000 goal. The remaining proceeds will go directly to the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization committed to ending mass incarceration and challenging racial and economic injustice. 

The balloon, which is about 20 feet tall, was originally designed by artist Matt Bonner and first flew over London’s Parliament Square in 2018. Copies of the blimp, which features a Trump-like caricature wearing a diaper to mimic a childish persona, have since been flown in locations throughout the U.S. 

The campaign was started by Trace Fayard and Nic Gulas, two UA alumni who wanted to bring the “VIP (Very Important Protestor) to Tuscaloosa. 

“All I can say is wow guys.. thank you so much for helping get this done in less than 12 hours!!” Gulas wrote on the page. “We have multiple locations around the stadium, and we are doing some last minute scopes to see where the perfect fit for our Bama Baby Trump is.”

SIT-IN AT GORGAS 

With signs that said “Resist,” “Hate not welcome,” and “UA Isn’t Trump,” about 15 students gathered on Friday to protest Trump’s upcoming arrival. The group intended to sit silently for 20 minutes and 20 seconds on the steps of Gorgas Library to signify the upcoming 2020 election. 

Several of the students were from the Student Civil Justice Coalition (SCJC), a group that formed amid the University’s silence on the Sept. 4 resignation of Jamie Riley, the former dean of students whose tweets addressing systemic racism were exposed by Breitbart News the same day of his resignation. 

A week after news broke of Riley’s resignation, the Student Government Association introduced a resolution affirming free speech on campus. But, after poor advertising and a move to amend the resolution, many students were left feeling voiceless.

“After the SGA meeting, [Udonna and I] both were extremely upset hearing so many students saying that they felt as if they didn’t have a voice here that they were never going to be heard, that they didn’t have an outlet to express how they were feeling,” said Audrey Schwarz, a first-year graduate student who helped found the coalition with Udonna Simpson, a senior majoring in political science. “With SCJC, no matter what happens on this campus, we’re going to be right behind it. Whether it’s Trump coming, whether it’s someone being forced into resignation, whatever it may be, we’ll be right there after that news headline breaks with some avenue of expression for our students.”

The SCJC has about 160 members on its GroupMe messaging platform, but its founders stressed that there is no formalized membership and that the organization is open to anyone who wants to fight against one main cause: Making sure minority students are represented, accepted and feel safe on campus. 

“We want future generations who want to attend the University of Alabama to know that there are students who don’t approve of Trump being here, there are students who do believe that change needs to come,” Simpson said. 

The University has not publicly commented on Trump’s arrival, and Trump’s motives for visiting are currently unclear. 

“Whether he invited himself, whether the University invited him, we want students to know that if you don’t feel comfortable with that you still have every right on this campus to stand up and say something about it,” Schwarz said. 

OTHER PLANS

Flags and signs are banned from the stadium, but that’s not stopping some Alabama fans from protesting inside and outside Bryant-Denny. 

An Alabama Against Trump rally is scheduled to meet at Annette Shelby Park at 9 a.m. 

“ALABAMA! tomorrow, Trump is trying to exploit & divide us around something that brings us together and makes our state great: college football,” local musician Lee Bains III said in a tweet. “let’s tell him and his hateful, exploitative policies to get the hell out of Alabama!”

While some vendors have begun selling pro- and anti- Trump pins, another tweet showed plans for some students to sport clothing with letters spelling “IMPEACH” on the front row. 

“if u have a lowerbowl ticket and want to be one of the seven people spelling out “IMPEACH” on our shirts in the student section, hmu,” Bailey Lanai, a UA student wrote in a tweet

Twitter and Facebook have proven to be turned-to platforms for potential protestors, with users generating hashtags like #BooedByBama and sharing events with a public audience.

The Facebook group “Turn Your Back on Trump (AKA Shake Your Rump at Trump)” was created by Heidi Wilcox, a UA employee. The group encourages fans to silently protest when Trump’s presence is announced at the game. 

Ashley Kavanaugh, a student who was booted from the Ticket Exchange after inquiring about anti-Trump buttons, doesn’t have a ticket to the game. But if she did, she said she’d keep it simple. 

“A thumbs down will do – booing takes too much energy,” Kavanaugh said. “Civil disobedience will do it for me.” 

Andrew Littlejohn contributed to the reporting of this story.