This morning I attended the protest/counter-protest between OccupyICE and the ThreePercenters, and thought, “This is what democracy looks like.”
Each side was able to exercise their First Amendment rights of peacable assembly and free speech. Each side made their feelings known through speeches, chants, and signs (although to be honest, the ThreePercenters didn’t do much with signs).
Could it have been better? Sure – there could have been some sort of dialogue, or listening, or something resembling shared citizenship. But that wasn’t going to happen here, and probably can’t happen as long as one group calls the other “illegals.”
Could it have been worse? Absolutely. There were weapons present, certainly on the ThreePercenters side, and reportedly on the OccupyICE side as well, although I never saw any on that side of the barricades. There were passions, and certainly people who hated the people on the other side. But, each side was able to share their feelings without fear of violence – and for that, LMPD deserves thanks for a setup that allowed for 1st Amendment expression without much chance for violence.
I arrived about 8:30, and immediately noticed the police presence and containment design. There were dump trucks and construction equipment at each end of 7th Street (where the ICE office is, and where OccupyICE’s Camp Compassion is located in front of ICE). The police had also blocked off Broadway between 6th and 8th. There was not going to be any sort of vehicular attack today.
In addition, there were barricades across 7th on both sides of Magazine Street, creating a “no-man’s land” where the two groups could face each other and see and hear each other, but not get closer to each other. In between the barricades were police officers, both standing and on horseback.
The OccupyICE people were already having a meeting. The leaders of the group were going over logistics, making sure people knew to remain non-violent, pointing out helpers such as medics and observers, and generally getting everyone ready for the rally.
I also noticed, up by the barricades, a group of people dressed in all black, some with masks. This was a group from Anti-Racist Action, an anti-racism, anti-facism group that has been around since 1988, and has a Louisville chapter. (For more on the founding of the group, check out this article at SPLC.) The ARA has been known to “meet violence with violence.” It seemed, though, that their primary purpose at today’s event was to be sure no violence happened.
The competing rallies
The ARA group carried a banner identifying themselves. They organized around the banner, then walked away from the barricades and toward the OccupyICE crowd. Once they joined the OccupyICE group, the entire crowd marched to the barricades on their side of Magazine Street, chanting and carrying signs. It was about 9:00 AM.
But there were no counter-protesters on the other side – just police officers standing in between the barricades.
The OccupyICE group chanted for a while, but people began asking where the other group was. One person said they had heard that the ThreePercenters’ permit didn’t allow them to be there until 10:00. People started looking at watches, and wondering what was up.
Then, about 9:20, you could see a group moving south on 7th, coming around the construction vehicles at the upper end of the block. Here came the ThreePercenters.
As they moved toward the barricades, you could see a group of men with yellow shirts that read “KPF.” I focused on them with my telephoto lens, and saw that most of them were carrying sidearms, some in holsters and some in their waistbands. (I was never able to find anyone who could tell me what the initialism stood for; the group I was standing with supposed it might mean “Kentucky Protection Force.”) They were there, apparently, to protect the ThreePercenter crowd.
To be honest, it was not much of a crowd. Not counting media and the KPF guys, I estimated the ThreePercenter counter-protest group at 40 or so. All white, and almost all male.
In contrast, the OccupyICE group was well over 200, and exceptionally diverse, as you would expect.
The OccupyICE group was also much louder, with chants that filled the street with sound. There was a drum accompanying some of the chants, and different people took turns leading.
The ThreePercenters relied mainly on air horns, trying to disrupt the chanting of the OccupyICE group. They were not successful, and their air horns got weaker and weaker.
The two “Build” chants
The one time the ThreePercenters did a chant that could really be heard was when they chanted “Build the Wall! Build the Wall” This was loud, clear, and certainly expressed their feelings about immigrants and immigration.
In response, the OccupyICE group chanted “Build a bridge! Build a bridge!” I have to say I loved both the response and the sentiment. It was the perfect answer, and perhaps made some sort of impression on those listening on the other side.
The Confederate Flag incident
One incident happened on the ThreePercenter side that was fascinating. As you can see from the photos in the gallery article, the ThreePercenters like their American flags (along with one or two “Don’t Tread on Me” flags). Lots of flag waving, lots of flags.
Suddenly, though, we noticed a Confederate flag join the mix on one side. This caused two reactions. The OccupyICE people saw it and shouted various things at the persons carrying it to show their disapproval. I could hear more than one person say something along the lines of “well, their true colors finally showed up.”
But then, all the people on the ThreePercenter side turned to face the Confederate flag. They got quiet, as if they were listening to someone speak. We could not tell what was going on – but then we saw the Confederate flag leave.
I was standing next to a news reporter, and she was talking with a peer from her station on the ThreePercenter side. She relayed to me that when the leaders of the ThreePercenter counter-protest saw the person with the Confederate flag (who, it turned out, was a KKK member), they asked the person to leave. When that person would not leave, they got the police to escort them out.
I stayed at the barricades until about 10:30. By that time, it seemed obvious that this was the status quo: two groups behind barricades, able to see and hear each other, but kept apart by police officers. It was going to stay this way, it seemed, as long as people wanted to stand there.
As I left, I spoke to various people I knew, including ministers, elected officials, and friends. I also made a point of speaking to some of the police officers, thanking them for protecting the 1st Amendment. I think a few of them had to stop and think about that (“Hey, I guess that is what I’m doing here”), but most of them just said “You’re welcome.”
Many other news persons stayed until it ended, tweeting and reporting. This seems like a fitting Tweet to end this story with:
— Jonathan Meador (@JonathanMeador) July 7, 2018
Just a few parting thoughts on today’s protest rally and counter-protest:
I’m very glad there was no physical violence. I’m also glad that the police setup did a good job making violence difficult, even if someone had wanted to be violent.
I was glad to see the turnout on the Occupy side. It was diverse in race, age, ethnicity, gender, family composition, you name it. Good to see that many people come together to stand for inclusion and justice.
I was also glad to see the low turnout on the ThreePercenter side. It’s obvious that there is a lot of Othering and hatred in our society; but for today, at least, it didn’t show up as strongly as Inclusion did.
And finally, I was thankful to live in a country and a city where, at least today, two opposing sides could have their say without fear of arrest or attack. Let us hope that continues.
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