Cleveland—At the Republican National Convention, nighttime is for speeches, and daytime is for protest. On Wednesday, the day’s marquee protest was #WallOffTrump, an action organized by the Latino organizing hub Mijente, as well as Ruckus Society, Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Working Families Party, and other organizations. The groups decided to bring the wall that Donald Trump has boasted about so much to his party’s front door. The immigrant-rights action, entirely peaceful, never devolved into scuffles, while a separate protest that followed later in the afternoon resulted in 18 arrests when protesters attempted to burn an American flag in the same intersection.
“We’re here because he’s been calling for a wall, he’s been asking for it, and we’re bringing it,” said Brenda Perez, an organizer from Nashville with the #Not1More campaign, which fights to end deportations. “We want to wall off the hate.”
Trump may not be president yet, “but the fact is his words have consequences right now,” Perez said. “His words are bringing out a lot of hate, and we cannot wait.”
Dozens of protesters started at Cleveland Public Square, then split up into four groups, marched and met up again at the Quicken Loans Arena, where Donald Trump was formally named the Republican Party’s presidential nominee on Tuesday. Outside the arena, protesters from Ohio; Nevada; Illinois; Texas; and Washington, DC, held hands and stretched themselves out in a line almost as long as a city block. Draped in canvas painted with bricks and adorned with phrases like wall off trump and no mas trumpadas, they actually resembled a wall.
The protest did not attempt to hit back at the Republican convention’s graphic depictions of immigrants as job stealers and murderers. Instead, immigrants and their supporters stuck to a message of radical visibility—announcing their status and refusing to be cowed by Donald Trump’s intimidation and threats. The group chanted, “¡Sín papeles, sín miedo!” (“No papers, no fear!”), “Undocumented, unafraid!” and sang a ballad: “The walls that they built / to tear us apart / will never be as strong / as the walls of our hearts.”
Police strategy at Wednesday’s actions was as it has been at every other day’s: to sweep in, typically on bikes and on foot, and fill whatever empty space they can. By forming human chains that limit movement in and out of the protest area, the police turn protesting into a waiting game. It becomes hard to move, and delegates and convention goers outside the action seem, for the most part, uninterested in challenging protesters.
At one rare moment, a woman named Janeane Wilson walked right up to the protesters and held aloft a sign that said build the wall. She chanted the same, but few paid her any mind.
“I think [a wall] will make us safer,” Wilson, who said she was in Cleveland with the media as a “mom blogger,” told me. “I don’t think it’s hatred. I think it’s just safety.” Wilson lives in Des Moines, Iowa, where, she said, she felt threatened but not exactly by immigrants. “But I feel threatened by people coming to our country who will do us harm. Just look at the crime levels. Look at the terrorist attacks happening.” Her voice shook with conviction, or nervousness, as she spoke, and before I could tell her that crime has in fact declined in the last decade, she turned back to her chants as if to escape our conversation. Protesters didn’t show much interest in challenging her.