Make America Cleveland Again: The Wall

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Politics! We’re delighted to bring you coverage from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, from which our intrepid reporter Tatiana Ryckman — who grew up in Cleveland, and whose family is still based there — will be bringing us daily dispatches on the mood of the city, the thoughts of its residents, and the action at the Convention itself.

In anticipation of the Republican’s decision to include The Wall as part of the party’s platform, a Wall Off Trump protest was planned for Wednesday afternoon to condemn xenophobic rhetoric and punitive immigration laws supported by the Republican party. Organizers exceeded their fundraising goal of $15,000 for materials within just a few days of announcing the event, which was staged in front of the Quicken Loans Arena. As the wall travelled through Cleveland’s downtown, reporters snaked around the wall of protesters, but a responsive Republican audience was eerily absent.

Iuscely Flores, a student from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said she hoped Trump would see it. “He loves being in the media, so the fact that we’ve detracted the media from him I’m sure he’s mad right now … I’m sure there are delegates messaging CNN, telling them that, ‘Oh we have something amazing in here,’ trying to get the coverage away from us, but we still have social media, we have Twitter. We can get the attention.”

I was surprised to hear that those very delegates were not the target of the grievance against them. I wondered why one would protest at the Republican National Convention if the attendees are not the intended audience? An easy answer is that there is an unusual proliferation of media concentrated in a small area and a protest’s message might be able to break through the events on the convention floor if the protest itself became more “newsworthy” than what was happening inside. Even so, it struck me as an opportunity for bias confirmation on both sides, rather than invitation for reform.

Kelly Anne, a Republican delegate from Chicago, Illinois was one of the few delegates I could find. She wore a large white TRUMP button and looked for a way around the protesters. When I asked if she supported the wall, Anne was emphatic: “It can’t hurt!” When asked what she thought of the protest she said, “I’m supposed to be at a lunch for the delegates, so I’m hoping this ends because they have the street barricaded off.”

It was, probably, not the take-away protesters were aiming toward. That is, unless the message is also about not being able to get where you need to go. On the other side of the wall, Flores said, “I myself am undocumented … I want the United States to adopt me so I can go home to see my family. I haven’t seen my grandfather in 16 years, he’s had three strokes — my mother says he’s waiting for me to go and see him.”

Because of my own grandfather’s recent death, I am primed to be sympathetic to this anecdote. I am also sensitive to the distinction that I had the privilege of going to see him after his second stroke, that throughout my life I had seen him at reunions and weddings and sometimes just because. There is a growing list of things I wish I’d done before he passed, but that’s on me. No one was telling me I couldn’t.

“I hope anyone who wants to come to this country comes,” Anne said when I asked about programs for legalizing immigrants in the country. “I have so many friends who are Hispanic, so many friends from other cultures, but they came here legally, they did it the right way.”

“People think, ‘Oh, just go online, fill out the form.’ I’ve filed the form a hundred times.” Flores said,I’ve taken the test hundreds of times … and nothing happens.”

Flores is interrupted by a group of protesters chanting, “America was never great!”

“If you don’t like it, get out,” Anne said, “If you go to a restaurant and it sucks … you’re not going to dine there again.” When asked what issues were most important to her in this election she said, “I’m a single a mother of two, I’m a real estate broker, [so] jobs and safety for my children … We had speakers here, mothers and fathers that have lost their children, and found out these [undocumented immigrants] have come back and forth across the border more than one time … I sat in the front row and watched them cry over their children … We should not have that kind of fear in our country.”

“I’m a student and I can’t apply for FAFSA,” Flores said. “I pay my taxes … I can’t get healthcare. I’m not a criminal.”

A call and response of “Trump equals hate / there is no debate,” silenced our conversation. Ultimately I felt overwhelmed by the uselessness of talking if no one is listening. I wondered why these two women weren’t talking to each other—was it because they came from different backgrounds or cities or political parties? Was it because there was a wall between them?

Before walking across the Detroit-Superior Bridge to watch the wall be erected I ran into Jillian Speece of The Unity Collective in line for coffee. “I’d love to come,” she said with an enthusiasm I cannot imagine mustering after driving across the country asking people what unity means to them for 28 weeks. We made our way across the bridge talking about rent and sandwiches. We lost each other in the crowd, we found each other again. When I approached someone with a question, she started recording. We fell easily into a routine. After three days of seeing the measurable differences made by local outreach programs and artists, I wanted to believe that two people from different places with different experiences could recognize each other’s legitimacy. Could work together to make both of their lives easier.

As if intuiting the day’s course, a friend sent me Charlie Chaplain’s speech from the end of The Great Dictator:

“We all want to help one another; human beings are like that … We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there’s room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide.”

It sounded like Cleveland, I hope that’s what people take home.