When senior Diana Chavira heard that Republican front-runner Donald Trump would be speaking at a rally in Chicago on Friday, March 11 at the University of Illinois, she knew she wanted to do something. Since her Knox friends were busy with finals, she turned to a fellow Chicago native and friend, Ben Bobo, for support. The two created an open Facebook group and were joined by a small group of students, some from UIC, who were also interested in peacefully protesting Trump’s rally. They devised a plan: 15 minutes after Trump took the stage, the group would start chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go.”
But they never got that far. Trump never arrived. Chavira, who had waited in line for over two hours with hundreds of others, was sitting 30 or 40 feet from the podium when protests began to erupt.
Then came the news that Trump had decided to cancel the rally, citing safety recommendations from police. (The Chicago Police Department later stated that it never made this recommendation.)
Several hours after the protest, Chavira and her friends began receiving hate messages from self-proclaimed Trump supporters on social media and over the phone number Bobo had listed in their Facebook group. Dozens also left negative reviews on Phillips Exeter Academy’s Facebook page after learning from Chavira’s Facebook profile that the elite private school had offered her an internship. Some called her a “domestic terrorist.”
The Knox Student caught up with Chavira by phone to talk to her about the experience.
The Knox Student: What were you hoping to accomplish in protesting the rally?
Diana Chavira: Basically we just wanted our voices to be heard, that [Trump’s] intolerance and his bigotry and his hatred were not going to be allowed in Chicago. A lot of Trump supporters are saying that we’ve destroyed his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, but that’s not the case because Donald Trump told everyone that the police told him, “Oh, it’s too dangerous for you to speak here; you shouldn’t do it, too many protesters.” Trump cancelled without the police even knowing.
TKS: When did the rally start to get combative?
DC: [A spokesperson gets up and] says, “Trump has decided to postpone the rally.” And I kid you not, I cannot even remember what the guy said after “postpone” because the audience just started screaming and chanting…People started taking off their Trump shirts, people started taking off their Trump hats and then they started to unveil the secret anti-Trump posters that they had hidden…I would say a good one-third of the people there actually had the exact same idea.
TKS: Were you surprised?
DC: Well, immediately, it did surprise me. To be honest, I was a little relieved because slowly and subtly, [small groups of earlier protesters] had started getting kicked out and the crowd would just attack them with these vulgar words. Again, these rallies really promote hateful words and racial slurs. And I was thinking, “Wow, within like half an hour that’s gonna be me”… I can’t even explain what happened after that. People were laughing, crying, hugging each other. And then everyone started chanting, ‘”Who shut this down? We shut this down!” And then, obviously, the Trump supporters were not happy. They were furious. And so that’s when everything erupted into chaos. The media will show you a lot of fights, but to be honest, there probably like three or four fights and then the media fully focused on that.
TKS: What ran through your head when you read the Facebook messages and comments you started receiving from Trump supporters later that night?
DC: These Trump supporters single-handedly blamed us for both [the protests inside the rally and the protest outside of the rally]. And so the first thing on my mind was, “Do you really think we had the capacity to orchestrate such a thing?” It’s flattering, really, it’s flattering. As much as I want to say we had the capacity to collaborate with hundreds or thousands of people, we don’t have that capacity.
TKS: Have you heard anything from Phillips Exeter Academy?
DC: At first, I was going to contact them to explain myself and explain the situation. But I was actually contacted by the school first. They said, “Hey Diana, just thought you should know that we’re filtering through all the messages, we’re filtering through all the phone calls. Don’t worry about anything.” They were extremely supportive.
TKS: What other kinds of responses have you received?
DC: I actually got to some of the Donald Trump Facebook groups and I saw that people were actually sharing my pictures, sharing my information, sharing that I go to Knox College, sharing that I [was a student teacher] at Galesburg High School, sharing that I got this internship [at Phillips Exeter]. And so some of the Trump supporters actually got onto the Galesburg High School Facebook group and started posting terrible things, like “how could you let Diana teach here?” And then my students actually came to my defense, saying, “she’s a great teacher and we’re happy to have had her”…That was the first time I was actually in tears. Don’t get me wrong, you would think that a lot of death threats and threats like “I’ll come to your house to assassinate you” would shake you and make you want to cry and stuff, but the first time I was actually in tears was when I saw my students defending me on social media.
TKS: Some critics in the media have pointed out that anti-Trump protesters have given Trump a scapegoat. What do you think of that?
DC: I completely understand why people would think that liberals would be the face of the enemy now. Because I feel like Donald Trump is in the position of power where he can just point to someone and say, “that’s them, that’s the enemy.” And he has millions and millions of supporters who will back him up and say, “yes, Donald Trump, that’s the enemy.” It’s the same reason why, after he said that Mexicans were rapists, a group of [men] went out and then beat a homeless Mexican man … It’s the same reason why, because of what happened, liberals, Democrats, people who want to reach out to others and people who want to make a difference in what Trump is doing—that’s the reason why we are the face of the enemy right now. It’s not because we are destroying his First Amendment rights. It’s because we don’t want to support the kind of bigotry that spews out of him and the kind of hatred that he unleashes towards minorities. But it makes sense that he wants a face. And a lot of people have told us in the phone calls that we’ve been receiving, “Hey, Donald Trump is really going to win now. Thanks for giving him all this publicity.”
TKS: Reflecting on all of this, would you ever consider participating in a similar rally protest?
DC: There is no doubt in my mind that if something like this were to happen again, I would do it all over again. Absolutely, yes. Let me be the scapegoat, let me receive all these death threats. If it means I get to expose you in the process, if it means I get to expose some of the hatred that is being fueled by your president-to-be, then let me be the scapegoat. And I am willing to sacrifice a lot of myself and a lot of my mental stability if it means I get to take you and your bigotry down in the process.
TKS: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
DC: I’ve never really been super active at Knox, but I am just so unbelievably proud that I go to Knox today. And I’ve never really felt that kind of proud before. In addition to all the hate mail and all the racist slurs towards me, I’ve had a lot of messages from Knox alums saying, “I couldn’t be prouder to be a Knox alum. I couldn’t be prouder of what Knox has been teaching you.” And it really does make it seem like I’m making a difference. Even if I am the scapegoat, I think my message really did come across and I really do think that this is only the beginning…If we allow people like Trump to spew their hatred, I’m sure people are going to be looking back 20, 30 years from now and just think to themselves, “Wow, I just really wish someone had stood up to him.”