The air was hot and sticky, especially as I pressed further into a crowd packed as tightly as could be. The mass of people seemed to move in unison, shouting and yelling and waving their arms to the beat of a drum playing nearby, almost as if they all moved to a constant heartbeat, a thump, thump, thump of heated blood in veins and cries caught in throats. The ground seemed to shake with the sounds of stomping feet, and the sky was a wave of cardboard signs and paper banners and raised fists. It seemed almost as though the entire city had showed up on the scorching pavement that day to protest the Asheville Trump Rally, and as I looked out at the sea of faces before me I saw much more than I expected.
Now here’s the thing: I’ve never been much of an overtly political person, so writing this article is a little like jumping right into cold water for me. For the majority of my life I haven’t felt much of a need to talk very openly about my political beliefs—I’m entitled to my own thoughts but others are entitled to theirs as well. Politics seemed to open a sore wound for many around me, so I avoided being that girl that posted political Facebook rants at all costs.
Perhaps it was simply because I never felt as impacted by the decisions being made in the White House as I do now. Four years ago I was different; I lived with my parents, I relied on their finances, and my biggest worry was passing my ninth grade biology class. As I stand here now, up to my shoulders in college debt, I feel like a different person in a different world. I feel a duty now more than ever as a college student, as a woman, as a new resident of North Carolina, and as a human being to stand up for myself and those around me—to fight against injustice and hate in our political system.
Asheville, though located in the state that passed HB2, is known for being a liberal hub in an otherwise generally conservative area. It’s uncommon to walk through the streets of Asheville and not see pride flags and Bernie stickers plastered on every surface. The city itself seems to radiate with kindness and openness and acceptance. The people of Asheville are unapologetically themselves and the spirit of the city is prevalent in each and every one of them. Perhaps this is why I was so surprised to find out Donald Trump was paying a visit to my city—my city that promotes love and peace under all circumstances. To me, Trump is none of these things; maybe even the farthest one could get from any sort of love or peace or acceptance. I felt confused and angry all at once, but admittedly a little curious as to how Trump would be received in my forward-thinking city.
This is how I found myself sweating on the pavement outside the U.S. Cellular Center on Monday afternoon. My friends and I had headed downtown to protest the rally, and from the moment we stepped out of the car we were greeted by a wave of protestors blocks beyond the actual arena. We joined in their march, and as we neared our destination the shouts of the crowd seemed to factor out any other sounds around us. The air was simply a wave of cries and cheers and yells, and the faces of the people who surrounded me displayed everything I was also feeling—hurt and anger and confusion. But there was something else there that I wasn’t expecting, that was so subtle it could be easily overlooked. There, in the middle of that pulsing crowd, was a little sense of love.
Love at a Trump rally? It sounds absolutely bizarre, and yet it was there, a little heartbeat of its own. It was there in those who led cheers for justice, it was there in those who came to represent minority communities, and it was there in each and every person who had come out to take a stand against a force of hatred in our community. It was there because love trumps hate, and Asheville loves love.
I’m not saying the rally or the protest was a purely wonderful experience for the community, as violence inevitably occurred from both protestors and supporters alike. The rally was scary and frightening and shocking at times, and Asheville is changed for it. Yet I feel secure in the fact that the core of Asheville will never change—Asheville is a city filled with people who fight for fairness and kindness and justice under all circumstances, and attending the Trump rally proved that to me over and over again. Asheville is a city that finds love in the face of hate, and nothing will ever destroy its spirit. Not even Trump.
Now is the time to stand up for what you believe in, because the decisions being made in the next few months affect absolutely everyone. Now is the time to protest injustice, support those who promote love over hate, and stand up for those whose voices are being silenced. More than anything, now is a time to seek kindness in the world, and even though I often fear for the future, I’m forever grateful to live in a place where love is so very real.