Ethos is a 21-year-old from the Far North Side of Chicago. A junior at the University of Illinois at Chicago, he’s also a community organizer in the area and a musician affiliated with the city’s SAVEMONEY crew. Ethos was one of the student organizers behind the protest that stopped Donald Trump’s rally in Chicago on March 11. Here, Ethos tells his story about how it happened.
I started organizing when I was about 16, 17 years old. It was in an organization called Circles & Ciphers that engages in restorative justice to work with gangs, courts, and probation-involved youth. After moving through Circles & Ciphers, I moved on to the Know Your Rights Project through Northwestern Law School, where we engage on a street level with young people about how to act with the police to ensure their safety. I created a curriculum and did that, but really a big moment in my life that changed me was the murder of my friend Dominique “Damo” Franklin by the Chicago Police Department. He was murdered in May of 2014, right before the Ferguson uprising. His death prompted the beginning of an organization called We Charge Genocide where a group of us young people created a report and traveled to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, holding my friend Dominique Franklin’s story with us.
Then I was catapulted into the Black Lives Matter movement that today is making connections across the nation. I’m also a member of Black Youth Project 100 and I still work with We Charge Genocide. This specific action against Trump was in part led by UIC students, and that’s who I was representing.
UIC sent out a notification that the UIC Pavilion was going to be holding the Trump rally. There was immediate outrage from the student body and faculty—mostly students and faculty from Muslim backgrounds, undocumented immigrants and Hispanic backgrounds, and black backgrounds—who immediately felt unsafe and felt like we did not want this on our campus. We came to the school with the help of an organization called Mujeres [Latinas En Acción] who used a platform called NoMore.org that got a petition made. Unfortunately UIC does not own their own facilities, so Trump basically bought it out anyway, which is when we decided we had to organize a protest. At the beginning it was a core of about 10 students at UIC.
[The word spread] through a Facebook group which received almost 20 thousand people that were interested in going, with 9000 actually going, and many other responses. The Facebook group got a lot of people out. We did on-campus organizing, connecting with all the various people of color organizations on campus and getting representatives from each organization, specifically from the Muslim community, the undocumented community, and the black community. Then we reached out to faculty, we reached out to staff, and spread the word via our own friends. We organized both a direct action on the inside of rally and also a march on the outside. I was the organizer of the outside portion.
The first thing we had to do as a group of students and as a group of concerned people was get on the same page. What we really wanted to do was defend those most marginalized by the bigotry and fascism that Trump represents and make sure that their stories were centered, but also [make sure] that their safety was centered. Safety was the biggest concern for all of us. We know Trump rallies bring violence to communities and people of color, so we wanted to make sure everyone was moving safely, but that we were also organized and that we had a strong message. Our message was not endorsing any political candidate, it was not trying to sway people to vote a certain way, but was instead rejecting the fascism and the xenophobia that Trump represents.
Really, our main strength was in numbers. There were thousands of people who came to this march. We made sure everyone was safe, we made sure everyone knew why we were doing the march, what our message was. We had marshals prepared for the march, and on the inside we actually had groups of teams meeting up to a week before to plan their actions. We had white allies come in and offer their support to put their bodies in between the people of color and Trump supporters inside the rally. Those were two precautionary decisions out of many more.
The day of the protest, I got that text around eleven o’clock that there were people we presumed to be white supremacists in military gear (but not military personnel) talking to people on campus, making many people feel uncomfortable. That was really the sentiment that started the day. We started organizing and gathering around two, getting signs together, doing the training for marshals about how both navigate the police and navigate angry protestors to make sure everyone was safe. We gathered a list of speakers, we got the speakers to come, then we went out into the quad of our school, UIC, with a loudspeaker system. That’s when we started the rally. We announced why we were there, how we are against what Trump represents, how Chicago is against what Trump represents, how this activist community in Chicago will not stand for this, and how the people of Chicago will not stand for this. Then we had speakers from Students for Justice in Palestine, UIC’s Black Student Union, and various organizations give their piece on how this connects to the larger issues.
— agitator in chief (@soit_goes) March 12, 2016
Then we started marching. We went on our way to march towards the Pavilion, which is when the first interactions with the police started to happen. [Beforehand] we met with UIC police and secret service and the Chicago Police Department, even though we didn’t want to. We were forced to meet with them, but we did want to get appraised of their situation. They assured us we could march, it was our right to march, and we could have the whole street of Harrison, including the intersection with Racine [in front of the Pavilion]. When we were approached by the chancellor and the administration of UIC about meeting with the CPD, we were wary. CPD is known to be violent against protesters, known to be violent against people of color, and has a long history of racism and brutality. It was a cautious situation, but we also did want to get the pulse on what they were doing. Unfortunately, as again and again we’ve been shown, the police do not have our best intentions in mind and blatantly lied in the meeting saying they were going to allow us the intersection.
When we started the march, they tried to marginalize us into a parking lot situation, basically behind a fence. That was the first negative interaction. We fortunately had the National Lawyers Guild representatives there to help us talk to the police first, then as student organizers we said we wanted to take the intersection. The police in full riot gear, a whole patrol on horses, and at least 50 plainclothes officers were forced to move off the intersection and allow us to take the entire intersection. At this point we started to see the first violence from the police. People were getting pushed, hit with baton sticks.
This was also the time when another action started to occur just up the street. There’s an ongoing campaign in Chicago called Bye Anita, which speaks to Anita Alvarez, who is our current State’s Attorney, was involved in the cover-up of Laquan McDonald’s murder, and has acquitted hundreds of police officers that have committed horrendous crimes against the black community. The Bye Anita action worked in coalition with us and with some of the students at UIC. They blocked off an intersection just up the street. Eventually our march went and joined their march, which was put together by an organization called Assata’s Daughters. We had multiple issues, because we understand that the fascism and racism and violence that Trump represents also is perpetuated by systems like the CPD, by systems like unequal education and unequal health care, and all the issues that activists fight for everyday in Chicago.
We also had people lining up as early as three o’clock, making sure to get into the venue. We had groups assigned and leaders assigned, and then they went in with solidarity circles, making sure to have those who were most marginalized (like wearing hijabs or other religious attire) go in as part of groups. They did actions inside to the point where Trump cancelled and did not even come out. And once they announced he wasn’t coming out, the people from the inside came out and joined us for the action on the outside, leading to some clashes between supporters and protesters to begin.
The goal from the beginning was for Trump not to speak. We got a petition with 5000 signatures to try to get Trump to not speak. He has money, and money in America often trumps the voice of the people. Then we knew we had to be vocal and out there in response to show that we do not want this to happen. On the inside, one of our main goals was to shut down the rally and to not let him speak and to keep everyone safe.
[When it was announced Trump had cancelled] it went through the crowd. People were cheering on the inside, dancing on the inside. Then word got to the outside, we announced it on the speakers. It was a big celebration, honestly, The only people looking mad were the small amount of Trump supporters trickling out, who screamed racial slurs, who flashed Heil Hitler! signs in front of people’s faces, who physically assaulted women, children, and young men.
— Evan F. Moore (@evanFmoore) March 12, 2016
There was never one specific moment where it went from jubilation to anger. We were happy that so many people showed up, we were jubilant that even as violence was occurring from police and Trump supporters, that we were strong together. We were not scared, we were solidified and in solidarity with each other. Even through the hard times, trying to navigate through the Trump supporters, there was still a general air of excitement and a general air of “We’re winning, we’re doing this on the right side of history.”
Behind the protection of the police, [Trump supporters] were throwing racial slurs, throwing actual bottles and cups, even running up and pushing women. And people were pushing back, people were fighting back. We as UIC students organizing this action did not endorse any violence, we said this was a peaceful action, but violence inflicted upon us by Trump supporters was not going to be tolerated. We made it clear we were going to protect each other at all costs.
The police were really the most violent—trying to push people off the street, hitting people with billy clubs multiple times, young girls and men as young as thirteen were flung to the ground. They were trying to get us to disperse, to make us leave the street. People were called racial slurs by the police as well. There were even officers who took off their badges. The line was pretty thin between if it was a Trump supporter being violent or police violence.
— e. jason wambsgans (@ejwamb) March 12, 2016
They were specifically being very aggressive towards women. My own mother, who is a close to 60-year-old woman, was slammed on the ground by police. (She’s alright. She’s a trooper.) We were seeing trends of violence against women and organizers of the action. At least five young black people were arrested—two inside the rally and three inside.
I wouldn’t call it fighting back, but we were not trying to get any arrests. We did see people get beat up and then arrested, thrown into the back of police cars with bloody heads. Timothy Bradford was just released from jail with misdemeanor charges and was given a concussion and had to go to the emergency room. We protected our people. We understand that we have the right to protest. We demand to take these streets. We have a message we want to spread and we understand that ya’ll don’t have our best interests and are protecting the forces that are negative to us.
I really want to shout out the grit of our small coalition of students at UIC that started with close to ten people that really organized this in less than five days. The Bye Anita action helped us out by keeping the energy going later into the night. Also the activist community in Chicago, we had so many people willing to join us in our efforts when we reached out to the community to get help for marshals and for marshal training. We have a strong community in Chicago that is really coming together not only against Trump, but for the justice we want to see. Tapping into that community was a big part of our organizing.
What we saw in October with the Laquan McDonald uprising was one of the biggest showings against police brutality that we’ve since Ferguson and Baltimore. That galvanized a lot of people to join. But this organizing has been going on for years and years. I think Black Lives Matter helped gather a lot more attention, but that does not mean that’s our only focus. This summer, Dyett was a high school they were trying to shut down where a group of parents, teachers, and organizers went on a hunger strike to keep it open. We had a reparations ordinance passed that gave reparations to torture victims of the Chicago Police Department dating back about 20 years. Right now the call for real accountability for this system and what it’s done to us is loud and clear. We go to the police board meetings every month and demand that the officers that killed people like Rekia Boyd and Dominique Franklin are held accountable and are off the force with no pension. We’re also calling for the firing of [Mayor] Rahm Emanuel—there’s been a big surge to get him out of office and to make sure we don’t have another reign of terror.
— Cameron Conaway (@CameronConaway) March 12, 2016
My grandma was raised in an area where she was allowed voting rights. Her grandmother didn’t have voting rights, and her grandmother was a slave. Black people now are still very disenfranchised from the current political system. So to see a frontrunner like Donald Trump, who is a reality TV star, it shows the true nature of this political system and what it really represents and what this country has perpetuated—which is that those that might be charismatic to a few have the interests of a few at heart and don’t have the interests of the marginalized people of this country.