In the hours leading up to President Donald Trump’s Cedar Rapids rally, protesters and Trump supporters stood in the rain on separate sides of the street. One side held aloft posters and chanted, “Dump Trump” and “Love Trumps Hate.” The other side sported “Make America Great Again” hats and occasionally shouted slogans of their own, including the ever popular, “USA, USA.”
Nearly 6,000 people turned out to attend the rally at the U.S. Cellular Center. Trump had originally scheduled a rally for June 1, but it was postponed. Trump has been criticized for returning to what is essentially the campaign trail — the rally was organized by Trump’s campaign committee. In an open letter to Trump printed on the front page of the Cedar Rapids Gazette on Wednesday, the paper’s editorial board wrote, “Mr. President, the campaign is over. You won. Now is not the time to rally. Now is the time to sell your policies, listen to Americans with a stake in those efforts and govern.”
The event comes amid sagging approval ratings: FiveThirtyEight, which analyzes polls from across the country, puts Trump’s estimated approval rating at 38.4 percent on Wednesday.
Chris Parr, of Iowa Falls, stood in line for the rally wearing a red “Trump is my President” T-shirt. He said he was at one of Trump’s first Iowa rallies back when he was a candidate.
“I was with Trump at the beginning and we fought like hell to get him here, so it’s kind of come back full circle,” Parr said about seeing now-President Trump.
Parr praised Trump for pulling out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Paris Climate Agreement, saying that the move “pretty much saved the country.”
“It was meant to degrade our country, to bring us down to the level of these other economies,” Parr said of the agreement. “America is America and we have our sovereignty. And we are not going to bow down to what a bunch of unelected global officials say we should do.”
The line was echoed a few hours later by Trump himself who said that “the world wanted to take away our wealth.”
Looking across the street at the group of protesters, Parr said he didn’t get it.
“Look at all these people. I don’t understand what all the protesters see. They are so blind, they just see what they want to see,” he said.
A number of Trump supporters shouted at protesters to “let it go. Trump won.” But this is precisely why Jennifer Owens, of Cedar Rapids, attended the protest with her three daughters, Abby, Molly and Corinne.
“I’m tired of Grassley and others saying ‘Lie down. Give up. He’s our president now, so get over it.’ I want our kids to fight for their beliefs,” Owens said.
Abby, 13, is already picking up that fight. She started a politics club at Franklin Middle School, where speakers from both Republican and Democratic parties have been invited to speak. She said she’d never been involved in politics before the election, “but this election was an inspiration to create a space for people to learn more.”
The reaction has been mixed, with some people calling her “the B-word or a feminazi,” she said, but she still plans to continue the club in the upcoming school year.
“They have a right to their opinion, but I don’t think hate is a way to come to solutions,” she said as she — rather appropriately — held her sign offering “Free Hugs” and sported a shirt with the phrase “Nevertheless She Persisted.”
Despite the stark divide between protesters and Trump supporters, many protesters voiced hope that the divisions could be overcome in the future.
James Mitchell, of Cedar Rapids, said that he came out to the rally because he is concerned about the direction the country is going, namely increasing racism, intolerance and bigotry.
“People who are hateful and bigoted, they feel that Trump has given them license to legitimize their negative views and that’s not what this country is about. We are about working together and resolving conflicts civilly and peacefully.”
Cathy Glasson, a nurse and union leader who has launched an exploratory bid for the Democratic gubernatorial race, was one of a number of elected officials and candidates who spoke during the protest. She talked about the increasing division she sees, but also of her hopes for the future.
“The folks going to the event here have the same concerns as those standing on the corner,” Glasson said. “People are struggling and they make decisions because they want change, but sometimes those aren’t the best decisions. Ultimately, we have more in common than what divides us as a state and as a nation.”
“I’m very hopeful. I see hope,” she said. “A lot of younger and older Iowans, who love their state, are standing in the rain and thunder to tell people what they see as important; it’s reaching out to folks going into the event about the issues that unite us.”
Inside the rally
Trump gave a wide-ranging, partially ad-libbed performance checking off the list of greatest hits — critiquing the “Washington swamp” and the “dishonest” media, promising a wall (this time with solar panels) and generally putting America first.
The speech, which went on for over an hour, was interrupted within the first five minutes by protesters blowing whistles before being escorted out by law enforcement.
“Never fails,” Trump said before the crowd took up a “USA” chant and booing. “And we love our police,” Trump added. The protest occurred just as Trump was taking time to recognize U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and those injured in the shooting at the Republican baseball practice last week.
Allison Culver, 20, and her sister Samantha Culver, 18, were among the group of protesters who were escorted out.
“It was a little scary, to be surrounded by so many people who think differently than you do,” Allison Culver said.
Samantha Culver said she hoped the protest inspired people to speak out against Trump and his policies. She acknowledged that it probably wouldn’t change the minds of anyone inside the rally, “because they are hard core supporters, but since this is broadcast on the news, we knew we’d be seen.”
Action Iowa State Leader Elizabeth Dinschel, of Coralville, took part in organizing the action. The group previously staged a similar action during Trump’s post-election “Thank You” tour in Des Moines.
“The goal is to make sure that people see that we are resisting in the Midwest,” Dinschel said. “We are not just stupid bumpkins aligned with Steve King.”