Donald Trump is scheduled to appear at a rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago on Friday, and a large coalition of activists is mobilizing to be there too.
Organizers of Stop Trump Chicago say more than 60 groups and 100 student organizers have pledged to gather at UIC’s Quad at 4:30 p.m. before marching to the UIC Pavilion ahead of Trump’s 6 p.m. rally.
STC organizers say their focus has been on Trump ever since his Chicago rally was announced last week.
“Our first reaction was shock,” said UIC nursing student and STC organizer Casandra Robledo. “Our second reaction was outrage. We started talking to our friends from different groups and it just snowballed.”
On a Facebook page for the protest, more than 9,000 people have marked themselves as "going" to Friday's protest, though how many will actually attend remains to be seen.
“The message we want to get across is that the anti-immigrant, xenophobic hate message is not welcome in Illinois,” said Lawrence Benito, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, one of the groups that will be participating Friday. “We’re planning a peaceful demonstration of our displeasure.”
At some recent Trump rallies, protesters and other observers have been forcibly removed, sometimes with Trump’s own encouragement, so Chicago organizers met Tuesday to discuss safety measures. However, they do not plan to enter the event itself.
"We do want to make it clear that [shutting down the event is] not one of our goals," UIC student Usama Ibrahim said. “[We do not want to] interfere with the ability of interested persons to hear what the presidential front-runner has to say."
Meanwhile, at least two petitions call for UIC to cancel the Trump rally, one boasting nearly 50,000 signatures, the other, made up of University of Illinois at Chicago faculty and staff, about 300.
UIC professors and students have expressed misgivings over the event. “Personally I fear for my safety if I come anywhere near the UIC Pavilion at 6 p.m.,” English and African American studies professor Natasha Barnes wrote to a UIC listserv.
The Trump rally “is a provocation” meant to antagonize those groups for pro-Trump media fodder, Barnes said in an email interview. “This is Trump’s first rally in a large urban city where he knows his presence will be a magnet for protest … and much of that protest will come from the large youth movements like [Black Lives Matter] and [Black Youth Project 100]."
Marie Khan, a fellowship coordinator for UIC, said the mood on campus was tense. “Students feel confused, hurt and angry, and faculty and staff are worried." The rally, which will open doors at 3 p.m., will overlap with the school’s workday, and it happens to coincide with UIC’s Muslim Student Association prayer week.
UIC declined to say how much the Trump campaign is paying to use the Pavilion, and officials are standing by their decision to welcome Trump. “The fact that this event is happening on our campus in no way threatens UIC’s core values of freedom, equality and social justice for all,” vice chancellor for administrative services Mark Donovan wrote Tuesday in a message to students, faculty, and staff. “These values are deeply rooted in our diverse community and will be evident on March 11 as they are every other day.”
The event will be secured by campus police, the Chicago Police Department, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Illinois State Police, according to Donovan.
Trump holds a large lead in polls of Illinois voters, and STC’s Robledo holds no illusion that the protest alone will turn that tide. “Whether or not we think this will be a turning point is irrelevant,” said said. “We’re here to speak for those who Trump has attacked and do not have the means or opportunity to speak for themselves. More than anything, we are focused on maintaining a peaceful rally and hope Mr. Trump’s supporters do the same.”