President Trump’s visit to Pittsburgh draws protesters

Trump speaks at Shale Insight Conference, protests ensue

Written By Amanda Andrews, Co-News Editor

If you were walking in the downtown area last Wednesday, you may have noticed something was a little off, especially once you hit the Cultural District. The entirety of the block surrounding the David Lawrence Convention Center was sectioned off by multiple police cars from three different ends.

President Donald Trump’s visit to Pittsburgh last week had a seismic impact on the city. Anticipating the worst for commuters and traffic, 12 Pittsburgh Public Schools preemptively closed, multiple streets were closed off, some Point Park classes were cancelled and even major corporations like PNC requested that some of their workers not come downtown. And, if events could not get more dramatic, 14 demonstrators were arrested by Pittsburgh Police Wednesday morning.

A number of different protests occurred over the course of the day. A rally, entitled “March For Truth: #ImpeachandRemove,” occurred during the president’s address and was organized by the Women’s March on Washington – Pittsburgh and Indivisible Pittsburgh.

The main body of protesters were located outside the convention center, sectioned off by more than 40 Pittsburgh Police officers on just one side of the building. By 4:30 p.m. an estimated 200 protesters were crowded the intersection of Penn Avenue and 10th Street, waving flags and signs as music pulsed through loudspeakers. “Whose streets? Our streets,” “Vote him out,” and “Impeach and Remove” were some of the chants that repeatedly rang out.

The organizers had scheduled speakers to address the crowd of protesters. One of those speakers was Point Park freshman Christian Carter, a BFA theater major. Carter has been involved in political activism for a number of years and has a contact with the Women’s March on Washington – Pittsburgh leaders. During his speech, he recited the 1992 poem by Zoe Leonard “I want a president.”

In an exclusive interview with The Globe, Carter spoke about why he chose to recite the poem as part of his address.

“We want someone in a seat that has been affected by real American issues,” Carter said. “Someone who is not just a rich, white man who has had his whole life handed to him…I want someone with student debt. I want someone whose partner died from AIDS. I want someone who is radical.”

Others present at the rally were inclined to disagree. 14 pro-Trump supporters were gathered together, some engaging in civil rhetoric with anti-Trump protesters. One of the Trump supporters present was Randy Rodosky, a retired garbageman from Pittsburgh’s Munhall neighborhood. Rodosky stated that he was there “to show support for the president” and expressed distaste for the protesters.

“They’re socialists.They’re communists. They’re anarchists,” Rodosky said. “They have no regard for a free election.”

Jared Dickman, a freshman psychology major at the university, said that he considers pro-Trump supporters to be “Nazis” and reflected on how the nation’s political climate has changed over the last several years from his point of view.

“…I was trying to get someone to come down here with me and I’m like, ‘there’s nazis down the street if you want to go yell at them.’ You know, like five years ago, if you had heard there’s Nazis down the street, then someone would call the police, but that’s just a thing that we live with now,” he said.   

Rodosky also stated that he was aware that a mostly older demographic was there supporting President Trump and that “younger ones don’t know anything about anything yet.”

A younger crowd of Trump supporters did eventually enter the scene right around the end of the rally, and words exchanged between protesters and counterprotesters became especially heated. One man carrying a Trump sign attempted to chant during one of Carter’s statements on stage, and shortly afterwards a woman grabbed a pro-Trump protester’s sign and ripped it in half.

It was after the rally ended that police present created a line between pro and anti-Trump demonstrators; however, no one was arrested unlike the preceding early morning protests.

“I think that it is beautiful to see that people are taking this into their own hands and are willing to go that far, but also recognizing the history of that and how black people have always put themselves on the line and how black people have been getting arrested and been on the frontlines for these issues,” Carter said.

Jared Dickman stated his feelings about his safety at the rally and the potential dangers of being arrested by Pittsburgh Police. 

“I feel sort of not directly at risk because I’m in a crowd, and also I’m white, which unfortunately plays a huge role in this kind of thing,” he said. “But obviously it makes me extremely uncomfortable that there are veritable dangers to us.”

A common tactic deployed by anti-Trump protesters was to block visibility of pro-Trump protesters’ signs and flags with either their own signs or even with their bodies. A Point Park student who often engaged in this after the rally was freshman Theater Arts major Emily Loecken. Loecken was verbally accused by a Trump supporter of “harassment” for standing in front of signs and flags. The man then proceeded to misgender her, calling her “sir.”

“I don’t know, every time I see a Trump sign it makes me feel unsafe, and I don’t want other people to have to experience that,” Loecken said. “And also, I don’t think they deserve any space here in Pittsburgh.”

Trump attended and gave a speech at the 9th Annual Shale Insight Conference being held at the convention center. This is the second time he spoke at the event, the first being when he was a candidate for the 2016 presidential election. In his second speech, Trump discussed progress his administration had made with his “America First” pro-fracking and non-renewable energy agenda, such as greenlighting the permit for the highly controversial Dakota Access Pipeline and leaving the Paris Climate Accord.

“I promised that, as President, I’d unleash American energy like never before, because our natural resources do not belong to government, they belong to the people of this country,” Trump said. “American energy belongs to hardworking men and women like you who get up every day and make this country run.”

Trump supporter Rodosky said that he approved of the measures Trump has taken, many of which repudiated or removed Obama-era policies.

“Trump is a sensible man. He got rid of hideous regulations on American business,” Rodosky said.

Trump’s talk also veered into political topics outside of fracking, as he talked about his dislike of Democratic Representative Conner Lamb and the Democratic Party in general.

In Carter’s view, the two-party system does not reflect his vision of a reformed system of governance for this country.

“I think we have to get out this idea that two parties or that one party will fix all of our problems, that Republicans or Democrats will be the best way to go,” Carter said. “We have to create a sustainable plan for everyone that’s [based on] equity. And will that come out of the Democrat Party? I don’t know.”

Pittsburgh Police began to move all demonstrators back to the sidewalks around 5:30 p.m.