On Jan. 20, here in Shenandoah County, a goodly number of us who worry about what President Trump is doing to our nation held a march and a rally in Woodstock.
Our rally was not, of course, one of the larger such gatherings. In cities around the United States and, indeed, the world, hundreds of thousands of people gathered to protest this presidency. But our event in Woodstock – at some 240 strong – was well-attended and full of enthusiasm.
Only one thing made it less successful than what we’d envisioned. The maneuvers of a small group of Trump supporters defeated a part of our purpose. But another way of describing what happened is that these Trump supporters taught us how they see politics: as an arena not for the usual American respect for the rights of others, but as an arena for battle.
Here’s what happened.
Our plans for our event were no secret: our rally was publicly announced in various ways. It was known that we would march in procession from the Food Lion store on Reservoir and U.S. 11 to Court Square in downtown Woodstock where we would publicly display our numbers and express our concerns.
Knowing our plans, apparently, this cadre of Trump supporters – likely no more than a dozen – saw to it that while we were marching they arrived at our Court Square rallying point ahead of us to occupy the choice ground along both Main and Court Streets.
Holding that ground when our crowd arrived, and waving their huge Trump banners along the roadway, these Trump supporters were able to give those driving by the false impression that the whole body of people were assembled in support of Trump, rather than in opposition.
In this way, the Trump supporters were partly successful in appropriating our event for their own political purposes. But while they had that success, they also revealed something regrettable about the spirit that they support in our politics.
We Americans have traditionally respected each others’ right to peaceably assemble and express our political beliefs. In America, muscling in on someone else’s event is not how neighbors treat neighbors.
We don’t interfere with our neighbors’ church services, even if we don’t hold with their beliefs. We don’t interfere with our neighbors getting together with their friends. But apparently these Trump supporters thought it was OK to interfere with our ability to exercise our First Amendment rights.
Perhaps we who gathered to oppose President Trump were naïve not to imagine that the supporters of a president who continuously divides groups of Americans against each other would look at politics as a kind of war. Perhaps we should have expected that they would use our public plans as a source of “intelligence” to be used to “defeat” our efforts to communicate our political message to our community.
Next time we’ll know. Next time we, too, will know to adopt the ways of military strategy, and send out an advance party to occupy the “high ground.”
But it’s a shame when the expectation of mutual respect in America has become “naïve.” And if our politics are to be conducted in such disrespectful ways, everyone should know which side it is that has chosen to escalate the battle.
April Moore, who ran for state senate in 2015, lives in Shenandoah County.