Six Wisconsinites handcuffed themselves together in the lobby of a Holiday Inn on Monday night to protest the hotel’s decision to host a Donald Trump rally this week. Joined by more than 50 supporters, they demanded Tuesday’s event be canceled in light of the GOP frontrunner’s treatment of people of color at his rallies and the hotel’s standing policy of zero tolerance for racial discrimination.
Management at the Janesville Holiday Inn refused to cancel the Tuesday afternoon event, but issued a statement saying they “offer no interpretation nor endorsement of any political message.”
Holding signs reading “No hate in our state” and “Racial Justice Trumps Violence,” the protesters took over the hotel lobby in the early evening, and a small handful were arrested around 9:30 p.m., charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstructing an officer.
Milwaukee resident Christine Neumann-Ortiz, who joined the demonstration but was not arrested, told ThinkProgress she particularly wanted to protest Trump’s rhetoric on Latinos and immigrants, which has inspired violence at his rallies and around the country.
“We need to demonstrate that we totally reject the kind of hate that he’s promoting,” she said. “He’s not just a dangerous candidate, he’s promoting the growth of a social movement based on far-right, white supremacist ideas.”
Neumann-Ortiz noted that leaders of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups have thrown their support behind Trump, and that Wisconsin has recently witnessed targeted attacks against residents of color. Earlier this month, a man in Milwaukee murdered three of his neighbors after he heard them speaking Spanish. The state has also been pushing a bill to penalize so-called “sanctuary cities” that protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Neumann-Ortiz and the other Wisconsin activists plan to peacefully protest Trump’s rally in Janesville on Tuesday afternoon, but said they fear clashes with his supporters, especially after receiving threats from biker gangs who are backing Trump.
Other groups have expressed concern that supporters will be incited to violence by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has publicly suggested that Trump protesters should “hit first and hit hard.”
“They only understand one thing,” Clarke said recently on Fox News. “And that is force.”
The Janesville Police’s plan for the event could exacerbate tensions between supporters and protesters by corralling them in the same outdoor area. Police Chief Dave Moore told local reporters that the Trump campaign issued rally tickets to 5,000 people even though the venue can only hold 1,000, and the thousands of attendees who can’t fit in the convention center will be put in the “free speech zone” with hundreds of protesters.
Despite fears of violent clashes, the Wisconsinites says they are motivated to go forward with their action.
“I feel like it is my responsibility, as a white person, to put my body on the line in the name of justice,” said Beloit resident Shawna Lutzow, “and I am prepared to do what it takes to stand up to hate.”
Though Trump is trailing Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) in the polls in Wisconsin ahead of the state’s primary next Tuesday, and stumbled through a series of brutal talk radio interviews this week, the hotel mogul may find a receptive audience in Janesville — a city that has been devastated by the free trade economic policies Trump bashes in his campaign speeches.
The city, home to House Speaker Paul Ryan, depended for nearly 100 years on a large General Motors manufacturing plant, which closed in 2009, laying off thousands of workers. Janesville is over 90 percent white and less than a quarter of the population has a college degree, according to the U.S. Census, and its rate of child poverty is the second-highest in the state.
“Politically and economically disenfranchised white people are too often drawn to Trump’s message of scapegoating,” Wisconsin native Cindy Breunig told ThinkProgress. “The white working class has been used and ignored by both the Democratic and Republicans parties, and they have legitimate reasons to be angry, like poverty, unemployment, and mass foreclosures. Donald Trump is taking advantage of that by placing the blame on immigrants. But Wisconsin voters should remember that Trump is a billionaire who has been profiting off of extreme economic disparities. He may oppose free trade policies like NAFTA, but he has benefited from them.”
Breunig, who is one of the organizers of Monday and Tuesday’s protests, said she hopes all the Wisconsinites whose industries rely on immigrant labor reject Trump’s rhetoric.
“We’re a dairy state. Everyone talks about us being cheeseheads,” she said. “But so many of the workers on our dairy farms are immigrants. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that absolutely would not exist without immigrants. So I hope Trump’s message will fall flat here.”