Article by Noah Henson
December 17, Austin, Texas —
Demonstrators gathered in front of City Hall on the evening of December 17 in support of President Donald Trump’s impeachment.
People carrying signs and waving banners flooded the outdoor plaza and the sidewalk, chanting slogans and singing parodied versions of Christmas carols that criticized the President.
“Donald the Chief Molester,” sang the demonstrators to the tune of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, “had a tiny, grabby hand. And if you ever saw him, you would hear him say he’s grand!”
Despite the derisive humor of the songs, the demonstration carried a serious intent.
“There are two messages that I’d like for folks to hear in their hearts,” said rally organizer Gilbert Ramos in an interview with Austin Youth Artists United Journalism.
“One of them is… [Trump] traded arms for having another country dig up dirt. The other thing is it isn’t politicians, it’s not the news media, it’s not pundits, it’s not opinion writers that make changes. It’s the grassroots. It’s you and me and everyone else here who can make the impeachment happen.”
Ramos explained that he was spurred to organize the rally by experiences from his childhood.
“I was born in the Rio Grande valley,” he said, going on to recount how he grew up speaking Spanish.
“In 1967, I was a third grader. It wasn’t until the third grade that I was able to learn English. The first day of school, two teachers slapped me and another spit in my face because I was speaking Spanish.”
With the current administration’s stance on Mexican immigrants, Ramos is reminded of the injustices he suffered in his youth.
“Decades later I hear Trump talking about his ‘little Mexicans’ who are on his team […] He starts talking about how these people are taking jobs away, how they’re rapists, murderers, just bad people […] and it got me so angry and afraid. My fear was that my niece was going to be persecuted like I was for being a person of color.”
Ramos wasn’t the only person at the rally who feared for the state of the nation. Others also expressed concern regarding the President’s actions, comparing him to an authoritarian ruler.
“I have children, grandchildren, and a great granddaughter, and I’m very concerned for what this country might come to,” said another demonstrator. “ Trump thinks he has the right to be above the law and commit all these criminal acts. How is this different from a dictatorship? It isn’t.”
The protester also criticized President Trump’s effect on the Office of the President.
“I think he’s made an absolute disgrace [of the presidency],” she said.
“We’re a laughingstock all over the world. Out of over two hundred countries that signed the Paris Climate Agreement, we’re the only country that’s backed out. This is ridiculous.”
Out of one hundred ninety-seven countries in the Paris Agreement, the United States has, as of now, been the only member to withdraw.
When asked about the articles of impeachment, the rally goers were adamant that the current evidence brought against Trump was sufficient to impeach and convict him.
“At this point […] what they have is enough to impeach him,” one protester said, expressing her desire for the president to be held fully accountable for his alleged wrongdoings.
“I’d like to see him indicted, found guilty and put behind bars where he belongs, the same way you or I would be if we had committed any of his crimes.”
However, not all present at the rally were fervently opposed to the president.
Multiple counter-protesters appeared over the course of the evening, the first arriving roughly around 5:30 PM as the demonstrators had just started to congregate in front of City Hall.
Verbally confronting impeachment supporters, the individual yelled “Gays and hipsters took over East Austin! Trump didn’t gentrify East Austin […] We’re destroying the social fabric, that’s the truth!” several times, brandishing print-outs featuring an article titled “Top Gay-Friendly Neighborhoods in East Austin.”
The article comes from a website called “gayinaustintexas.com” and encourages members of the LGBT community to move into East Austin.
“Don’t let this quickly gentrifying neighborhood fool you!” the article reads.
“In 2013, Fordham Institute released a list of the country’s fastest gentrifying neighborhoods and East Austin[…] came in at #5. The cultural diversity, history, and families that have lived here for over fifty years are part of what makes this side of town charming.”
While the debate surrounding gentrification in East Austin is contentious, the counter-protester didn’t linger for long to elaborate on his claims before he was escorted away by police officers.
The second group of counter-protesters arrived at the height of the rally. A man in a scarf that read “Trump 2016” walked onto the scene flanked by a cameraman, two other counter-protesters, and what appeared to be two bodyguards. He addressed the crowd through a megaphone, his amplified voice carrying above the jeers that met his entrance.
“Why do you hate America?” he asked the demonstrators who immediately took to verbally sparring with the man.
“You’ve got Chick-Fil-A for brains!” one demonstrator screamed at the man. “It’s called democracy, dumbsh—t!” another yelled. The counter-protester was quick to fire back at the crowd.
“Look at these psychopaths, look at these psychos” he said to his fellow counter-protesters before turning back to the crowd.
“Did you read the Mueller report? [Russia] funded [anti] Trump protests!” he shouted. “They divide us! You’re falling for Russian propaganda!”
Page thirty-one of Robert Mueller’s report reads “From June 2016 until the end of the presidential campaign, almost all of the U.S. rallies organized by the IRA [the Internet Research Agency, the Russian company responsible for influencing the 2016 election] focused on the U.S. election, often promoting the Trump Campaign and opposing the Clinton Campaign.”
While the group of counter-protesters engaged in a heated argument with the demonstrators, officers from the Austin Police Department (APD) formed a barrier between the opposing sides.
“I hope there’s a [chance for compromise]” said a counter-protester who identified herself only as Sheila. “ It’s difficult. I think people just try to find the differences and then they just want to fight and that can be bad.”
A staunch supporter of President Trump, she claimed that she would vote for him in the 2020 election even if he were to be impeached.
She also expressed support for many of his policies, including his infamous border wall.
“I’m for [the wall] not because I have a problem with immigrants […] but America first I guess–all Americans, and not just white Americans.”
When asked what the counter-protesters hoped to accomplish, Sheila responded by saying “I was just coming to support InfoWars, really.”
InfoWars, a fringe media outlet known for promoting conspiracy theories, is considered by many to hold an extreme right-wing bias.
Leo Guardione, a demonstrator and a student at the University of Texas was quick to criticize the polarization of the media.
“The message [to Republicans] needs to be that Fox News isn’t the only source of news” he explained, “There needs to be a wide range of media consumption […] I watch Fox News every once in a while so that I know what’s going on on both sides and I still decided to come out here today.”
While Guardione stressed the importance of remaining well-informed of all perspectives, the counter-protesters continued to clash with the demonstrators, shouting “Nazi scum” at the massive crowd that was separated from them by a rank of APD officers.
Talking to more participants in the rally, it seemed as though the presence of counter-protesters had only solidified their viewpoint. “[Trump] doesn’t give a crap about the people, the country, the rule of law, everything is about him,” one demonstrator said.
“The guy’s a f—cking idiot, and you can quote me on that.”
By the time Austin Youth Artists United Journalism left the scene, the crowd had begun to thin, but some demonstrators stood steadfast in front of City Hall, opposed by a small group of counter-protesters.
If Austin’s impeachment rally is any indication of the issue on a national scale, our country is more divided than ever. And as the rift between the two sides of the political spectrum widens, any hope of mending the divide rapidly diminishes.
Article by Noah Henson.
Photos and Interviews: Thomas Goldstein, Noah Henson, Nate Maness
Note: As the website for ‘gayinaustintexas.com’ was unavailable, we linked to their Facebook page.