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Protesters share views from across street

November 6, 2018

As thousands streamed into Memorial Coliseum on Monday afternoon to attend a rally organized by President Donald Trump, 11-year-old Ryan Wheeler was among a throng of protesters nearby.

He stood next to his mother, Laura, and was one of the youngest of more than 200 protesters who stood at Coliseum Boulevard and Paul Shaffer Drive. The boy isn’t shy and is at least as convinced of his political beliefs as those who packed the cavernous building a few hundred yards away to listen to the president speak.

“What he’s doing is stupid,” Ryan said, citing Trump’s immigration policies and trips to play golf. “He’s not helping us. He only cares about himself.”

It’s an opinion shared by many who spent hours on the busy street corner, clutching signs and yelling anti-Trump chants. The first protesters arrived about 3 p.m. : nearly three hours before the president spoke to at least 10,000 people : and many kept their place in windy weather with temperatures in the low 50s as Trump’s supporters filed out of the Coliseum and back to their cars after the rally.

As supporters said Trump has strengthened the economy and realigned American policy with the country’s values, protesters voiced concern over policies they said are racist and mean-spirited.

Immigrants should be welcomed, not turned away at the border, they said. Health care is a right, not a privilege, they argued.

″(They) need to know we have voices in opposition to him,” said organizer Ben Schoch, a democratic candidate for Allen County Council. “Tomorrow, we vote.”

Allan Mack of Fort Wayne was one of the first protesters to arrive. He said it was the first time he’s protested the president and carried a two-sided sign with the messages, “Trump Circus Tonight” and “A No Vote for Trump Is a Yes Vote for America.”

The president is a divisive figure who cares little for unity, Mack said.

“He’s divided the country so bad, it’s going to take years and years to get it back,” he said. “The White House is total chaos. Government is supposed to work together. In this leadership, nobody works together.”

Some who attended the Trump rally parked near protesters and walked by them to get to the Coliseum. There were jeers thrown protesters’ way, but interaction between the two groups was civil.

Expletives and pro-Trump slogans came from passing cars toward protesters, and some protesters shouted curse words directed at the president.

Dave Griffith, 74, tried to speak to protesters on his way toward the Coliseum. He was shouted down.

“It’s sad, really,” he said, referring to the protest.

The Army veteran said that Trump has worked to put the economy on the right track.

“Him and I love America,” Griffith said. “Trump is doing a lot of good things. This is a beginning.”

Behind him, a man named Wade : he wouldn’t give his last name : used a megaphone to chide protesters and urged them to speak up. He said he spent $250 on the device to drown out protesters and was among a small group of counterprotesters.

Doug McGregor, 37, from Angola, stood with Wade and lauded Trump for working on the economy.

“We like what he’s doing,” McGregor said. “We like the policies. Economy’s great. Lower taxes. Get the country back to its roots.”

The feelings couldn’t have been more different among protesters.

Corinne Stevens of Fort Wayne brought her 4-year-old daughter, Leila, to protest.

“We feel compelled to let our fellow citizens of Fort Wayne know we won’t sit quietly while the misogynistic, racist, hateful president continues to instill fear in our country,” she said.

Jaimee Wilkinson of Fort Wayne stood with her son, Leo, 13. Each decried Trump policies : such as those on immigration : they said are racist.

“I have a lot of friends at school that are different races,” said Leo, a seventh-grader.

mleblanc@jg.net

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