As the woman walked by me waving her Donald Trump sign, she yelled, “Y’all are stupid! Go Trump!”
I stepped forward with my hand extended, and she noticeably flinched. I called to her.
“Don’t worry, I respect you. You are politically active, and I think that is important. We are both just trying to be patriots by standing for our beliefs.”
She hesitantly took my hand.
“I am a patriot,” she said. “I belong to the Daughters of the Revolution.”
I responded, “I think that’s wonderful. We may not agree politically, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get along.”
We talked, and this good woman thanked me and smiled as she walked away.
When I learned Trump was coming to Fayetteville, I began organizing a demonstration to voice disagreement with him and his platform. I feel strongly that his policies are either without substance or would be harmful to our nation. I feel these things so strongly that I stepped out of my comfort zone to stand up for what I believe.
Through social media, I reached out to a few like-minded individuals and received a permit from the county and Sheriff’s Department.
My rules: Be safe, lawful, respectful; no weapons; no vulgarity.
As the day neared, several other groups asked to stand with us. I agreed, inasmuch as they followed our guidelines.
We stood by the entrance and held signs, waved and smiled. Many waved back, some flipped us off or shouted crude things, to which we responded with peace signs, or “But we love YOU!”
My friend Blanca would say, “Enjoy the rally! Have a nice night!” All in all, I felt very positive.
Eventually, more people joined us from the alternate groups. I met others on both sides of the political spectrum. When I spotted a Vietnam veteran, I had to talk to him. Never miss a chance to thank a vet. At first, he wouldn’t shake my hand because I was protesting, but I said I just wanted to thank him for his service and he humbly accepted. We talked for a long time about family, war and politics.
Police officers were all around. Like bored life guards, they were relaxed but keenly attentive. I thanked several and asked them whether they were tired and if their feet hurt. They would laugh and confirm yes, to both.
Later, individuals who had been kicked out by Trump were starting to join the line of protesters. The rally would be ending soon, and most of my friends had left. It was time to go.
But by the time I got home, things had escalated. Entering the house, I saw videos of lines of police officers separating angry, chanting protesters from screaming Trump supporters, inflamed from the rally.
I was so disappointed.
I believe in good, better and best methods. At first, these images made me reflect on whether protest was the best way to get my message across. I wondered whether it only solidified the views of others by hardening their determination when faced with resistance.
On the other hand, I could see people soften and change when I talked to them. Actually, I think it was when I listened that they opened to me. It was their own voice that made them receptive, not mine. But my voice was there, too! And I hope my actions honored my beliefs and my community.
I was there partially because I believe that Trump exemplifies intolerance and hate in his behavior. How could I protest that by using those same methods? I believe in diplomacy. But diplomacy had broken down.
Honestly, I can see fault on both sides, even my own. I can see that we need to choose not only a good way to stand for our beliefs, but the best way.
To be clear, I believe we cannot negotiate with extreme radicalism and instead must stand, courageous and immovable, in the face of it. But we must never sacrifice our principles through any thoughtless instigation.
Politics does not have to divide us, and to confront each other does not mean we have to contend with each other. It is important that people who believe in temperance and peace speak up.
This is what I know: Education, peaceful discourse and compromise can be keys that unlock our political differences. Protest has a place in that formula. I implore both sides to reach out – and choose what is best.
Heather Engel, a Republican, is a stay-at-mother of five in Ahoskie. Her husband is in the Army at Fort Bragg.