Dozens of conservatives wearing stars-and-stripes sunglasses and “Make America Great Again” hats gathered in a street in downtown Tulsa Saturday night.
A few wore “Trump 2020” face masks, but most had no face coverings.
Just after 7 p.m., the crowd huddled around a boy holding a megaphone that broadcast President Donald Trump’s speech live from the BOK Center three blocks away. A man next to the boy held up his cell phone for all to see a video of Trump speaking.
These Trump supporters didn’t gain entrance to the event because barricade gates had been shut down. But they cheered, clapped and laughed together as they listened and watched from the streets.
A Georgia woman in the group said she felt supported by the strangers around her. She felt free to express her views openly.
A dead battery cut off the broadcast. As the crowd waited for the video to restart, a new sound filled the street. A mass of protesters marched toward the crowd with “Black Lives Matter” signs and a chant of “Go home racists.”
Tensions had been building since the announcement last week that Trump’s campaign was hitting the road again and the first event would be in Tulsa, not far from where a 1921 race massacre had occurred. The rally was supposed to be on June 19, or Juneteenth, which celebrates the emancipation of slaves, but after an outcry, Trump rescheduled the event for June 20.
Clashes between Trump supporters and protesters popped up sporadically Saturday outside a barrier surrounding the BOK Center. People on both sides yelled, sometimes in each other’s faces, but no violence erupted.
A young Latina woman stared up at a tall white man in a “Keep America Great” hat as she tried to explain why protesters were calling Trump supporters racist. She was tired of fighting for her friends, for herself, and for change. How could someone not see the injustices?
The man said he couldn’t take the Black Lives Matter movement seriously because of the violence and looting at recent protests across the nation. He was tired of having to defend Trump and his own policy views. How could someone think he was racist?
The pair began talking calmly for several minutes and then went their separate ways.
Support for Trump
People drove hours and even flew for the first time in months to see Trump speak at his first campaign rally since COVID-19 shut down much of the country.
The rally – likely the largest public gathering since the pandemic hit the country hard – drew thousands from across the nation and some international visitors.
A black college student from Texas said he was nervous about being exposed to the virus. But he felt it was worth the risk to speak up, and stand up, for Black lives. Like many protesters, he wore a mask as he marched.
Trump supporters from Canada, Florida and Illinois said they believe the virus has been over-hyped. Most people at the rally did not wear masks.
Many were there to have fun, to make new, like-minded friends and to show their support, including Angelica Austin.
When she was 6, Austin’s mother sneaked her unlawfully into the United States from Mexico. Austin was born in Poland, and communist rule had drained the economy, she said. There was no money, and jobs and food were scarce.
“I remember her having to wait for bread in line at 5 o’clock in morning,” Austin said. “She wanted something better for us.”
Austin and her mother lived in the U.S. as undocumented immigrants for eight years until they were granted amnesty under President Ronald Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act. After a decade and endless paperwork, they became citizens.
The road was long and hard, but worth all of the efforts, Austin said.
Still, she opposes illegal immigration. “I’m grateful to my mother for what she did, but I don’t think people should come here illegally,” Austin said. “It’s not fair to everyone else.”
This week, Austin, 45, who lives in a Chicago suburb, made the 10-hour drive to Tulsa to show her support for Trump and his immigration policies, which she said protect American citizens.
“People who come here illegally take the jobs of people that have been working here to build their lives,” Austin said Friday evening.
Austin was camped out with her 13-year-old daughter Zoe to make sure they gained admission to Trump’s rally. They were joined by two sisters from Kansas who met them in line for the rally; they were taking turns saving their spots. Two nights of camping turned out to be unnecessary, as the event center didn’t fill to capacity.
It didn’t matter though. It was fun being with “our people,” Austin said. And it was nice to get out of the house after months of stay-at-home orders, she said.
“We just wanted to get out and see how other people are living,” Austin said.
Away from the Arena
Safety – from the virus and potential violence – drove some protesters to organize away from downtown. Tulsa’s Black Lives Matter chapter gathered at John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, which was dedicated in the hope of “reconciliation and cooperation for Tulsa and the nation,” according to the John Hope Franklin Center website.
In Veterans Park, about a mile away from the arena, the Tulsa Rally Against Hate took place offering a space to those who don’t support Trump and his policies.
Groups sat on patches of grass in the muggy afternoon heat. Homemade signs with phrases like “Together we are stronger than Trump” were held up in the air. People cheered through cloth masks and clapped as speakers talked about racism, sexism and peace.
Landon Thomas sat in a corner of the park with two of his friends. With a bucket hat strapped to his head, Thomas held up a “Rally For Justice” poster.
Thomas, a veterinary assistant, discussed race as one of the primary issues he was rallying for. Because of his Native American heritage, Thomas said he stands with those who are oppressed.
While the tone of conversation in the park was heavy, the rally itself was light. People played music, talked, ate and cheered together. It became a kind of social justice picnic.
An Opportunity to Be Heard
Eugene Moore, 56, of Oklahoma City, and his 17-year-old daughter, Journey, wore “Black Lives Matter” masks as they marched in downtown Tulsa Saturday night.
The protest wasn’t about Trump or Trump supporters specifically, said Moore, who wore an “I can’t breathe” shirt, in reference to the recent death of George Floyd during an arrest by police. It was a chance for Blacks to be heard by people who don’t believe racism is a problem or that police brutality exists, he said.
“I don’t care about Trump. I don’t care about Biden,” Moore said. “I care about justice for our children, and we’re going to continue to fight until we get it.”
As an armed security guard for an events company, Moore said he works with police often. But while his professional experiences have been good, his personal experiences with police have been difficult.
On one occasion, Moore said he was pulled over by a gang enforcement agent in Oklahoma City who harassed him and called him names. The agent did not explain why he thought Moore was associated with a gang. Moore said after the agent checked his identification, he was allowed to leave.
On another night, Moore was pulled over driving home from work. He told the officer he was armed because he had just ended a shift working security. Moore said the officer froze for a moment, then quickly reached for his gun. Another officer at the scene jumped in and talked the officer into putting his weapon away. Moore was allowed to leave.
The thought of what could have happened compels Moore to speak out.
“It’s these types of things that are going on in our community,” he said, “and we can no longer stand by and ask people, peacefully, to please stop killing us.”