A House Divided: #bamasits students march to Tuscaloosa courthouseBy Mike Finnegan | 11/18/2016 12:37pm
“You know Trump won, right?” shouted one student, walking past the #bamasits students as the national anthem rang its final note just before the start of this past weekend's game.
Another shouted back, "It doesn't matter."
Three quarters later, the #bamasits group put their sentiments into action as the group’s members exited the stadium and headed for The Walk of Champions, where they would begin a different kind of protest.
Started over a month ago as a popularized protest of choosing to stay seated during the national anthem, #bamasits sought to bring attention to the issues of inequality and mistreatment, specifically on racial lines, to the forefront of The University of Alabama community. In the wake of the presidential election, #bamasits shifted their focus to critique President-elect Donald Trump and his campaign's approach to social justice issues, leading a march from the Walk of Champions to the federal courthouse on University Boulevard in downtown Tuscaloosa.
Along the way they would encounter countless bemused and entertained stares, bystanders recording the march on their phones and shouted profanities from fanatic Trump supporters.
“We sit for the national anthem because there is racism, police brutality and social injustice in America,” said Emerald Vaughn, one of the leaders of the march and a senior majoring in psychology. “So for the protest it was a matter of our voices still do matter. Even though he was elected our president, we cannot let racism shut us up and shut us down.”
For Vaughn and others, the protest was an opportunity to fight social injustices, to carry on the torch from their forbearers. In a ten Hoor bathroom, someone wrote 'die n*****' crudely on the wall, a message Vaughn said the University hasn't commented on.
“We are protesting because we do have rights, and it feels like we are taking a step back 50 years,” Vaughn said. “It feels like we’ve taken the torch from the older generation to come down here and protest injustice in America and police brutality and blatant racism on our campus as well...We just need people to see that we cannot stand for bigotry and racism in this country. It’s a time where we need to all come together and love and unite and respect each other.”
As the demonstrators formed in front of the stadium, most passers-by looked confused, asking one another what was going on as they pointed to the various signs the protestors were holding. A group of around eight members, all holding Trump signs, showed up just as the march begun, but the police immediately told the group not to follow them.
A man with a Trump sign walked along side the march, yelling in support of the president-elect. In each instance the police immediately removed the individual from the vicinity. However, despite a post on social media from #bamasits that detailed the time and place, most people had no idea a protest had been planned.
Watching the protest with her two friends, Sam, a freshman majoring in finance, kept her distance but stayed to gaze at the protesters far longer than most others walking by the Walk of Champions.
“I think that they’re great and doing the right thing,” said Sam, who felt the need to keep her surname private out of fear. “They’re being very respectful.”
When asked why she was not apart of the march given her support, she said she would have joined, but was unaware that the protest was going on. As Sam and her friends watched, others shouted, “Make America great again."
Standing not too far from Sam was Will Loveless, a freshman majoring in chemical engineering, whose thoughts on the protests differed from Sam’s.
“It’s over," Loveless said. "The election is over. We had an open vote, and Trump won. I understand people are pissed, but you can’t change that.”
While Loveless didn't agree with the basis of the demonstration, he said he didn't know how the issues the protesters raised should be addressed.
"I don’t think there is anyway to fix it, because I don’t really think there is a problem," Loveless said. "I see they're upset, but Republicans were upset when Obama was elected. So you just wait it out. You just have to accept it. You can say, ‘He’s not my president,' but whatever he says will happen and whatever he does will affect us either way.”
The march began its haul down the Strip, walking toward downtown on the south side of the street. It was during this stretch of the march the protesters would experience the most insults, shouts in support of Trump yelled from the inside of the bars, people on the sidewalk and inside their cars as they drove by. Several people holding Trump signs were removed by police after joining the march.
Amongst the protestors chants of “We reject the president-elect,” “Don’t give in to racist fear, immigrants are welcome here”, “Black lives matter” and “White silence is violence”– to name a few of the many the group had – the dissenting responses often became just as resounding, simple returns of “Donald Trump” and “Make America great again”.
However, some of the shouts came in a much more profane form: “What a bunch p***ies”; “Roll Trump, roll”; “F*** Hillary, F*** Hillary”; “What a bunch of f***ing losers”; “Get the f*** out”; “F*** y'all”; “Trump won you idiots”; “Your voices don’t matter.”
Once the march reached its destination at the steps of the federal courthouse, the protesters formed a circle, declaring the spot a safe zone, and opened up a free discussion for anyone to voice their thoughts.
The voices of the protestors were clear: they were afraid for the social injustice that could result from Trump’s presidency.
Sharon Freeman, a former archeologist at the University, stuck out in the crowd of college-aged protesters, given her age.
“I saw it [the poster for the march] on my Facebook feed last night, and it was the right time for me to participate,” Freeman said. “It has been a very frustrating week with dismal results. I felt like it was the right time to do something, and I think it is just the beginning; at least I hope it is.”
Freeman praised the group for the activism, and compared today’s political landscape to the one she grew up in during the 1970s.
“I think this is wonderful and I’m very proud of all of these students,” Freeman said. “As a child of the ‘70s, protest was the only way we had to express our opinions because we didn’t have the Internet. So I think it [protest] got the message across in the ‘70s, but I think this is even more powerful today because you can get so many more people involved in it through the media.”
“Roll, Trump, roll” was heard several more times, echoing off the façade of the courthouse as more Trump supporters allowed their voice to be heard. Although the police quickly told the individual Trump supporters to leave, an occasional shout did come from the gates of Innisfree across the street.
Josh Baucum, a senior majoring in business and finance, saw the protest at the federal courthouse from where he stood at Innisfree.
“It’s because people think he [Trump] is racist,” Baucum said of the protest.
When asked if he thought Trump was racist, Baucum simply responded with a no.
“I think it’s useless, or worthless, but they can do what they want,” Baucum said. “Protesting against our new president is a waste of time, because Hillary didn’t win. She lost fair and square, so there is no point.
"If you want something for your article then say, ‘Roll Trump’. He did the impossible, and it’s stupid to be protesting, because if they want to impeach him then you protesting won’t impeach him.”
The march and protest was ultimately peaceful. The leaders of the protest applauded the group for remaining civil when the opposing shouts climaxed to cringe-worthy profanities.
“I thought that it was a great turnout and I really appreciate how many people showed up and how we didn’t spew hate back at the people spewing hate at us,” Vaughn said. “I think that just kind of proves our point, that the president-elect did build his candidacy on racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and all of that. It showed how America really views the people that he was attacking. For all and us to come out come together and show people that we we’ll not be seen by other countries as a country that would come out a vote for someone such as him.”
At the end of the demonstration, police led the majority of the people back to the stadium through backroads. Their return was filled with much less hostility, but at the end of the walk was a house with two large banners. One was a homemade banner of a Trump campaign sign reading, 'Trump, Pence ’16, Make America great Again.' The other sign had a drawing of a brick wall that said, 'Build that wall.'
People on the front porch of the house were playing the song ‘Dixieland Delight,' replacing the traditional lyrics of 'F*** Auburn' with 'F*** Hillary'.
A man walked by with his wife pointing to the banners.
“Build that wall… that’s awesome.”