US Politics

Looking for Unity: On the Streets of Cleveland Outside the RNC

Daryl Rembowski is a tough-looking man. His upper body is a patchwork of tattoos, and his biker’s kutte is covered in patches and pins. One of them is a Trump badge, another is the ‘1%er’ badge worn by outlaw motorcycle clubs everywhere. He is also incredibly friendly and cheerfully welcomes people to his native Cleveland.

He has come to the city’s Public Square on the last day of the Republican National Convention as part of Bikers for Trump – a group of similarly attired heavies. But, he insists, they are not here to cause trouble. ‘We’re just here to show that we can have a peaceful assembly,’ he says. ‘People feel safe around us and the police are glad we’re here.’

It certainly is peaceful. Inside the convention centre may be rancorous, as Ted Cruz is booed for not endorsing Trump, but outside people from across the political spectrum coexist with very little trouble.

The huge police presence may have played a part. Officers from almost every state mill about the square, leaving me wondering who exactly is policing the rest of the country. But nobody is looking for a fight. A passerby makes a disparaging remark about Daryl, who merely turns to another biker and asks ‘Why’s he gotta say that?’ Chicago ’68 this is not.

Elsewhere in Public Square, two young men argue civilly while filming each other on their phones – a very 21st century political moment. One wears a shirt with a picture of Trump as a 19th century general and carries a loudspeaker plastered in Trump stickers, but he seems to support the Republican candidate by default rather than conviction. ‘Sure, he’s a little rough around the edges,’ he says, ‘but at least he’s not Hilary Clinton.’

Looking on is Marnie Halasa, dressed in a star-spangled tank top and skirt and carrying a sign reading ‘Trump: Make America Hate Again’. But hate is limited in the square. ‘It’s actually been really chill, even the Trump supporters have been fine.’

She confesses she considered buying a bulletproof vest for the occasion, but she’s felt entirely safe without one. Everyone wants to have a picture with her, even Trump fans and a few policemen from Akron. She is from Akron herself, but lives in New York and flew back for the convention ‘so I could have a voice.’

Plenty of people have come for the same reason – the convention seems to draw all kinds of people, some cranks, some just concerned citizens trying to make a point. David, from Cleveland Heights, carries a sign saying ‘Donald Trump Hates Women’. He came because he has a wife and daughter an can’t understand anyone voting for a man who says such terrible things about women. Elsewhere, a woman launches into a long criticism of library underfunding in her home state.

Others are attention-seeking or else trying to be funny. The Westboro Baptist Church makes the rounds, denouncing Muslims, gays, witches and just about everyone else. A man holds up a placard that just says ‘I am tired of carrying this sign.’

Away from Public Square, party lines become blurred. Euclid Avenue is lined with stalls selling Trump memorabilia. One is staffed by a Muslim girl in a headscarf. It’s nothing political, it’s just business. Donald himself would probably approve.

Down East 4th Street, a white man in a Stetson plays a guitar emblazoned with another Trump sticker while a black girl blasts the saxophone and her friend waves an ‘End Racism’ sign. If wasn’t planned, they were just passing by and started jamming. ‘I don’t care who you vote for,’ says the saxophonist, Brittany Atterberry, ‘There’s too much division in this country.’

Daryl and the bikers agree. This is also why they support Trump. ‘He believes in unity, peace and law and order,’ says Daryl. It is a concern shared by many in the country, Republicans and Democrats alike. Whoever wins in November will have to deal with it, but for all their divisions, the ordinary Americans on the streets of Cleveland were mostly able to see past them.

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