Trump’s campaign rally in Phoenix Wednesday was notably calmer than his last visit, when tensions turned to violence and ended in a cloud of tear gas.
Starting more than 24 hours prior to his appearance, Arizonans made their way downtown to prepare for President Trump’s rally at the Arizona Veteran’s Coliseum in Phoenix. Crowds filled the streets early in the day as activists opposing Trump protested from delegated “Free Speech Zones,” as supporters awaiting the chance to see their beloved President lined up in the venue courtyard.
Unlike 2017, both supporters and activists largely remained calm. Trump’s past visit led many activists to take to the streets in anger, but on Wednesday, they channeled their frustration into electoral work. For every picket sign, there was a petition full of signatures for local candidates and ballot initiatives.
Phoenix officials also made improvements on how they facilitate protesters. To ensure history didn’t repeat itself with Trump’s last Phoenix rally, the coliseum doors opened early, so there was little to no interaction between protesters and supporters.
One Democratic activist who attended the protest said she was content with how the demonstration played out. This was her first protest, she said, and had no idea what the experience would be like.
“I’m very grateful that I’m just meeting wonderful people,” she said. “I’m not meeting any angry or hate-filled people.”
Indigenous youth activists from the Gila River community also came to Phoenix to protest in peace. With soft tribal beats drumming in the background they discussed why they attended the rally with Copper Courier.
Victoria, who’s traditional name is Kiohud, said tribal youth attended to protest the Trump administration desecrating tribal lands for his border wall and the Women’s Protection Act.
“The youth have a concern with what’s going on with the Tohono O’odham nation, where laws were violated in regards to the building of the wall. But also there’s a concern with our young women, with our missing and endangered Indigenous women,” Kiohud said. “The Women’s Protection Act is still under review to be reinstated, so our voice and our concerns are in regards to those two things.”
Kiohud explained that federal law clearly states tribes must be contacted when U.S. actions put important tribal sites at risk, so remains can be properly relocated. That wasn’t done, and wildlife was desecrated in the process.
“We have a true connection to the desert,” she said, “and tribal youth cannot understand how lands can be desecrated in such a manner.”
The group wants lawmakers to know many of today’s tribal youth have educated themselves on the laws, and instead of being angry, they want to use their passion to enact meaningful change.
“We’re going to continue to educate the youth on what laws are just to our communities, that way they can understand,” she said.
One attendee was there for a different reason. Catherine Tait, mother of Maricopa County Attorney Candidate Ryan Tait, said she attended the rally events to help get him on the November ballot, and she was “just happy to be there.”
“This is a labour of love,” Tait said.
Inside the coliseum, Sen. Martha McSally, along with other Arizona Republican leaders, joined Trump on stage. McSally faces a tough reelection bid to hold her seat in the U.S. Senate. The morning of Trump’s arrival in Phoenix, McSally’s Democratic rival, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, saw his approval rating spiked ahead of his opponent by seven points.
The Arizona Democratic Party, in a statement, said, “The President is coming to Phoenix tonight because Republicans recognize they are in danger of losing Arizona. They know Arizonans do not trust this President and are ready for change.”
Despite the polls, Republican lawmakers and supporters continued to tout a strong economy, border security as victories for Trump, and embraced the President’s visit.
Gov. Doug Ducey joined in on praising the President. Speaking before the crowd Wednesday night, Ducey thanked Trump for the country’s economic conditions and his appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court, and ended with a promise: “Mr. President, we are going to keep Arizona red in 2020.”
Camaron Stevenson and Jessica Swarner contributed to this report.