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Freedom Hall Trump rally greeted by hundreds of demonstrators

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Oct 2, 2018 at 9:43 AM

President Donald Trump’s arrival in Johnson City was met with hundreds of demonstrators Monday during a Freedom Hall Civic Center rally in support of U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s Senate campaign against former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. 

Demonstrators from across the region and beyond joined groups such as the Democratic Socialists of America and the Democratic Party, brandishing signs saying “Dump Trump,” “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA,” and other anti-Trump slogans all along Pactolas Road and Liberty Bell Boulevard.

Washington County Democratic Party Chairwoman Kate Craig, one of the protest’s organizers, said those who came out to protest came to “participate in our democracy, same as everybody else out here.”

“We wanted to come out and show what Democrats believe and support, especially this close to the election,” she said. “Everybody out here wants to change the face of who is sitting in office. The only way we do that is stand up for the issues we believe in and show what we are for.”

Craig was joined by Nathan Farnor, the Democratic candidate who is challenging Republican state Rep. Matthew Hill in the 7th House District race in November.

“I’m out here just to support these people who are fighting for a lot of the same causes I am — for the people who have been left behind, don’t have health care, who work two or three jobs and can’t get ahead. The people in our community deserve better (than Trump and Blackburn),” he said.

There were a few verbal altercations between pro-Trump and anti-Trump demonstrators shortly before the event. 

Glenn Wilcoxson traveled from Florida to support the president and sell Trump memorabilia, which included shirts that read “CNN sucks” and “Suck it, liberals.”

Like many Trump supporters, he was apprehensive to talk to the Johnson City Press at Monday’s rally. He said he believes the media “always twists” pro-Trump perspectives.

“It’s always negative for us,” he said. “Some of the shirts we have are pretty controversial. Some people think they’re funny, but in the newspaper, it’s not so funny.

“We just don’t trust the media, and it’s not just because of what the president says. It’s because of our own personal experiences.”

Johnson City native Elizabeth Saulsbury, who now lives in Atlanta, traveled back to her home region to join other family members who came to protest the president.

“I knew I wanted to join this peaceful demonstration and help illustrate that not everyone in this area is in agreement with this hateful rhetoric and policies,” she said, adding that she also came to protest Trump’s immigration policies of “separating children at the border” and environmental policies.

“Health care is an additional concern for me,” she continued. “I believe everyone should have a right to free health care, and the idea that only the rich will be taken care of concerns me.”

Dennis Prater, an organizer with the Democratic Socialists of America of Northeast Tennessee and former Washington County Commission candidate, said he came to protest a president that he said doesn’t stand for working-class interests. Prater said he would “give Bredesen a vote over Blackburn,” but expressed concerns about many Democrats’ abilities to “defeat Trumpism.”

“Speaking for myself, I’m here because Trump was born a rich boy with a silver spoon in his mouth, and there’s no way he can represent working class people,” Prater said. “He has no idea what it’s like to live like us, and we need people who understand us and who are really going to represent us.

“Trumpism won’t be defeated until we have candidates that relate to mass movements, come out of them and are responsible to them by responding to the needs of working people.”

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