Reclaiming Cleveland: My RNC Reflection
As the RNC approached, my biggest worry became safety which is something I’ve always valued. I’m the kind of person who is easily dismantled by negative, toxic environments. I try to be as brave as I can, as an activist, a writer, a journalist. However, I sometimes get overwhelmed by all the hatred in the world. And it feels like a good part of that hatred is convening in my beautiful city of Cleveland this week. That’s why the arrival of the RNC has given me so much anxiety, that I almost wanted to pretend it didn’t exist. It became a terrible sight to see, through the news, and even on the streets. Anti-choice protesters, racist/islamophobic signs and shirts that say “feminist are sluts”. It was overwhelming, and a little disheartening--all this hate, all at once. But i kept trying to remind myself, that the world will always feel like a dark place, when all the darkness is happening right at home. But I would think this is a wake up call, of sorts.
All this hatred manifested in my own reality, my city, hopefully was a somber reminder that we are not okay, our country is NOT okay. We are far from the level of progress we need to be.
I’m writing this on Thursday, the fourth day of the convention, and I feel calmer than I thought I would be. As the end of the convention comes to a close, I’m feeling relief, but at the same time dread. I realize now that this monster that was visiting my city for a week, is a much bigger one that spreads across the entire the U.S. and the world.
Throughout the week, the city of Cleveland has erupted with tension as protesters hit the street to voice their opinions. I didn’t realize how crazy this event would be when everyone was talking about it. It makes sense though, that on a week like this during an election like this, there would be a lot of activity downtown. This is a week that everyone feels is the perfect time to do one thing; send a message, loud and clear. Unfortunately, the scene downtown that I eventually witnessed showed how polarized our country has really become.
Yesterday, I covered an event called “The Longest Walk”. It was event organized by Meg Louise, local artist who wanted to create a demonstration that sends a powerful, yet peaceful message. The first night I covered it, and then the next day I decided to walk with them. It was a wonderful experience, and I felt like a perfect thing for someone like me to do and write about. A lot of people are protesting the RNC in a lot of ways, but I’m glad to see that there are different types of demonstrations sending messages. The Longest walk was a beautiful metaphor that really presented where we’re at in society. The protest consists of women performing a simple, choreographed walk back and forth. The walk is 8 steps forward, 6 steps back, and when I interviewed Meg, she told us that there was a significance to these steps. She told us that this signified that even though there is a gradual improvement, it seems like a lot of times we go backwards at the same time. Meg told us a about how she went about planning this event,
“I was interested in doing something in public space that would be using female bodies in a way that’s empowering, in a way that’s reclaiming the space that they’re in."
This idea really spoke to me, and made me realize at that moment that I had a place in this type of resistance. The next day, I decided to participate in the walk myself. We did one in Ohio City and then we all decided to go down to Public Square, where the environment would be completely different. I wasn’t expecting to go down to the center of town at all, but now I’m very thankful that I did. As we all took the RTA down to Tower City, my stomach turned inside out and my heart started to beat faster. I realized what we were walking into. As we left the train in Tower City, I felt like we were about to enter a hurricane. The scene was exactly what I expected it to be, but more. Protesters everywhere, police everywhere...Trump flags everywhere. It was such a surrealistic scene, that it felt like I was standing in a different city. The new renovated public square, the out of town media, the abundance of police--this weekend, Cleveland truly belonged to the RNC. But in that moment, as I walked together with the strong women next to me, it really felt that at least for a moment, we were reclaiming the space. Our space.
However, that’s why I felt happy also seeing people with signs reading Tamir Rice’s name on them. It was good seeing women holding up signs that said “Black Lives Matter. It was--relieving to see a sea of “Dump Trump” signs. This week felt like the riskiest time to hold up these signs, but I’m so glad they did. And it was good being there myself, holding up a sign that said “We Will Walk Until We are All Free”. The whole point of the choreographed walk was to reclaim space. And in that moment, it felt more necessary than ever. Public square felt taken over by so much hateful energy, that it was good to be part of a group that tried to take up space with love and resilience.
So as this week comes to a close, I feel relieved and happy. My little Cleveland was able to withstand the heaviness of the RNC madness, and I think it was handled as gracefully as it could have. But right now, I’m excited to allow my city to be my city again.