About 100 people crowded Eugene’s Ferry Street Bridge area Saturday afternoon. They were split between supporters of President Trump, and his critics.
Earlier in the week, a group calling itself Oregonians for Trump announced a rally to show support for the President. Shortly after, a second group - calling itself Oregonians Against Trump - also announced a rally, at the same time and location.
Many attendees got there early. The rancor also started ahead of schedule.
Lining opposite sides of the street, there were profane taunts and chants of either “four more years” or “Donald Trump go away”. Signs ridiculed the opposition, and some attendees openly carried firearms on their person.
But for the noise and spitefulness, the event was mostly peaceful.
Sam Owen of Dexter says he backs Trump on the economy and 2nd Amendment. He says he appreciated the turnout, as well as some people’s attempts to debate rationally on the sidelines.
“Lot of people having a good time, supporting our president. Some having a good time, not supporting our president!" he laughed. Owen discussed a co-worker who's on the completely opposite side of the political spectrum, who's his friend regardless.
"Whether you’re Republican, Democrat, liberal or conservative, we’re all Americans. And we’re all in this together.”
Others present weren't feeling any such sense of inclusiveness. One anti-Trump activist, Nicholas Jensen, questioned the rally’s timing…just before the Martin Luther King Junior holiday.
“I’m very upset that these Trump rallies seem to be coming on days like the Women’s March," he said, watching the pro-Trump crowd waving to passing traffic.
"And the last one happened to be on Eugene Pride. Perhaps they’re trying to stifle our voices.”
The event also precedes President Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, Tuesday.
At one point, the faceoff between some members of a right-wing patriots group and Antifa were escalating into what looked like a possible brawl. But then, a musical intervention eased tensions.
Margo Jennings and her group, Rise, Dance, and Resist, arrived, with portable speaker and synchronized dance routines. Upon shaking to the rhythms of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” the dancers got people on both sides of the issue smiling and moving along to the music themselves.
“It was about to be a volcano, but music-dance is what will bring us together,” said Jennings.
"Maybe not on Election Day," I replied.
"No," agreed Jennings, with a light shrug. "Well, on Election Day we’ll take care of business for sure.”
WEB EXTRA: Watch Rise! Dance! Resist! perform their first number at the competing Trump rallies:
Trump supporter Amy Howell of Aumsville danced, too.
“This is a little liberal, more than what I’m usually into," she said, after joining hands with some of the dancers and circling the crowd. "But I just think it’s beautiful. Both sides are mingling and having a good time, and I can’t think of a better way to stand up for freedom in America.”
There were still shouting matches afterwards, but largely the tension between the camps seemed diffused.
Also helping keep the peace was Robin Quirke. She was with a small group of people who made it their jobs to de-escalate confrontations at the event. She said the plan was to prevent injuries and from people getting sued or arrested.
“We have chocolates, we have cigarettes. We’ve got a little chill out safe spot back there where people can sit down in a chair, get some water," Quirke told KLCC.
"Just generally helping people redirect their energy if they’re getting too worked up, but we don’t stop people from expressing what they want to say.”
Eugene police officers and their surveillance cameras were also on hand. A CAHOOTS van with crisis response team was parked nearby, too.
Besides tension, the 2020 campaign season was also looming over the rallies.
Carol Leek of Salem said going into the fall election, Trump gets her support again over several points.
“I think immigration is going to be a big issue, and 2nd Amendment. Those two are going to be our biggest issues. For Oregon, anyway.”
But Coral Pope of Eugene said she doesn’t see Trump winning in November, because his polices fail on issues involving race and economic class.
“Issues around like, helping our black and brown and homeless community members are really important, and I feel like that’s part of the politics that we’re kind of talking here today.”
Some feel that the vibe of the metro area is becoming more supportive of the president. Trump supporter Andrew Allwander stood near traffic with his “Trump 2020” banner. Relishing every motorist's honk of support, he said the president’s following is strong in this traditionally liberal city.
“Yeah, we get way more honks than other things," Allwander told KLCC. "People flip us off, but most people honk. I mean there’s a lot of conservatives, more than you’d believe, in Eugene. And a lot of us are actually from here, like me.”
Oregon remains a reliably blue state, though. Trump lost it to Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 11 percentage points. And it's gone to a Democratic presidential candidate since 1988. One analysis suggests something extraordinary would have to happen to make Oregon an attainable state for the president come November.
Copyright 2020, KLCC.