Thousands poured into Kenosha’s south side Tuesday to express their support for or opposition to President Donald Trump and his agenda.
Trump, who made his first visit to Wisconsin since becoming president, spoke at Snap-on Inc. headquarters, 2801 80th St. Outside, nearby streets were filled with curious Kenoshans, angry activists and devoted supporters.
The event was largely peaceful, despite a few screaming matches that erupted throughout the day.
Trump supporters and protesters were mixed together along 80th Street. Chants of “Lock him up!” and “Trump! Trump! Trump!” echoed throughout the day.
Initial reports were that no one was arrested.
“I like what Trump’s doing,” said 33-year-old Jon Olson, who lives in the neighborhood and helps run a family business. “I think he’s definitely doing good for business, especially a small business like us.
“Cutting taxes would really help us out. To hear someone who’s pro-business, pro-America is really refreshing.”
Olson said Trump shouldn’t be considered a controversial president. He applauded his hard-line stance on immigration and efforts barring refugees from majority-Muslim nations.
“I believe in immigration — I believe in legal immigration,” Olson said. “Everybody should come here if they want to work and be a part of our culture and the things that make America.”
Olson said Trump and his supporters are sometimes painted in a negative light by the mainstream news media. That sentiment was echoed by many Trump supporters.
Nancy Wagner, of Kenosha, was decked out in Trump swag, including socks with his image.
“I support everything that Trump does, because we haven’t had a president in eight years or a first lady — Melania is great,” Wagner said.
Wagner spent much of the morning arguing with people she called “snowflakes” and people she said “don’t even work.”
“They should put them in jail because most of them don’t even probably work. I bet they’re on welfare,” she said. “I worked 39 years in a factory. I took care of my kids, and I never went out and protested like that and acted like a you-know-what.”
“I’m here to see my president,” said 16-year-old Sam Cohen, of Gurnee, Ill. Cohen was flanked by friends who helped him hoist a giant Trump/Pence banner.
Dan Fritz, of Kenosha, had a more nuanced tone and experienced some meaningful conversations with Trump opponents.
“We can all agree that we love America,” Fritz said. “America was built on debate, built on freedom of speech, different viewpoints. The idea is not to stifle each other and quiet each other up, but to embrace opposing views.”
Barbara Griffin said she’d “like to see the American Dream available to children” and supports Trump’s “America First” agenda. She held a large Trump poster and was surrounded by protesters, but she didn’t mind.
“I didn’t like Obama, and yes I did protest, but not riot,” Griffin said. “This is called protesting. We have that right.”
Suzanne Poisl, of Waukesha, drove to Kenosha to express her concerns regarding Trump’s heavy use of executive orders, opposition to the Affordable Care Act and cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Trump thinks these are paid protesters, and obviously they’re not,” said Poisl, who works as an engineer for a phone company. “I’m anti-Trump to the bone because I’m concerned about all of these issues.”
Poisl was accompanied by her cousin, Jill Ott of Wheatland. Ott held a sign reading, “Hate has no home here.”
“When I found out Trump was coming, I took time off work to come here. I’m not a paid protester,” said Ott, a receptionist/billing specialist at a local mental health clinic.
“I feel it’s deeply, deeply important to show up, be counted and have our voices be heard. We do not support his current agenda against the environment, health care, the education system. It’s just wrong.”
Ott said she “couldn’t not come.”
The Rev. Justin Elliott Lowe, assistant pastor of First United Methodist Church, attended the protests with Congregations United to Serve Humanity.
“We’re standing up for immigrants, reform,” said Lowe, who held a sign with a verse from the Hebrew Bible: “Do not oppress the widow, the orphaned or the poor.”
“Hopefully we can all agree that standing up for justice is something we can all rally behind, regardless of who the president is,” Lowe said.
Two local women related experiences where they believe people were paid/recruited to be at the scene.
Denise Matson-Vasquez, who uses a wheelchair and lives near Snap-on, said she was twice approached by people saying they would pay her to protest against Trump.
“A woman yelled at me, ‘Do you want to make some money protesting?’” she said, saying the offers came while she was heading to a nearby grocery store and on her way back. She declined.
Yolanda Santos-Adams, interim president of the Urban League, said she was standing near a group of Trump supporters who “obviously had never heard of Kenosha.”
‘They said, ‘We were just told to get here,’” Santos-Adams said.