How do you fight bad speech? How about with more speech.
That’s what happened in Pullman, WA, when counter-protesters—armed with orange ribbons, a beach ball, signs, paint, and drums—swarmed a 20-foot long, 8-foot tall “Great Wall of Trump” at Washington State University. The wall was quickly overwhelmed by the “Unity Rally.”
The counter-demonstrators, who were protesting the pro-Trump wall constructed by the campus’s College Republicans, filled the university’s Glenn Terrell Friendship Mall with chants of “Fight ignorance, not immigrants,” “The people united will never be divided,” and “We are what America looks like”.
At the event, College Republicans president James Allsup held a sign that said “HILLARY CAN’T DELETE THIS WALL.” Fusion reached out to Allsup, who was unavailable for comment. Last month, Allsup told The Daily Evergreen, a campus newspaper, that the wall was intended to show support for Trump and raise awareness about his immigration policies.
“People think that Republicans are opposed to all kinds of immigration—we aren’t,” Allsup told the campus paper last month. “We support legal immigration and encourage talented people of good character to come here legally.” Allsup also said the event was intended to start a peaceful dialogue with the College Republicans about the issues, like immigration.
In a letter to the editor, one student defended the group’s right to build a wall under free speech, and said the budding counter-protest plans meant “free-speech is being targeted.”
“We were not fighting their freedom of speech,” one of the counter-rally organizers, Juan Oronia, told Fusion. “We’re just saying out of all of the ways to start a conversation, why would you do this?”
Zachary Blankenship, a WSU senior who said he’s deciding between voting for Jill Stein and Hillary Clinton, said he does not believe the students should have been able to build the wall in the first place. “I joined the counter-protest because I was also expressing my right to free speech, in being against what they stand for,” Blankenship explained.
Counter-protesters handed out pieces of paper with the chants on them, and had a separate area for making signs. “It was very organized and not violent, whatsoever,” Blankenship said.
In planning the Unity Rally, Oronia, a junior at WSU, said their goal was to educate people peacefully, without hateful rhetoric. “Let’s present facts,” he said. “Let’s be smart with how we go about it. We’re not trying to fight hate with hate.”
Oronia said organizers encouraged protesters to stay away from the College Republicans’ wall, and to remain respectful. Part of the rally included members of the WSU community sharing their personal stories of immigration with the crowd. Counter-protesters also created a “mural,” a painting of a tree that organizers “had people put their thumbprints on it to show cultural diversity on campus,” Oronia said.
According to Oronia, a coalition of groups on campus came together for about a month to plan the counter-protest, including the Young Democrats, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán, the Middle Eastern Student Association, and the Black Student Union. Their Facebook group used for planning had over 500 members.
People also took to Twitter to express frustration with WSU for allowing the wall to be built in on campus in the first place.
Unsurprisingly, the Facebook page for the event itself–which was sprinkled with pro-Trump, anti-Clinton memes–caused some heated online exchanges.
“YAY BIGOTRY,” one Facebook user wrote on the event’s page.
“How is wanting to enforce our immigration laws bigoted,” another asked in response. “How is wanting to stop the drug importation and human trafficking coming from Mexico racist?”
“Have a great time, and please trigger some liberals,” another Facebook user said on the event page.
According to the WSU College Republicans Facebook page, the university officially approved the event the day before the students planned to begin constructing the wall.
“WSU cherishes freedom of expression on its campuses. In fact, protecting the free exchange of ideas while encouraging dialogue that is constructive, respectful, and civil is one of the university’s core values,” university administrators, including WSU president Kirk Schulz, wrote in a statement the day before the event. While explaining WSU’s commitment to freedom of expression, the administrators also touted the university’s commitment to access to higher education for all, including undocumented students.
It is unclear if university funds were used to pay for the wall.
Students at the University of Washington built a similar pro-Trump wall at an event in May. The University of Washington Republicans held a “Hillary for Prison” event this week, featuring a cardboard cutout of Clinton inside a small set of bars where students were invited to take their pictures with a student dressed up as Donald Trump. According to the WSU College Republicans Facebook page, next week the group plans to hold its own “Hillary for Prison” event.