3:00 PM

I anxiously waited for my mom and sister to text me back. My older sister was going to come with us to the protests but she abruptly (and reasonably) decided she didn’t feel safe going anymore. I was now trying to convince my mom to still let me go but with some swift words from my dad and sister, she didn’t seem to have a problem with it.

3:15 PM

I wish I could say my mom picked me up at this time but, no, of course, she didn’t. As I waited for her and my Lamplighter colleagues, Mike and Sloan, and I geared up with cameras, mics, and SD cards. Mrs. Turner, my adviser, said “If you, in your heart, feel unsafe at any point, you can turn around and leave. Trust your gut.” It was at this very point that a sinking feeling hit my stomach. This was actually real. No playing around– just real, hardcore journalism. Well… maybe not “Shane Smith-in-Liberia” hardcore journalism, but by far the most hardcore I’d ever gone. 

3:20 PM

Once my mom picked me up, we made a pit stop at my house. As a student journalist, I’m supposed to be completely neutral but I couldn’t help changing into my Bernie 2016 t-shirt. Of course, I put a jacket and a huge scarf on so the shirt never saw the light of day. But still, I felt like this super secretive undercover reporter that was ready to dismantle the corruption in democracy or something like that. 

As you can see, the adrenaline was getting to my head. 

3:55 PM

I patiently drank my tea at the meeting spot as I waited for the rest of the team. I watched outside through the windows but nothing was really happening yet. It was calm…weirdly calm. There weren’t more than 35 protesters at Triangle Park. It didn’t even seem like a protest; it was more of a peaceful gathering. And so I waited. 

4:10 PM

I crossed the street into Triangle Park and found Mike and Sloan. Shortly after, another staff reporter, Mason, found us and so the whole team was there. As I looked at the whole group together, all fear of possible danger went away. I was surrounded by 6-foot tall guys who all looked like professional reporters given all the gear we had with us.  I was going to be a-okay. We started to wander around Triangle Park; not much was going on yet but the crowd was slowly growing. It was time to be a journalist. 

4:45 PM

This is when things started getting weird. 

The first oddity of the night was the massive crowd of vaping protesters. They all had matching “WE VAPE! WE VOTE!” shirts and signs. At no point did they state a clear motive, but nonetheless they seemed fired up and ready to go. As I tried to figure out what was up with these particularly passionate protesters, the crowd kept booing and booing. 

Trump supporters had to go right through the protests to get to Rupp Arena, but every time a red MAGA hat would bob through the crowd, the growing sea of protesters would boo and yell without missing a beat. The juxtaposition of the Trump supporters parting the chanting, sign-yielding protesters really brought me back to reality.

The chanting started to grow and more and more protesters were starting to group together. After a while of walking around the park, we decided to take a look at what was going on around the protests. 

We walked over to the courthouse and lo and behold a giant, baby Trump balloon sat in the courtyard. People were gathered around taking selfies with it.

5:30 PM

At this point, we walked over to the designated Trump “territory.” Basically, you’d walk about 100 feet away from the protest and you’d enter this so-called territory. Less than 100 feet and all you could see were flags plastered with Trump’s face, MAGA everywhere, and even a strange Trump wargame. 

Sprinkled throughout the block were merchandise sellers who were all hawking their wares and yelling “get your latest Trump 2020 hats right here.” Normal, right? Actually, no. Many of these vendors were selling shirts that had, in big red and blue font, the words“Donald F***ing Trump 2020” on the front and “B**ch, I’m the president” on the back.  We couldn’t help but laugh. Between the shirts, weird merch, and giant baby balloon, it felt like I was in the middle of an SNL skit and I was the butt of the joke. This couldn’t possibly be happening right now. 

Mason and Sloan took this time to interview some Trump supporters while Mike and I took photos and filmed some b-roll. We had been wandering around for some time when we found a huge, 20×10 foot tall screen. It was playing the rally in real-time and it looked like a watch-party. No, sorry, it WOULD look like a watch party if anyone had been there. It was completely deserted. It was only half a block away from all the chanting and protests, and literally next to all the commotion, but it felt like we had been transported to a completely different universe.

 After listening to tangents about the media and socialism, we decided it was time to leave the supposed watch-party and get some more interviews. We also heard some commotion outside of Rupp Arena and decided to check it out.

6:00 PM

This was the only moment of the night where I didn’t feel 100% safe. It’s not like felt endangered but a part of me was saying that something might go wrong. It was one of the moments where my internal voice went “Uh oh….” 

Right in front of Rupp Arena there were several protesters chanting. Some were yelling vulgar things and Trump supporters were matching it with the same. The two conflicting groups were separated by 100 feet of sidewalk at the beginning–it wasn’t much but at least it was something–but then there were only inches separating them. I was waiting for a collision between the “Trump for Prison 2020” signs and the “Make America Great Again” hats. In the middle of all the chaos, a pretty aggressive Trump supporter got ahold of a megaphone and started arguing with anyone and everyone.

Insults were flying, and then siren lights started shining.  “You’re pathetic!” a supporter said to a man holding a “Veterans against Trump” sign.

In the midst of all the turmoil, the four of us broke the most important rule of the night which was “Do NOT get separated.” I suddenly lost my three bodyguards, and I found myself in the middle of a screaming match between a supporter and a protestor.  After less than a minute of overdramatic panicking, I saw a familiar face. Let me just say, I’ve never been happier to see Michael David Marshall in my entire life.

6:45 PM

This was the height of the protest. Around 300+ people had gathered at Triangle Park as the initial measly gathering of people grew into a screaming sea of anti-Trump, anti-Bevin, anti-Mitch, and anti-GOP signs. Massive groups of people showed up. The “WE VAPE! WE VOTE!” group was chanting loudly and a group of protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks showed up.

Every once in a while, small groups of hecklers would walk by and cause a disruption. I distinctly remember a duo of Trump supporters proudly walking through and holding a Trump 2020 t-shirt, screaming “Hell yeah I voted for Trump! Hell yeah!” The strange thing is that every time a heckler would walk by, they would always be escorted through the crowd and protected by the police.

7:00 PM

We walked over to Rupp Arena and saw that more anti-Trump protesters had gathered at the entrance of the rally, but not much was going on since all the Trump supporters were already inside. 

7:30 PM

We headed back to Triangle Park. The protest had mostly died down with the exception of some particularly passionate groups that stayed in place. The majority of protesters, including the vape protesters, had departed. Even though the protestors were dispersing, a duo on the street adjacent to the park was holding an American flag with “Trump 2020” painted across it. Nobody seemed to pay attention to them, and I wondered why they weren’t inside at the rally.

7:45 PM

After a long day of reporting, we headed across the street to Starbucks and got some coffee. As we defrosted from the cold, we discussed the crazy experience we had just experienced. My “Dream Team” colleagues and I talked about the anger we witnessed from both sides, and how although some moments were tense, we didn’t ever really feel unsafe (shout out to Lexington police officers).

Everything was pretty quiet by the time we decided to leave, and frankly, I was very eager for the weirdest day of my life to come to an end.