CLEVELAND — Amidst national media coverage of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) overwhelming favoribility among 18-24 year olds, students and young adults from Cleveland and across the nation participated in demonstrations of solidarity and opposition to Donald Trump’s campaign for presidency Thursday at the Republican National Convention.
Though Sanders’ free college tuition plan fueled the support of young voters across the nation, various young people protested in Cleveland’s Public Square — which was notably quiet against the backdrop of police units from across the country — in defense of capitalist values.
Standing in direct opposition to a communist demonstration that was attracting much attention, Matt Lamp, an activist with Turning Point USA, said he hopes to curb socialist messages common in academic circles.
Turning Point USA is a nonpartisan organization with chapters on college campuses nationwide, including the University of Michigan, that promotes conservative values of free market capitalism and limited government.
“We’re out here to explain why capitalism is the greatest system, creating wealth, raising everyone’s standard of living and countering the idea that socialism is good,” Lamp said.
Lamp pointed to modern day examples of socialism, such as Venezuela — where poverty and hunger are rampant — to highlight his concern for socialist movements in the U.S.
Reflecting on the previous days of the RNC, Lamp said he was encouraged by the amount of young people he saw voicing their political beliefs, pointing to social media as a main factor of the notable increase in youth participation in the general election process.
“I think it’s been really well managed and really safe. We’re able to have big protests like this without any issue, so I’m glad about that. People are able to share their views, even if I disagree with them. That’s democracy,” Lamp said.
In addition to those holding signs and chanting in Public Square, young people — many of whom are political interns — also voiced their conservative values from inside the perimeter of the RNC itself.
Rob Graham, a high school student from Phoenix who works with the RNC’s page service to help with convention set up procedures, said he was grateful for the opportunity to experience the convention and meet political leaders.
Graham said themes of American unity particularly appealed to him throughout the week’s convention, adding that he feels the rise of certain social and political movements point to national division.
“When you hear these Black Lives Matter things or gay people breaking off into their own things, all these different factions, a lot of people need to realize that everybody wants to work together. We just need to be working together,” he said.
Alycia Hilsinger, a student at East Carolina University in North Carolina, echoed Graham’s thoughts on the significance of American unity. She was particularly encouraged by the party’s demonstration of support for veterans.
“I feel like the fact that they focus so much on taking care of our veterans, taking care of our military, I feel like that should unify us and that’s a really great plan.”
As the day wound down, and cameras left Public Square, Stand Together Against Trump assembled to protest Trump’s nomination peacefully at the edge of the square.
Eunice Kim, a recent graduate of Case Western Reserve University and a Cleveland area nurse, took part in the protest, saying that, as a woman of color she found Trump’s campaign messages to be offensive.
“A lot of our physicians are not from here. They’re Americans, but they’re from eslewhere and English is not their first language, and his intolerance for anything immigrant, for anyone of color and females, of course, is just unacceptable,” she said.
Yazar Schlenkar, a student at Montgomery College in Maryland, was in attendance with his family in a demonstration of peaceful opposition to hateful rhetoric targeting immigrant populations within the Trump campaign’s platform.
Schlenkar, whose father is an immigrant, said he felt it was important for him to be protesting at the RNC.
“I’d say most people are angry. The question is where you channel that anger, where you channel that energy, and many people don’t know where to. We can scream as loud as we can, but it might not change anything. It’s disappointing but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep speaking,” he said.