Protesters gather outside Trump's Ypsilanti rally

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 6:23pm

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As wind speeds surged and temperatures plummeted Wednesday afternoon, activists gathered near the Willow Run manufacturing complex in Ypsilanti to protest President Donald Trump’s arrival and speech in the city.

With just two days’ notice of the presidential visit, several grassroots organizations from the community organized the protest. Despite the lack of time available, they still managed to draw a crowd of about 400 people.

Michelle Deatrick, vice chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners and co-founder of Michigan to Believe In, stressed the event was a collaboration between many groups.

“I had the honor of getting to help organize, along with a lot of other people,” she said. “It shouldn’t be just one voice, not just my organization, Michigan to Believe In, it needs to be many … it couldn’t just be one middle-aged white woman’s voice

Trump arrived at Willow Run — the future site for the American Center for Mobility’s autonomous and connected vehicle-testing facility — to hold a roundtable with executives from the automotive industry and speak to select employees. During the speech, he announced plans to review the EPA’s auto-emissions standards, and roll back restrictions he deems unnecessary.

The Michigan Daily was not granted credentials to Trump’s speech.

The protest took place on one side of Airplane Road, just outside the Willow Run facilities. On the other side of the road stood a handful of Trump supporters, who came to counter the protest with a large float sporting Trump signs and American flags. 

Livonia resident Rob Cortis built the Trump float—which has made rounds throughout the year in downtownAnn Arbor— and said he came to Willow Run to show his respect for Trump and try to build unity among the divided groups.

“I’m here to support President Trump and create unity amongst American people with peaceful messages on my signs,” Cortis said. “He’s working very hard to do what he promised he was going to do for the people and he’s doing everything within his power to stay within that agenda. He’s trying to put American workers and American people first.”

Ann Arbor resident Dirk Mayhew, who was standing near Cortis, chimed in with much less positive views of the president. He was critical of the fact that Willow Run, where Trump chose to speak, is an automated testing site.

“This is an automated test site with robots,” Mayhew said. “He’s here to celebrate automation and industry, right? So where are the jobs? This is about taking away human jobs and giving them to machines. That’s where the industry is headed.”

Protesters began by chanting and cheering with drums and megaphones, but it was difficult to hear them over the revving of a motorcycle and pop music coming from the “Make America Great Again” float.

Deatrick spoke first, thanking the crowd for coming on such short notice. She then introduced the first speaker, Jason Morgan, a representative from Ann Arbor on the Washtenaw County commission.

“Thank you for being here,” Morgan said. “Donald Trump will hear that Washtenaw County stands up against hate, stands up against destroying the environment. Donald Trump needs to know that in our community, love trumps hate.”

Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed, the former executive director of the Detroit Health Department, spoke next, turning the topic to Trump’s supposed intent to roll back emissions standards.

“While I was health commissioner in the city of Detroit, we had a challenge of asthma,” El-Sayed said. “When one of the businesses in our community wanted to raise emissions, we stood up and we said no. Our children’s lungs are worth more than your profits. There is no false dichotomy between jobs and clean air.”

The crowd erupted into cheers after El-Sayed’s speech. Chants continued as police cars drove by to prepare for Trump’s arrival, and organizers led the crowd in singing “This Land is Your Land.”

Many protesters said they were drawn to the event because they wanted to make a statement to the administration. Ann Arbor resident Angie Noble said she came out to protest because it allowed her to feel like her voice was being heard.

“I came out because I’m an American,” Noble said. “I believe I have a right to education, to clean air and to a safe environment, a government that’s honest, and a press that is free and open. … I feel as though at least I can do something. I’m an old woman, but at least I can stand here, and say my words and know that I’m surrounded by intelligent, caring Americans. That helps lift my spirits.”

Protester Areesha Hasan added she felt even seemingly small acts could make a real difference.

“It might seem small, but it actually adds up to a lot. That’s how movements start, right?” Hasan said.

Deatrick hoped the event would reach the ears of the administration, both locally and on a national level.

“I hope that President Trump and the Republican members of our state legislature will be aware that there is very strong opposition to some of the things that President Trump has chosen to stand for,” Deatrick said. “We stand very strongly for clean air, clean water and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.