Chanting “This is what America looks like,” some Tampa Bay residents — young, old, black, white, women and men — gathered Monday outside MacDill Air Force Base to protest President Donald Trump.
The protesters, who chanted a series of sayings including “Not our president,” organized ahead of Trump’s first visit as president to Tampa Bay. A handful of Trump supporters joined the protest, clashing with opponents over Trump’s decisions during his first few weeks in office.
“Trump did not give my America back to me,” said Zhenya Nichols, an American citizen living in Tampa who moved from Russia 26 years ago. “He took away my America. America for which I left my native land. I came here to be a free person and I will be fighting for these freedoms. That’s why I’m here.”
Never miss a local story.
Protesters — as many as 100 at one point — lined the west side of Dale Mabry Highway ahead of Trump’s visit at nearby MacDill Air Force Base. Most came with signs in hand that were against Trump’s presidency and decisions he’s made since being sworn in last month.
Since Trump landed on the base, he did not pass the protesters stationed outside.
The protesters were uniform in chants throughout the protest, which ended at 1 p.m. “Stand up. Fight back.” “Trump and the klan go hand in hand.” “Racist, sexist, anti-gay. Not in my U.S.A.” “He’s racist. He’s sexist. He doesn’t represent us.” “The people united. We will never be defeated.”
Dan Maysey, 60, has never protested in his life but his outrage over Trump brought the Pinellas County resident to Tampa on Monday.
“He’s trying to take our democracy away,” he said. “This is too much. It’s dangerous. People are being hurt by this. It is very close to fascism. He’s going right down the line. Next we lose our right to do this.”
A handful of Trump supporters were also along Dale Mabry Highway and, at times, the protest got heated.
Carrying an American flag and a “President Trump” sign, Peter Chianchiano, a Trump supporter, was at the center of a lot of the commotion during Monday’s protest.
“They are out here protesting, yelling and screaming in my ears and putting up signs and won’t let me through the sidewalk,” the Spring Hill resident said. “It’s because they are the ones that are holding up their own rights by blocking us because we want to protect them to give them their freedom, but they won’t help us to retain it.”
Chianchiano said he wanted to talk with the people protesting to “see what is bothering them so much and how they are reacting to what’s happening and what’s happening to our country.”
“If we can’t start communicating with each other on a small scale, how are we going to do so on a mass scale? Mr. Trump will help us with that,” he said. “He’s not a real bad person. He just says what he thinks. He is a truthful person.”
A Tampa couple, who refused to give their names citing “security reasons,” said they came out to the protest to show there is support for Trump in Tampa.
“There are those of us who are willing to get up and stand up for American values and to counter the lies,” the man said pointing across the street to the protesters.
But for St. Petersburg resident Maggie Burnsed, who held a “Go ban yourself” sign, she disagrees with “everything that is going on in our administration right now.”
“I’m worried about my rights,” the 32-year-old said. “My mom and my sister are both in the public school system as teachers. I’m worried about them. I’m worried about my friends that don’t have permanent citizenship here. I am worried about anybody that is not a white man.”
Trump’s cabinet nominations are concerning to Tracy Hurst, who said she works in Tampa for the Department of Defense.
“He’s put people in those positions that want to basically undo the agency that they are being charged with heading,” she said. “We all just need to be paying attention and voicing our concerns.”