By Andrew Romano
When Donald Trump came to Cleveland’s I-X Center on March 12, Bryan Hambley was there. But Hambley, a 31-year-old chief resident in internal medicine at Cleveland’s University Hospitals, didn’t attend the rally to support Trump. He went to protest. Wearing a shirt that read “Muslim Doctors Save Lives in Cleveland,” Hambley stood up in the middle of Trump’s speech, flashed the peace sign and started yelling, “Stop the bigotry!” He was quickly escorted out by security.
At first, Hambley thought his career as a protester would end there. But then Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, which meant that he would be accepting the nomination at the GOP convention in Cleveland. So, Hambley and an ethnically diverse group of fellow physicians and nurses — none of whom were particularly political before Trump and all of whom were appalled by the Manhattan mogul’s proposed Muslim travel ban, among other things — decided they had to do more.
Now the organization they have founded, Stand Together Against Trump (STAT), is set to spearhead the convention’s largest anti-Trump march and rally, with as many as 10,000 people expected to attend. Unconventional spoke to Hambley about how STAT came together — and what he and his fellow protesters are planning for the Republican National Convention.
Unconventional: What is Stand Together Against Trump?
Hambley: It’s an independent-expenditure political action committee that we founded in mid-May with the goal of organizing and taking part in protests specifically against Donald Trump during the Republican National Convention. We’re not protesting Republicans in general, or conservative ideas. We’re protesting Trump.
How are you planning to protest?
We’ll be taking part in events all week long, but mainly we’ll be organizing a rally and a march on Thursday [July 21] afternoon and evening. That’s when Trump will accept the nomination and deliver his speech.
Next week and the week after, we’ll be announcing several different partnerships with national and statewide organizations. We’ve found ourselves, both because of our location and because we started organizing so early, in the middle of a lot of different discussions about protests at the RNC.
We’re hoping that 5,000 to 10,000 people will show up on Thursday. This is the most divisive candidate we’ve seen. I think there will be a huge turnout.
And who is “we”?
We started as a group of physicians, nurses and professionals in the Cleveland area. Frankly, none of us have ever protested a convention before. Rarely have any of us been involved in a protest.
My wife and I both volunteer for campaigns every now and then. But not, like, every cycle. This is completely new territory for us. Stand Together Against Trump would not have existed if the Republicans had nominated someone else.
We would not have protested any other Republican candidate.
So, why protest Trump in particular?
A lot of nurses and physicians in this country are of Muslim background, of minority background, of immigrant background. Anyone who’s ever lived in a major city knows that there are Muslim doctors saving lives every day.
But we think it’s a point that’s lost on Trump when he speaks of immigrants and Muslims as a monolithic bloc of … whatever he wants them to be on that given day. And so we decided to get together to voice our opposition to someone who has used racism, sexism and overt discrimination not just in an accidental way but as a core message of his campaign.
We want to make sure there is a voice in Cleveland that says, “America is better than this. We are — as Republicans, independents and Democrats — above the level of race-baiting. We are above the wedge politics that Trump represents.”
How did STAT get started?
Three of us were chief residents at Case Western University last year, and we starting asking ourselves, “How is this happening? What does it mean for us as professionals?”
Chief residents are often involved in administration. We work with some of the youngest physician trainees — many of whom were on visas from Muslim countries and were doing incredible work right here in Cleveland. Not just providing care, which they obviously do. But some of the best researchers in our program have Muslim backgrounds as well.
So, during those initial conversations, we decided that at times when Trump was in Cleveland — when he was near us — we felt compelled to do something more than passively protest. We felt like it was our moral responsibility to organize an active response to him.
You first protested when Trump came to Cleveland in March, before the Ohio primary.
Right. The group of physicians and nurses that I’m a part of, we had maybe 15 or 20 people. We made up shirts that said “Muslim Doctors Save Lives in Cleveland.” A couple of us felt compelled to go inside and interrupt the speech.
The rest were protesting outside.
Who went inside?
Me and one of the other physicians in our group. We started shouting, “Stop the bigotry!” But once you shout anything, you’re kind of drowned out. It was us versus 10,000 Trump supporters. The chanting started and we were escorted out.
But then a funny thing happened: one of the security guards who told us that his father had recently had a heart attack — and his heart surgeon was a Muslim.
Initially, we thought, we protest for that one day and be done with it. But then, in the weeks after the Ohio primary, we were shocked to see that Trump was actually going to become the Republican nominee — that he was going to begin his general election campaign in our city. So we started organizing for the convention.
Where are you in the organizing process?
We need open spaces. We need large areas to be open downtown for free speech and large gatherings. That’s critical.
Right now, the only areas Cleveland has identified for marches and protests aren’t particularly close to the arena. And to add insult to injury, they’ve said the only times we can march are between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. A lot of our people will be working in the hospital or the clinic until 5 or 6 p.m.
This doesn’t protect free speech, and the city is actually being sued by the ACLU because of it. We’ve proposed two different parade routes for that Thursday [July 21] and two different locations for the rally. We want to sit down with the city, have them hear our concerns, listen to their concerns and then find a middle ground that protects free speech.
Some people have said that with anti-Trump passions running high, the
protests in Cleveland could become chaotic.
I think we can avoid that. I passionately believe this. With planning from our side and from the city’s side, it doesn’t have to be a chaotic, violent time. What we’re looking for, and what every group that’s called me over the last four weeks is looking for, is a way to peacefully promote an anti-racist, anti-sexist message. I haven’t had a single person try to edge us toward anything else.
We are not a group that wants chaos. We have no interest in approaching Trump supporters and having yelling matches, like you sometimes see on TV.
We’re trying to do something completely different. But there needs to be room for large-scale demonstrations downtown throughout the convention. This will help make sure the protests are peaceful — just finding a defined space where people who want this kind of action can congregate.
Ultimately, what’s your vision for the STAT protest?
People will speak. There will be music. But it’ll also just be people getting together. This is a monumental event in our political history. We’re hoping to provide a place for people who don’t believe in Trump’s message to go and see good things in each other, rather than all the hate he is going to be spewing from the podium. That might sound overly idealistic. But that’s really what we want.
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