Hundreds of protesters exchanged chants and barbs with the far-outnumbered supporters of President Donald Trump from late afternoon into the night Tuesday outside the National Constitution Center, where Trump participated in a town-hall meeting, but no major physical clashes or arrests were reported by the time he left town.
The protesters, led by Refuse Fascism, a national organization that has become a regular presence at appearances by Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, chanted “We will not stop until they are gone” and held signs reading “No to fascism” and “Hate never made us great” amid rush-hour traffic on Market Street.
Shortly after 8 p.m., an hour or so after Air Force One left Philadelphia International Airport, about 150 anti-Trump protesters marched from Independence Mall through Center City.
Meanwhile, the crowds near the Constitution Center, where chants of “four more years” had alternated with “Black lives matter,” dispersed peacefully. The groups had exchanged unpleasantries — one demonstrator, wearing a pig mask, approached a Trump supporter and told her that she should be wearing a mask.
A line of Philly bike cops arrived in an effort to separate Trump fans and Trump critics, but the president’s supporters appeared to be far outnumbered even by police officers.
And while the exchanges were characterized by yelling, insults, cursing, and hostile gestures, including a tense moment between anti-homosexual protesters and anti-Trump demonstrators, they also were interrupted by outbreaks of civility — conversations and debates that appeared to be polite and engaging.
Oksana Stenyk of Levittown had a long exchange of views with anti-Trump protesters on immigration. The Ukrainian immigrant became a citizen after the 2016 election and didn’t initially like Trump, but she said she was turned off by the Democratic Party.
In fact, the loudest sounds in the vicinity of the Constitution Center might have come from the nearby Jubilee 2020, a weeklong Christian prayer concert. Jubilee attendee Anya Ambramovich said she considered it “God-ordained” that Trump’s visit and the protests occurred during their annual prayer marathon.
The loud singing continued into the night as some Trump supporters waved flags and about 100 anti-Trump protesters marched along Market Street toward City Hall.
The paltry pro-Trump turnout outside the center was an unwelcome surprise for a Bucks County man who was selling $5 Trump T-shirts.
“I thought there would be a lot of Trump supporters here," he said. "But I guess not in a Democratic city.”
While Pennsylvania is considered crucial to his chances to retain the presidency, Trump has not campaigned in the state’s largest city, where seven of eight voters cast ballots for his Democratic rival in 2016.
“We have to have a presence and let him know that he’s not welcome in Philadelphia,” said Olivia Jones, 37, who was accompanied by her 7- and 8-year-olds. “And let his supporters know that they won’t be here uncontested.”
The Trump supporters who showed up waved “Keep America Great” flags. Kalim Milston of Cheltenham, who is 19 and voting in his first presidential campaign, said, “The Democrats want to divide America and Trump wants to bring it together.”
But the pro-Trump forces were in greater numbers in July when Pence visited Philadelphia in an appearance that was punctuated by hostile exchanges that included racial barbs between pro- and anti-Trump demonstrators outside the FOP Lodge 5 headquarters.
Ed Fischer, 67, who lives in Old City, said that he and his wife decided they had to come out Tuesday despite coronavirus fears. “This is a life-or-death important moment,” said Fischer, an exception in what was a primarily younger crowd.
Yolanda Hughes said she came for her late husband, Troy Hughes, a prison social worker who died of the coronavirus in April. “I just feel that Donald Trump didn’t do enough to educate us about COVID,” she said.
“We’re going to prevail,” Zoe Sturges, a kindergarten teacher who was arrested during a racial-justice protest in June for stepping over barriers and handing flowers to national guardsmen, told the crowd. “We will not stop telling our stories and coming out here to make sure the country knows the future doesn’t belong to racist and fascist people."
Earlier in the day, several anti-Trump protesters, members of the Brandywine Peace Community, demonstrated outside the studios of 6ABC, the network’s local affiliate, on City Line.
Trump’s town hall event was scheduled for broadcast Tuesday night on ABC.