It has been my personal custom to wear a T-shirt of my chosen presidential candidate when I go to the Minnesota State Fair during election years. I have been doing this my whole adult life and have always happily noticed others doing so — both DFL and GOP. But I have never had anything happen like what did on Sunday evening.
I wore my Hillary shirt to the fair. As I stood at the Star Tribune booth at the bottom of the Grandstand ramp, suddenly a man approached me so closely that he was invading my personal space (nose to nose). He sneered at me and snarled, "Do you like my picture?" as he pulled something out of his pocket. I was very frightened by his actions, and felt, at that moment, the picture he was shoving toward my face would be of his penis.
It was a picture of Hillary wearing prison garb. I recognized the picture as the image at the Minnesota Republican Party booth that I had seen earlier. The man had mounted it on cardboard, covered it with plastic wrap and was carrying it around in his pocket. Presumably he was looking for people wearing Hillary shirts in order to threaten them.
I stepped backward to get away from him. He stepped forward to stay in my space. Shaking this picture at me, he growled at me, "Isn't is amazing that a convicted criminal can run for president of this country?" I said "Sir, Hillary has never even been indicted, much less convicted of a crime." I realize only a day later that I should have said, "Leave me alone!" When my husband realized I was being verbally assaulted, he hastened toward me. The man moved quickly away.
I want to be clear. The issue at hand here is the violence of his approach to me. He did not want to have a dialogue about differences of political opinion. He wanted to threaten and intimidate me.
I called the fair on Monday morning to report being accosted by a fellow fairgoer. The fair office was very concerned, asking me for details. I appreciated their response. This man's behavior is totally unacceptable anywhere, including at our fair.
I also expressed my concern to the fair that the GOP booth had that cardboard cutout of Hillary in prison garb. While the party may have considered its cutout humorous, it incited a man to accost me (and perhaps other wearers of Hillary paraphernalia).
In addition, the cutout of Mrs. Clinton at the GOP booth is a gross misrepresentation of a presidential candidate. In my experience of the fair over the years, both the DFL and the GOP booths have respectfully shown strong support of their candidates. It is so disheartening to find the Minnesota GOP, rather than supporting its own candidate, has instead resorted to encouraging lies, name-calling and bullying.
I urged the Minnesota State Fair to insist that the party immediately remove this cutout from its booth. I would say the same thing to the booth organizers that I did to the man accosting me: "Mrs. Clinton has never been indicted, much less convicted of a crime." Does the party really want to encourage the kind of behavior this man exhibited toward me?
I did call the Minnesota Republican Party on Monday morning to describe this incident. I could only leave a phone message and so described what had happened, and asked for someone from the organization to call me. I have not heard back.
Before this incident, I had noticed only one other person wearing a Hillary Clinton shirt and no people wearing Donald Trump shirts. In other years, I would have seen hundreds on both sides.
I am haunted by the lack of civility in this political campaign and how frightened people are. For democracy to work, the center must hold.
I intend to proudly continue to wear both my Hillary T-shirt and the button that I bought at the DFL booth at the fair. The button says, "Love Trumps Hate."
Susan Mallison is director of Christian formation at St. Clement's Episcopal Church in St. Paul. The views expressed here are her own.