Media attention will be focused on Cleveland this week, as the city hosts the Republican National Convention – and those protesting the event. I sat down with Bryan Hambley, M.D., one of the founders of Stand Together Against Trump (STAT), a group organizing public protest of Mr. Trump when he comes to Cleveland to accept the Republican nomination for President of the United States. The following interview has been slightly edited for space and clarity.
Rossmann, SJ: Who is Bryan Hambley, M.D. in 140 characters?
Hambley: I’m a fellow in critical care medicine in Cleveland. I work alongside a diverse group of colleagues who inspire me daily.
What is STAT and how did it get started?
STAT was initially a response by Cleveland physicians to Donald Trump in Cleveland before the Ohio primary. We found his increasingly racist and sexist rhetoric at odds with our hopes for an inclusive and positive America. After a small protest, we initially thought we were done, but when he won the Republican nomination, we reassembled a larger group to start planning protests during the RNC in Cleveland. We’re now a group of several dozen leaders and several hundred members from throughout the Midwest. We have organizers from a variety of backgrounds, but most are young professionals.
What did you and your group do when Trump visited Ohio for the Republican primary?
About 15 of us held signs outside the rally and talked with media. We each wore shirts that said “Muslim Doctors Save Lives in Cleveland.” We wanted to focus on a positive statement rather than just yelling about how much we dislike Trump. My friend Nate and I felt compelled to go inside and interrupt Trump’s speech while chanting, “Stop the bigotry.” While it was a small act, it felt right to speak out when he came to our city.
I am struck by the specificity of “Muslim Doctors Save Lives in Cleveland.” George Saunders in “Who Are All These Trump Supporters?” writes about how his conversations with people of different political views often had a more positive tone when they talked about particular people with names and faces, rather than talking about entire groups in our divided political climate. What has been your own experience?
I agree absolutely that people think more deeply about issues when faced with a real person that would be impacted by a given policy. One benefit of using such a focused message during Trump’s March rally in Cleveland was that it conveyed something that is undeniably true. Moreover, several of us are involved in physician education and recruitment in Cleveland and know firsthand some of our finest residents and attendings are Muslims from countries such as Lebanon and Syria, locations where Trump has said he would ban immigration for Muslims. We wanted to cut the to the heart of the issue, which we believe is the fundamental truth that we as a society are in this together and rely upon each other to a greater extent than we might realize on a given day.
As we were being removed from the Trump rally in March, one of the security guards walking us out told us his father had suffered a heart attack and his heart surgeon was a Muslim.
While the idea of Muslim physicians saving lives might seem narrow, I passionately believe messages and truths like this are our best chance to overcome Trump’s rhetoric. A fundamental weakness in Trump’s bigotry and sexism is that his rhetoric does not match our daily lives and reality. Reminding each other of the good in each other, and in groups with whom we may not interact closely, is a vital component to opposing Trump’s rhetoric.
At the same time, Saunders in the same article talks about “adults shouting wrathfully at one another with no intention of persuasion, invested only in escalating spite.” What have you seen yourself? How has this shaped your organization of STAT?
At every turn, we’re reminded that Trump supporters are better than he is. Whether at the initial rally or planning for events in Cleveland, Trump supporters and Republicans have not demonstrated the hate we see in Trump himself. We do not believe Trump is representative of a large portion of our nation; he merely draws upon our worst fears and impulses in an attempt to come to power. This gives us hope that a broad-based movement against Trump remains possible. In terms of planning, we have no interest in shouting matches with Trump supporters. We believe we should have our space, and they should have their space as well.
How has the issue of religious freedom motivated your work? What has been the response of religious groups and people of faith?
Never in our generation have we seen a major party’s presidential nominee propose something as extreme as the banning of immigration from an entire religious group. This isn’t just AN election involving religious freedom, this is THE election concerning religious freedom for our generation. If Trump wins in November, I don’t know what we say to our Muslim neighbors and coworkers the next day. We’ve had extraordinary support from a variety of religious organizations and individuals. There has been a hopeful understanding that Trump’s attacks against Islam are an affront to all those who support religious freedom.
What are you planning in conjunction with the Republican Convention? What message do you hope to get across to people?
We hope to convey a message that we are better than this as a country. Better than scapegoating and racism. Better than overt sexism and divisive wedge politics. We believe if voters go to the polls in November looking to build a better society together, Trump will lose, but if they go to the polls afraid of their neighbors and coworkers, Trump could win. We will have a march on Thursday afternoon and a rally that evening in downtown Cleveland, where we’ll stay throughout Trump’s nomination speech. We’re encouraging those dedicated to peaceful opposition to Trump’s racism and sexism to wear yellow in solidarity.