As President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden arrived at Belmont University in Nashville for the final presidential debate Thursday afternoon, hundreds of people on all sides of the political spectrum could be seen surrounding the campus.
Holding signs and chanting chants, many of those demonstrating Thursday were from Williamson County. Among them existed a wide range of reasons for demonstrating.
Angel Stansberry, a Franklin activist who’s been a lead organizer in the ongoing People’s Plaza protest in Nashville, visited Belmont Thursday for one reason: to be seen.
“It's only once in a blue moon that we get Trump and Biden in the same area, and I just wanted to make sure that even if they don't listen to us, that they will hear and see us today,” Stansberry said. “We came prepared today to have our voices be heard and let the truth prevail.”
During the demonstrations, which took place hours before and during the debate, Stansberry helped lead chants, marches, as well as helped hold up a large sign bearing the phrase “Bye Bye Marsha,” referencing U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood.
Williamson residents there supporting the president included Spring Hill resident Christie Ice, as well as 28-year-old Brentwood resident Tyler Russell.
Russell said that in having friends and family members on both sides of the political spectrum, his reason for traveling to Belmont Thursday was to engage in conversation with “people on both sides,” as well as witness what he called a “historic moment” in history.
“I think the hostility comes from passion, and so there's this desire [for people] to want their voice to be heard on either side,” Russell said. “I think the way to move forward is to just stay informed and be able to have civil discourse. It's okay to disagree with somebody, you don't have to cancel them or hate them for it.”
Taking up the largest share of demonstrators in front of Belmont Thursday were pro and anti-Trump picketers. Apparent Trump supporters were waving Trump flags, wearing red, white and blue-colored clothing and chanting things like “four more years” and “twelve more years.”
Apparent anti-Trump protesters were seen in a variety of different clothing, holding signs bearing messages like “Black Lives Matter” and “vote him out.”
Other demonstrators were more ambiguous, with one such demonstrator being a man who called himself “Brother Daniel,” who said over a megaphone that it was “time for men to take control of women’s uteruses again,” among other things.
Another demonstrator, Nashville resident Taylor Raboin, used a loud portable speaker attached to his bicycle to drown out the preachings of Brother Daniel, an act that led to a few heated discussions between pro and anti-Trump demonstrators.
Another demonstrator there was 32-year-old Brentwood resident Rob Gay, a Belmont alumni. Gay said his main reason for demonstrating Thursday was to bring attention to Belmont’s ties to CoreCivic, a Nashville-based private prison corporation.
Gay is just one of hundreds of Belmont students and alumni who have been calling on Belmont to cut ties with the private prison corporation, a group that has dubbed themselves as “Be Better Belmont.”
“As a native son of Williamson County, I have been so inspired to see progress, change and empathy, and I'm proud of the work that the young people are doing,” Gay said. “To sum it up, I'm proud to represent the future of Middle Tennessee. We're asking for a better future.”
Brentwood resident Maryclare Hylend, 18, was also demonstrating Thursday as a voice for Be Better Belmont. She was critical of the university housing Trump - a person, Hylend said, did “not respect mask mandates.”
“Belmont has been ignoring these students all year and are not taking the COVID-19 protocols that they could and should be,” Hylend said. “[They] are continuing to have this debate with people who clearly do not respect mask mandates and do not believe that the virus is real and dangerous.”
As the hours went by, hundreds continued to chant as the two presidential candidates debated each other just a football field’s length away.
The demonstration remained peaceful throughout, and while many had what could be described as heated discussions, there were a handful of softer exchanges as well in what could end up being one of the last major protests before the election.
Warning: The following video contains explicit language.