Heyworth business owner Tricia Braid said she was tired of scrolling through social media feeds and seeing many people doubting the media reports about the military use of tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protestors to clear Lafayette Plaza for the president to have a photo taken with the Bible.
Braid said what she saw on television and in other media accounts “offended my sense of what’s appropriate.” So she felt compelled to fly to Washington, D.C., last-minute so she could “put my feet where my mouth and heart was” and to personally bear witness to what was occurring in the nation’s capital.
It was a place Braid had been several dozen times before as communications director for the Illinois Corn Growers Association, news manager for the Illinois Farm Bureau’s RFD Radio Network, and former agribusiness director for a Peoria radio group.
But this time Braid was going to listen and learn. In fact, she took her cues from a sign she said was the most memorable and that was among the first she saw after venturing out of her hotel just two blocks from the White House.
“The sign reads, ‘I am listening, I am learning, Together We Stand #BLM.' That was the real reminder to me that this is a time for me to be quiet, to listen and to understand,” she said.
That’s what Braid did, and she brought her many Facebook followers along with her through streets where a protest march spontaneously broke out, or along Sixteenth and H NW which was quiet Sunday morning and filled with families with kids taking selfies in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, the scene of the now controversial presidential photo op.
Braid conducted only one or two Facebook Live interviews. The former journalist said there were already many credentialed journalists who were there for newsmaking interviews. Instead, she asked her Facebook followers to tell her what they wanted to see and hear. Several asked for an interview with someone who was in Lafayette Square when the military was brought in to descend and clear the streets for the president. They wanted a firsthand account.
It was told by a priest who was a graduate from the private Christian Greenville University, in Greenville, Ill.
Braid also took people on tours of the major Washington, D.C., landmarks, including the World War II Memorial which she said was particularly poignant on the anniversary of D-Day, June 6.
The woman who once attended Christ Episcopal Church in Bloomington as a child wanted to build trust and convey to anyone following her trip that it was not aimed at fulfilling a political agenda.
“I thought maybe that (touring monuments and landmarks) also exhibited my passion and my belief in the fundamentals of our nation and why we all have this wonderful opportunity to practice this democracy,” she shared.
During her walk along the tall, metal fencing around the White House complex, Braid noted during her live video that not many of the messages are actually directed at the man who holds the presidency. She said that was a deliberate message because it struck her almost immediately.
“For the most part, it was positive messages looking to continue this movement so it just doesn’t stay as a moment,” according to Braid. But she was also looking for balance and showed outdoor umbrellas that had been torched and a few monuments that had been defaced.
But along the fence she was most struck the first time she saw a sign with the message “Defund Police.” Braid admits she was immediately put off and dismissive of the notion until she started Googling and then she talked to two Washington, D.C., police officers directly to get their take.
“Officer Lowery said, ‘We’ve seen this many millions of dollars of increase in our department and we get new squad cars every six months and we have the newest and best computers available to us but there’s only $2 million dollars invested in mental health services in our communities.’”
Braid learned the officers don’t believe in doing away completely with law enforcement, but that the scope of their work should be narrowed to what they can be adequately trained to handle and then resources should be reallocated to social service, education and health care professionals who are better suited to deal with the complex issues that lead to problems in keeping the peace.
Weary from her whirlwind trip, Braid has no regrets. She was glad to bear witness to what she called a polite and clean crowd with plenty of helpers offering food, water, masks and hand sanitizer.
“The concern for each other was tangible,” she observed.
She felt a heavy responsibility to make all of what she saw understandable to the people of Central Illinois and in hindsight Braid believes she was able to do that and to learn that Washington, D.C., “was not an angry place.” She was equally happy to bear witness to “the truth of the people who were there.”
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