The words “Fuck Trump” reverberated through the air Friday morning as a group of masked individuals chanted at the Tower steps in opposition to the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
The protest was led by a coalition of students and faculty called the anti-Trump J20 organizing committee, a group that has emerged in the wake of Trump’s presidential nomination, according to the J20 UT Walkout Facebook page.
The protest at the Tower lasted from noon to 1 p.m., after which the march continued through campus.
One of the groups in the protest, the Revolutionary Student Front, handed out pamphlets stating the organization is a group of revolutionary anti-capitalist students who want to ensure education is in the hands of students.
The J20 Walkout Facebook page urged students and faculty to leave class at 12:15 p.m. on Friday morning and convene in front of the Tower at 12:45 p.m.
At 12:15 p.m., about fifty individuals were seen in front of the Tower, but it’s not clear how many were students who had skipped class for the walkout or were just passers-by. By 12:45 p.m., the crowd had grown to roughly a hundred students, faculty and non-student protesters.
UT spokesperson Cindy Posey said in a statement that the University has been in contact with student organizations in the protest.
“As with previous demonstrations, the University will protect the free speech rights of the UT-Austin community and work to ensure public safety,” Posey said.
Posey also commented on the classroom walkout, saying individual faculty members have set expectations for attendance.
Government freshman Vanessa Rodriguez, member of the University Leadership Initiative, stood on the steps of the Tower and said many of those standing with her fear for their safety.
“As we gathered here today, it’s important that we acknowledge why we are standing here,” Rodriguez said. “We are here not simply to skip class. We are here not simply to waste time. We are here not simply to obtain attention. We are here because we fear.”
The demands of the protesters include: a $15/hour minimum wage, nationwide free healthcare access, cancellation of student debts, the repeal of UT campus carry laws, the end of transphobic “bathroom bills” and a ban on all-white nationalist platforms on campus, among many others.
Student body president Kevin Helgren, neuroscience and psychology senior, said he doesn’t want to be the main voice of the protest, and instead wants to allow those most affected by these issues to speak on their own.
“I am a huge advocate for anyone standing up for what they believe in and what they don’t believe in,” Helgren said. “I think the University is trying to create an environment in which people regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum feel comfortable to express those types of viewpoints. As long as things stay safe and peaceful, I am a huge proponent of it.”
Civil engineering sophomore Jenny Liu said she is behind most aspects of the protest’s platform.
“They do say, “Fuck the police” which I don’t agree with because I do think at the end of the day we do need them,” Liu said. “The other thing is I still think we need a president.”
The Revolutionary Students Front came into several small conflicts with other protesting parties, including bystander Austin Beaty, who came to observe the protest.
Beaty, 27, from Friendswood, Texas, was called a “Nazi” and “fascist” by RSF when he stood on the steps with a sign that read, “Legalize it. Make America great again” and proceeded to smoke from a pipe. RSF ripped his sign in half and knocked his pipe out of his hands.
“I’m a big dude, and I wasn’t really ever fearful, but at the same time it was so much hostility,” Beaty said. “For what? What were they directing it? And all of a sudden they started calling me a Nazi and a racist, and I had a sign that just said, ‘Legalize it.’”
Another group of students rallied around economics and finance junior Mack Dowdall for his satirical “Legalize Ranch” platform.
Jeff Dory, former student and Revolutionary Student Front supporter, said the platform led by Dowdall took away from the inauguration protests.
“(The Legalize Ranch supporters) have an agenda to undermine this,” Dory said, referencing the RSF protests. “It’s nihilistic, it’s insignificant and has nothing to do with what’s real.”
Geoscience freshman Spencer Czerniak said he’s surprised by the protests.
“It’s not going to change anything by rallying against him at this point,” Czerniak said. “You’re just going to make a fool of yourself by showing your incredible hatred toward the new president of the United States.”
Czerniak wore a “Make America Great Again” hat Friday, but said he was nervous.
“I was kind of afraid, honestly by all the people here who do not support Donald Trump,” Czerniak said. “I just decided today is the big day so why not show support?”
After a confrontation in which one participant held a knife, UTPD temporarily detained the individual before releasing him after discovering the knife was legal, according to UTPD spokesperson Cindy Posey.
The protest is en route to Auditorium Shores, where they will merge with the One Resistance protest. RSF has still declined to comment.