CLEVELAND―Dozens of immigrant rights protesters locked arms on Wednesday to build a human border wall in front of the Republican National Convention. The activists brought their protest to the epicenter of a presidential campaign that has promised not just to build a physical wall but to deport an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants.
Organizers of the immigrant rights protest invited a group of veterans to act as liaisons with police and de-escalate any potentially violent confrontations.
“Voters in this country trust veterans, and it’s our responsibility to stand up and say, look, these are the American values that unite us all, and that we swore to uphold when we enlisted in the military,” said Alexander McCoy, who served six years in the Marines and deployed to Saudi Arabia, Honduras, and Germany in support of the State Department.
In the end, there wasn't much to de-escalate. Cleveland police made only a handful of arrests over the first three days of the convention. And heated moments at protests were rare. But the veterans were there, just in case.
McCoy said he hopes the next president remembers the military is as diverse as the rest of the civilian population.
"As veterans, we believe we're able to engage with people from across the spectrum and find common ground and make sure we stay safe and peaceful here in Cleveland," said McCoy, a member of the group Vets vs Hate.
"I served alongside women, Latinos, Muslims, LGBT individuals. And they served honorably just as much as I did. And they deserve respect from our next leader," McCoy said.
The first person at the front of the human border wall, which extended more than 1,000 feet, was a 69-year-old Vietnam veteran.
Elliot Adams held a 25-foot banner tightly as police officers and news camera operators bumped into him. He was the person closest to the door and more likely to have to deal with upset delegates trying to get across the demonstrators to enter the convention.
Maggie Martin said there were close to 30 veterans who were in Cleveland to help keep protest from getting violent. Many of them traveled to Cleveland and have been camping nearby.
“Veterans have a certain amount of privilege in our public discourse, and we recognize that and we want to use that for good causes,” Martin said.