Kareem Anthony showed up outside the Lancaster Recreation Center on Thursday with plans to protest former vice president Joe Biden’s failure to meet with local Black Lives Matter protesters during his Thursday trip to Pennsylvania.
But then Anthony saw about 50 other protesters who had already arrived to show support for President Donald Trump.
Next he saw a large tractor-trailer pull up, decorated with a picture of President Trump underneath a “Keep America Great” message.
“I cannot accept this. I can’t accept this,” said Anthony. “This is borderline dictatorship.”
Several dozen more Black Lives Matter protesters eventually arrived outside the rec center, where Biden was scheduled to meet with a handful of Pennsylvania families and deliver a speech to a small gathering of reporters and an online audience.
During Biden’s visit, the opposing groups of protesters faced off, yelling back and forth but remaining peaceful. At one point, three mounted Lancaster City police officers positioned their horses between the two groups to further separate them.
Thursday was Biden’s first visit to Lancaster County for the general election campaign against Trump. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, whose home base is in nearby Wilmington, Delaware, makes frequent campaign trips to Pennsylvania, but usually for events in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs.
Inside the Lancaster Recreation Center, Biden was focused on the Affordable Care Act, which passed in 2010 when he was vice president. He met with families who told him the law — often referred to as Obamacare — helped access life-saving health care and avoid financial hardships.
“We very easily could have been a family that was bankrupt based on my care,” said Amy Raslevich, a Pittsburgh resident who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. “Or faced, ‘Can you have that next surgery? Can you have that next adjustment? Or are we going to lose the house?’”
In his speech, Biden said the 2010 health care law is even more important today as the country responds to the coronavirus pandemic. He said some survivors of COVID-19 will suffer from lung scarring and heart damage — preexisting conditions that insurers are required to cover under Obamacare.
“If Donald Trump prevails in court, insurers would be allowed once again to strip away coverage, jack up premiums, simply because of the battle they survived,” Biden said.
Outside, Trump supporter Samantha Hall, 50, carried a sign that said “Defund Planned Parenthood.” She described herself as a longtime “silent supporter” of the president. She said she decided to become involved in his re-election campaign after seeing a picture of him over the weekend.
“I saw him after he had been campaigning in Tulsa, and he looked tired, and he looked like he had been working really hard for us,” Hall said. “It inspired me to want to come out and get out of my comfort zone.”
Anthony, the Black Lives Matter protester, carried a sign that said “Defund The Police.”
Anthony, who is a non-binary transgender person who uses the pronouns they and them, said they are not a Biden supporter. And they criticized Biden for his role in writing the 1994 crime law, which increased criminal penalties in federal cases and encouraged states to do the same.
“I would rather eat dirt than to support him. But I understand why I need to support someone like him, because we need to secure that Supreme Court and make sure that our protections are safe,” said Anthony, who is Black. “I can deal with someone like Joe Biden.”
Trump won Lancaster County by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016. G. Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall College, said while Republicans are still dominant in the Susquehanna Valley, Democrats have made progress in the region’s mid-size cities and suburbs.
“In 2016, Hillary Clinton was somewhat criticized for her failure to reach out to rural and small town Pennsylvania, focusing her attention on the big cities at either end of this state,” Madonna said. “And so I think Democrats believe that they can make inroads into Trump’s base, particularly among older voters.”
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