Some UIC millennials explain they are not against Trump. They are opposed to the bigotry he represents.

Many people did not see it coming. The reactions were shocking, devastating, and concerning. After a long, hard-fought election, many millennials and the youth of our nation, both silently or publicly, are protesting the idea of having the Donald Trump and Mike Pence duo in the White House shortly after the New Year. While some are in opposition, there are those who are confidently chanting “America can finally be great again,” or “now that we got him to the office, it is our job to hold him accountable for the things he said he will do.”

Photo courtesy of Drew Gerber from Forward.

Two gentlemen who are holding Trump to his word are Grayson Pajkos and Saleh Askar. Pajkos is the founder of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Students for Trump organization, while Askar is a member. Pajkos’s journey toward supporting the President-elect began as early as August 6, 2015, viewing the first Republican debate on national television. “I was studying abroad in South Korea. I thought maybe this Trump guy is not so stupid anymore this time around, and so I started paying attention and supporting him throughout the entire process,” Pajkos recalled. “I never doubted him for a moment, and I believe very strongly that [during] most of his support, people weren’t coming out and saying it. Like, I am founder for Students for Trump at UIC, and I overlook all of the students for Trump organizations in the Chicagoland area, but you’d never know that just looking at me. I don’t wear the hat always, and I don’t wear a shirt. I just keep it to myself because you are just asking for trouble in Chicago if you do that.”

Grayson Pajkos (r), Jewish founder of UIC Students for Trump organization, and Saleh Askar, a Muslim member, are among the few on campus in unity toward the President-elect.
Meeting Of The Minds

The politically involved student founded the organization shortly after the Trump rally was canceled at the UIC Pavilion. Pajkos was one of the first ten people waiting in line hopeful to hear the man speak on March 11, 2016. “In one of the interviews I gave WGN, I [told them] ‘I don’t believe these protestors are here to protest. I think they are here to shut down freedom of speech and hours later I was proven correct as they forcefully shut down the rally.’”

Reflecting on the outcome of the rally that never happened, Askar was also present. “We were in the epicenter of all of that. It was a private event as well,” explained Askar, who is a Muslim. “The tickets that were given out were to people who actually wanted to see. When I went, I didn’t initially go to support Trump. I was a neutral observer, and I was trying to get all aspects of it. Being there, seeing the violence, it kind of pushed me towards the right. These are supposed to be people who are supporting free speech and love, and I see the exact opposite, and it just turned me off the idea completely.”

Although the two were present at the rally, they did not know each other, according to Pajkos. “I was in the very front row when this happened,” he said. “So, I was getting interviewed all day, and it was fun. As soon as they announced that it was canceled, it was an overwhelming sense of what’s going on outside because people were on their phones inside. They had no idea what’s going on outside. But then, I kind of realized, ‘Hey, I am front row on national TV right now on like twelve networks, so we’re just going to make the most of this.’ I am going to be honest, it was fun – not because of the chaos – but just realizing that this is actually happening right now. Because to this day, it was the only rally that was canceled.”

Shutting down freedom of speech as he witnessed what he describes as “half of the stadium, magically” turning into Bernie supporters, was the spark that ignited his desire to form UIC Students for Trump. “They ripped off their shirts and had big B’s written over their chest, and they draped flags. I turned around and was like what just happened. Keep in mind, Obama passed into law that it is illegal to protest at a venue where the Secret Service is protecting someone. What I find interesting is that all these protests, you see just about every flag but the American flag, when you see the American flag, it’s usually on fire; so, I think it is kind of funny how these people say that they’re trying to bring our country together while doing everything seemingly in their power to do the opposite.”

A crowd voices their disapproval of Donald Trump at the UIC Pavilion on March 11, 2016. The rally was eventually cancelled due to safety concerns. Photo courtesy of Charles Rex Arbogast from the Associated Press.

“I felt compelled to actually do something, step up and do everything in my power, even though we are in one of the most liberal cities in the country. This all felt like [I] just [need to] make my voice heard as an American citizen. I’d feel ashamed if I didn’t step up and do anything. Interesting fact, we are not an official organization here from the UIC administration. We figured, especially, after the rally in the email that [the UIC administration] sent out, pretty much targeting the Trump supporters and Trump being there is the cause of this, we kind of chose not to affiliate ourselves with that. There are so few Trump supporters here that we really focused on a Chicago union, bringing all the schools together.”

Specifically at UIC, there were approximately 15 to 20 members of the organization. Overall in the Chicagoland area, there are roughly 80 to 100 supporters. In addition to UIC, other major institutions with Students for Trump organizations are LoyolaUniversity of Chicago, and St. Ignatius. “We all kind of agreed that we would have our meetings and bring [together] as many people as possible to do it,” said Pajkos, noting that host meetings take place at the University of Chicago. A professor, from the University of Chicago, was not necessarily for Trump, but he believed strongly in the political process, according to Pajkos. “He stated that it is nice to have a countermeasure to everything going on, especially in such a strong liberal city, and he wanted to oversee that we were being able to conduct our right to engage.”

From Bernie To Trump

Askar, who comes from a family of Democrats, said that some of the current views lacked “the needs of regular people. They just come every four years, and once they get your vote, they play on fears of minorities, in the country, like Muslims or other people, by saying, ‘Oh, we’ll take care of you from the big bad Republicans.’ They just want to kill you, take away your rights and your religious freedom, and then I realized, you know what that’s not the case at all. So, my family won’t necessarily identify ourselves as Democrats. I don’t identify myself as Republican either, but we managed. My dad was going to vote for Bernie Sanders, my mother, all my sisters were going to vote for Sanders, and I would highlight that socialism. It’s proven to be a failure throughout the course of history. I would tell them, ‘Trump is a good guy. Ignore all the mainstream media and look at the facts and what he wants to do,’ and they were like, ‘You know what, it makes a lot of sense. Why wouldn’t you want to take out people who are here illegally and who have criminal records?’ So, I convinced a lot of my family to vote for Trump, and I never would have thought it was possible.”

CNN article once referred to Trump as “America’s worst Islamophobe,” so it comes as a bit of a surprise that Askar would put his backing behind a man with a history of making inflammatory comments about Muslims. His logic for supporting Trump, in his opinion, is simple. “Trump, as far as I know, has never killed any Muslims. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, as secretary of state, has bombed hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. I genuinely don’t think he hates them. I think that there’s a tactic used to get votes. I am sure you’ve heard he’s retracted the Muslim ban statement cause it’s not feasible. It’s not credible. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s not possible. It goes against America to rule out people based on religion and their religious identification. I think that it makes sense if you want to import people from countries where their culture is so vastly different than ours, and they could have hostile attitudes toward the US. It’s possible for them to infiltrate the country and I am sure they already have. We love being Muslim, and we love being American as well. I think you can balance these two equally.”

Pajkos believes the reason behind people calling out Trump’s bigotry is because “there is a difference between hate for other people and love for your country. An example I give is that you have a house, right, and someone sneaks in to that house. Are you going to be happy with that person being there? No. Not necessarily because you hate that person, but it is because you love what’s inside. You love the people inside, and you want to protect them from any external force.”

In response to protestors’ hostile reactions across the nation due to Trump’s win, Askar asserts, “They are in the state of shock and fear at this point. I think once all the hype settles down, and they realize ‘he’s not actually going to kick me out because I am a citizen, or that he is not going to kill me or put me in a concentration camp, things are going to be alright. My closest friend, he, was like, ‘My girlfriend is going to get deported because of you; she is running on a work permit, and because of you she is going to get kicked out of the country.’ I am like first of all, that doesn’t make any sense. I am not the one making the rules. I am just casting my vote, as my right as an American to do. He had so much anger and hostility towards me at work; I am just like it’s unprecedented. He was like ‘Trump is going to take away her worker’s permit, he is going to kick her out, and he is going to put her on a catapult and launch her out of the country.’ That’s the reality. The illusions these people create themselves – that’s the reality. They genuinely believe that which is what’s frightening to me.”

Pajkos echoed those sentiments. “I have so many friends that are like, ‘I am brown, but I was born here. Does that mean I am getting deported?’ It scares me that someone could believe that. I am not sure if it’s their general ignorance or that’s what they’re just reading online.”

Throughout the election process, one would assume that these gentlemen might have lost a friend or two due to the contradicting political stances; however, Askar is “glad to say I haven’t lost any friends. I had many people that said nasty things to me, disagreed with me, but they did not terminate our friendship though.” Pajkos, too, mentioned, “I haven’t lost any close friends, but Facebook friends – yes. Close friends, they usually tried to talk me out of it, ridiculed me, laughed at me. ‘He’s not going to win,’ and I am just [saying] ‘Look at the election results,’ pointed at them, and said, ‘What do you think about that?’”

In It To Win It

Another reason why the gentlemen strongly believe that Trump will make a great president is he has consistently proven himself to be a winner, “Trump is not in it to lose. Read Trump: The Art of the Deal, his book, and when he goes in anything he goes in 100%. He goes to win. He goes to conquer. He knows what he wants to do. He knows what he wants to accomplish. I think he wants everyone to calm down because he wants to heal the nation, I feel,” said Askar. Pajkos said “The main point is that people are going to say he might be a bad president. But, he won’t let himself be a bad president. He will do whatever it takes to be successful. It wouldn’t even pop in my head because it’s not going to happen. He is not going to fail. He will not let himself fail. The Republican party won’t let him fail. He is going to need to work overtime to mess up. Republican-controlled Senate, House, and a majority of the governors are Republicans. He has the former RNC chair as his chief of staff.”

When asked about their thoughts on Pence, Pajkos responded, “If I must be completely honest here, I think [Pence] is the perfect killswitch in the sense that Donald Trump knows that there is a very good chance that he is going to be assassinated, and I don’t want to see it, but there is a good chance. So having a uber conservative person who would take over, it is the ultimate incentive to not do the unthinkable and kill the president. I mean [with] Obama, people say this country is racist. Obama, the entire time he was running, he never had an assassination attempt and never got any death threats. Then, you see Trump come up and all of the stuff starts going on him. I think if I am going to be honest here, I think there is going to be at least one legitimate assassination attempt in his presidency. It is really unfortunate to say, however, with what I have seen in this country, I do think it is a possibility.”

Askar added, “I like Pence. When they compare Pence to Trump, they are like this guy is super conservative. He doesn’t like gay people. He is super Christian, super conservative. They are like, ‘We don’t like Trump, but he is not like a real Conservative like Pence.’” Although he is fond of Pence, Askar reveals what a shift in positions could possibly mean for the nation. “So, if we get rid of Trump, this guy is going to be a lot worse for our possible freedoms. I think he really does listen to Pence though and takes a lot of advice from Pence. The Trump policy is America first, and I think that is really good. We have to worry about ourselves first, and then we can take care of the rest of the world and allies.”

Regarding the future of UIC Students for Trump, Pajkos explained, “It depends on how things go, I did see the election as kind of an end date for this whole thing, meaning all of the other chairman throughout the nation. We all congratulate each other, and I think we are moving on from it. So, it was more so just getting the man in office and doing everything we can to get him to this spot. I think once he takes presidency, and as the years go on, people aren’t going to be on this campus anymore.”

Flashbacks to the Trump rally on March 11, 2016, where UIC students came together to voice their disagreement toward the Republican candidate. Photo courtesy of Mike Flannery and Dane Placko from FOX 32

While Askar and Pajkos are clearly Trump supporters, Dominic Marlow, the lead organizer of UIC Student Action who cohosted the Stop Trump Rally at the Quad on November 15, 2016 is not. Marlow was also present at the initial UIC Trump rally with the same mission as Askar and Pajkos, which was simply a desire to hear the man speak. “I don’t entirely disagree with everything that Donald Trump has to say, in terms of policy, but I can find this echo by Bernie Sanders,” said the UIC architecture and urban planning major. “Bernie Sanders recently told the press, ‘I will work with Donald Trump on some of the good parts of his platform, and I will oppose him on the racism, bigotry, homophobia, sexism, misogyny, islamophobia, etc.’ I feel the same way about that.”

UIC Student Action–as it is known today–was previously called the Illinois Indiana Regional Organizing Network (IIRON). This year, it was registered under its current name. UIC Student Action is made to empower college students to take action for progressive causes and get involved in the political system, whether it’d be through direct action, running for elected office, organizing educational events or mentorship and leadership and education. While the Student for Trump organization meets at the University of Chicago, Marlow and the Student Action organization gathers “in Hyde Park because most members are in Hyde Park.” Although the Trump supporters’ meetings take place at the University of Chicago, Marlow points out that, “UChicago is where Student Action started.”

Students gather on the UIC Quad at the November 15, 2016 Stop Trump rally. The event was organized by UIC Student Action, whose hosts include Joe Padilla and Dominic Marlow. Photo courtesy of Marcella Raymond from Chicago’s WGN.
By Any Means Necessary

Marlow was pleased with the Stop Trump Rally, which took place a week after Election Day. “I am very happy with how it turned out. We expected a turnout from anywhere between 60-100 people, and well over 300 people attended by estimations. We planned it in two days with four people. We saw immense energy and support from organizations on campus.”

He believes what led to a Trump victory was not seeing, “a shift toward voting for the Republican Party. But, what we saw was decreased voter turnout from the Democratic Party. Basically, about the same amount of people voted for Donald Trump has voted for Mitt Romney similarly. But a significantly decreased amount of people voted for Hillary Clinton that voted for Obama.” When asked why he believed that there was a shift, Marlow asserted, “Hillary Clinton did not represent a system or did not represent an establishment that was fighting on the side of the typical American citizens that compiled with the very-obvious and well-confirmed corruption, and some would call it the rigging of the Democratic primary process made, I think, most typical Democratic voters lose confidence in Hillary Clinton as an elected official. You can see that people just didn’t care enough about Hillary Clinton to have her be voted in. It wasn’t a shift toward Trump; it was just a shift away from Hillary Clinton.”

Askar, Pajkos, and Marlow admitted they did not receive permission from UIC administration to complete their activities on campus. However, Marlow claims he indirectly gained the support of the UIC faculty and administration through “word of mouth. On the event page, no UIC Administration formally said they were going to attend. An interesting detail about the rally is that, it was also more of a rally, not so much of a protest, to voice the progressive student agenda that was not seen in this campaign and we are representing [what] needs to be adopted because you need student support to continue having Democratic victories in the future.”

Marlow continued, “But, going off that, the UIC administration fully supported us and turned out with signs saying the administration support us, Student Action, and what we are doing. We did not formally organize this event at all. We did not ask for permission. We did not reserve the space. We just went out there and did it, and we still got support from the administration, which I think shows a really, really strong community at UIC about supporting each other, supporting students. We have seen this year, really ever since Bruce Rauner, that UIC is the most progressive university in the city, whereas other universities cut MAP grant funding like they wouldn’t cover it, UIC covered it for students. We have continued to expand our counseling centers and our support for minority populations at UIC, whereas other universities have looked into cutting that support, we have raised the minimum wage as a result of students organizing last year. So, yeah, in general, UIC represents a very, very strong community willing to support each other through the institutional guidance that we have. There is work to be done, but in general, a very supportive climate.”

Another reason why the administration showed up, according to Marlow, was, “to support the student access bill, which gives undocumented students access to scholarship if they are a resident, and they came out to support the maintenance of UIC as a sanctuary campus for undocumented students. Several administrators who showed up signed the petition to have UIC remain a sanctuary campus, and we are continuing to get UIC employees to sign that. So, regardless of how they found out about it, they are fully supportive of us, and they have said they will work with us in the future to support our action and continue to make spaces for the student voice to be heard.”

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