Gubernatorial candidate Michael Williams welcomed to Columbus by protesters during his Deportation Bus Tour
Breaking down on I-75 in Calhoun, Georgia did not stop gubernatorial candidate Michael Williams from proceeding with his “Deportation Bus” tour around Georgia. The tour was announced on Monday, May 14 in a video on Williams’ YouTube channel. In the video, Williams said that he didn’t want to do a typical political bus tour but instead opted for a more eye-catching option, which included a repainted school bus with “DEPORTATION BUS” painted in giant white letters on the side.
The back of the bus is littered with text such as “DANGER! MURDERERS, RAPISTS, KIDNAPPERS, CHILD MOLESTERS, AND OTHER CRIMINALS ON BOARD” and “FOLLOW ME TO MEXICO.”
Williams and his bus had been scheduled to arrive in Columbus on Friday, May 18 at 6:30 p.m. in the Applebee’s parking lot on Gentian Boulevard. However, after the event was posted on Facebook, it was soon taken down and replaced with a changed location, the Peachtree Mall parking lot. A manager at Applebee’s said that there was no communication with the restaurant from Williams’ team, and Applebee’s preferred to have no affiliation with the bus tour.
Around 6:00 p.m., members from the local activist group Indivisible (who describe themselves as “an active group of progressives championing racial, economic, environmental, and social justice, and the values of inclusion, tolerance and fairness”) gathered in the parking lot closest to Wells Fargo. Soon after, an officer from the Columbus Police Department informed them that they were not allowed to gather in the area until after Williams arrived on scene. The crowd was told to relocate to the Burger King parking lot across the street by the officer.
Instead of the mall parking lot, Williams chose to go to the Manchester Expressway parking lot in front of the Fall Line Trace bike trail, where he greeted supporters.
Explaining the benefit of his platform to college students, Williams said that he had introduced two bills to the Senate that had attempted to freeze tuition rates and change requirements for the HOPE scholarship. The HOPE scholarship bill was meant to adjust the requirements needed to gain the scholarship as an incoming freshmen, proposing to eliminate the high school grade point average requirement. The bill was shot down on March 29, 2018.
To bring the attention back to his “Deportation Bus” tour, Williams was asked about his thoughts on DACA and Dreamers who were brought over by their parents. Williams’ first response was about how much he supports President Trump and ideas he has expressed since joining office.
Williams also pointed out that Trump attempted to meet half way and devise a plan to help protect the Dreamers, but was shot down by “the Democrats” because they wouldn't give the president approval to build his wall. “We have to stop the inflow of illegal immigration before we can address those that are here illegally,” said Williams, explaining why he feels building the wall is important.
In reference to the protesters who were present during the stop, Williams expressed that the whole purpose of his tour was that he wanted to highlight the Federal 287 (g) deportation program “that would allow sheriff's’ deputies to have agents act as ICE agents, so whenever they’re out there doing their normal job, when they identify someone in our country illegally, committing yet another crime, they can apprehend them and begin the deportation process immediately.”
Protesters’ signs expressed dissatisfaction with the bus tour with phrases such as “NO Wall, NO Ban, NO Dumbass Racist Van,” “Abolish ICE,” “ No ICE, No KKK, No Fascist USA,” and “Deport Hate.” An anonymous Indivisible member explained the importance of protesting the bus tour by saying, “Immigrants are the backbone of this country, we’re all immigrants, and the process for becoming a legal citizen is so prohibitively long and expensive and arduous that… it needs to be reformed. But in the meantime, don’t kick out the Dreamers who are here not of their own volition… basically, immigrants are the backbone of this country.”
Protesters would have enjoyed the opportunity to ask Williams questions but didn’t get to. “Do you really believe what’s on your bus? Do you really think that that's the answer,” said one of the protesters, “Maybe we do need to look at our immigration laws; I’ll give him that, but just hauling people up in a bus and basically saying load them up and dump them out- that's not the answer. That's inhumane...”
Throughout the whole event, the Columbus Police Department was present, assuring both sides maintained law and order. Although Carolyn Weinbaum presented the CPD with a permit allowing Indivisible to protest, the CPD repeatedly asked her and the group to leave. When Weinbaum asked if Michael Williams and his people had permits to be in the space, she was told that the CPD would look into the matter, but the protesters had to leave.
Because the permit that Weinbaum presented to the CPD was for the mall location, they were told that they did not have permission to protest at the new location. When Weinbaum pushed for the CPD to question Williams’ group and argued that his supporters should be treated the same, she was informed that it was public property and that Williams was allowed to be there. Eventually, the CPD allowed the crowd to stay as long as everything stayed peaceful.
Among the crowd, mayoral candidate Danny Arencibia was heard telling Williams, “If I were mayor, I would have never let you into my town.” As the son of a mother from Mexico and a father from Cuba, Arencibia has always been open about his support for better treatment of immigrants, especially when it comes to Dreamers.
Arencibia expressed his disappointment by saying, “This is not only morally reprehensible to be using lives, human lives, as a campaign gimmick to get elected... I mean, I get it. He’s up against a very strong field of candidates, but this is not just tacky. This is a whole other level of hatred. We just don’t need that in this town. We don’t need any more hate in Columbus, Georgia. We have plenty of it, and we are trying to move forward, and trying to move...in a more positive direction, and this is just exact opposite of what we need here.”
Although their group was smaller in numbers, the citizens there in support of Williams made sure that their voices were also heard. Not only were they able to talk face-to-face with Williams, but some even attempted to start a dialogue with some of the protesters. Ed Harris came to the event not only to show support for Williams, but to also prove that “we’re not full of hate or anything, we just here because this is first amendment to say what we want, and to see Michael and the bus.”
Harris described himself as a Trump backer and said that he loves Donald Trump and what he stands for; therefore, because Williams also stands for the same things, he has to support him. “...I’m not against any Mexicans or anything like that. I’ve got some friends that are Mexican, but you gotta come to this country the right way which is legal, not coming over the border, because we have so many criminals come over the border and do a lot of crime…”
Citizens on both sides expressed the importance of voting. Whether you want to have your voice heard, prevent someone from obtaining power, or get your preferred candidate into power, voting and other means of political involvement are the only ways to realize these goals. To register to vote, go to registertovote.sos.ga.gov. To be informed about everyone who is running in the upcoming elections, go to ballotpedia.org.