Standing tall with knees on the sidewalk

In Northbrook, a cadre of young women quietly overcome

Some of the President Donald J. Trump fans who crowded Northbrook’s Triangle Park forum Friday night just before they gave up and left. They surround a small group of women who repulsed them. (Irv Leavitt photo)

The throng of flag-bearing, name-calling, megaphoning MAGA rally-goers, who had congregated on one Northbrook corner for three hours Friday night, made their move after darkness fell.

They rolled en masse diagonally across Shermer Road and headed for the apparent inspiration for their rally, the Trump-baiting “Covid Scoreboard” and the clutch of Democratic counter-demonstrators in front of it.

They never got to the scoreboard. They were stopped by four young women on their knees.

I don’t know for sure what the Trump loyalists’ intentions were as they swarmed across the street. But whatever they were, they didn’t accomplish them.

The women, and the Northbrook cops, got in their way.

For three hours, I had watched, mostly from little Triangle Park on the northwest corner of Shermer and Walters Avenue. There the scoreboard with Trump’s name on the bottom, the U.S. Covid death count in the middle and “We’re #1” on top stood next to a banner advertising a charity lobsterfest.

I watched the Trumpist crowd on the southeast corner as it chanted things like “Racist Biden” and “Biden is KKK.” Supporters occasionally honked as they drove by. 

The Democratic counter-demonstrators, largely on the southwest corner, mostly chanted “Vote him out.”

Lee Goodman, the scoreboard’s author, watched all this alone from the Metra station, within view of the Trump forces but separated by hundreds of feet of parking lot.

“I don’t want this to be about me,” he said. It was about political differences, and he, his group Peaceful Communities or his scoreboard were not the real reason people disagreed, he said.

Some Trump backers had come over to confront him, but mostly, they just shouted things like, “Hey, Lee Goodman, get out of the basement. Is Joe Biden there in the basement with you?” 

As the third hour of this approached, all the other media representatives had left, and I was getting bored, too, though more than 100 people were on site by then. I drove away, telling Goodman, “Call me if people start setting each other on fire.”

I had gotten five minutes away when I turned around. If anything bad was going to happen, it would already have happened at the beginning, or it would happen toward the end. I had seen enough of these sorts of things to know that.

My phone rang. Goodman was watching the cross-street march. He told me he didn’t know whether they were after the scoreboard or the Democrats, were just trying to occupy the little scoreboard site or were going to march in circles, he said. “But things are different.”

I suspected that they might have finally come to the conclusion that if they wanted to make a point by destroying the scoreboard, the police might not want to stop them. The cops could stand in front of it, but vandals might be able to just swarm around them. The officers would not relish being seen nationwide on cell phone video battling people to save a sign. A few people might later be charged with criminal damage to property, however.

When I got back, the scoreboard could still be seen, lit up in the darkness by Goodman's spotlights.

The site was beset by the throng of over 50, however. There were a couple of cops on the rocks in front of the display, and my first, unjournalistic, inclination was to get up there with them, so there would be one more person to get around. Others might follow. Peace would reign.

The cops did not appreciate my participation, so I backed off.

But while I was on the rocks, I saw something in between them and the grumbling crowd. Four young women, backs to the short stone wall, were kneeling silently in front of the scoreboard. Another few women, standing, were guarding them, putting their hands out when people got too close.

After about fifteen minutes, the flag-bearing crowd suddenly departed, primarily heading for the fountain in nearby Village Green Park.

The young women were still mostly silent.

“That’s the way,” said Jess Henry of Addison, as she rose to her full height. “We didn’t touch anyone, didn’t talk, and now they’re gone.” 

I asked some of the women if they had been practicing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s nonviolence tactics. Nobody answered, as most of them seemed pretty charged with adrenaline. So I’m not sure if they had studied nonviolence or they just did what seemed appropriate at the time.

But I did get an answer to this question: Why did you kneel to protect that scoreboard?

Henry, 29, inclined her head toward Goodman’s display. “That sign? I wasn’t protecting that thing. I was protecting my space.

“When they came over here they were trying to cut our power. We couldn’t let them do that.”

The women protected themselves and their turf and their right to assemble, and by extension, Goodman’s display, which could only by vandalized for the sixth time in 8 days late that night when no one was looking. It still stands. 

The women seemed to have knelt in front of the scoreboard not to protect it but because they were in between an invading group of aggressive people and where they seemed to want to go. The women would not stand aside. They were on their knees, but not in supplication.

About 15 minutes later, members of a now less-aggressive Trump group, diminished by half, returned to their original corner for a little while. They still hoisted one or two “Don’t Tread On Me” flags.

Some people display slogans. Other people live them.

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