The mood was upbeat inside the Theatre at Grand Prairie on Oct. 17 where 5,500 supporters of presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke gathered to hear him talk about building bridges instead of walls.
O’Rourke’s Rally Against Fear was a counter-event to Donald Trump’s Keep America Great campaign event in Dallas. Speakers included Rabbi Nancy Kasten, Imam Omar Suleiman and the Rev. Dr. Michael Waters. Several candidates for the U.S. Senate, including Adrian Ocegueda, were there to garner support for their campaigns.
“The [real] enemy is ignorance,” Ocegueda said.
The line outside the venue started forming about 4 p.m., and by 5:30 it stretched from the front entrance, down the ramp and around the side of the building. One parking lot filled up, and another one had to be opened.
Volunteer Tiffany Essl stood in the parking lot, passing out American flag stickers. Essl has been helping with O’Rourke campaigns since he ran for Senate last year.
“I think he’s the strongest [candidate] when it comes to gun control,” she said.
Essl also approves of O’Rourke’s stand on immigration reform. As the mother of an 8-year-old boy, she said she is disgusted by the current administration’s immigration policies that led to children being detained.
Campaign volunteers in black “Beto for America” T-shirts walked around the perimeter jingling cowbells, checking tickets and directing people where to go.
On the sidewalk, someone in an inflatable baby Donald Trump costume with a pinned diaper drew stares and chuckles from the crowd. People snapped selfies with him, and a woman kissed him on the cheek.
Toward the end of the line, Mike and Martha Fleischer waited to get inside. Though they said O’Rourke was not their first choice for president, they came out to support his stand against fear.
“[We came to] make a statement that we need to be a more supportive, caring, inclusive, tolerant country,” Mike said.
Alissa Maldonado, 18, said this was her first big political rally, and she was impressed by the diversity of the crowd. Maldonado volunteered with O’Rourke’s Senate campaign a year ago.
She sees him as someone who is working to make young people safer and more successful.
“He isn’t threatening or overbearing,” she said. “He is one of us.”
The three keynote speakers, Kasten, Suleiman and Waters, exhorted attendees to focus on faith instead of fear and to choose love over hate.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins spoke about the need to “take America back to a time of reason and compassion.”
The punk rock band NuFolk Rebel Alliance performed “Fronteras,” and the enthusiasm inside the auditorium quickly escalated into foot-stomping and clapping.
“No borders, no walls, Dallas!” shouted lead singer and Ecuadorian immigrant Pedro Erazo as he got ready to leave the stage.
Two hours into the program, O’Rourke took the stage to repeated cries of “Beto! Beto!” “I’m filled with so much gratitude to see so many good people of good conscience coming together, not just for a candidate … but for the United States of America,” O’Rourke said in his opening remarks.
In a 30-minute speech that was accompanied by cheers and whistles, he told his audience that the differences between people should not drive them apart but make them stronger.
“It is no longer sufficient not to be racist,” O’Rourke said. “Each one of us must commit to being anti-racist in America.”
The crowd dispersed slowly after the rally.
Some, like David Lopez, had a long drive ahead of them.
Lopez had come from Houston with his son earlier in the day to attend the rally. He supported O’Rourke in his bid for the Senate and hopes he will be the next president.
He’s for everybody,” Lopez said. “Everything about him speaks