Now I don't think anyone thought this would amount to much more than a few seconds of cheering supporters, but it was a big deal to the local Republican establishment. Long-time Republican trumpeter Martha Breene felt confident the city would be spotlighted.
It didn't happen. Whether it was overly hopeful expectation, a miscommunication or a manipulative lie from the campaign, it just did not happen.
However, what did happen on that Thursday night is Oil City, or Venango County I should say, stepped up to show that this is indeed "Trump country." Well over 200 people attended, spilling out of the sidewalk in front of the Venango County Republican headquarters and on to Seneca Street for a very campaign-like rally. The stuff the RNC would've been proud to showcase.
Again, the RNC cameras didn't show. The broadcast to the convention did not air. Martha was pissed.
While the national lens might not have been on Oil City, the local one was, as I and a few other members of the regional media attended. We expected it would be a story about a small town being singled out and showcased on the national stage, even if just for a moment. That's good stuff.
As I covered the event, I was approached by a couple guys from the Trump campaign, not local enthusiasts but representatives of the campaign itself. These weren't high ranking guys by any means but nice young kids doing a job. I was first met with acceptance, but then told I wouldn't be allowed into the headquarters. That it was going to be a closed to the media.
I chuckled a bit, but OK.
I walked into the Republican headquarters.
Martha was there and she was happy to see me. Nuff said.
I continued to work. I asked what was happening and was beginning to realize the aforementioned spotlight at the RNC convention wasn't going to happen.
(Sorry that was a cheap shot!/couldn't help myself.)
Despite the realization that this wasn't the event as advertised, I was still very interested in the local reaction to this idea and how many people showed up. This was quite a turnout, I thought, and the Republicans should be happy with what they did despite not getting what they wanted with the convention spotlight.
I was all about telling the story about the passion of the people.
So I made photographs. At one point a dude from the Trump campaign named Ryan came up to me and said again the event was closed to the media. It was right before the designated local speakers were to start. I informed him the event was on a public sidewalk, therefore, it is not a closed event. He wasn't happy with my response and persisted.
Now, I have been at this for over 20 years, I know what I am doing and what my rights are as a human being and a journalist. This was not a closed event and after explaining this for the third time to him I walked to the front of the crowd and worked documenting the event.
This young man was just not knowledgeable on what he was saying and I was experienced enough to know this.
So.... enough said on that. I did my job, the young man did his job.... we moved passed this. I called him later to confirm there wasn't some secret camera somewhere that recorded the event so it could be part of the coverage from the convention. He said he couldn't really comment but did say it wasn't aired. Again, he did his job, I did mine.
That night, I posted my pictures with a short write up on my website and social media accounts.
A couple photos I made from the event have gotten some attention. Among them is featured at the top of this column. It shows a group of what appears to be Amish men standing near local Republican county commissioner Sam Breene.
This small group positioned themselves behind where the speakers delivered their remarks. They were very publicly displayed and wore political stickers on their straw hats. Anyone snapping pictures of the speakers or taking videos from the front would have these folks in their frame.
They were not shy, they were not hiding and they were fully aware of cameras or camera phones pointing their direction.
I have obnoxiously big equipment and I wear my credentials around my neck as well as my Eight & 322 hat and t-shirt. I even passed out several cards that night to people questioning my intentions.
This group of folks, including Commissioner Breene, knew I was there making photographs.
Several people grabbed this photo and made posts on social media treating this image as a novelty. I get it. Pennsylvania is known for its folksy lifestyles including the little-understood Amish community.
But these people came to this rally in public with the idea that they might be on camera at the RNC's national convention. And they positioned themselves, or were positioned right behind the speakers at the event.
Thay knew what they were doing and where they were.
On social media, Commissioner Breene commented under a screenshot of the picture that he was concerned the men were photographed without permission. I understand what he was getting at given the long-standing stereotype that the Amish community does not like their photograph taken. This is perhaps somewhat true, though it is slightly misunderstood.
That said, these were a small group of people who showed up to a public event (yes it was a public event on a sidewalk) and positioned themselves front and center. Commissioner Breene is wrong when he deflects and is concerned.
I have respect for people, and I respect the privacy of people. But I am a recorder of history and the history of this moment showcased a community that stepped up to support their candidate and among those folks was a handful of men from the Amish community who that had every right to be there or not be there as anyone else.
The men knew their rights to attend this political rally that was billed as a possible broadcast site. They knew their rights to support their candidate as they wore his stickers on their hats and carried signs. And they knew their rights to actively participant in the event by standing in the area where all the speakers addressed the crowd.
I also knew my rights to attend and photograph an event held on a public sidewalk and street. I knew my rights to capture images of the folks who chose to attend the event and tell the story of what transpired.
As a result facts are depicted for history to decipher.
To see the original post please click here.
To view even more photographs of the event please click here.