Springfield City Manager Greg Burris says the State of Civility in our Community is "Improving, but we need to be watchful."
Last month, when City officials learned President Trump was to visit Springfield, August 30th, one of the first things Burris did, was to shoot off a letter to the editor of the Springfield News-Leader. Burris asked citizens and visitors to the city, supporters and protesters of the President, to be civil, courteous and polite to each other.
“It was right on the heels of what happened in Charlottesville Virginia, and so it was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. So shortly thereafter, the President says he’s coming to Springfield Missouri. So you can imagine what ran through our minds, we had five days’ notice. So, it was at least an attempt to get that out there. To let people know this was our expectation: We expect you to be civil, we expect you to be courteous to one another. Hopefully that was one things that led people to truly be civil, or maybe more civil than we otherwise anticipated.” The Springfield News-Leader published Burris’s letter on 28 August, 2 days prior to the President’s visit.
Meanwhile, the Springfield Police department mad good use of its five day notice of the arrival of Air Force One’s arrival in the Ozarks, according to Springfield Police Major, Greg Higdon: “We went to the site several times, we figured out what would be the best way to make an area accessible to supporters and protesters. We wanted to be visible out there and wanted people to know we were there to protect their right to free speech.”
“That is exactly what we were doing” says Erin Kappeler, who serves on the steering committee of Springfield Indivisible: “We were there to exercise our First Amendment Rights, to protest the policies of the current Administration. We worked with a couple different community groups and community organizers, and held regular meeting to discuss what our best practices would be, how we were going to get the word out, and what the protest was going to look like. It was a long term collaborative process that played out over a little less than a week. First and foremost, we wanted participants to feel safe. Since this happened shortly after the horrific events in Charlottesville, we were really on high alert for violence and threats, so we wanted to make sure we made it clear to the City and the Police Department, that we were there to exercise our First Amendment Rights.”
In an agreement with City officials and Springfield Police, Springfield Indivisible agreed to line their protesters, which numbered about a thousand, on Glenstone, north from Division. Meanwhile, President Trump supporters gathered on Kearney, east of Glenstone, near the expected route of the Presidential motorcade.
Rob Ross of Bolivar Missouri, is a member of the Facebook group; Patriots Protecting President Trump, which organized the gathering of Presidential support on Kearney: “We wanted him to come to Springfield and know there’s a large group of people who do appreciate the works he’s done, and are supportive of the President and the things he’s accomplished. That doesn’t mean we agree with everything he does, or like everything he does, but we feel like he was a better fit for our country. The Facebook page really took off. In a couple of days over six hundred people had joined, and it struck the idea that we can go and support our President.”
To be sure, there were several Trump supporters who located themselves within the ranks of the Progressives, on Glenstone, and several Trump opponents walking among the Conservatives on Kearney, including a group led there by Dr. Roger Ray, a self-proclaimed unabashed Liberal, and Pastor of the Community Christian Church, of Springfield: “I and probably 15-20 of my ilk, were on Kearney, and I want to say, again, you can’t play this over to find out how it would be different if it had been done differently. But everyone up there, hundreds and hundreds, possibly a thousand of Trump Supporters, were extremely civil. Now they wanted to challenge some aspects of why we were there, and I was wearing a Clerical collar, which I sometimes wear to keep from being abused, and sometimes to make myself behave, but, people offered us their lawn chairs, water bottles and cookies, and I can’t tell you it could’ve been nicer.”
Erin Kappeler, of Springfield Indivisible, and Rob Ross, of Patriots Protecting President Trump, also say, interactions were for the most part, civil.
Kappeler: “All us felt a little jumpy whenever a truck would rev its engine, but aside from that, I felt very safe all day long. Things may have gotten tense once or twice, but everybody in the situation was able to focus on de-escalation and getting us back to treating each other like neighbors.”
Ross: “Any time a group from the left held up signs and started to protest, and someone would argue and get in their face, I (and another individual) immediately stood between them and I said hey, I don’t necessarily agree with what you’re saying, but I hundred percent support your right to say it. I stood there with people I disagree with, so they could peacefully protest.”
Springfield Police report no arrests at either location.
City Manager Greg Burris, who wrote that letter to the editor asking for civility during the President’s visit, says the way Springfield responded speaks well for our community, and he's very proud of its citizens. He says the state of civility in our community is improving, but "We need to be watchful we don't get caught up in the high drama and chaos on the national and state level, because it changes everything, when you lose civility. We want to be civil to one another, we want to be heard. Like I put in the letter, you can be heard a lot better sometimes whispering, than you can if you’re shouting. Because once we start shouting at each other, nobody hears anybody.”