There is no doubt that these are contentious times in America. It is difficult to picture a time in history when the U.S. has been more politically divided and contentious. Never has this been more apparent than when members of the Free Hugs group went to a Donald Trump rally. Wearing their Free Hugs t-shirts, the young people set out to talk to others. Obviously, they were coming to the event to promote peace, but it immediately became clear that peace was not on the agenda for many people in the crowd.
One fifteen-year-old girl was pepper sprayed, and was being led out of the crowd by policemen when the Free Hugs group started to circulate around the rally. One woman yelled “White is better!” as she received her free hug. Another man told a Free Hugs group member that there were more pressing issues than hate going on in America today. Yet another man told the group to leave if they were not Trump supporters. One woman went as far as to threaten that she was going to punch the men if they were not voting for Trump. Although there were some small glimmers of hope among the crowd—people who were willing to shake hands, hug and engage in dialogue—it seemed as if those Trump supporters were few and far between.
By contrast, the crowds that the Free Hugs group met a Bernie Sanders rally were much more receptive to their message of love. Once they arrived, it was obvious that this was a different group. There were no pepper spray attacks and people seemed genuinely excited to see them. Old and young, the peace-loving Sanders supporters happily hugged the Free Hugs group members. There were even several group hugs. The free hugs lasted throughout the day, until the sun started to set in San Diego. People took selfies of themselves with the Free Hugs man.
Perhaps the most shocking part of the day was when a member of the group ran into a man also wearing a “Free Hugs” shirt—and he was there independently, without any prior knowledge of the other Free Hugs group. During these trying political times, it helps to know that some people are still staying focused on the importance of tolerance and love.