As the clock counts down to President Donald Trump's trip to Chattanooga on Sunday, some community members are expressing frustration over the visit.
Thousands are expected to pack into the nearly 11,000-seat McKenzie Arena at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for the opportunity to see the president speak. The rally is part of a last-minute push ahead of Tuesday's election to support Republican candidates across the country, including Marsha Blackburn, who is running against Democrat Phil Bredesen to replace U.S. Sen. Bob Corker.
And while many Chattanoogans have expressed excitement over the presidential appearance, some say they are planning to protest. One such group made up of several UTC student organizations hopes to vent its frustrations to administration.
"We don't want that type of rhetoric given a platform at our university," said Elliot Geary, a member of UTC's Young Democratic Socialists. "That's not to say we are violent leftists who want to take away people's right to free speech [but] we want to make it clear to our administration that it is an issue to give a platform to someone who uses violent rhetoric that turns into real-life violence."
The university has remained mum about details of the event, but in a statement Wednesday, it called the event a "learning moment."
"This event may be quite exciting for some students and alienating for other students. Many of our students have never known a temperate political climate or witnessed civil debate. This is an opportunity for our students to demonstrate the possibility of healthy democratic discourse," reads an email sent to faculty and staff by by George Hynd, interim vice provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.
Geary disagrees, saying the president's appearance will be alienating to marginalized communities at UTC.
"He's not coming to educate us about how the government functions or what it's like to be president," he said. "This is a campaign visit. He's not visiting as the president, he's visiting as Donald Trump, the candidate for 2020. He's visiting to support [Marsha] Blackburn and [Chuck] Fleischmann."
Student groups planning to protest will meet at 2 p.m. Sunday on Chamberlain Field and include Spectrum, an LGBTQ organization, and Hola, the Hispanic Outreach Leadership Association. Other protesters are expected at the rally, as well as counterprotestors.
Obie Webster, executive director of the McKenzie Arena, told the Times Free Press on Wednesday that UTC, the Secret Service and law enforcement agencies were planning for protesters. The university, the Chattanooga Police Department and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office also said there will be increased security across campus and surrounding areas Sunday.
Alondra Gomez, a student activist who has been involved in organizing community members around immigrant rights issues, said she was hoping the hate and divisiveness seen across the country would not come so close to home.
"It's not a surprise to anyone that watches the news, or is on social media, or attends rallies that anywhere Trump goes there is an increase in violence and animosity," Gomez said. "We are concerned about what this might do to minority students who already feel attacked by rhetoric coming from Washington...We understand that at this point America is really divided. We were hoping this wouldn't come so close to home, but at the heart of it we are really worried that divide will worsen on campus."
Despite the frustration, some remain ecstatic Trump is visiting and are planning to attend the rally in support of the president.
"I'm really excited. I think its going to be great," said Jake Littleton, a UTC student and member of UTC College Republicans. "College Republicans may help at the rally in any way they can. We're trying to get people excited and interested in the rally."
A Facebook event, "Stand up for Peace! As Donald Trump visits Chattanooga," has more than 300 people marked as attending and more than 1,100 people interested as of 5 p.m. Thursday.
Allie Mendel, a local resident, created the page as soon as she learned the president would be visiting.
"My intention behind this event is bring people together, to remember that we are just humans and we want the same thing at the end of the day," Mendel said.
"I think that today we're seeing divisiveness in our society in the United States and I think that a lot of people want to kind of steer that and add fuel to their flame. I think we're getting more and more into the 'us versus them' mentality and I feel like we're trying to push each other away...I think there's a need, regardless of which party you're affiliated with, to ask 'What can I do to help you and what's best for society as a whole?'"
The president's rally begins at 7 p.m. Sunday at the McKenzie Arena. Doors open at 4 p.m.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.