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Protestors gather for Trump, Palestine during Biden’s East Palestine visit

President Joe Biden visited the site of the disastrous Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine for the first time more than a year after the accident to give an update on the work done cleaning the chemicals spilled. 

The train was carrying the toxic chemical vinyl chloride, and the spill caused officials to order many in East Palestine to evacuate. A large controlled burn was done to prevent a larger explosion from the train cars. Residents of the village, with a population of just under 5,000, have reported respiratory issues and rashes following the burn.

The county of Columbiana, where East Palestine is located, voted 72% for Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Many supporters of the former president gathered in the middle of town to show their displeasure for Biden. Some came from four or more hours away.

East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway invited Biden to visit the small Ohio town. Conaway wanted to update Biden on the chemical spill cleanup and the community’s recovery. 

After the derailment happened, Biden said he would visit the village but never specified when. However, about three weeks after the incident, Trump visited the area and donated cleaning supplies and bottled water to the residents. 

Some of the community gathered together near the East Palestine Fire Station Friday to protest against Biden’s visit and show their support for Trump. The rally coordinator, Mike Young, started setting up for the event at 7:30 a.m., but he intended to leave once Biden arrived. 

Young said he wants federal funds to start going toward towns like East Palestine rather than countries overseas. 

“(Biden’s) administration now is killing this country our logo (is) ‘Too little too late,’“ Young said. "This is nothing but a political ploy for him to come. To me, towns like this is what made this country, and he abandoned the town.”

Bernie Moreno, a Republican senatorial candidate endorsed by Trump running against Sherrod Brown, shared many of the same sentiments as Young and other Trump protestors. He too, said he wanted federal funding to be spent on Americans instead of war efforts in Ukraine, but was against doing the same for the Israel-Hamas war. 

According to a document from South Africa’s allegation of Israel commiting genocide filed to the International Court of Justice from Jan. 26, about 25,700 Palestinians have been killed and 63,000 have been injured since Oct. 7. It also reported Gazans were deprived of food, water, medical supplies and care, electricity and other essentials for life.

When asked about this report, Moreno denied that these many people were killed and said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East was “completely compromised by Hamas.”

Around 10 a.m., large crowds of people ranging from about 50 to 100 throughout the day in Make America Great Again attire, pro-Trump signs and American flags started to gather. Throughout the day, they said chants like “Let’s go Brandon” and “Biden too little, too late.” Many Trump supporters said they were not interested in listening to Biden’s speech, even if it was more open to the public. 

“I’ll leave right before he arrives; we're going to turn our back on him just like he turned his back on us,” Moreno said. 

Three stands selling Trump merchandise were set up near the rally. One vendor sold large flags for $20 and small ones for $10. Many had the usual ‘Make America Great Again’ prints, but others were more extravagant, including one of Trump on a golden tank with explosions, an American flag and an eagle holding a machine gun in the background.

East Liverpool 501c3 non-profit environmental group River Valley Organizing spoke with people in town that day and demanded more action from Biden. Jamie Nentwick, environmental organizer with River Valley, said one of the organization's main demands was for testing to be completed in people’s homes for the levels of chemicals.

“You have residents (and) their whole lives have been changed,” Nentwick said. “(Residents) have to discard all their worldly possessions.”

Members of River Valley were handing out papers that listed four criteria they wanted Biden to implement: make a disaster declaration, address the community’s healthcare concerns, provide independent environmental monitoring and speak with affected residents. 

Most people were unsure when Biden would arrive or where he would speak. Many said they expected him to refrain from speaking to the public. Around 3 p.m., camera crews, police and Trump protestors lined East Taggart Street in anticipation of Biden’s motorcade, which is close to where the train derailed. 

Biden arrived around 4 p.m. and was briefed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, about the cleanup. Biden began his speech at 4:39 p.m., according to the White House’s website, and spoke out against Norfolk Southern.

The public was not permitted to go inside the enclosed building and listen to where the speeches were. 

“While there are acts of God, this was an act of greed that was 100% preventable,” Biden said during his speech.

Conaway and EPA Administrator Michael Regan also spoke alongside Biden.

Conaway is a conservative who does not support Biden, but during his speech, he wanted to be on the same page as Biden and address the community’s concerns, including the long-term health concerns of the derailment and the town’s economic growth. 

"President Biden, your long-awaited visit to our village today allows us to focus on the things we agree with," Conaway said during his speech.

Biden said he supports enacting a bipartisan rail safety bill that was introduced by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and JD Vance, which would ensure stronger protective measures when trains carry hazardous waste. 

Amidst the many Trump supporters, few people lined the streets to welcome Biden to East Palestine. 

Randol Parsons, a resident of Fairfield Township, came with his daughter to show their support for Biden. He said Trump could visit East Palestine before Biden because Trump was not the president in February 2023. 

“(The) president is coming to see if things are fixed,“ Parsons said. "See what (people) still need. For people to be nasty, I think it's very disrespectful.”

Ralph Neopoliton is from Newcastle, Pennslyvania, and he took the trip to support Biden. He mentioned an issue during the Trump administration of Trump “loosening” transportation safety rules, including reversing braking system upgrades for “high hazard” trains.

Around 5 p.m., a pro-Palestine protest of organized groups, including the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s (PSL’s) Cleveland branch, Palestinian Youth Movement, U.S. Palestinian Community Network and more, gathered on the opposite side of the Trump ralliers to hold Biden accountable for his continued monetary support to Ukraine and Israel. 

Chants from both rallies got louder when Biden’s motorcade arrived in the center of town. Biden was photographed inside a candle shop called 1820 Candle Co. drinking a glass of East Palestine tap water.

Many of the pro-Palestine protestors also did not want Biden there, and they wrote in an Instagram post that Biden came to East Palestine just to “improve his image.” 

The Instagram post mentioned the contract agreement Congress voted to impose regarding railway workers and the problems that have been created for these workers. Railway workers have bargained to have their pay improved and time off, but Congress could not agree on what benefits the contract should include. 

However, the Trump rallyers and the pro-Palestine protestors were not in agreement. The groups bantered to each other across the street. Some Trump supporters yelled at the Palestine supporters to “go home” and questioned if they were even from East Palestine. 

C Stonebraker-Martinez, co-executive director for InterReligious Task Force on Central America and Colombia, said a coalition effort of many organizations protesting for Palestine, including PSL and River Valley, raised $75,000 for mutual aid funds for East Palestine following the train accident.

“It’s hard to see clashes between community members because these folks in solidarity were the first people to respond before any government agency gave anything before any nonprofit gave anything,” Martinez said.

Martinez said River Valley did not want the Palestinian protestors to use ceasefire language because it knew the community would be hostile to it and did not want to distract from its goal of asking for aid for the village.

Martinez said once people realize the government will not serve people’s interests, they will realize they’re on the same side.

Around 6:30 p.m., the protestors of both parties stopped chanting, and the groups slowly started to disburse.



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