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Ohio Valley residents impress over past two weeks

In the hustle and bustle of daily life, it can be easy to become frustrated with the people and circumstances that surround you.

Over the past couple of weeks, however, I instead have been impressed with some of what I have seen.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump traveled to Wheeling for a private fundraiser hosted by Murray Energy President and CEO Robert E. Murray. I did not attend that event, but I did have the opportunity to observe and talk with many of the people who gathered near WesBanco Arena, where the President spoke to the people who did attend.

What impressed me about that experience was the behavior of all the people on two opposing sides of the street. On the west side of Main Street, more than 60 people lined up to protest against Trump and the policies of his administration. On the east side, some presidential supporters gathered to demonstrate that they stand behind the President and his plans for the nation.

This certainly was not the first time I had encountered or covered people protesting against Trump or Vice President Mike Pence. And it was not the first time I had witnessed people with differing viewpoints on opposite corners, facing off like boxers in a ring.

It was the first time, though, that I saw the demonstrators seem to live up to their claims that they wanted all voices to be heard without causing ugliness or violence.

The groups that lined Main Street last week were much better behaved than other groups of presidential protestors and supporters I have covered in the past. Sure, they still waved signs and chanted slogans, but all of the messages seemed to be more carefully crafted to make a point, rather than to insult anyone.

During past visits by Trump or Pence, I have seen signs featuring hurtful messages, often aimed at the President’s appearance or his level of intellect. I have heard people chant nasty phrases, and I have seen plenty of individuals raise their middle finger in a vulgar gesture as the presidential motorcade passed by.

Previous demonstrations have led to people yelling back and forth at each other, calling names and cursing. In those instances, nobody was listening to anybody else – they were simply trying to out-shout one another. Nobody was making a good case for their point of view; instead they were just lashing out in anger.

The atmosphere surrounding the demonstrations last week was different. People were still passionate about their cause, but they seemed to have more respect for one another and for our nation as a whole.

The phrases they called out were more like pointed messages they wanted to deliver than like funny jokes or clever jabs. There was no name-calling and very little poking fun at appearances or other perceived deficiencies.

Supporters of the president seemed as well behaved as the protestors, occasionally calling out responses such as, “Is that all you’ve got?” Although I was told that three times supporters confronted protestors verbally, I didn’t witness any of those encounters. Instead, I saw supporters mostly standing quietly on their side of the street; a few had signs and some dressed in patriotic garb.

I didn’t see any shouting matches break out, and there certainly were not physical confrontations between the two sides. Instead, everyone seemed to respect everyone else’s right to express himself or herself, regardless of how they felt about those other opinions.

Granted, the scene also was more secure than during other recent visits by members of the administration. There was a heavier police presence downtown, with officers on every corner, K-9s with many of them, and streets blocked by law enforcement and city vehicles. Demonstrators were kept a block away from the arena, rather than being allowed to gather just outside the building as they were permitted to do a few months ago.

But I don’t think that had anything to do with the kinder, more refined tone of the demonstrations. Not once did I see a law enforcement official approach the crowds, other than to help with traffic control in their immediate vicinity. The only police officer who spoke to me was very friendly, asking me to step up onto the curb, out of the street, to take the photo I was about to snap.

I truly believe the people who gathered were taking a new approach to delivering their message – and I think it might be a more effective one. It seems to me that off-putting behavior, such as flinging insults around, only defeats the purpose when you are trying to make others truly consider your perspective. I say kudos to the people on both sides of the street who came out to make their voices heard in a more constructive way.

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The other group of people who impressed me earlier this month were members of the Dutton and Gentile families and the other organizers of the Blame My Roots Country Music Festival.

These folks stepped up to fill the void left when Live Nation announced that Jamboree In The Hills would be on “hiatus” for 2019. JITH is an Ohio Valley tradition that dates back to my childhood. It attracted tens of thousands of people – and their vacation dollars – to our region for more than four decades.

Blame My Roots was staged at Valley View Campgrounds, located just across U.S. 40 from the Jamboree site. It had hosted campers during JITH for many years. This year, however, it added a central stage and three days’ worth of musical performances, including some big names like Joe DIffy and Trace Adkins, along with local favorites such as Joe Zelek and The 1170 Band.

After arriving at the concept for BMR, organizers secured sponsors and permits and put on quite a show.

Some businesses in the surrounding area said they were disappointed with the lack of patronage this third weekend in July. Certainly, attendance at BMR was smaller than that of JITH, which sometimes numbered at 110,000 people. The capacity at Valley View was listed at just 6,000, so it is no surprise that the constant flow of customers they were used to did not materialize.

We would all do well to remember, however, that the first Jamboree in 1977 did not have 100,000 attendees. It was held at a completely different venue at Alderman’s Airport in East Richland, drawing a much smaller crowd than in recent years. It eventually outgrew that site, but it had to start somewhere, just like Blame My Roots had to have an inaugural year.

Now that BMR has one year under its belt, it’s likely that its reputation will grow. While we haven’t heard any official numbers regarding ticket sales yet, attendees numbered in the thousands, according to reporters who visited the festival. And Chris Dutton, one of the founders of the concert, said he heard extremely positive reactions from the performers. Gaining good reviews from A-listers will almost definitely help BMR secure big-name acts for future shows.

So, I commend everyone involved in making Blame My Roots a reality. Congratulations on the successes you had, and I encourage you to learn from the experience and come back even stronger next year. Thanks for your efforts to help ensure our region won’t lose the tradition of hosting a major country music festival every third weekend in July.

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