Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump is scheduled to host a rally Monday evening in Lowell that is expected to draw crowds and protests.
Local officials expect 9,000 people will attend Trump’s event at the Paul E. Tsongas Center at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Additionally, groups have announced they will protest Trump, whose controversial comments on immigrants and a proposed Muslim travel ban have dominated much of the discussion in the Republican party’s presidential primary.
More than 230 people have confirmed via Facebook they will attend a Trump protest organized by the Black Lives Matter chapter in Cambridge and the Community Advocates for Justice and Equality. Leaders of the groups said the purpose is to protest Trump’s comments regarding Mexican immigrants, Muslims, and a Black Lives Matter organizer who was physically assaulted at a Trump rally in Alabama.
“Donald Trump is the embodiment of systemic racism in our society,” said Marisa Shea, a CAJE organizer and 29-year-old math teacher from Lowell. “We are protesting because we are not a community that embraces this type of rhetoric.”
UMass Lowell police said they are setting up a free speech zone for protesters outside of the arena. Sidewalk space is also available for protests, they added.
Shea said her group’s protests are intended to be peaceful and lawful.
Classes will not be in session at UMass Lowell during Trump’s visit, but students have been involved in protest efforts. When news spread that Trump would appear on campus, Ture Carlson, a 19-year-old sophomore from Auburn, organized an online petition on Change.org that nearly 2,500 users have signed.
“The mission was to get this hate speech off campus,” said Carlson. “But I had no idea that the petition would get this much interest.”
The petition caught the attention of school officials. UMass Lowell chancellor Jacquie Moloney issued a statement saying that the university is not sponsoring the event nor endorsing Trump.
“Thousands of people, including many of our students and others in our community, have signed a petition asking the university to refuse to rent the facility to Donald Trump. They argue that he engages in rhetoric and speech that goes beyond the bounds of fair and responsible political discourse,” Moloney wrote. “I applaud this work of activism and the motivations behind it.”
Lowell police Deputy Superintendent Arthur Ryan Jr. said his goal is to make sure the event is safe and traffic flows as easily as possible in the area.
“We want to ensure that one person exercising their First Amendment rights isn’t interfering with another person’s ability to express their First Amendment rights,” Ryan said.
Trump’s appearance in Lowell comes a week after his campaign opened its first office in the Bay State, in Littleton. According to Trump’s campaign, roughly 50 people showed up at the office’s informal launch Wednesday.
The Massachusetts Republican presidential primary is March 1, three weeks after New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. This is the fourth time Trump has campaigned in Massachusetts. Officials estimated 10,000 people attended a Trump rally in Worcester in November.
Trump, who has topped polls of the New Hampshire GOP primary for months, will campaign in the Granite State on Tuesday.