In September, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will begin construction on President Trump’s infamous 130-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. At times like these, the symbolism of barriers hits hard. It’s no surprise that on Saturday, attendees at Chicago’s Ruido Fest – a rock en español festival in the city’s Pilsen neighborhood – decided to stage a protest against a Home Depot branded booth that featured a mock wall installation. The activity invited festivalgoers to decorate tiles and glue them onto the wall as artists played sets across the grounds.
In addition to the symbolism of the installation, protesters expressed concern over the wall due to Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus’ endorsement of President Trump. In June 2016, Marcus wrote an essay expressing his support for Trump in Real Clear Politics (he retired as CEO and chairman in 2002).
Amara Betty Martin, a visual artist and community organizer based in Chicago who was attending the festival, spoke to one of the Home Depot representatives and asked them to take the wall down. “I explained to him the climate that we’re living in and that this is an all-Latino festival…this art project – even though it seemed innocent – it was psychologically sending another message to the community.” According to Martin, community activist and Pilsen Alliance member Rosa Esquivel also spoke to Home Depot reps onsite to convince them to dismantle the wall. After notifying a Ruido Fest organizer about the installation and the concerns of several festival attendees without receiving a response, Martin decided to put out a call to action for the protest on social media.
Demonstrators gathered around the booth, chanting “Fuck Trump!” After Home Depot representatives refused to take down the wall in front of protesters, they decided to remove the tiles and push down the wall themselves. The reps running the activity eventually disassembled the wall – but security guards were called to the booth and a physical altercation ensued, with security chasing after protesters across the grounds. One demonstrator was placed in a chokehold, as Remezcla staff witnessed onsite.
Martin says that the wall feels particularly tone deaf when Pilsen continues to face displacement and gentrification. “Pilsen itself is going through a lot of tension. The neighborhood is being aggressively targeted by developers who are trying to build new units that will bring hundreds of new people to the community and they’re not taking input from the community about that….A lot of the people that are here at the festival live in Pilsen. To see the image of a wall – we’re artists; we understand, visually, the symbolism [of a wall]. To see young brown children contributing to this wall…I feel like it was a slap in the face.”
Stephen Holmes, Director of Corporate Communications at Home Depot, explained the motivation behind the activity in an email to Remezcla. “We were participating in the festival to show our support for the community, so this was an unfortunate misunderstanding. The project was intended to show attendees how easy it is to lay tile for bathrooms, backsplashes, and other applications,” he said.
Ruido Fest representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
On Sunday, the entire Home Depot booth was removed from the festival. Martin expressed gratitude for the removal of the wall, but was not satisfied with “how violent it became.”
As for future editions of the festival, Martin hopes that Ruido “can get more people from the community to sit on the organizing board,” so that similar activations won’t appear at the event again. Ruido Fest is produced by Metronome, the same company that organizes Riot Fest. “They’re not thinking deeply about what we feel, and this is our neighborhood,” she concluded.