DOWNTOWN — Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump is heading to Chicago this week — and thousands of Chicago protesters say they're ready to greet him.
Trump is scheduled to speak at 6 p.m. Friday at UIC Pavilion, 526 S. Racine Ave. Admission is free, but tickets are required.
Soon after DNAinfo Chicago first reported the location, a Facebook event popped up, hosted by "Stop Trump 2016- Chicago," for a protest to begin at 3 p.m before the rally's doors open. As of Monday morning, 7,800 people RSVP'd for the event and another 14,000 expressed interest in the "peaceful" protest.
Trump told Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed he was excited about the visit: “I’m planning to give a speech and stay at my world-famous hotel, the Trump Tower.
“I love Chicago. I love Mike Ditka. I love my hotel ... the Trump Tower, which is No 1. We are No 1. No. 1. And how about my polls. Amazing, huh?”
His Ditka love might have something to do with Da Coach telling a New York radio station Thursday that at this point, he plans to vote for the billionaire businessman.
Two hours after news of the rally broke, a petition on MoveOn.org to keep Trump out of UIC had been created and garnered more than 300 signatures. The anti-Trump protest already had 1,600 RSVPs as of 7 p.m. The organizers of the Facebook protest are encouraging people to sign up for free tickets to the Trump rally to keep the tickets out of hands of Trump supporters.
At least one alderman has spoken out against the rally.
UIC spokeswoman Sherri McGinnis Gonzalez said of the event, "It’s a rental arrangement with the campaign. This is not us hosting the campaign." She did not immediately know how much the Trump campaign is paying to rent the pavilion.
Students on UIC campus Friday weren't thrilled to hear about the rally.
"I think [Trump]'s a disgusting person. It doesn't make any sense that he would make it this far in the race," said Daniel Stewart, a marketing freshman who says he's voting for Sen. Bernie Sanders. "Most of the people who support him are racist. I think a lot of people are uneducated on what he stands for."
Other students pointed out that, as a university with many foreign students and immigrants, UIC seemed like an odd choice for Trump's rally. But at least one student said it's important that the GOP frontrunner be allowed to come on campus.
"I know that free speech is important, so Trump should come to speak here," said Kim Hansen, a graduate student in linguistics who says she is yet undecided but will not vote for Trump. "That is what makes our university unique."
The organizers of the protest, second-year nursing student Casandra Robledo and second-year pre-med student Juan Rojas, said that since they posted their event around 4 p.m. Friday, they've seen an overwhelming outpouring of support.
"We started just with our own friends, but we are part of student organizations, and more and more groups started getting involved," Robledo said.
Rojas said that UIC student groups as well as groups from all around Chicago have contacted them to help organize the protest: SEIU, Fight for 15, UIC's Greek Council, BYP100, Students for Justice in Palentine, the Not One More Campaign, and students from DePaul and University of Chicago. The groups plan to hold a meeting Monday night to discuss logistics and strategy.
"The common theme [is] ... groups that are always fighting their respective battles," Rojas said. Most importantly, he said the protest is not meant to oppose Trump supporters: "It's advocating for the people that Trump has dehumanized — against his campaign and his campaign only."
Trump, who holds a commanding lead in advance of the March 15 Illinois primary, has not received much campaign cash from city voters during his mostly self-financed bid for the White House.
The developer whose name is emblazoned on one of the city's most notable towers has only raised $8,616 from Chicagoans so far in the campaign, with only 24 people in the entire city contributing cash. Marco Rubio has raised the most Chicago money among the GOP field, with $371,000 from 397 donations.
Hillary Clinton is leading all candidates with $2.2 million from Chicago residents alone.
Early voting already has started for the Illinois primary, and polls released late last month show Clinton (+19) and Trump (+15.5) have commanding double-digit leads. A Trump spokeswoman declined to comment on the UIC appearance next week.
Meanwhile, Ted Cruz is expected to attend a fundraiser for Gov. Bruce Rauner hosted by the Illinois Republican Party at the Palmer House Hilton that same night.
Check out our breakdown of Chicago presidential campaign donations this election cycle:
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