Activists Must Protest Trump

by on March 15, 2016

The Chicago Trump protest

Since Chicago activists forced cancellation of a Donald Trump rally on the University of Illinois, Chicago campus, pundits have been questioning the strategic savvy and fairness of such action. I wrote  The Activist’s Handbook and other books assessing social change strategies. I am struck by the importance of the protests and the wrongness of the pundits’ assessments.

Contrary to what some argue, this is not a case of an activist strategy “backfiring” by allowing Trump to use protesters to galvanize and expand his base. Trump’s base was already secure and he is virtually certain to be the Republican nominee.

Nor is it about activists needing disruptive tactics to generate media attention. The protests did not change the media’s eagerness to go all Trump all the time, but they did alter the nature of the coverage.

What most critics have missed is how activists are using these protests to redefine the entire election. They are saying that this is not just another presidential campaign, but rather that Trump has raised the stakes to a new level. In so doing these young activists have demonstrated a deeper understanding of why Donald Trump must be stopped at all costs, a reality the traditional media has been slow to grasp.

A Battle for Survival

If elected President, Donald Trump pledges to deport the 10-12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, including those currently protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA was started by the Obama Administration in June 2012 and over 600,000 young immigrants have already received its protections.

Think about what this means. Issues like campaign finance reform, reining in Wall Street, or stopping bad trade deals are important, but deporting twelve million Americans is a scope of atrocity not rivaled in the United States since African-Americans lived under Jim Crow laws.

If you are among that group of 12 million, or care what happens to this group, the 2016 presidential race has the highest stakes of any election since Abe Lincoln’s victory in 1860 triggered the Civil War. Few if anyone went to the polls in 2008 or 2012 believing that John McCain or Mitt Romney would implement the deportation of 12 million Americans—but this pledge is central to Trump’s appeal and if elected he would unquestionably attempt to carry it out.

I don’t believe Trump has a real chance of becoming President, but others disagree. So given the risk that a President Donald Trump poses, of course it is “fair” to protest at his rallies. The question is how any progressive activist can justify not protesting given Trump’s plan to throw 12 million American immigrants out of their homes, schools, jobs, and the country where they have lived.

Chicago will no be the last city where Trump will be unable to get through a rally without disruption. I would be surprised if he even scheduled public rallies in America’s major cities, since nearly all have good numbers of Latino immigrants and their supporters.

This is Not 1968

In 1968, Richard Nixon used mass anti-war protests and disruption at the Democratic Convention to sell himself as an agent of stability in a turbulent time. Some see Trump as similarly using protests to broaden support for his fall campaign.

But there is an enormous difference.

In 1968, corporate America saw Richard Nixon as bringing national stability. In 2016, it sees Donald Trump as inciting disruption, violence and social unrest.

Corporate America sees Donald Trump as bad for business. Social upheaval is not good for its bottom line.

This point cannot be overestimated. Ever since Chicago activists protested Trump’s rally, media coverage of Trump’s record of promoting violence has escalated.

Some of the increased coverage is no doubt due to the sucker punching of a young African-American protester by a 78 year old Trump supporter as the activist was being led out of the rally by police. Trump’s offer to pay the assailant’s legal expenses added to the media fire. There was also the assault on a Breitbart news reporter and the arrest of a CBS reporter at a Trump rally.

But the Chicago protests forced the media to connect the dots. It now routinely blames Trump, not protesters, for fueling violence.  Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and even Marco Rubio are making this same point.

What About Free Speech?

Throughout this primary season, CNN contributor Van Jones has demonstrated that he is the most astute election commentator on any of the national news networks. Jones is among those who asked whether it was smart for protesters to completely disrupt Trump’s Chicago event rather than make their point, get arrested, and then allow the event to proceed.

I understand that position. Progressives would be outraged if Trump backers sought to disrupt every Bernie Sanders event. Any interference with political speech rubs many the wrong way.

But if the likely Republican Party presidential nominee was pledging to deport Jews from America at every rally, I would expect my fellow Jews and their supporters to disrupt such events. I would not grant a candidate espousing such hate the right to uninterrupted speech.

The media does not see Trump’s agenda this way because there are no Latinos in major news roles on CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX or PBS. The media is not interested in showing what deportation under Trump’s plan really means in terms of human suffering. The media remains too preoccupied with “white blue collar voters” to focus on the Latino electorate that decides presidential elections.

What unites Trump supporters is strong support for his deportation plan and wall on the Mexican border. In other words, for all the talk about Trump appealing to victims of the 21st economy—-which, of course, does not explain why these voters also backed Bush in 2000 and 2004— Trump’s racist, anti-immigrant message is central to his appeal.

If you think activists are being too disruptive now, wait until a President Trump issues a deportation order for 12 million. The United States would see a reprise of the Civil War.

Activists have called out Trump for what he really stands for. And if many see disrupting Trump events as the best way to highlight the social upheaval his election would trigger across America, they should not be condemned for offering this preview.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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