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Essay: Election 2016
Stumping Trump: Observations from a Protest
By Sam Carrigan
“How do you spell ‘Donald Trump?’”
A woman with a megaphone led the chant. Through an act of hasty politeness, I was stuck holding her Trotskyite banner at the time.
Thousands had come out on a Thursday to protest Trump’s arrival at a Republican black-tie dinner at the Grand Hyatt. The action had different names depending on who you were asking, ranging from “Shut Down Trump” to “Hate-free NYC.” While the ‘K-K-K’ bit was a popular call-and-response, none were as popular as the laconic classic: “FUCK TRUMP.”
I had just stepped out of Grand Central Station when I saw - but more heard - the protesters across the street. Apparently, I had stumbled out on the side that the police were protecting from them. I walked past a sweating yuppie couple in formalwear who were desperate to find their names on the list for entry. In standard conservative fashion, the woman was conventionally attractive and the man looked like an overgrown baby in a suit.
Just the day before, I attended a Bernie Sanders rally. The crowd there was massive and diverse beyond simplification. There were students, families, and all sorts of working people. Members of the striking CWA that Sanders had come out to support earlier that day were especially visible. If you want the ruling-class take on that event, a hedge fund manager’s child wrote an article about it headlined “New York’s Doped Up Beatniks, Hippies, and Freaks Love Bernie Sanders.” Yes, beatniks and hippies in 2016 - you may want to have your fainting couch nearby.
I assure you, the crowd protesting Trump was much freakier. Anarchists, revolutionary communists, minority activists of all stripes - a fair number of whom I’d recognized from the Sanders rally - were out in full force. There was a guy wearing an American flag as a blindfold and another man with a Ross Perot button. Accordingly, the vibe was different at the anti-Trump protest. There was not a whiff of messianism in the air. There was more righteous indignation than anything else.
The party whose banner I held for a brief while was the Progressive Labor Party. What exactly distinguished the PLP from the other left sects present, I couldn’t tell, but they were very nice people. Their newspaper, which had an admirably confrontational editorial voice, was full of typos. I’m reminded of the fact that Stalin was a notorious editor, rarely conducting a meeting without his feared blue pencil making corrections and annotations on memoranda. Perhaps the parties that take their lead from his intellectual rival Trotsky make a point of keeping a few errors, just as a lasting rebuke to the Man of Steel.
It wasn’t all fringe left parties, though. There were hundreds of fast food workers and Spanish-speakers advocating for the $15 hourly wage and against Obama’s current policy of mass deportations. There were Jewish anti-fascist protesters whose signs ominously read “We’ve seen this before.” Anti-war coalitions and policy brutality activists were joining causes and chants. Signs rallying against Islamophobia, police violence, white supremacy, and capitalism surrounded one on the street across from the Hyatt. It was quite the show. The sports bar in the Hyatt overlooked the street and any protester could see that the crowd inside was watching the crowd below. Not a single eye was turned on the televisions.
About an hour into the protest, I noticed the crowd was thinning. Signs were piling up against buildings. I started to feel discouraged. It wasn’t likely that the waning momentum of this protest was going to shut down Trump in the way he’d been prevented from speaking in Chicago. In contrast to the 27,000 who came out for Sanders, there were likely less than a thousand people left after I’d been on the scene for an hour. It seemed that while the masses were more than ready to rally around an electoral hope, they were less prepared to take direct action to shut down a man who may well be America’s Mussolini.
Downbeat, I walked across the street back to the Hyatt and found the Trump supporters’ counter-protest. It was a pitiful display. There was an older man with a “Teamsters for Trump” sign, though he appeared to be the sole representative of that faction. Several frat-aged men, including one who looked like a petite but soggy John Belushi, were engaged in heated debate with some young women. One woman was on the verge of tears trying to explain how patriarchy works to a stubborn interlocutor.
“He didn’t say he hates all immigrants,” one slurred in my general direction, “his comments were specifically about illegals.” He was wearing the signature ‘Make America Great Again’ hat.
To my surprise, the remaining anti-Trump crowd crossed the street en masse and surrounded the dozen pro-Trumpers. The protesters were bearing down on the security checkpoint into the Hyatt. One of the young Republicans was drowned out by “FUCK TRUMP” as he attempted to explain how women have more privileges than men. The crowd may have shrunk, but the energy was intensified. It was clear that the people remaining were the most militant and eager for confrontation.
The Trumpists dissolved into the crowd of onlookers behind the police. Those heavily-armored cops with military rifles had appeared in front of entrances into Grand Central. Someone, somehow, had decided that the action should become mobile, and we began to march to Times Square. I picked up a sign that said “No racism / No fascism / No Trump” and joined in the chants. It was the most f-words I’d said in a long time, and a lot of fun.
Onlookers stopped what they were doing and watched the march regardless of their social class. Workers raised their fists and cheered from behind the windows of their offices and restaurants. A Times Square Stormtrooper borrowed a sign and took part in the F.T. chant. Police chased the roaming crowd on motorbikes and on foot. I watched as a pink-haired woman was collared for disorderly conduct --the official charge for walking in the street --and tried to part the crowd to let the National Lawyer’s Guild observer get close enough to watch the arrest. Shouts of “Whose streets? Our streets!” challenged the cops who occupied the roads.
The mood towards the police was understandably hostile. Just two months earlier, Officer Peter Liang of the NYPD was indicted for manslaughter after he shot 28-year old African-American Akai Gurley in a housing projects stairwell. A judge had ruled earlier that day that Liang did not deserve a new trial after a number of delays to his sentencing. Add that to the lack of justice for Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin...and one can understand why there was so much shouting that black lives matter.
I ducked out of the protest on account of work the next morning, and apparently not a moment too soon: about thirty people were arrested. Most of those were probably for the heinous offense of walking in the street.
The only city where protesters had managed to shut down a Trump event so far has been Chicago. These badass militants celebrated their accomplishment by shouting “We gon’ be alright,” borrowing from the verse of Kendrick Lamar. Out in front of the police barricades around Grand Central, the New Yorkers chanted the same thing. Even if they wouldn’t ultimately shut down Trump that night, the thousands of individuals who came out had proven that they were committed to making sure things turned out alright.
#Real #Essay #StumpTrump #Protests #NYC #Activism #BlackLivesMatter
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