Since the election of Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States on November 8, 2016 – a day that I hope will truly live on in infamy – protestors across the land have taken to the streets. From New York to Chicago to Portland, Oregon, down through Arizona and across the flatlands and south to Florida, men, women, children with parents, across race, religion, age, sexuality, citizenship have refused to accept as president a man whose campaign was fueled by racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, and lies. As it stands, sad to say, we have no immediate choice in this matter in the sense of undoing the election’s outcome. I say we because two days after the election I was on the streets of downtown Louisville with protestors yelling “Not My President” along with a cornucopia of other chants in which I joined as they rose, fell, changed, roared again.
Our deepest anger and our collective wish to undo the process that allowed Trump’s entrance into the White House will have to happen in stages. We hate the Electoral College, as well we should, as it belongs in the 18th century along with slavery, which was the reason it existed to begin with. We hate the incompetence with which the Democratic Party elites derailed the campaign of a contender who could have beaten Trump to push into the candidacy an otherwise brilliant, accomplished, life-long public servant who nonetheless sated their fears of keeping establishment status quos in place that would enable their rise up the ranks in a Clinton administration. We hate that we have to sit back (metaphorically speaking) and watch overt racists and domestic abusers like alt-right fake media mogul Stephen Bannon get picked as the president-elect’s closest advisors. We hate that so much fear has to course through us even as we fight the bigotry that Trump’s election has given permission to come out openly, proudly.
And so we protest. We exercise our First Amendment rights of free expression, assembly, and airing grievances. Grievances of which we have so many. And, for a time, we’re shutting down roads and highways, and we’re stoking the president-elect’s tweeting addiction to use 140 characters in installments to admonish us as paid henchmen and women of unknown cabals to go out and protest, and then turn around and say we’re not. But the protests are happening, joined by walkouts by high school and college students, at this point on a daily basis. I find extreme joy in it. I want the protests to be round-the-clock events that, like the Trump rallies we’ve been put through on cable news networks for seventeen months, get on the nerves of Trump supporters and make them want to throw things at their TVs.
But I must ask, to what end? I’ll step in as often as I’m able when the protest is in my vicinity, and then I’ll go home and go to bed, albeit too charged up, too angry to sleep. Part of that anger, as it was after the Louisville protest, was because I felt like it was a great high, lots of sound and fury, signifying…what? After we were spent, our lungs and throats raw, our legs and arms tired, the roads reopened, irate drivers cursed some more, Trump voters among them calling us “whiny” and other far worse names, and the few hours’ irritation that was the First Amendment in action became last night’s news item.
A protest is more than a shouting of grievances chorused by thousands of people simultaneously. A protest is civil disobedience of the strongest most disruptive kind, and in its best manifestation literally brings to a halt the mechanisms it is protesting. A protest is an active signal to the powers that be that without our support your system will crash, no matter how many robber barons, banksters, and lobbyists you have on your side. A protest was the Birmingham Bus Boycott. In the form of non-cooperation protests shut down government offices during the British Raj in the Indian Subcontinent. America learned that it could not function as a union without the support and participation of all of its citizens at every level. The British Empire was dead in the Indian Subcontinent when its colonized subjects refused to provide it life support at the cost of their freedoms.
Lest my message here be misconstrued, let me repeat that I will be at the next protest against Trump, Trumpism, and the Trump regime and its cronies the moment it takes place near me, for starters. I’ll be their indefinite champion. But I want the protests to do more. I want civil servants and federal employees and administrative personnel in local, state, and federal positions without whom government would not, could not function to protest, to show their solidarity, to show the GOP that their obstructionism isn’t the only way government can be shut down and held hostage. People that care about human rights, equality, equity, justice, domestic and international peace can also stop the business of government and make the powers listen. The powers of labor and unions have been all but destroyed and burned down to embers in this country. What better opportunity than a mass civil disobedient revolt, nationwide, to revive it?
Even as the nationwide protests are happening, media attention has already turned their backs on them. In focus now is the circus that is the Trump transition. Yes, we need to know what’s happening and how it’s happening since millions of us are going to feel the adverse affects of a Trump cabinet and Trump appointees to the highest and most powerful offices and positions in the federal government more than those supporters who voted for Trump despite his racist, sexist, misogynist campaign platform.
Those people can afford to, even though to date Trump has done nothing but appoint and shortlist people to be in his government that exemplify Wall Street interests, are deep in the establishment, and are lobbyists for corporate and big money interests – exactly the kind of sludge of whom Trump promised his loyal base he would drain the swamp. But the sad fact of the matter is that the protests have already become expendable. They’re not worthy of interrupting national coverage of the Trump transition because they do not yet pose a direct and meaningful challenge to Trumpism and, more importantly, to the systemic failures that powered its rise. That is not a shortcoming of the protestors, but an indication that their anger and defiance are not being taken seriously, and to make matters worse are being maligned, ridiculed, and dismissed. Therefore, the impact of the protests needs to be more immediately active.
Organizing, engaging, drawing alliances are all good and necessary parts of the process, but here are some things that are happening already that give me pause. Democratic leaders are showing too much keenness to give Trump a chance, thereby setting the dangerous and misguided precedent of normalizing the hate on which Trump rode to the White House. Every time a member of the Democratic Party gives Trump an inch, they’re giving his entire playbook, philosophy, and platform a mile. Progressive favorites of mine like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, to whom millions of us have been holding up our faces and our cries, have also come too close to offering Trump a handshake, which has gotten the message across to protestors and activists against Trump and Trumpism that their movement may not have the solid support it needs from the ground up. If the DNC is truly going to build from the grassroots and restructure a party platform out of the debris of its previous form, which needed to go, and parts of which still need to be undone, then they need to look to and encourage the protestors, and along with them every person in government who understands their plight that are fearful of losing their jobs – rightfully so – but are silent comrades wishing the movement well.
Walkouts are great. Young people walking out of their high school and college classrooms reinforce my hope that they’re doing more than giving themselves stiff necks from being tuned into their phones. Their shows of solidarity join the ranks of headlines and ticker tapes for one news cycle. Until the next one, yet again for one iteration. Because life in the halls of power goes on. Nothing comes to a damaging halt except half a school day in a town or city hundreds of miles away from Washington. A few dedicated students and supportive teachers make a splash and example that ought to multiply a thousand-fold but doesn’t. If government employees followed that example and truly shut down the country, protest would acquire its true meaning in spades. Nationwide protests need to be just that: bring the nation into its center so it has no choice but to be trapped inside it, held hostage, until its so-called leaders, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Independent, come running, pleading, begging the people to have their grievances addressed.
On May 4, 1970 the Ohio National Guard murdered four unarmed students at Kent State University who were peacefully protesting the bombing of Cambodia by the Nixon administration. The Sixties had reached a calamitous end with the murders of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy. By 1968 Barry Goldwater’s extreme right wing conservatism, and Alabama Governor George Wallace’s KKK-backed segregationist platform had seemingly been bombarded out of mainstream U.S. politics.
Enter the Southern Strategy, a tacit, targeted, and calculated policy cultivated by the dejected Republican Party to reach out to the equally dejected white population of the south by reigniting their racism against African Americans, by giving their bigotry a voice in the guise of a “culture war” to take back their country. President-elect Donald J. Trump today stands on that very platform.
The protests today against Trumpism are a protest against a cultural shift (backward) as well as a political moment in the United States that goes back too far to be dismantled in one presidential term. Worst-case scenario, two. For in the span of four to eight years the backward march America entered on Nov. 9, 2016 will fulfill the terrifying and dangerous message already being brandished by the incoming Trump administration and its personnel: that the United States is a fundamentalist Christian white supremacist nation and severe consequences await those that stand outside that box. The Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the democratic experiment that is the U.S. republic stand threatened by the demagoguery and perilous ineptitude of Trump. It will take stronger, more disrupting protests to fight this neofascist regime. It will take the very mechanism to be sabotaged, to render the Trump presidency helpless and non-functioning.
The pushback to my argument here will be that I want to see the country fail. No. I want to see Donald Trump and Trumpism fail, and fail horrendously. I want him and his “brand” of presidency to fail so badly that a state of emergency is declared and the nation faces a possible coup d’etat. Given Trump’s ignorance and blatant disregard of the Constitution a coup isn’t a far cry. And then I want the protestors to surround Congress, sit-in, sit down, brave the seasons and the elements, and demand the start of a democracy led by the demos, the people.
An exercise of thought is as potent as the actions it leads to. But sometimes thoughts are merely thoughts. We have countless ones, they come and go, and not all of them, thankfully in many cases, are brought to fruition. But I am convinced that we need to expect more from our protests, right now. We can prepare for mid-term elections in 2018, and hope against hope that Congress is flipped. Okay, fine, it’s good to have a definite goal. It’s important to organize, engage, and build. But we need also keep in mind that the handwringing, placatory, playing nice approach the Democratic leadership is already resurrecting and polishing will slam into our faces another bitter defeat, both in 2018, and in 2020 with the reelection of Donald Trump. By then it won’t matter if we’re ready to protest four more years. The engines haven’t been sabotaged, and the gears haven’t been forced to lock up. At that point we will only be screaming near and around each other, and then return home exhausted, angry, and unable to sleep. We must make it count while we’re awake.
Nadeem Zaman was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh and raised there and in Chicago. His fiction has appeared in Roanoke Review, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Open Road Review, The Milo Review, WinningWriters.com, 94 Creations, Eastlit Journal, China Grove, The East Bay Review, The Copperfield Review, I-70 Review, and his non-fiction has appeared in the Dhaka Tribune and Salon.com.