I spent the afternoon celebrating my birthday by protesting with about 2000 fellow Rhode Islanders in support of our Muslim and Latino comrades.
Standing out there today, I realized that what we are seeing is the opening of the left Tea Party. Or at least that’s how it feels in Rhode Island. This protest was originally planned to challenge Sheldon Whitehouse’s ridiculous vote to confirm the pro-torture Islamophobe Mike Pompeo to head the CIA. The senator, who is great on most issues, is having an open dinner today. And then yesterday happened. So they combined. With the Senate Democrats the least aware Democrats in the nation about what is happening and the need for massive resistance, they need pressure. And they are getting it. Other politicians are getting it. Governor Raimondo was there and despite my strong disagreements with her over many issues, she is there with us on protecting the vulnerable people of the community. Also, in a very Rhode Island move, the governor’s husband spoke about how those intolerant Massachusetts bastards kicked Roger Williams out of their colony 382 years ago and we in Rhode Island don’t do those things. Congressman David Cicilline spoke and was awesome, calling any claims that this wasn’t a ban directed as Muslims “bullshit,” a big change from the neoliberal mode where he started his career. Congressman Jim Langevin couldn’t speak because he’s wheelchair bound and the event was on the capitol steps, but Cicilline informed us that he shared our views too. That’s important, because Langevin unfortunately has not been with us on Syrian refugees in the past. Providence mayor Jorge Elorza, another person with whom I have strong disagreement on many issues, has also been excellent on this and gave a good speech. But what is clear that there is a motivated, angry left that is going to demand fealty to ideals of justice, fairness, and equality from our Democratic politicians. And we are going to make sure Whitehouse and Jack Reed (who is frankly clueless about what is actually happening in Rhode Island on many issues) do the right thing. And we are going to make our dumpster fire Democrats in the state legislature do the right thing too.
The protest then marched to Whitehouse’s event, but I had to leave because I’m probably more valuable to the movement as a writer than just another body and I have two magazine articles and a law review article on how the Trump administration is going to affect food workers (answer: I kind of want to eat salmonella and just end it) due by Tuesday. In fact, I shouldn’t even be writing this post, but whatever.
With the fascist administration evidently refusing to go along with the judiciary and let the detained Muslims have access to their lawyers, more protest is going to be needed. And here’s the thing about protest–direct action politics motivate people to get involved in the political system. Yes, I vote. But do I go to the statehouse and directly place pressure on Rhode Island politicians? No, I haven’t really done that outside of submitting testimony on a single bill. That’s not a particularly engaged citizen, despite writing about politics. But now, I and thousands of others are getting engaged in a more direct way. That matters and it will really matter in the next legislative session with bills already introduced against immigrants, as well as bills to protect them.
Despite the strange belief by those who are personally uncomfortable with protest politics that protesters are a bunch of wankers who engage in purity politics and don’t show up to vote, in fact, protest creates the most possibly engaged voters who find new ways to influence the system. Even on last night’s post, there were some comments (and there really were on the LGM Facebook page about it) saying that protest didn’t really matter in the judges’ stay of the Fascist Trump’s executive order and that it all was a sign that “the system works” and we don’t need protest. This is ridiculous. First, judges do not operate in a vacuum. If you don’t have thousands of people take to the streets and shut down airports, this is not nearly as immediate. The judges won’t work as fast. Second, politicians don’t come out against the ban without the protests. This is all everyone’s talking about, except of course for the fact that a Nazi is running American foreign policy. If you want to fight Trump, you need active resistance. And that resistance is quite likely going to need to be escalated to placing bodies between state security and our most vulnerable comrades. This is how preparing for that starts. We need lawyers and politicians and judges. We also need activists and organizers. They are the ones who made the JFK protest happen last night, not the ACLU, although that organization is great and played a key role. But it was grassroots activism that started it. And of course we need you. And me. And everyone else.
As I and many others have stated, if you ever wondered what you have done when Adolf Hitler took power in Germany or Francisco Franco in Spain or Augusto Pinochet in Chile, well now you know. You would do exactly what you are doing now. If that’s going into the streets, then great. If that’s complaining about protestors or whining about liberals or whining about the left, then that’s what you would have done in 1933, 1937, and 1973. Only you can stop Trump. So do it.