As a tool for political change, protest has a long history in the United States. Between 1848 and 1920, the Women’s Suffrage Movement used numerous protest methods to promote voting rights for women. From the mid 1950s to the late 1960s, masses of people throughout the country protested against the systematic denial of civil rights to African-Americans. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence itself was a written form of protest against British rule.
As this history shows, in the United States, protests and related forms of civil disobedience have been an effective tool for challenging the deprivation of basic rights. It is unsurprising, then, that thousands upon thousands of Americans have responded to Donald Trump’s numerous, well-documented threats against a wide variety of groups, from Muslims to Hispanics, by heading to the streets. These protesters have been demonstrating against a year’s worth of outlandish statements and out-right lies that include, but are not limited to, the following:
- “If you look at Black and African American youth…African American youth are…to a point where they’ve never done more poorly. There’s no spirit. There’s killings on an hourly basis virtually in places like Baltimore and Chicago and many other places…There’s no spirit.” Donald Trump, June 23rd, 2015, Annual Dinner of the Maryland GOP.
Clearly, Donald Trump can only trade in stereotypes and sound bites when it comes to talking about the African American community. These comments, which were made during a discussion on race relations following the shooting at Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17th of last year, downplays the poverty that has engulfed the African American population in Baltimore and Chicago. More importantly, Trumps’ statements do little to address or acknowledge the structural forces that have created these socio-economic challenges.
Trump has a long history of being insensitive (and worse) on racial issues. The book Trumped!, written by the former president of Trump Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, John R. O’Donnell, reveals some of the other racist comments made by the Republican candidate. O’Donnell reports that Trump once said, in reference to a black accountant: “Laziness is a trait in blacks.” He went on to say that he had many “black people” counting his money, but that “I hate it…the only guys I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes all day.” As if it was not enough to denigrate the African American community, Trump managed to generalize about Jews, in the same breath. As quoted by Politico, he even casually stated, “I’m a negotiator like you folks,” while addressing the Republican Jewish Committee Board in December 2015,
- “Donald J. Trump is calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”—Donald Trump, December 7, 2015, Mount Pleasant, SC.
￼Taking advantage of both the November terrorist attacks in Paris and December attack in Southern California, Trump’s call for draconian measures to be taken against Muslims has and will likely continue to have real repercussions for America’s Muslim population.
Time and time again, history has shown that when any religious group is marginalized, there are serious, negative consequences for the basic rights of its members. The Pew Research Center estimates that 3.3 million Americans are Muslim. That is 3.3 million people whom Trump appears to feel quite comfortable holding responsible for terrorism, both at home and abroad. Of course, the facts come nowhere near supporting Trump’s rhetoric. According to statistics, out of 207 American mass shootings in 2015, only one was committed by Muslims. But even if the statistics were higher, blanket statements about the inherent “dangerousness” of Muslims are little more than bold-faced bigotry.
- “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?” – appearing on Donald Trump’s Twitter account on May 7, 2013.
Apparently, Trump believes that a woman who is in close proximity to a man deserves to be raped. Already, American women and their bodies are being attacked on a daily basis, by the media, rampant sexual assaults, and high rates of domestic violence. These women should not have to also contend with misogynistic comments from the Republican’s party presumptive nominee.
While one might argue that Trump is just giving the American public what it wants, it is clear his misogyny has a long history. He has described Hilary Clinton as unable to please her husband, and has publicly called Bette Midler (and let’s not forget Rosie O’Donnell) unattractive.
In TrumpNation, a book from well-known investigative report Tim O’Brien that looks at Trump’s financial rise and fall, quotes the presidential candidate describing his favorite line from the movie Pulp Fiction: “My favorite part [of ‘Pulp Fiction’] is when Sam has his gun out in the diner and he tells the guy to tell his girlfriend to shut up. Tell that bitch to be cool. Say: ‘Bitch be cool.’ I love those lines.”
- “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” – Donald Trump, June 16, 2015, Trump Tower, NYC.
By now, Donald Trump has become notorious for these and other derogatory comments about Hispanics. During his presidential announcement speech in June 2015, Trump openly called people of Mexican heritage criminals and rapists. Like most of the other statements Trump has made, the facts completely contradict his claims. As the Center for Immigration Studies has shown, immigrants, as a whole, make up a tiny percentage of the U.S. criminal population – by extension, Hispanic immigrants must account for an even small sliver of criminal activity in the United States. It is, as such, far more likely that an individual born and raised within the United States will commit a criminal act. Even if Latin American immigrants were somehow disproportionately involved in crime, that would hardly justify Trump’s blanket, racist statements
Between African Americans, Jews, Muslims, Women, and Hispanics, Donald Trump has effectively insulted or threatened a majority of Americans. He has not stopped with rhetoric, however, and, has actively encouraged his supporters to use violence against those they do not like. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, at a rally with Sarah Palin in Iowa on February 1, 2016, Trump encouraged his followers to attack protesters: “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you?…I promise you, I will pay the legal fees.”
Given the intensifying threats to both the rights and safety of anyone who opposes Trump, protests against him and his campaign are not only inevitable, but necessary. And they are also increasingly effective.
On the evening of March 11, Trump was scheduled to hold a rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). UIC has a large minority population: 5% of its student body is African American (roughly 2,000) and 8.1% are Hispanic (about 3,500). 22% of the school’s population is made up of international students (approximately 10,000). Minority groups make up the majority of the city of Chicago itself. Out of a population of about 2,722,389 people, 39% are African American and 28.9% are Hispanic.
Given these demographics, it is unsurprising that Trump’s rally was met by a large, spirited, and diverse group of protesters.
Due to the enormous turnout, Trump canceled his appearance, much to the anger of his supporters. Following the cancellation, Trump claimed his First Amendment rights had been violated. While being interviewed by CNN’s Don Lemon, Trump stated, “We made a decision, even though our freedom of speech was violated totally. We made a decision not to go forward. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt. You would have had some people possibly getting hurt or beyond. So I made the decision, in conjunction with law enforcement.”
The First Amendment protects Americans from government-led infringements against their freedom of speech. In this case, local authorities did not urge or force Trump to shut down the rally. The Chicago Police Department (CPD) itself publicly stated that it did not recommend Trump cancel the rally. In fact, CPD spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, told the Associated Press that the department had more than enough man power to contain the situation.
Unlike Trump’s tendency to instigate physical fights, demonstration organizers issued no calls for violence. The Trump Rally Protest Facebook Invite, issued by the group “Stop Trump—Chicago” was one of the largest word-of-mouth methods for organizing the protests. Nowhere on the page is there any call to violence, implicit or explicit.
By and large, protesters remained peaceful throughout the demonstration. But, of course, organizers could not possibly control every person who attended the demonstrations. So, there were some instances of mild violence, or “violent scuffles” as described by The New York Times. Seeing that Chicago witnessed 468 murders in 2015, the fact that any attention was paid to these “scuffles” at all boggles the mind.
“I don’t believe Trump or his supporters were in danger, any more than they put themselves in danger when they choose to instigate fights. Throwing a Hitler salute in someone’s face (which happened on at least three occasions that night both inside the venue and out) is putting yourself in danger,” says journalist Aaron Cynic. Aaron covered the rally for Chicagoist.com.
“Scuffles happened, and I witnessed several,” says Cynic. “The crowd itself was non-violent as a whole, but there were violent people in the crowd (mostly on the Trump side). The scuffles I saw break out (4 or 5) were generally brought on by Trump supporters, who would flood in a group towards someone or a group that was either obviously anti-Trump, or looked like they could be (people of color, mostly). Words turned to shouting, which in some cases turned into violence.”
Cynic continued, “Today [March 12th], I watched a sitting U.S. Senator from Illinois say at a press conference, ‘if you have a grievance [against Trump], you don’t take it to the barricades, you take it to the ballot box,’” He was referring to Senator Dick Durbin, who accused the crowd of being violent and too bold: “I don’t believe shouting someone down is an exercise of free speech,” he said, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
I share Aaron’s dismay with the Senator’s comments. If we never protested as a nation, where would we be? As Cynic observed, “If no one took their grievances to the barricades and beyond, in the 60’s, we’d still be sitting at separate lunch counters. If no one took their grievances to the barricades women, people of color and anyone who isn’t a straight white landowning Christian male wouldn’t be able to go to the ballot box. If no one took their grievances to the barricades we wouldn’t have an 8 hour workday.”
Much like the demonstrations taking place at his other rallies, the protest that happened in Chicago was a reaction to the threat Trump poses to the basic rights of many Americans – to their (our) right to life, liberty, and religion. Can we, as a proudly diverse country, sit in silence while the frontrunner of one of two major political parties incites his followers to violence? Are we expected to stand by and take his verbal abuse?
For the thousands of Chicagoans who took to the street last Friday night, the answer is a clear and resounding, “No.”