How Trump's presidency has kicked off a wave of resistance in the US
28 April 2017
It’s been hard to find silver linings in the United States these last few months. Our arcane electoral system put a no-holds-barred bigot in office, and – via a disastrous budget bill and healthcare proposal – his party is competing with itself over who can condemn the most poor people of colour to lives of poverty and misery.
The silver lining, while hard to spot amidst Trump’s xenophobic onslaught, is that Americans aren’t taking it lying down. People from well outside the usual activist networks are now dead set on resisting Trump. Greeting him on his inauguration weekend were as many as 4.6 million people across 550 cities turning out for the Women’s March, the largest single day of protest in United States history. For many (my parents included) it was their first protest of any kind, and many of those who attended are keeping momentum up back home.
Indivisible, a freshly-started group to pressure elected officials into rejecting Trump’s agenda, now claims nearly 6,000 chapters nationwide. Membership in groups like the Democratic Socialists of America, voicing a politics long thought taboo in America’s post-Cold War fog, has ballooned to 20,000. Across the board, social movements are growing bolder than at any point in recent memory. And it’s having an effect.
Consider the alliances that helped defeat Trump’s Muslim travel ban, which would have barred refugees from the country for 120 days and restricted travel for people with passports from seven majority-Muslim nations. Within hours of the Executive Order coming down from the White House on 27 January, thousands of people rushed to airports, at the urging of several community organisations that serve undocumented immigrants. Inside airports, travelers, some coming stateside for the first time, others returning home from short trips, were told they would be unable to enter the country, many without a place to return to.
Meanwhile, lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) huddled around outlets in baggage claim to draft up defences for clients stranded in limbo and legal challenges to the order itself. That weekend, federal judges in New York and Massachusetts temporarily blocked part of the ban and issued a temporary restraining order on federal immigration officials from enforcing it. By 3 February, US district court judge James Robart had blocked its main provisions.
Helping in the victory, too, was an early February strike by Yemeni corner shop owners here in New York, many themselves hit hard by Trump’s anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric. “I don’t care about the money,” shop owner-turned-striker Ragehi Hussein told New York’s Village Voice, “I care about what happens in the world.” When the taxi drivers’ union called a work stoppage on the day of the airport demonstrations, cab app company Uber scabbed, sending drivers to airports where taxis had agreed to make a show of defiance. The move sparked outrage, and as many as 200,000 people deleted the Uber app in protest.
Trump’s administration contested the judges’ decision in court , and were rebuffed at each turn – eventually sending the White House back to the drawing board. Another just slightly “watered-down version”, to borrow Trump’s words, was stopped in the courts less than a month later, hours before it was set to take effect on 15 March.
For all the horrors of Trump’s still-congealing administration, it seems to be unleashing something still more encouraging than numbers: a sense of shared struggle and an increasing tendency toward bold action. Those flooding into the streets are doing so against sexism and Islamophobia and draconian attacks on the poor. Aside from calling for a $15 minimum wage and to support water protectors at Standing Rock, the platform for 8 March’s International Women’s Day strike stated resolutely that “we want to dismantle all walls, from prison walls to border walls, from Mexico to Palestine”.
There’s no denying the next few years will be brutal: many of the fights will be defensive, and communities across the country will be exposed to new and terrifying levels of risk. But Trump has faced a more embattled first two months than he could have imagined. If movements keep up, it will only get worse for him.
Photo: Joe Piette/Flickr. Protest at Philadelphia airport following Trump's original 'Muslim ban'
This article is taken form the forthcoming issue of Ninety Nine magazine on 'The world in the age of Trump'.