Wednesday November 08, 2017

'Street protest is broken': What's become of large-scale demonstrations against Trump?

Protesters block members of the press as they chain themselves to an entry point at the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, Jan. 20, 2017.

Protesters block members of the press as they chain themselves to an entry point at the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, Jan. 20, 2017. (Reuters)

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It was one year ago that Americans elected Donald Trump to the White House.

And now a year later, recent polls show that as president, Trump is facing the lowest approval ratings in the history of U.S. presidential polling. 

Those opposed to Trump's election plan to mark the day by — in their words — screaming helplessly to the sky.  But fewer anti-Trump protesters are pounding the pavement in organized large-scale protests. 

According to activist Micah White, one of the founders of the Occupy movement, the lack of numbers is because "traditional street protest is broken."

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Demonstrators protest against the election of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump in front of the White House, Nov. 9, 2016. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

He argues protest alone doesn't work but warns to be mindful not to get co-opted into Democratic Party politics.

"It is an interesting moment where activists are transitioning from street protests to trying to figure out some sort of electoral solution. But there's also a danger that they could fall into the various establishment politics that is the reason why Trump was elected," Michah tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

'We've got to organize and use all the tools from marches to civil disobedience to the ballot box to organize around the change we want." - Becky Bond

Activists want to do more than march, says Becky Bond, a former senior Democratic adviser in the Bernie Sanders campaign, "they want to work to change things."

"People are taking the power into their own hands, and they are attacking elections in ways that we haven't seen in the last 20 years here in the United States," Bond tells Tremonti.

"People understand we need change and it's up to them to win it. And so we're seeing massive turnout at the ballot box behind policies like the expansion of Medicaid."

As activists, the way forward is about focusing on a "yes" agenda, Bond says, quoting Canadian Naomi Klein's book title, "No is not enough."

"I do believe that 'yes' sustains civil disobedience and is an important tool," Bond explains and adds a "no" agenda is not enough to make change that is needed.

Trump Inauguration Protests

Becky Bond says activists need to organize around what they want - not what they don't want. (Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press)

Focusing on the "yes" gives people a chance to vote for something they believe in, Bond explains. 

Similarly with protests and civil disobedience, Bond says, activists can't just be organizing around "what we don't want."

"There also has to be the 'yes' that we can embrace and make happen. And until we have a 'yes' that we can organize behind, we will keep losing to demagogues like Trump who can whip up the public into a frenzy to throw the bums out," Bond says.

"We've got to organize and use all the tools from marches to civil disobedience to the ballot box to organize around the change we want."

'The problem with Trump isn't necessarily his right-wing agenda. The problem is that he is an autocrat. He believes that ... he alone can save the world.' - Micah White

Bond tells Tremonti that America is in a crisis. With no universal health care and families risking bankruptcy to fund medical emergencies, "people in America are hurting."

She says this is why "elections really matter."

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A young protester offers her solution 'to make America great again.' (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

"So we cannot allow populists to use hate to whip up people who, you know, lack basic resources to live their lives in dignity."

Understanding the validity of populism

White takes issue with demonizing populism as an activism tactic — "Occupy Wall Street was a populist movement." 

He argues what's at stake right now is how decisions are made.

"The problem with Trump isn't necessarily his right-wing agenda. The problem is that he is an autocrat. He believes that ... he alone can save the world. That he alone can make the proper decisions," White explains.

"What we're trying to do is revive actual democracy which means giving decision-making power to the greatest number of people possible."

Trump Protests New York

'The only movement that can go forward is going to be a left-right hybrid movement,' says Micah White. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

White warns "not to learn the wrong lesson from Donald Trump" and understand there's validity in populism.

"I think there is something very valid about the concerns of right-wing people and I think that the only movement that can go forward is going to be a left-right hybrid movement," White tells Tremonti.

In his view, the future of resistance activism needs to channel populism and combine "a kind of global universal spirit to actually confront what's going on in the world."

"The time of this kind of sectarian progressive leftism is over."

Listen to the full conversation above — including William Kaplan, author of Why Dissent Matters.

This segment was produced by The Current's Amra Pasic and Pacinthe Mattar