This is What Democracy Looks Like

November 20, 2016

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” -Desmond Tutu

 

People around the nation have erupted in political discontent and anger as post-election protests continue to organize, march and chant in solidarity. In response to an unfavorable outcome, people from the numerous groups which President-Elect Donald Trump has publicly offended without hesitation or apology, have taken to the streets in unity to stand in opposition. That sentiment has been exemplified by protests that have taken place from the east to west coasts, with some of the largest happening in New York City and Portland, Oregon. The latter, like all acts of civil disobedience, began as a peaceful demonstration, but agitators and opportunists began damaging public and private property, evoking a media frenzy of denouncing the collective as rioters. The depiction of these acts of opposition as being violent minimizes the legitimacy of the problems that people, who are openly refusing to accept injustice, face. By portraying protesters — the marginalized groups of society whose rights are compromised by the outcome of this presidential election — as incorrigible rioters, it undermines the real injustices that they, that we as a nation of diverse and underrepresented peoples encounter. Angela Davis, Civil Rights activist and scholar, best said about violence:

 

“When you talk about a revolution, most people think violence, without realizing that the real content of any kind of revolutionary thrust lies in the principles and the goals that you’re striving for, not in the way you reach them...Because of the way this society is organized, because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere, you have to expect that there are going to be such explosions.”

 

On Friday, Nov. 18, Clevelanders joined the national trend in its second protest since the election. The group of about 150-200 people at its peak of momentum included representation from Socialist and anti-Fascist groups, LGBT rights organizations, feminist groups and more. Many individuals were not aligned with any organization, but still marched and chanted “No justice, no peace,” and held signs that read “We refuse to be silent in times of discrimination and abuse of power,” and “Free Speech does not excuse racism.”

 

The event was organized on Facebook by Cleveland activists Carl Ricco and Martins Krebs. “Everybody’s out here for their own reasons, but we wanted to come together and give them a voice,” said Ricco, who was leading the group with a bullhorn as they marched along Euclid Ave., passing Playhouse Square and Cleveland State University’s campus. There, I spoke to CSU Police Chief Gary Lewis, who said that he encouraged the protesters to express their First Amendment rights, but that the police department was ensuring the protection of CSU’s property.  By the time the group circled back to Public Square, speakers with microphones offered rallying cries, backdropped by the Terminal Tower, aglow with Christmas lights. However, the lack of unity was evident, said Jeannette Thomas, transgender student at Cleveland State. She explained that, like Ricco said, there were so many different agendas and motivations of protesters, that it was difficult to feel a sense of cohesion. Perhaps that is reflective of our generation of activists; we all face and recognize injustice and want to fight it, but the greatest roadblock to our struggle as we define what our generation’s legacy will be, is that we are not united. It is challenging to find common platforms when there are limitless injustices to speak out against, and overall, we struggle to translate passion and disdain into palpable policy change.

Photos by Evan Prunty 

 

I keep hearing responses to Trump’s rise to power like, “If you didn’t vote, don’t complain,” and “give him a chance,” but I can’t fathom extending the olive branch to someone whose concept of what America should be was the same kind of thinking that led to Japanese Internment Camps and the Holocaust. How can we “Make America Great Again” when Trump’s vision of greatness is cultural intolerance and divisiveness? I am unable to simply report upon the response of the people to the outcome of the election without recognizing that as an impoverished, black woman, I embody exactly who, in a Great Trump America, neither contributes to our greatness nor belongs. With millions of people around the nation, I too am grieving for what feels like such a tremendous loss.

 

Frozen. Mouth gaping wide open, eyes swelling with tears, a feeling of immense sadness cycling through my nerves. That was how I lie in bed on the morning of November 9, stunned with panic and fear, disbelief and grief when I tapped the screen of my phone and asked Google to tell me who’d won the race. The night before, I reassured myself that there was no possibility that he could clinch the election, and chose not to stay up and watch incoming final poll results. I heard my mother downstairs, an undercurrent of despair in her voice. My mom emigrated from Bologna, Italy 30 years ago after she’d met my father in Germany, and like many immigrants, was called to the United States by the beckoning of the American Dream. To her dismay, and in spite of the values of freedom and diversity that this nation prides itself upon, the man who demonizes and threatens immigrants has now risen to arguably one of the most powerful positions in the entire world. Not only has his rhetoric hurt immigrants, but countless other groups who as a composite, make up a significant portion of our population.

 

I think about the numerous facets of life that so many people count on to survive, and what will become of them. What will become of Planned Parenthood and women’s rights when we have a President-Elect who has advocated for cutting the benefactor organization’s funding, and who shows no remorse for openly condoning sexual harassment and grabbing women “by the pussy”? What is to become of the environment when we have a President-Elect who believes that climate change is a Chinese hoax, and who is considering appointing Myron Ebell, another climate change skeptic, to lead his EPA transition team? What is to become of the American Indians and allies protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline when we have a President-Elect who does not value multiculturalism and favors profits over human rights? What is to become of Latino citizens when we have a President-Elect who calls them rapists and criminals? What is to become of undocumented children, shivering in fear, when we have a President-Elect who threatens to deport them back to their war-torn countries? What is to become of Muslim Americans when we have a President-Elect who is already laying out plans to register them for identification, like the Jews of the 1940s and their gold stars. I worry for our future as a nation, but I know that through the power of civil disobedience and standing up to oppression, we shall overcome. We shall not waver in our protest and opposition. We must continue to live and to educate ourselves, to arm ourselves with the power that comes from knowledge, and we must teach our children to be tolerant and compassionate beings with a sense of justice so that they may rectify our mistakes.

 

Do not despair, organize.

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