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Why I protest the Trump administration

For the last few months, maybe even close to a year now, I’ve noticed that political memes and updates by some vocal Trump supporters on Facebook often come from sources called “Boo F*ckin Hoo” or “Sorry if the truth hurts” or “Liberal babies,” and the primary message of these posts is “Liberals are whiny snots who don’t understand how good they have it.”That protesters shouldn’t be protesting. Some carry the message that we’re sore losers, and that they didn’t protest against Obama’s presidency (setting aside that some did), so it’s juvenile for anti-Trumpians protest the Trump inauguration. The argument that protesting the inauguration is “whiny” is often based in the Trump supporter’s respect for the democratic process, and the assumption that I don’t respect that process if it doesn’t go my way.

Respect for our democratic process is EXACTLY WHY I AM PROTESTING.

There are some basic traditions/assumptions about how our government works. People in positions of power (ideally) get their appointments based on merit: on experience, skill, a personality that will work well on a team and act as a lubricant. It’s exactly how we would like any employer to hire their employees. The president has previous experience managing in government, and the successful ones have a magnetism that makes it easier to get things done. Reagan, for example, a former movie star and governor, and patron saint of modern conservatism. The heads of EPA, Department of Defense, and other departments have experience in those departments, such as academia or research or in administration, and they have evidence in their work history that they are capable leaders in their field.

From the top down, the Trump administration has none of these merits. Trump’s picks for his cabinet include people with no experience but with long campaign donation histories or with political sway and early statements of support for his run for presidency, partisan critics who have stated they want to completely dismantle institutions that protect Americans and that predate the Obama administration, friends of friends, and at the very worst, warmongers and white supremacists who incite unfounded fear that leads to unexamined, blinding hate. His picks would sound like a joke if they weren’t his actual picks and thus so tragic:

  • Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart “news” who is currently Trump’s chief strategist and supposedly the architect behind the shoddily designed, poorly implemented Muslim ban
  • Betsy DeVos, his pick for Dept of Education who has never worked in education, who wants to abandon the public school system in favor of vouchers, and who has made $200 million in contributions to the GOP
  • Rex Tillerson, former head of Exxon-Mobil and Trump’s pick for Secretary of State who was given a friendship medal by Russia/Putin. Nope, no possible conflicts of interest there.
  • Rick Perry, pick for Department of Energy and climate change denier who once said he wanted to scrap the department and who didn’t understand his job role in the new administration.
  • Jeff Sessions, pick for Attorney General and old-fashioned racist.
  • Ben Carson, former neurosurgeon, bizarre pyramid theorist, and pick for Housing and Urban Development solely because he’s Black and thus understands the issues of all Black folk. Also the only non-white.
  • Andrew Puzder, anti-union and anti-minimum wage chief executive of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. and pick for Labor Secretary

 

Trump himself is a private business owner who has needed to answer only to himself and his investors, and he has a trail of lawsuits documenting manipulation of his customers to increase his bottom line. This is not somebody I would trust to balance the interests of an entire country. He has no political experience whatsoever. Some people like this about him, but the fact that he doesn’t understand the basic mechanisms of politics and governance worries me. Throughout the presidential race, he showed that he is tone-deaf not only to the language and norms of political world (or even the real world – see: his Twitter account, “grab her by the pussy,” the disturbingly threatening body language he used when debating Clinton), but to the ethics that bind politicians. I want my politicians to value the concerns of all Americans, not just those that voted for them. I want them to listen, and I want them to respond to the concerns of Americans. Trump doesn’t even pretend to do this. Or maybe he does – but only after creating a narrow definition of who can be an American and who can’t. Under the Trump administration, I am not an American, and therefore my concerns don’t matter.

Along with ignoring the ethical responsibility of the president to include all Americans, Trump is ignoring the basic values that make our government work, and which Republicans in particular seem to hold in high regard. He is questioning the authority of the judicial branch, which is supposed to balance his executive branch. He has not divested his personal business interests. He has rejected daily CIA briefings that would help him make major security and policy decisions. However, he continues emotional outbursts on his own personal Twitter account. (Sad!) He has undermined our first amendment rights by stating that flag burners should have their citizenship revoked, refusing to talk to one of the biggest news outlets, and suggesting that our arguably best-researched, most professional, most respected news sources are “fake news” while sending out his stooges to claim “alternative facts” (which has spawned some really great parodies). His recent executive order is in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, and Rudy Giuliani has admitted that Trump approached him to help him make a legal ban against Muslims. I can’t even recall every instance in which he has shown his disregard and disrespect of our laws, and he has only been in power just over two weeks.

And let’s not ignore how much this sounds like authoritarianism, like Mussolini, Chavez, and other world leaders who have done terrible things to their own people. How he throws temper tantrums when other world leaders wouldn’t play ball with him. Let’s not ignore that George Orwell’s 1984 is a current best-seller, and that it was the most-requested title this past week when I sat on the public desk at my library job. And that more than 4 million people showed up to protest his inauguration in the U.S. alone to make for one of our largest protests in history shows the fear that many of us have for our future. And that on my  Facebook feed, all the ambivalent Trump voters who claimed “wait and see” are strangely silent these days.

And that stupid fucking myopic Muslim ban for which he elicited not a shred of input from his military cabinet members, who would have told him it would be a dangerously stupid move in the fight against ISIS, and turned instead to an Islamophobic hatemonger to help him draft it. It’s illegal, and it’s un-American. Nearly all of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. It’s a common narrative on the right (and on the left too), that people came to this country from nothing and were able to raise themselves up.

Once upon a time, I bought into American exceptionalism. I bought into the idea that all the bad stuff that happens in the world couldn’t happen here. That we were somehow immune from it, intrinsically different from other countries. That our system was just, or could be just, simply by the fact that it existed. That we wouldn’t willingly vote an authoritarian into power who will either terribly exploit our system or completely destroy it from the inside. That the words “freedom” and “democracy” meant something more to us, that those principles were stronger than fear and hate. I was wrong. We are no different than any other country, and our democracy is just as fragile as every other ruling system, and it needs regular citizens to stand up and fight to protect it.

And that is why I protest.

 

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This week.

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I have no one word that can accurately express exactly what the last week has been to me.

First there was… whatever happened Monday and Tuesday. I don’t even remember. Writing a ton, I guess, and reposting something on cervical cancer and how women of color are disproportionately affected, and coming out on Facebook to defend Planned Parenthood as somebody who uses their services and has gotten cancer screenings from them. I joined my local state park’s association and got in touch with people doing cleanups, and donated to my cousin’s March of Dimes fund for her adorable son. Then I found a news article buried somewhere on the internet rumoring that Trump was going to sign an executive order to ban refugees for 120 days. I spent the night furiously looking up my representatives’ contact information so I could ask them what they would do to protect and welcome refugees in my town, and what they would do about Connecticut’s sanctuary cities. And about what IRIS needed.

Wednesday I could barely function at work, between hounding my representatives and checking the news every 2 minutes to see if the executive orders went through, and posting entreaties to my Facebook friends. I despaired. I got angry with people who didn’t seem to care that people’s lives might be at risk, or the parallels between the terrible refugee situation we had during World War II and the current rhetoric. Some people online were still talking about alternative facts, and I was worried that the dozen or so refugees I knew… scratch that, it’s more like 20 refugees… would be deported and sent back to a place that wasn’t their home. I learned that the currently settled refugees were safe (for now), but realized that students and friends in academia would be barred from leaving, or at least coming back into, the country that was their workplace and home. And I started wondering what the next step in extreme vetting would be, seeing that refugees already undergo extreme vetting.

This is not justice.

My anger has not abated through the last few days. Through seeing the National Parks Service’s alt-Twitter account materialize, and protests that spontaneously formed at JFK Airport and other airports throughout the country yesterday, where attorneys showed up with handmade signs scrawled “immigration lawyer” in English and Arabic. Through hateful posts on Facebook from people who themselves have been radicalized. Through realizing how illegal, unconstitutional, and un-American it is. And how un-Christian the ban is, and then realizing how many religious conservatives were remaining silent through it all (all of them, it seemed). I did my RCIA readings on the topic of Christian morality and found them timely. I bought a megaphone on Amazon and I played sad songs on guitar until 2 in the morning.

Today was a day of action, though, as I feel so many future days will be, and I let my anger propel me to good actions. I did the church thing and again found the readings resonated with everything going on – the beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12 that steer one’s moral life, the first letter to the Corinthians that states ‘God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong.’ Initially I read that as a reflection of our political climate wherein populists revolted against the “elite” in the Democratic party, and then as a call for me to humble myself before those who don’t feel the same outrage. Maybe it speaks to how our whole democratic system has been pulled upside-down in a matter of days. There are a few ways to read that.

In the afternoon my husband and I went with another student up to Bradley Airport outside Hartford and joined a protest that we found out about the night before, organized by CAIR. Hundreds were in the arrivals section chanting louder than I’ve ever heard before.

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No hate, no fear, refugees / Muslims / immigrants are welcome here.

This is what democracy looks like.

Build a wall, we’ll tear it down.

No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.

There were a couple “We the People” posters with the star-spangled hijabi, and a girl who was wearing her own.

After the protest wound down and I talked to a librarian from western Mass for a few seconds, it was back home to fuel up, then back to New Haven for a benefit concert featuring a bunch of Yale musical groups. We couldn’t make the vigil beforehand, but we heard the turnout was massive. As for the concert turnout, Battell Chapel was at capacity with more than 1100 attendees and standing room only by the time we arrived.

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The talent in this room was amazing. There was a quartet who performed video game music (!) and I had to explain to my husband, who has probably never played an RPG, the greatness of composers like Nobuo Uematsu. I smiled straight through their performance. There were combined choirs who performed peace song medleys, a capella groups, a solo guitarist who used distortion and sampler pedals to perform original works, choirs that performed moving pieces that reminded me of my favorite songs during my choir days, a fun song with a clarinet and electric violin, and an accompanied choir that did “No One Is Alone” and may have involuntarily caused me to cry, because, Sondheim. Didn’t help that I was singing along, though…

The money they raised was astounding too, roughly $14,000 that will benefit IRIS. After the performance, I read from IRIS’ Facebook page that their 5k Run for Refugees a week from now is at capacity, and they’re trying to have a second heat in the afternoon to meet demand.

Maybe we’ll survive the next four years. But only if we keep caring, keep fighting, keep giving, and keep loving.

Indoctrination

Reading people’s Facebook posts amidst the shitstorm that was today’s action against refugees, I came across somebody arguing that colleges indoctrinate America’s youth. Then another argument that it’s liberal teachers in our public schools who are doing the indoctrinating.

They’re right. Memorizing a pledge to recite every morning at school and before every scout meeting before we know the meaning of the word”pledge,” learning to remove our hats and place our hands on our heart the way we get taught to work a zipper or to borrow the 1 and carry it over, learning a tidy history that moves from one era to another, ignoring countries outside of the Americas and Europe, and that claims peaceful reverends who had a beautiful dream were solely responsible for the civil rights movement and everything’s been happiness and candy ever since – that’s indoctrination. Being a young child whose mind is still forming definitions and maps of your world, and overhearing adults say offhand comments followed by “you know how those people are” or jokes about “those people” when you have no actual experience of “those people”and so you color in your map with information from those comments and jokes because you know no other way. That’s indoctrination.

The university is not what made me liberal, and they did not indoctrinate me. I went in slightly right of center in politics and identity, and I was antagonistic to the super-liberals there to the point where I drew a caricature that they published in the newspaper. I left the university still center-right, still suspicious of liberal politics, just with more ammunition to defend the right-leaning parts of my perspective. And I was in the humanities, not science or business or nursing or another major where you’re not dissecting political and social systems at some point in most, if not all of your classes.

What turned me liberal was actually living in and working in and engaging with a city and learning how to recognize the messy history and the injustices from which I was insulated in rural Pennsylvania, and in many cases, from which I am immune. Finally interacting with “those people.” What I saw and heard in a working class Black neighborhood. The books I read about gang economy and code switching. The library patrons who came in every day to look for jobs or get help navigating assistance programs. I’ll get into that in my next post. But for now, I needed to set the record straight on exactly what indoctrination is in this country. It’s not what they say it is.

11.12.16

As a Christian, I am heartbroken. Being a disciple of Christ means working within oneself to extend compassion and love to all human beings and especially to vulnerable people – in 2016 United States that means refugees, women, religious and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, mentally ill, the homeless, the undocumented. Being a Christian to me means possessing a responsibility to make this world a better place for all people in it, not just people who are like me. And this country, one that claims so many other followers of Christ and worshipers of the God who is pure love, has spoken out and voted in defense of myopic self-interest at best, and at worst, the opposite of love: hatred, bigotry, sexism, and xenophobia.

That’s how  I updated my Facebook status on Wednesday, the day after the election. Before this week, I’d sign onto Facebook maybe once a month or so. Since Wednesday, though, I’m on it constantly and putting up multiple posts per day, reading news articles people link to and checking their statuses. I’ve been on Facebook more in the past four days than in the past year. The first day or two were posts like mine, which encouraged me to post my own. Saddened that bigotry won. Unbelieving. Angry and fearful for the LGBT and Muslim and Black and Latino people in their lives. I hoped I’d wake up Wednesday morning, Thursday morning, and it would all be a dream and go away. I felt empty inside, like I had lost something very dear to me. And I had: I’d lost my belief that good would prevail in America, and that we as a nation would act in the best interest of everyone who lived here. After the grief (or rather, concurrent with the grief) came posts about how to fight his policies. How to get active in politics, organizations to donate time and money to, Change.org petitions for the electoral college to follow the popular vote, rallies and marches and community conversations to attend. I donated to Sierra Club and ACLU and shared my story with Planned Parenthood and urged my Facebook followers to do the same. I attended a peaceful protest last night in New Haven, and read the notes for a community conversation that I missed.

The Facebook conversations are changing now to report violence and hate-filled actions. The friend of a friend, an academic in South Philly, had her car keyed and “it’s our pussy now, bitch” or something like that carved into it. Black students in the area of PA where I get up are being bullied and called names. Teachers’ students have gone from asking if their parents will be deported to reporting classmates telling them that their parents will be deported. Somebody opened fire on a protest in Portland. And Donald Trump is silent on the violence that has been condoned by his speech over the past year and that people feel they can come out and say now that he’s won the election.

I understand how the whole “Make America Great Again” message could have resonated. It’s the same reason folks got swept up in Obama’s “Yes We Can” eight years ago. And I treat it with the same deep skepticism that I did Obama’s 2008 campaign. It’s an empty promise with no real path forward. But anyway, Trump was a break from politics as usual, and I know lots of people voted for him as a protest against Hillary Clinton. And in a normal election, protest votes are usually fine. But you can’t deny the racist, sexist underpinnings of his speech, and I cannot forgive those non-racist, non-sexist Trump voters for implicitly giving the green light to the ones who are spray painting swastikas and saying “you’re next” to brown men and women. Especially since his racist and sexist rhetoric was always 1) illegal or 2) unconstitutional. The young, college educated Republicans I know believe the Constitution is a near-sacred document, but lots of them came out and voted for a candidate that doesn’t seem to give a lick about the Constitution. And who endorses racist practices and sexually assaults women. And is a fascist.

I also can’t forgive myself for not fighting harder than I did. I thought we had this. The “sensible” people I talk most with, and the media I consume, told me they and others were going to come out and vote against Trump. I thought I had done my part by participating in social justice stuff at my church and letting some people know about it, posting my photos of a service trip to Nicaragua and sharing a fundraiser link right before our Syrian refugee family came over in July. I should have talked to my grandmothers about how sweet and polite the kids are, and how the parents are desperate to learn English and find work, and how they have shown immense gratitude and hospitality to me and members of my church. I shouldn’t have worried about appearing holier-than-thou if I talked about it. I should have checked the box for ‘Democrat’ instead of ‘Unaffiliated’ when I registered in March so I could vote in the primaries and get on mailing lists to help make phone calls and canvas my town. I should have tried to talk more with my stepdad about what I encountered in Black neighborhoods in Philly, Chicago, and New Haven. I should have convinced my apolitical mom to go out and vote. I should have pushed people to recognize the racist code underpinning some of the phrases they’ve picked up from the political sphere. I should have checked in with my liberal friends and made sure they were registered to vote.

I didn’t though, and now this election started a fire in me to start fighting back as hard as I can. I need to keep that anger to propel me, because once I start waking up in the morning and I don’t feel that burning inside right away, once I no longer want to shout with my husband about injustice, I still need to keep this fight going. For at least the next four years, and throughout my life. It’s only the last two or three years of my life that I’ve realized the sort of power that I have, that I can be the change I want to see in the world. Now it’s time to stand up and do it.