Inside The Anti-Trump Protest Movement
The old left brings Sanders supporters and outraged Democrats from Facebook to the streets. Mainstream groups are planning for January.
On the night of Nov. 10 in Portland, protesters smashed store windows, car windows, and government building windows. Glass covered the streets of the city's famous Pearl District. Police declared it a riot and the mayor called it “completely unacceptable.”
But Greg Clark, an organizer of the protest and a member of the Portland Anarchist Black Cross (ABC), had a different take: "I saw people taking direct action against the tightening grip of fascism and global capitalism."
Protests against the Trump presidency began hours after Trump was declared president-elect early Wednesday morning and have continued — largely peacefully, with the exception of Portland — nightly around the country.
Many of their early organizers, like Clark, have roots in the 20th century’s radical left, but protests led and organized by anarchist and radical groups and advertised on Facebook have drawn thousands of Americans who share only a sense of outrage at Trump’s election.
Now the question is whether those protests will coalesce into a movement — whether the anti-Trump protests will flow into liberal and Democratic American politics, or whether their more radical early organizers will continue to play a major role.
Along with the anarchists, core organizers of the protests have included the ANSWER Coalition, a group with roots that trace back to supporting the Soviet invasion of Hungary in the 1950s, and the Socialist Alternative, a Trotskyist group on the other side of those forgotten Communist civil wars. Those groups’ organizing muscle has long made them important, if controversial, elements of the US left (they were central to protests against the Iraq War in 2003), and they now find themselves marching with Bernie Sanders supporters, civil rights advocates, and thousands of Democrats shocked at Trump’s election.
Mainstream organizations such as the NAACP and National Action Network said they are devising a legislative agenda around civil and voting rights and will organize a Washington, DC, march on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday just before the inauguration. Organizers around the country are also planning a women’s march on Washington the day after Trump is sworn into office, which ANSWER plans to attend.
As organizers plan, the city streets are full. In New York City, several separate Facebook events this week snowballed into a protest of thousands as groups from across the city coalesced. Demonstrations also took place in Los Angeles, Chicago, and elsewhere. The protests have also shown some signs of national organization, using public and private Facebook pages and, so far on a local level, encrypted methods of communication.
Socialist Alternative, which is based in New York City, staged nonviolent protests. Patrick Ayers, a member of the group, said, “We’re a small group, but we put out a Facebook event and it got shared tens of thousands of times.”
People converged at Trump Tower to chant, "We reject the president-elect!" and “Fuck the elephant, fuck the ass! Build a party of the working class!" and other things.
“There’s enormous anger out there, and with Facebook, it’s easy to gather thousands of people in times like this,” said Ayers.
In addition to public Facebook events, Ayers said Socialist Alternative uses secret Facebook groups to communicate with other activists, along with conventional channels like text and email.
Ayers said his group had reached out to the ANSWER Coalition and trade unions to “build the broadest coalition possible against Trump.” He said he knew of nationwide student walkouts scheduled for Monday, Nov. 14, but said there was no “overall specific plan” beyond encouraging people to protest on Inauguration Day.
Mike Wong, a member of the San Francisco ANSWER Coalition, helped organize protests on Nov. 9 that drew around 1,500 people, according to San Francisco police, and remained largely peaceful.
ANSWER runs local branches that have planned rallies for Nov. 12 and Nov. 19 in Washington, DC, and Pittsburgh, according to its Facebook group. The San Francisco group also plans to mobilize on Nov. 19, member Michelle Schubel said.
The goal of the San Francisco protests, Wong said, is "to put together a movement opposed to the bigotry that Donald Trump built his campaign on." The coalition’s national goal, Schudel said, is to mobilize protesters for a counter-inauguration march in January 2017.
Local branches communicate with one another to mobilize supporters, calling them together through phone and texting banks, social media, and email. The group itself uses encrypted communications in addition to its public methods.
Schubel said the group also had plans to march if Clinton was elected: “She was a candidate of the corporate world.”
Wong, with the ANSWER Coalition, believed the presidential race would have been much closer if Sanders had run instead of Clinton.
"Many former Bernie supporters felt disenfranchised and hopeless. They voted for Trump,” Wong said. “They don’t believe in the system. I don’t agree with what they did, but I understand the feeling."
ANSWER did not endorse a presidential candidate, though many of its members campaigned for Gloria La Riva, a socialist presidential hopeful, according to Schubel, who voted for La Riva. Wong campaigned for La Riva.
"A lot of the people who voted for Trump will still be unhappy with what happens when he’s president and after,” Wong said, “and that’s why we are organizing today.”
Indeed, many in this first wave of protest organizers had little interest in the Democratic Party.
“We can't change the election, but we can change the betrayal of the Democratic Party," Rob Jenkins, a member of Socialist Alternative's New York branch, told BuzzFeed News. "We were sold the idea that Clinton was the only electable candidate. They sabotaged the primary against Bernie Sanders." (Jenkins said he voted for Jill Stein.)
Clark, the Portland anarchist, also didn’t back Clinton. He voted for Sean Swain in the presidential election, an anarchist running from a super-maximum-security prison. "If he’s elected, he’ll burn down the White House and make every day a national holiday, effectively abolishing work. He’s my candidate," Clark said. (Clark denied that members of his organization had damaged property in Portland or been arrested, but added, “We do not condemn the actions anyone took tonight.” Local police didn't disclose whether they had arrested any members of the group.)
Other protest organizers brought less 20th-century ideological freight to the streets.
In Birmingham, Alabama, the concerns focused on racial tensions more than economic ones.
Jordan Giddens organized a protest he called the "Alabama Unity Rally," and said he and his fellow protest planners were not previously coordinated. Giddens told BuzzFeed News he formerly worked for the Alabama Republican Party, though he now describes himself as a Democratic activist and an avid Sanders supporter.
He voted for Clinton, though: "It took everything in my heart not to write in Bernie.”
Giddens said he was responding to two perceived threats: the election of Donald Trump and the local KKK, which had distributed recruitment flyers the morning of Nov. 9. "We’re out here trying to show that people, even in Alabama, aren’t so hateful as Donald Trump," Giddens said. He also said he and other organizers have received death threats.
For some organizers, this was their first time pulling together a protest.
Kaila Philo, a writer who organized the Nov. 10 Baltimore Anti-Trump March on Facebook, told BuzzFeed News she and her co-organizers were protesting against Trump’s "unfair" election. The march remained peaceful as the protesters moved from Charles Street to the Ravens game and back.
The Baltimore Sun reported about 1,000 people attended. According to the newspaper, three protesters were detained, two of whom were released; the third, Stephanie Applegate, was charged with failure to obey a lawful order from a police officer. (Baltimore police didn’t return a request for comment.)
Protesters there also took up the ubiquitous “Not my president” chant, among others, according to the Sun.
Philo, like Giddens, had not previously identified as an activist: “I was just angry, so I made a Facebook event,” she said. She formed a team of five organizers for the rally, though they do not have plans for further protests.
Philo believes the Electoral College is now defunct because Clinton had won the popular vote but lost the election. She "begrudgingly" voted for Clinton because she believed that choice was more pragmatic than voting for Jill Stein. She believed Sanders would have been a better candidate overall.
Back in Portland, a second group just blocks from the Pearl District riot took a different approach.
Greg McKelvey, the leader of Portland’s Resistance and a third-year Lewis and Clark University law student, was moving his group away from the heated action and said he didn’t “condone vandalism and violence.”
Still, he said the “anarchists help our movement a lot.”
On its Facebook page, where 1,200 people said they attended rallies on Nov. 10 and 11 (Portland police estimate 4,000 marched on Nov. 10 and that 2,000 to 3,000 did so on Nov. 11), the Resistance endorsed Sanders for president, though McKelvey said the group doesn’t have any particular political ideology.
McKelvey himself said he was conflicted between Jill Stein and Hillary Clinton, but eventually voted for Clinton “out of fear" of Trump, despite having walked out on her at the Democratic National Convention.