Last night thousands of protesters swarmed a political rally for Donald Trump at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Hundreds of these protesters, the bulk of which apparently organized by progressive community, MoveOn.org, which boasts more than 8 million contributing members, and specializes in online petitions. MoveOn.org endorsed Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nominee for president. Several hundred protester, many of which were students of the university, acquired tickets to get into the event, and effectively shut it down.
The hashtag #TrumpRally remained the top trend on Twitter throughout the night and well into the morning with users taking to the social media platform both to defend and criticize protesters. Supporters pointed to a video timeline presented by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow which documents, “Donald Trump’s comments at rallies which have stoked hostility and incited violence by his supporters against protesters.” He even goes as far as to promise that he will pay any legal fees incurred by his supporters for attacking protesters.
However, on the other side, Trump supporters and sympathizers refer to the protests as “disgusting”, and the protesters as “violent thugs”. Though the tweet has since been deleted, one user was shown to have tweeted their willingness to, “exercise my 2nd Amendment Right” on protesters attempting to infringe on, “my 1st Amendment Right.”
While the footage is not clear on this point, several scuffles inside the auditorium broke out, according to protesters, as a reaction to violence initiated by Trump supporters, while Trump supporters and sympathizers suggest that protesters were in attendance specifically to cause violence.
But if you consider the volatile nature of Trump’s rhetoric combined with the number of incidents that have been occurring at Trump rallys, including the recent video of protester Rakeem Jones getting sucker-punched by a 78 year old Trump supporter at a rally in North Carolina. After the incident, the man was quoted as saying, “Next time we see him, we might have to kill him.” Combine this with an understanding of modern protest techniques, such as those employed by the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street, etc., it is hard to imagine that protesters were the violent initiators Trump would have us believe.
This type of protesting is called nonviolent civil-disobedience. Civil disobedience is illegal to be sure, but it is most effective when employed under the principle of nonviolence. Now, we have seen protesting at every potential nominee’s events, yet it is only at Trump rally’s in which violent exchanges occur. And while Trump insists that the protesters are essentially striking first, it seems this conclusion is being reached simply by virtue of the protester being there.
But that is exactly what nonviolent civil disobedience is, peacefully protesting in a place that legally you are not supposed to be. The protester is not supposed to be physically aggressive, but is supposed to agitate. The protester should plan on being arrested, but shouldn’t comply. Note by noncompliance, I am not saying to resist arrest, rather you go limp and lie on the ground and require the police to carry you. You do not fight back. Indeed it was this caveat that prevented many from joining Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the SCLC in places like Montgomery, and Selma. People like former Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice’s father, “My father was very clear about why he wouldn’t [march]. My dad was not someone who you would strike with a billy club and he wouldn’t strike back. It just wasn’t in him.”
In such protesting, the idea is to draw the attention of the media to your protest, disrupt events, disrupt traffic, but when you are attacked, you do not attack back. When you are arrested, again you go limp or be intentionally slow to comply.
Unfortunately, some protesters at Donald Trump’s rally at the University of Chicago did respond to violence committed towards them, with two police reported injured outside the rally where an even larger crowd of protesters had gathered. While this protest certainly provokes a national conversation, some of the protesters, who were from multiple organizations each representing their own cause and not necessarily employing a uniform protest methodology consistent with that of groups like the SCLC, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, Quit India, the Abolitionist Movement, etc.
But there’s another point to be made. In such a visible era of social media questions of identity and belonging often take center stage in the lives of young people. Combined with the growing economic threats of climate change and unrealistic capitalist growth models, what we are seeing is people attaching themselves to these progressive organizations out of urgency to act without necessarily having the kind of protest experience and demeanor it took to march in more successful campaigns of days past.