Let the people protest.
Lazy, entitled, ungrateful. Violent, animals, rioters. Childish, crybabies, sore losers. Political affiliation no matter, Americans have flung every name at anti-Trump protestors over the last week.
The sentiment stems from complacency with Donald Trump’s election to the highest office in the country, suggesting we try to work our best with our impending government leaders.
But just as the nation’s highest glass ceiling remains unshattered, minorities still find it difficult to break their own ceilings. Minority communities encounter disproportionate hate crimes, economic difficulty, police brutality, skewed media representation, scapegoating rhetoric and – specifically promised by Trump – discriminatory legislation that singles them out. Their protest calls out the Ku Klux Klan-endorsed president-elect’s instigation of violent white nationalism and dangerous rhetoric, and demands an end to them.
For UCLA students, protests commenced the night of election results and have continued until today, spanning from Westwood to downtown Los Angeles. Students and faculty also organized a walkout Wednesday, and were part of Los Angeles’ largest protests Saturday – which amassed nearly 8,000 people – to have their voices heard. On campus this week, we’ve already torn down posters touting white supremacy and xenophobia. Demonstrations overall have remained overwhelmingly nonviolent.
At the most basic level, the protests are a constitutionally protected flex of strength of a people that have the popular vote behind them, and these demonstrations make their demands clear – rights for marginalized communities that have been directly targeted by the president-elect.
It’s naive to assume the president-elect would be removed from his position, but ousting Trump is not why I spent election night protesting on Wilshire instead of reviewing my seminar readings, or why I marched by City Hall the night after. I participated in support of my communities and others, and to express to my city and country that I will not let someone that has trodden on people in these ways go unchecked in dangerous precedent.
These affected communities include undocumented immigrants, who face threats of mass deportation and other xenophobic rhetoric. Thirteen ignored sexual assault allegations and a slew of misogynistic sound bites from Trump tell women their objectification is conscionable. As an Iranian-American, I see my community grapple with the dystopian possibility of immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries having to register with a database, and a constant mandate to prove their right to exist in this country. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I will live under a vice president that advocates conversion therapy.
Rationality and patience – “waiting it out” and giving him a chance – are not privileges that exist for these groups. That period has well passed. With hate crimes on the rise nationwide, physical safety is at stake.
Demonstrations of unprecedented plurality have brought together progressive movements that did not necessarily organize together in the past: Black Lives Matter, Occupy, Bernie Sanders’ progressive following and of course ever-financially burdened university students have convened with a united voice and stronger networking.
Hundreds of East Los Angeles high school students and millennials have also participated, finding their voice and agency in an electoral process where the majority of them did not see their candidate of choice take office.
Protesting allows constituents’ struggles to be more salient, getting politicians more grounded in reality and in touch with their needs. It makes invisible communities visible – these groups have the opportunity to say they are directly impacted by developments of the nascent Trump administration, they are here and their issues need to be addressed. This accountability on legislators is bipartisan; Democrats need to be held accountable to progressive promises, and Republicans understand that they need to listen to their constituents if they want to retain their majority.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has encouraged continuation of the protests, is among other metropolitan mayors from Los Angeles and Chicago that have taken initiative to respond to their constituents’ concerns. These officials have affirmed their commitment to maintaining their cities with sanctuary status, vowing to ignore measures such as instatement of stop-and-frisk and mass deportation.
The same accountability applies to University of California officials. UC President Janet Napolitano and other administrators have already sought to ease the concerns of vulnerable student communities that have arisen with a Trump presidency. However, in terms of direct financial impact on students, tuition increases loom after a six-year resident tuition freeze, and a conservative Congress may do little to allay funding deficits.
Many have condemned these protests as public nuisances that disturb the peace to no avail.
But the UC has a sturdy foundation and history rooted in effective protests that were also deemed disruptive by students, law enforcement and administrators. Influencing decisions at the UC level involves a student body that numbers nearly 250,000 people.
In 1993, students of color led nonviolent hunger strikes and sit-ins to demand greater university support for Chicana/o studies programming on campus, facing Los Angeles Police Department officers in riot gear. Students marched to Covel Commons in 2002 to demand the implementation of Assembly Bill 540, allowing undocumented students who graduated from a California high school to pay resident tuition. Charles Young, the then-chancellor, ultimately conceded resources to these students in the form of an academic center, and the UC would come to adopt AB 540 in 2003.
Many are quick to forget that President Barack Obama was not met with complacent arms either. Trump himself questioned Obama’s citizenship until as late as September and the far-right Tea Party movement propagated as a direct result of Obama’s election.
If students don’t support discriminatory measures proposed under the Trump administration, they need to recognize the value in assembly. They must express genuine allyship and empathy with communities who are on the streets protesting for their very livelihoods.
Protesting is not for everyone, and is by no means the only avenue to progress. But it’s been a justified call to action during these last two weeks. And according to history, it works.