I hear the concerns that Aaron Julian raised in the Daily Bruin’s Nov. 22 opinion column. He’s right that both political parties have alienated white, working-class Americans by refusing to address their needs. He’s right that progressives have to do more than protest President-elect Donald Trump if we want to reach his voter base and address their plights.
But by taking the stance that protests are somehow unpatriotic, futile and childish, Julian misses the fundamental purpose of protesting. Protesting is about taking our government to task when it neglects the people it’s meant to serve and protect. It’s about bringing attention to the causes we care about that aren’t adequately represented in the mass media. By temporarily disrupting the mindless flow of day-to-day life, we send the message to our representatives and our fellow Americans that we don’t approve of the current state of affairs – and going into the Trump presidency, when Trump has already tapped myriad dangerous insiders for the Cabinet, already been exposed for committing fraud against the country’s most vulnerable and already incited hate crimes and violence with his inflammatory rhetoric, I’d say now’s as good a time as ever for protest.
Julian stated that, “Progressives (who protest) look staunchly hypocritical after trashing conservatives for protesting in the wake of President Obama’s election.”
If we seem hypocritical, that’s the fault of people looking, not the people currently protesting. The conservatives protesting Obama were protesting a candidate whom they disagreed with about policy. A fraction of those protesters also had racist motivations, hoisting signs portraying Obama as a Kenyan witch doctor as they demanded to see his birth certificate.
In contrast, the progressives protesting Trump are protesting the man who reportedly started the racist Birther movement. We’re protesting a man who joyfully invoked racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic rhetoric throughout his campaign, a sin that Obama wasn’t guilty of. This is someone who says to the public that he wants to protect America’s working class, but just settled his Trump University fraud case for $25 million – a case which implicated him in committing mass fraud against the working class he’s promised to protect. And that doesn’t even touch on his potential decision to appoint supporters of Social Security privatization, banking and Washington insiders and outright bigots to his Cabinet.
If someone more sensible like Mitt Romney or John Kasich had won the election, we wouldn’t be protesting this vigorously. I likely wouldn’t be protesting at all. I don’t agree with many of their views, but I trust they’re sensible people who wouldn’t damage the country in an irreparable way.
Trump is different. Our differences do not lie in simple policy preferences. He’s dangerous. He exploited the white working class’ valid fear and anger for votes, without demonstrating any commitment to actually helping them. That’s downright insidious.
This, combined with the Ku Klux Klan’s and various other hate groups’ endorsements of Trump, seems a good reason to protest to me.
Furthermore, Julian implies that our protests are anti-democratic and unpatriotic, and that anything short of full acceptance of the president-elect is also anti-democratic. But there’s nothing more patriotic than striving to hold our government accountable, even if progressives are the minority in Congress. Blind, uncritical acceptance of our leadership isn’t a sign of patriotism when it would only aid the dismantling of our rights and the sanctity of our environment.
To me, the true definition of patriotism is standing up for the rights of ourselves and our compatriots by any means necessary. Accepting the will of a volatile, authoritarian leader as the immutable state of affairs is not.
So yes, Democrats need practical solutions. Many progressives don’t understand the white, working-class, rural voting block that voted Republican this election cycle. And yes, I admit to being one of those progressives. Following the election, I couldn’t see past the racism driving Trump’s campaign, and I felt convinced that the white, working-class, rural vote for Trump came from either a place of white supremacy or racial self-interest. The economic anxiety of the white working class flew right over my head.
Now that some time has passed since that volatile November night, I’ve come to realize the danger in writing off these voters as simply racist. As Bernie Sanders has stated repeatedly these past couple weeks, these people are hurting. They’re scared. The establishment has not addressed their needs, and many of them are scrambling to make ends meet for themselves and their families. The Harvard Business Review recently published a story that makes a compelling case for addressing their needs.
So please do not think that if you’ve joined a protest, you’re off the hook in fulfilling your obligations to move America forward. Couple your protests with action. Call your representatives and let them know where you stand on policy. Volunteer for organizations fighting for causes you care about, and donate to them if you’re in the position to do so – they need our support now more than ever. Refrain from demonizing the people you disagree with.
But please, continue to protest – to supplement to the work we need to do, to hold our government accountable and to fight for the causes we believe in.