Cláudia de Castro Caldeirinha
Donald Trump is on the news everyday, all over the world – and this well before his official term as US President started. His controversial personality and decisions leave little space for neutrality and soft positions. His zero-sum positions provoke an endless succession of tensions and intense reactions, at home and abroad. The least we can say is that he is not good at making friends, as his stances on Mexico, China, the Muslim countries, on multilateralism, on trade, on NATO, the UN and the EU, on freedom of the press, etc, are currently showing.
Gone are the expectations of those who had expected (read “hoped”) that his campaign promises would be replaced by a more pragmatic agenda, once he got elected. His ominous vision of “America first” is everyday incarnating into controversial nationalist measures that are fuelling widespread discontentment. The refugees and immigration bans (also called “Muslim-ban”, as it became known in social media); the anti-abortion rulings; the order to build a border wall to prevent Mexican immigrants to enter the US; the persistence on supporting an unsustainable fossil fuel industry; the destruction of Obamacare, Barack Obama’s healthcare law, are some of the most contentious decisions. Moreover, his radical positions seem to dismiss the point that stable international relations, security and trade are based on compromise-building. This apparent unconsciousness leads many to fear that the new American President might precipitate serious conflicts and even provoke a new global recession with his drastic populist agenda.
It is therefore not a surprise that democrats and liberals all over the world both fear and abhor Donald Trump. Not one day passes without Trump-related declarations. From Obama to the Silicon Valley tycoons, from world leaders to the Members of European institutions, from civil society leaders to concerned citizens. This article focus on the latter, i.e. on the social mobilization gradually building in these first weeks of Trump’s rule.
Trump makes one thing clear: each of us is called to take a position in today’s polarized world
“Dump Trump”, “Worst President Ever” and “Nazism Never Again” were the sentences one could read in protest banners in the US and all over the world. The Washington DC’s Women’s March, attended by at least 4.2 million people, was considered by the Washington Post as “the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history”. In reality, the “women’s” march was in reality a protest march, a symbolic demonstration to defend hardly-won civil and political rights for women and for Americans –men and women- in general. The message they sent to the new Republican President was not to re-open old, settled battles on individual freedoms and rights, because there are enough “people out there” that care for the protection of legislation and policies regarding human rights and issues like women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, the natural environment, LGBT rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and workers’ rights. Undeniably, the images of the demonstration depicted an impressive flood of people marching in the streets of DC. CNN’s Van Jones commented: “Took us 5 years to get numbers this big against G.W. Bush. Only 24 hours against Trump.”
Trump’s authoritarian approach to power has also led people all over the world to march in solidarity with their US counterparts. From the Artic circle to South East Asia, women’s marches took place. Social media and online blogs from all over the world show pictures of anti-Trump banners and people using “pussy hats”, the pink knitted beanies with cat ears that serve as a symbol of solidarity for the US protestors. These pink hats came as a reaction against Trump’s offensive remarks on women and became a project in itself, aimed at making women aware of their role in political discussion.
Marching is a beginning
Marching is good for the morale and creates media attention and debate. But it is, more than anything, a starting point. At the moment of the march(es), American and world-wide demonstrators unified under an all-encompassing “Anti-Trump” message. They shared concern and refusal towards everything that Trump represents – “the worst of America”, as many have said. For most, marching was a way of displaying their repudiation for their new leader’s predatory, authoritarian, unpredictable, misogynic, intolerant, reckless, bully, undemocratic attitude.
Marchers were led by one group of progressive activist organizations, supported by a plethora of groups, associations and individuals. After the women, came minorities groups, the defenders of immigrants and refugees; then the scientists, the diplomats, the business community, civil servants. In the streets or on social media, activists and public opinion show determination in countering the “alternative facts” offered up by the nascent Trump administration; and express outrage at reckless decisions endangering decades of diplomatic, politic, economic and social progress.
But for these actions to go beyond a mere expression of indignation and become a sustained long-term and successful pressure movement, it is critical to plan tangible political actions aligned with clear political objectives. These objectives need to inspire, bring together and be able to channel the vitality, interest and discontent of all the progressive forces in American society. Among the challenges of the organizers is to understand Trump’s vulnerabilities and to use his difficulties in delivering the populist promises made to his electorate – and then use these vulnerabilities strategically. It is also key not to be too dispersed, pick the right battles and galvanize pressure from the different sectors wherein Trump is creating dissatisfaction. Just looking at current trends, this dissatisfaction risks to increase should his nationalist decisions lead to the economic and financial setbacks that several opinion-makers are foreseeing (e.g. loss of employment and wealth deriving from protectionism and shortsighed political positions towards Muslim countries, China, etc). Finally, a sustainable movement needs to focus on policy debate and on engaging contents rather than on personal attacks – these will only nourish theatrical reactions and deviate public and media attention from the debates that truly matter.
Mobilizing America – Work in progress
In the website and social media presence of the Women’s March, we read their intention to turn the march into an ongoing movement. They seem well aware of the need to channel the march’s energy and say they want to “keep it growing towards a very long fight for women’s health, civil rights, immigrant rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, environmental justice, and many of the other important progressive values we all hold dear. (…) This is our movement and its power comes from its creative grassroots energy and commitment. We can’t stop and we won’t stop.” As an initial step, the movement is putting together a list of 10 Strategic Actions for the First 100 Days campaign. One of this actions if the Next Up Huddles, a 3-stages program aiming at mobilizing “millions of people to win back the society we want”. These huddles are inclusive, action-oriented and nonviolent resistance groups and so far there are 4,037 registered all over the world.
As Trump continues to take contentious choices, the pushback grows. Interestingly, the protests against Trump has gone well beyond the women and the traditional leftist groups that normally oppose Republican’s decisions. New voices are joining the railing against Trump, including big American companies and professional organizations. Recently, 97 companies, from Apple to Zynga, filed a passionate legal brief accusing President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, stepping up the industry’s growing hostility to his policy. Participating companies include Airbnb, Facebook, Intel, Netflix, Snap, Uber, Levi Strauss & Co, among many others. Spotify, eBay and many well-known Silicon Valley veterans also tweeted their refusal of Trump’s decisions, especially the refugee and “Muslim-ban”. Activism meets marketing when Starbucks promises to hire 10,000 refugees and Airbnb’s CEO calls an Open doors mobilization to bring all of US together (“Closing doors further divides US. Let’s all find ways to connect people, not separate them”). Even Apple, Google and Microsoft reacted, worried on how Trump’s immigration restrictions can affect their business interests.
Every day there are new –anonymous and/or famous – critical voices adding to the discontent, inside and outside America. These voices are incredibly disparate, ranging from Pope Francis (“”A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian”) to Rupert Murdoch (“When is Donald Trump going to stop embarrassing his friends, let alone the whole country?”); from Dick Cheney to Meryl Streep; from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Robert De Niro; from Stephen Hawking to J.K. Rowling; from George Clooney calling Trump “a xenophobic fascist” to John Legend’s tweet regarding Trump’s investiture: “The last 2 inaugurations were very crowded. This one is so… roomy.”
“America first” – the world second?
The US-led movement seems to continue receiving important solidarity from many around the world, who feel apprehensive –to say the least- at the “America First” agenda. The UK is a strong hub for anti-Trump activism, as British Prime Minister Theresa May can well confirm. She has faced widespread condemnation from for her plans to roll out a red carpet for the controversial American President: cross-party criticism, a petition signed by more than 1.6 million British citizens asking her to cancel Trump’s invitation, thousands of demonstrators across the UK protesting against Trump’s “Muslim-ban”, his block on Syrian refugees and his planned UK state visit. As the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, told the crowd: “Donald Trump has been president for only a few days, and look at what he is doing.”
In Brussels, the Lights for Rights Campaign and the European Women’s Lobby (the largest European umbrella network of women’s associations representing a total of more than 2000 organizations in the EU) are regularly suggesting new actions to sustain “the flames of resistance”. Some creative actions include the “Pink Pussy Hat Alerts” which mobilize like-minded people to demonstrate against Trump-related situations, like the announced visit by US Vice-President Mike Pence to 2 key European cities: Munich on the 17th to 19th February for the annual international security conference; then Brussels on the 20th to meet EU and NATO.
In addition to the presence in the streets, the anti-Trump voices are very outspoken in the blogosphere and in social media. And the digital world offers the possibility of faster and more effective activist organization, as proved by the success-stories of Avaaz.org, considered by the British newspaper The Guardian as “the globe’s largest and most powerful online activist network”. Recently, Avaaz launched a petition addressed to President Trump, which reads: “This is not what greatness looks like. (…) The world rejects your fear, hate-mongering, and bigotry. We reject your support for torture, your calls for murdering civilians, and your general encouragement of violence. We reject your denigration of women, Muslims, Mexicans, and millions of others who don’t look like you, talk like you, or pray to the same god as you.” This petition has so far collected more than 4.2 million names from all over the world – and are they are counting new signatures every day.
Anti-Trump mobilization can also be made of humor, as shown by the viral reaction to the Dutch comedy video spoofing Trump, inviting him to put “the Netherlands second”. It made comedians throughout Europe reply with their own fake ad. Countries like Portugal, Switzerland, Lithuania, Denmark and Germany were the first to publish their videos, but the trend seems to be spreading. The German video includes a reminder of the last time Germany tried to put itself first: “Germany has a great history. We actually – it’s true – have the best history in the world. Great politicians, great leader. So smart. Great hair, great suit: Look at his suit. He made Germany great again,” says the Trump-like voice on images of Hitler.
The honeymoon is over, Mr. President!
Predicting the effectiveness of demonstrations and online activism is difficult. It is hard –not to say impossible- to determine clear causal relations between the actions of protesters and the decisions taken or the changes in leaders’ policies. Having said this, commentators online claim there are already some concrete victories of the ongoing resistance since Trump took office. These would include the House Republicans abandonment of a plan to gut the Congressional Ethics Office; 500,000 green card holders granted exemption from Trump’s immigration orders; Most dual citizens (Germans, most recently) getting exemptions from the Trump ban; a few Trump’s planned trips canceled for fear of protests; Business CEOs cancelling their planned trips to the White House.
While concrete results remain modest and the future remains unpredictable, a few things are sure: (i) much ink will continue flowing about Trump’s tempestuous presence in the Oval room; (ii) He is unlikely to cease his populist decisions; (iii) therefore protest is unlikely to stop something soon. All in all, with the widespread atmosphere of contentiousness in the US, Trump is doubtfully going to enjoy the usual “honeymoon period” that new Presidents normally have during the first months of mandate.