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Fighting Trump: The Sanctuary Campus Movement and Local Points of Resistance

We must support grassroots organizations and focus on state and local points of resistance to the Trump agenda.

When I asked a friend of mine visiting from Germany if she could have predicted Trump’s victory this November, she surprised me by answering, without a blink of an eye, “Yes.”

She gave two reasons why Trump’s election was unsurprising to her. First, she described dining with a group of Harvard professors who were joking and congratulating themselves over the fact that no one at the dinner party knew anyone who was going to vote for Trump. That kind of self-satisfaction over one’s distance from the so-called “deplorables” shows the political disconnect that helped deliver Trump to the White House.

The second example she gave was of talking with a Lebanese taxi driver in New York, who said he was going to vote for Trump to show that he was not one of those “bad immigrants.”

Many liberal and progressive intellectuals vastly misunderstood the kinds of identifications people made in aligning themselves with Donald Trump, because we were too locked into our complacent bubbles. To change the political dynamics of this country in the long term, we will need to emerge from our bubbles and collapse these divides.

Meanwhile to defeat the many awful initiatives that Trump and his administration will put forward in January and beyond, we must immediately act to form the broadest and deepest coalitions possible to create a solid and formidable wall of resistance and a positive front to protect our rights.

A Renewed Commitment to Grassroots and Local Struggles

We do not need to start from scratch, but we need to reinforce and support movements such as Black Lives Matter and #NoDAPL that were here already before the election and that have been growing steadily. One need only look at the remarkable political platform created by the Movement for Black Lives to see a comprehensive diagnosis and set of prescriptions.

More than ever, we need to form alliances broadly on common goals, even as we remain dedicated to specific issues.

In addition to supporting the Movement for Black Lives and the Standing Rock struggle against the Dakota Access pipeline, in this moment we must also redouble our support for other grassroots movements and organizations that support them, such as the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the National Immigration Law Center, the National Lawyers Guild, the ACLU, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Urban Habitat, Critical Resistance and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence.

These, and many other organizations and groups, form the backbone of a strong progressive movement with considerable energy, commitment and resources. Many of these are the outgrowth of a historical development toward rights and justice that Trump and his administration now wish to turn back. The fact of the matter is that they grossly underestimate the power of these groups and those who will be increasingly drawn to them. Let us not forget that at least 1.5 million more people voted against Trump than voted for him. This is a wider margin of victory in the popular vote than Kennedy enjoyed over Nixon and nearly as much as Obama won by. And there are still 4 million uncounted votes in California and Utah.

In sum, Trump hardly has a popular mandate and we must always factor that in as a political and moral calculation as we move forward.

Another vital site of resistance will involve work on progressive state and local initiatives. These are already starting to take shape. One example of a starting place for this work is the statement made by the mayors of New York and Los Angeles, who Reuters notes “have sharply limited their cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities seeking to deport undocumented immigrants.” The article goes on to quote Bill de Blasio: “We are not going to sacrifice a half million people who live among us, who are part of our community,” de Blasio said, referring to an estimate of the number of unauthorized immigrants living in New York. “We are not going to tear families apart.” Now the mayors of Denver and Aurora, Colorado, have followed suit.

California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) also delivered a joint statement along these lines, which states:

California will defend its people and our progress. We are not going to allow one election to reverse generations of progress…. We will be reaching out to federal, state and local officials to evaluate how a Trump Presidency will potentially impact federal funding of ongoing state programs, job-creating investments reliant on foreign trade, and federal enforcement of laws affecting the rights of people living in our state. We will maximize the time during the presidential transition to defend our accomplishments using every tool at our disposal.

The Sanctuary Campus Movement

In the same spirit, students and faculty at colleges and universities are starting to mobilize to defend their communities from deportation. There is a burgeoning national Campus Sanctuary movement already started, with groups at more than 130 colleges and universities. Early on at Brown University, a group issued an appeal to its administration which reads:

As we jointly envision a safe future for our community, the sanctuary of our campus must not exclude members of our city and the broader community. Therefore, we urge Brown to support the work and demands of organizations led by undocumented people in the wider Providence community. We once called Brown campus our home. A home is supposed to be safe. If President-elect Trump implements his promised policies and we do nothing, Brown’s commitment to diversity, justice, and inclusion will be inconsequential. This is not a moment in which we can afford silence.

Similarly, members of the Yale community have started a petition to Yale’s president and provost that includes these words:

In the wake of the recent Presidential election, we — Yale University students, faculty, and workers — call for you to investigate the possibility of our campus serving as a sanctuary for students, staff, and their family members who face imminent deportation.

We see this as a concrete action the university can take to support and protect the people within our community. We have reason to believe that, without the permission of the university, New Haven police officers cannot enter its campus. Similarly, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers are subject to restrictions based on a 2011 memo regarding places of worship, schools, and hospitals. (See ICE memorandum.)

Given that many students and their family members now live in fear of Donald Trump’s deportation threats, we urge the university to immediately develop a protocol for making itself a sanctuary campus.

Inside Higher Education reports that what links the efforts on the different campuses is a common basis in law. It cites María Blanco, the executive director of the University of California Undocumented Legal Services Center:

There are at least three kinds of different things that could fall under a sanctuary policy,” Blanco said. “One is a university saying that ICE will not come on their campus to do immigration enforcement without warrants unless there’s an exigent circumstance.” A second, she said, is developing a policy that says a university police force will not act on behalf of federal agents to enforce immigration laws. A third, she said, involves information sharing — “to the extent that universities have any records that identify the immigration status of their students, to protect those if there were a request from ICE for those records.

Refusing to Let Evil Settle Into Everyday Life

In the face of Trump’s rise and the emboldening of reactionary forces in our society, we are all understandably afraid, but we must try not to give into fear. We must take strength from others and lend our strength to others. I found insight in Teju Cole’s piece, “A Time for Refusal,” in which he writes:

Evil settles into everyday life when people are unable or unwilling to recognize it. It makes its home among us when we are keen to minimize it or describe it as something else. This is not a process that began a week or month or year ago. It did not begin with drone assassinations, or with the war on Iraq. Evil has always been here. But now it has taken on a totalitarian tone.

The press will play a crucial role in preventing new forms of totalitarian evil from settling into our everyday lives. As Sophia McClennen points out in Salon, Trump has promised all along to curb and censor the press. We cannot let that happen. For all the mainstream media’s massive failures (and even complicity) in Trump’s winning the presidency, the media as a whole is an instrument we cannot afford to lose. But we must also use it — submit op-eds, challenge the press on its coverage or neglect, demonstrate in front of mainstream media offices to get them to be vigilant watchdogs. We must support organizations, such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Center for Investigative Journalism and lift up investigative and independent media, including progressive global media.

And we must also support legal organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights that will fight to protect press freedoms and the rest of our rights as well. We are fortunate to have infrastructures already in place. We must support them and also press them when they seem unresponsive.

In the days ahead, we would do well to look to the words of Tom Hayden, the great American radical activist who passed away in October. As a youth, he fought for civil rights in the South, then he helped found Students for a Democratic Society. He also penned one of the most remarkable and important political and activist documents of our time, the Port Huron Statement of 1962. Like the Movement for Black Lives platform of the current moment, it was a comprehensive diagnosis of its time. Reflecting back on it, at the time of its 50th anniversary, Hayden wrote:

There are sources of hope now that we couldn’t imagine in 1962. The technological revolution of the Internet and social media is propelling a global revival of participatory democracy. Facebook and Twitter are credited with a key role in movements from Cairo to the volunteer campaign for Barack Obama. For the next generations, perhaps the most important issue for participatory democracy will be ownership and control of the means of producing and distributing information.

We must work even harder to protect and to use these resources well.

As we renew our support of progressive organizations, networks and initiatives, and focus on state and local points of resistance, we need to remember that others have faced similar challenges. There is much work to be done, and we must do it together.

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