So Donald Trump discovered that he wasn’t welcome in Chicago, and some people have a lot of feelings about it. Some of those people hail from the most predictable of corners — Trump supporters, Fox News fans, my friend’s uncle who thinks protests are stupid and too damn loud, etc. Honestly, as someone who was out there protesting on Friday, I would think we’d done a poor job if these types weren’t displeased. I’m not writing these words because I want to respond to their critiques, because there’s no point in arguing with such people.
But the leftists who are shaming protesters?
Your behavior is a special kind of shameful, and you need to find some seats.
From Hillary Clinton to sanctimonious columnists, leftist equivocation in the face of fascism abounds. A full spectrum of people who reject fascism held the line Friday night. Students marched. Young Black leaders staged imagery and action. Church groups, antifa and young people from around the city turned up. I saw artful expression, righteous indignation, and a refusal to be shoved back by bullying fascists.
At an intersection where young Black protesters were connecting their rejection of Donald Trump to other upcoming electoral issues, like getting rid of State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, I watched those who held the line get attacked by Trump fans and pummeled by police. They were brave. It was not their duty in that moment to, as Hillary Clinton prescribed, melt the hearts of white supremacists. It was their right to stand their ground and push back if necessary to defend their lives and dignity.
Equating the violence of the oppressor with the actions of those who defend against that violence is a willfully blind indulgence of white supremacy.
As we’ve seen, time and again, in recent history, marginalized people in the United States will no longer accept the idea that they must politely endure violence and humiliation, simply to prove that they are above such things and deserving of better treatment. And when they are staring down racist cops and people who actually “Heil Hitler,” they aren’t going to stop to contemplate whether what they are doing is consistent with your hollow, incremental vision of change.
As for the arguments that Trump’s base will only be further energized by these protests, I’m going to have to ask for a reality check. What energized these people in the first place? A Black president? A movement for Black lives? The highly controversial assertion that those lives matter? Anything marginalized people do to affirm the value of their lives and liberty will inflame those who are threatened by the prospect of equity. Should Black and Brown people quietly play along with a society that has been built in opposition to our well being, because doing otherwise might excite some racists? Should we quiet down about not wanting to be killed or deported en masse as well? Should we stop making accomplishments that might make white people feel threatened?
Or should you perhaps do a better job organizing against fascists, rather than talking smack from the sidelines?
Read history. Backlashes happen. Every time a society moves forward or swings left, you’ll get push back from those whose privilege has been imperiled. If your solution is to tell marginalized people to be quieter, because they might rile up the bigots, you may want to look up the tactical history of the word “appeasement.”
In any case, I will have more to say about Friday, but I’ll probably say as little as I can moving forward about the critiques I’ve referred to, because they’re ridiculous, and I’m actually a little embarrassed for some of these “free speech” crusaders, who don’t seem to know the difference between being outlawed and being unwelcome.
The podium of a filthy rich fascist is a pretty silly place to park your concerns about “free speech,” but in truth, there was no denial of expression here. Your right to free speech, as protected by the First Amendment, is not a license to speak without being talked over or told to go away. The First Amendment addresses issues of governmental interference, and rightly so. Because while the government has no right to shut down political expression, I have every right to tell a fascist to shut the fuck up. That may hurt his rich, white male feelings, but the absence of accommodation is not a violation of one’s rights.
I understand why some privileged individuals might find that distinction of fact confusing. The world generally allows them to expect the kind of accommodation that others are denied. When you’re used to getting your way, inconvenience can feel like injustice and oppression — and whining and tantrums often follow.
The truth is, no one prevented Trump from taking the stage Friday night, in a physical or legal sense. He was simply put in a position where, for once, it wouldn’t have been him, hundreds of fans of fascism, and one or two people of color to kick around. Like most bullies, Trump’s bravery didn’t match his bluster. When faced with a loud and lively crowd from a city that wants nothing to do with him, the man simply cowered.
To be clear: a fascist felt too unwelcome to speak in Chicago. That’s not a failure of liberty. That’s a sign that, for all our failings, Chicago still has some greatness to speak of. It means that we, as a city, have a spine that can stiffen in the face of fascism, and really, I hope the whole country figures out how to do the same, because we’re living in frightening times.
But to those who’ve hopped on soapboxes about Trump being “no platformed” and whatever else: stop and take in what’s actually happened. Someone awful, whose rise to power is already a threat to the safety of a great many marginalized people, had a bad night. If you can’t call that a just outcome, then just find a way to move on. Because crying a river and hurling insults over Trump’s failure to appear doesn’t make you righteous. It makes you ridiculous.
So if you want to be taken seriously in this world, stop blaming protesters for the cowardice of a preening egotist. Fascism is owed no welcome mat.