It can be easy to despair, to feel like trends toward inequality are impossible to stop, to give in to fear over increased racist, sexist and xenophobic violence. But around the country, people are doing the hard work of fighting back and coming together to plan for what comes next. In this ongoing “Interviews for Resistance” series, we introduce you to some of them. Today’s interview is the fourth in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.
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The Women’s March on Washington has gotten a lot of coverage, but there are also other plans afoot for inauguration week, some of which promise to be more confrontational. Here, we bring you a conversation with Legba Carrefour, an organizer with DisruptJ20 who is involved in planning a set of actions leading up to and on Inauguration Day.
Sarah Jaffe: First off, what is Disrupt J20?
Legba Carrefour: Disrupt J20 is an umbrella coalition of groups with a core of local organizers who have a lot of activist experience — Washington, DC, organizers [with] lots of experience, most of whom are anarchists.
What is being planned and how is this all going down?
We have had an Action Camp running all of MLK weekend. We are doing a lot of nonviolent direct-action trainings. Then, on Wednesday (January 18), we [did] a queer dance party at Mike Pence’s house. Thursday (January 19), there is an action at an alt-right Trump inaugural ball called the Deploraball, trying to shut that down. Then, starting on Friday morning (January 20), which is the big day, we are having blockades go into action at all the checkpoints around the inauguration parade route and to get into the viewing area. We are also doing transit blockades all day. Then, there is going to be several unpermitted marches, an especially big one at Logan Circle at 10:00 AM. Then, at noon we are doing a permitted march and we have got stuff going on all evening, too.
What is the broad idea behind having disruptive action on Inauguration Day?
We want to undermine Trump’s presidency from the get-go. There has been a lot of talk of peaceful transition of power as being a core element in a democracy, and we want to reject that entirely and really undermine the peaceful transition. We would like the headline the next day to be “Trump Inauguration a Complete Meltdown and Clusterfuck.”
There has been a lot of debate and question about the legitimacy of this presidency for reasons starting from the Electoral College to potential Russian hackers to any number of other things, but why is it, in particular, important for people, and especially people from DC to be challenging this administration this early?
Well, for people from DC, it is because the jerkhead is going to be living here for a little while and it has an undue influence upon the politics of the city, which is an obnoxious part about living here. Although, I should mention, broadly, we started planning this back in June before the election. So, we were going to be out here, no matter who won.
How would this be different if you were protesting a Clinton inauguration?
Are there more people interested in doing nonviolent direct action now than you have seen in a while? Is this a recent spike that coincides with others?
Absolutely … I, in my life, have never seen after an election a spontaneous eruption of rage in the streets like we saw just back in November and that momentum is definitely continuing.
A lot of people are going to be coming into DC for the Women’s March on January 21, but is there going to be some overlapping between the two? Are you encouraging people who are coming for the Women’s March to show up for some of yours, as well?
We are encouraging everyone to show up to our stuff, but we have absolutely no links to them whatsoever, by their own wish.
There is certainly a history of big direct actions and blockades in Washington, DC, but are there any particular historical events that you guys are drawing on to make this happen?
Yes. In most recent history, rather, we have been drawing on the big anti-globalization protests of the early 2000s, as well as Bush’s second inauguration in 2005, which was pretty successful, even though it snowed. I would say that is the last time we really have a model of that kind of thing.
Were you involved in 2005?
I was. Yes.
Tell us about that for people who don’t remember it.
It was 12 years ago. I remember it snowing, there being very, very many cops; us getting split up a bunch of times, getting beaten up a whole bunch. Overall, probably about 2,000 to 3,000 people showed up to that.
As you mentioned, a lot of police, a lot of security. Clearly, the law-and-order crackdown was part of Trump’s campaign. What kind of police presence are you expecting? Are you expecting it to be worse than 2005?
I am actually not. We are very lucky in DC in the sense that over the course of years of getting beaten up by the police and subsequently suing them, and also getting support from the local city council, the police actually can’t do that much anymore in DC. They are pretty restrained. You are legally allowed to take an unpermitted march, for example. That is not a problem here in DC. They also don’t do mass arrests or use chemical agents anymore.
But, that said, are you expecting people will do direct actions that will result in them being arrested?
Talk about the idea of a queer dance party outside Mike Pence’s house and disrupting the inaugural balls. What is the role of celebration and fun in disruptive direct action?
Oh, we have it all over. We initiated the queer dance party. One of the actions we are doing, the permitted one at Columbus Circle at noon on Friday, we are doing that as a festival of resistance. We have got a flatbed truck with dancers from a local gay club, a bunch of drummers, I think a student marching band or two. I think the role of celebration is really important because a lot of people after the election were very down on themselves. I think it is important to remind people that there is a lot of joy in politics, actually, when you take politics to the street.
Looking forward, obviously, this is just the start of what promises to be a complicated and interesting four years. How does something like this lay the groundwork for future actions that will be targeted at stopping more specific moves by the Trump administration?
In the immediate term, you are going to see a lot of people who have never been at protests before suddenly get activated. We are definitely seeing a lot of that. We are also seeing, over the longer term, a network is slowly being built of experienced activists who are really committed to linking movements and issues in a bigger melange to help combat this over the next couple of years. I think it is going to be pretty strong.
Some of these networks have been building over the last seven or eight years of Occupy and things like that. Can you talk about how these movements have built on each other in recent years, going back as far as the 2005 protests?
I would say that, one, we have built up a whole lesson on how to conduct mass mobilizations that was built off of the anti-globalization movement in particular. We are really riding on a lot of the experience that came out of that, especially in DC, because a lot of events like that happen here. That is how we got the experience to build things like the infrastructure for legal support in case a thousand people get arrested or something like that.
More recently, I would trace [the experience of] a lot of the current people I work with … back as far as Occupy. Then, after that, Black Lives Matter. You have really seen an evolution of tactics, especially in terms of how people take public space. Certain people started doing things like occupying squares and they moved to doing things like mass citywide blockades of transit hubs, like you saw with Black Lives Matter. You are definitely seeing a continuation of those kinds of trends in what we are doing.
The reaction that — well, there are a few reactions that you get to disruptive actions like this, but one of them is that you end up playing into Trump’s hands. What do you say when people say things like that to you?
I mean, what is the alternative? Stay home? When people say that to me, I say, “They don’t know how politics works” because I actually want to take up politics that is powerful and makes me feel powerful, and staying home and just worrying about voting won’t do that for me.
I think one of the things that happens when a lot of people get activated very quickly is that there is a lot of flux in the idea of what power actually is and what it looks like when people [who] had believed in the electoral system (and believed that Hillary Clinton was going to be elected and everything would be fine, or something like that) suddenly realize that they can’t count on this system to save them. How do you build in questions of political education and political discussion and debate into planning actions like this?
One way is we [had] this Action Camp this past weekend that we are actually still doing right now. We have worked in a lot of workshops that are actually conversations about exactly what to do now and how to respond to the election that just happened. Also, doing a lot of political education around issues of race, especially. Climate has been another one. Things like that.
We have seen recently, of course, the role of direct action expanding a lot in the climate justice movement. Going forward, what do you see as the best way for people to continue to feel powerful and to think about making a movement that makes more and more people feel powerful?
This is what I have been telling everyone since the election: I think the best thing you can do, honestly, is to go out and make friends. The best expression of a fight against incoming fascism is solidarity. That is what makes people feel powerful. It is not just being in the streets alone. It is being in the streets with a lot of your friends. I think for the next four years, the best path that we have to feeling powerful and gaining power is really linking those networks of friends.
If we get some people last minute who read this interview and want to come down, but feel nervous about some of these actions — how do you ease people into taking direct action? How do you help people learn to take those risks?
To learn to take those risks we do a lot of trainings until people feel comfortable expressing themselves in the streets and overcoming their own fears, which is usually the biggest barricade to this kind of thing. Then, secondly, we do have permitted stuff for that exact reason. Like the noon march that I referenced a couple of times is exactly that. It is meant for everyone from people with concerns about their immigration status to the elderly to people with kids to people who just don’t want to deal with the cops. We are going to have that set aside, as well as a permit all day at McPherson Square.
Again, for people who want to get involved, where can they find out more information?
The website is www.disruptj20.org.
Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast.Truthout has lightly edited this article for ease of reading.