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The State of the Resistance

People are mobilized, and intersecting resistance has come to define grassroots activism in the era of Trump.

Prison rights activists and relatives of the incarcerated protest outside the Metropolitan Detention Center on February 4, 2019, in New York City.

The Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), a jail run by the Trump administration in Brooklyn, New York, reportedly lost power about a week ago, leaving the people locked inside — many of whom have yet to be convicted of a crime — without heat and light in their cells as temperatures plummeted amid a polar vortex.

As soon as word got out about conditions inside the jail, family members and activists quickly organized and gathered to protest outside the facility on Friday, demanding that jail officials provide the incarcerated with heat, hot meals and means for contacting their families and attorneys. Since then, they have maintained a presence outside the jail day and night, making noise and holding banners showing their support the people watching from the windows of their cells.

When protesters attempted to enter the jail over the weekend, guards used pepper spray to beat them back. People held inside the jail reported retaliation as well.

Sam Johnson, an organizer with No New Jails NYC, told Truthout that jail officers were “irate” when activists began “making noise they didn’t want to hear” and releasing footage on social media of family members who had not heard from their loved ones inside for a week. Officers were still carrying rifles and pepper spray as a small group of activists gathered in a tent outside the jail Wednesday morning.

“This is not a one-off thing, this has been going [on] for centuries with oppressing people and making it look like they are creating safety,” Johnson said in an interview, adding that activists are also organizing therapeutic spaces for family members of the incarcerated.

Power was finally restored at the jail on Monday after the facility came under pressure from prominent politicians who sent officials to investigate and provide aid. But reports of deteriorating conditions inside the federal facility cast a grim shadow over President Trump as he prepared to make his State of the Union speech.

Johnson said the restoration of heat is only the beginning at MDC, where outside activists plan to continue building power with those caged inside and demand respect for the millions of people incarcerated in the US. Johnson said this movement has implications for the immigration debate as well. If a militarized border is not helping people, then why would the gates of a prison?

“And humanity does not end behind a wall,” Johnson said. “We are using the hashtag of #AbolishMDC because no one deserves inhuman conditions. A society that allows anyone to be treated this way should be condemned, and any institution that takes away people’s basic rights should be abolished.”

Resistance at Every Turn

In many ways, this is what the resistance looks like in 2019. Protests are organized at the drop of a hat; violence and harm are countered with solidarity and compassion. In every corner of the country, people are mobilizing against injustice, environmental destruction, white supremacy, deportations, worker abuses and the caging of human bodies. Activists from various movements are connecting the dots and finding points of unity, and this intersecting resistance may very well come to define grassroots activism in the Trump era.

During his speech on Tuesday, Trump lauded the passage of the First Step Act, a law that advocates say does not go nearly far enough to address mass incarceration, and actually expands the carceral state, making it easier for private corporations to extract profits from incarcerated people and their families.

“Until we truly address the root causes and drivers of incarceration, we will never fully come to terms with the change needed to end the disparities that the system exacerbates,” DeAnna Hoskins, president of JustLeadershipUSA, said of the new law in a statement.

Meanwhile, incarcerated people across the country are resisting torturous living and labor conditions on a daily basis. While a coordinated, nationwide series of prison strikes made headlines last year, work stoppages, hunger strikes, riots and other disturbances and protests are regular occurrences within state and federal prisons, according to Duncan Tarr, one of the volunteers behind Perilous, a new website chronicling unrest in prisons.

“What our project kind of reveals is more than just the individual actions, it’s the frequency and the pervasiveness of them across time and across geography and across different types of facilities,” Tarr told Truthout.

Resistance has defined Trump’s time in office since day one, when rebellious protests erupted in the streets of Washington, DC, during his inauguration. Activists were soon occupying airports to protest Trump’s ban on travelers from Muslim countries. Women and femmes organized mass marches to challenge the misogyny exemplified by Trump.

Trump’s agenda continues to face resistance at every turn. For example, while he willfully ignores the dire warnings of climate disruption and installs industry lobbyists in the halls of power to carry his plan to unleash fossil fuel extraction across the country’s lands and waters, activists across North America are challenging the expanding infrastructure trampling landscapes as the US becomes the world leader in oil and gas extraction.

From the Unis’tot’en campaign in snowy Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, activists are taking direct action against new oil and gas pipelines that threaten to deepen our dependence on climate-warming fuels and damage Indigenous lands and sacred ecosystems. Just this week, four activists turned the shut-off valve on tar sands oil pipelines in Minnesota that have long been opposed by environmental and Native activists.

In Louisiana, the direct action activists who opposed the Bayou Bridge Pipeline have teamed up with national civil rights organizers and grassroots environmental justice groups in Cancer Alley, where residents of historic Black communities along the Mississippi are pushing back against plans to build new petrochemical and plastics plants in areas already dominated by refineries and choked with pollution.

“There comes a time when you have to stop following the rules, because their rules are supposed to keep you quiet,” said Rev. William Barber II, a civil rights activist and chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, during a gospel revival-style rally for environmental justice activists in Cancer Alley last week. “You’ve got to make new rules.”

Mutual Aid on the Border, Solidarity in the Streets

On the southern border with Mexico, Trump’s harsh crackdown on immigrants has created a humanitarian crisis by separating thousands of children from their parents, jailing large numbers of migrants, and turning asylum seekers fleeing violence and poverty away at border crossings. Activists have responded by building mutual aid groups and centers in Tijuana and other border zones filled with stranded migrants and members of the caravan that Trump has turned into a “national security” boogeyman with his litany of lies.

Food, medical care and know-your-rights trainings are organized for families in migrant shelters and those facing tear gas and incarceration for attempting to cross the border. FindHello, an app developed by refugee advocates, helps migrants find housing, jobs and other resources once they enter the country or are released from detention. Networks of volunteers also help migrants with little more than a bus ticket find their way, and crowdsourcing campaigns post bond for those held in immigration jails.

The Trump era has also seen a resurgence of the labor movement, which is winning important victories for workers across various industries. Teachers have staged major strikes in several states, most recently in Los Angeles, where the public teachers union and its supporters filled the streets with colorful demonstrations for days until school officials agreed to meet their demands for better pay and a more just education system. Despite backlash, momentum among teachers continues to spread.

With resistance comes retaliation and repression. On January 19, a federal judge found four activists guilty of misdemeanors after they were arrested while leaving food and water for migrants in the Arizona desert. Activists have pointed to the 2018 acquittal of a Border Patrol agent who shot and killed a Mexican teenager through a border fence as a clear example of the system’s hypocrisy and ignorance of human rights.

There have also been notable victories. During Trump’s inauguration, police executed a mass arrest of anti-capitalist and anti-fascist activists, along with several journalists, to break up a confrontational march on January 20, 2017, or “J20.” Prosecutors charged over 200 people with felony conspiracy to riot and other charges, threatening activists with decades in prison.

In a stunning display of solidarity, more than 200 people refused plea deals and pursued a collective legal defense strategy, daring the prosecutors to produce evidence showing they had actually committed a crime. Charges against the J20 defendants were dropped last year. The actions that occurred across Washington, DC, on J20 set the tone for the resistance to come.

Every day, communities across the US see acts of resistance, far too many to fit into one news story. The resulting energy has created a new generation of activists and even politicians who are boldly challenging the status quo. The resistance is strong and it is vital. With Trump in office, the consequences of inaction are on display for all to see.

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