By Mike Hembury
One of the most inspiring and uplifting things I’ve seen in recent years was the reaction of many US citizens to the so-called “Muslim Ban” issued as an executive order by Donald Trump on January 27th. I was sitting at home here in Europe with live footage streaming in from JFK airport, where a fired-up crowd were chanting “You build a wall – we’ll tear it down”. And the great thing was, you could tell they really meant it. Of course, those scenes were played out at airports all over the USA in a truly magnificent display of spontaneous defiance against an unjust and discriminatory act of presidential malice. And I’ve got to say that it is the spontaneous and determined nature of the resistance against the Trump presidency that has filled me with a sense that, even given the magnitude of the challenge, and the potential for hate, chaos and reaction that Trump and the forces he represents are unleashing, there are nevertheless still millions of reasons to be hopeful and optimistic in these dark times.
But what exactly is going on? There have been some great articles published recently which have analyzed the situation, so I don’t want to rehash any of that. But it does seem interesting that despite the speed with which the Bannon/Trump regime are attempting to create facts on the ground—for example at this moment with the ICE raids on undocumented immigrants across the country—the government is still a long way away from consolidating its hold on power. In fact, uniquely since the American Civil War, the government has effectively instigated a major conflict with parts of the state apparatus itself. Not only has there been popular protest on the ground, but also the governors of individual states and members of the judiciary have been standing up to the injustice of the president’s executive order. Trump’s response has basically amounted to a declaration of war against the right of the judiciary to countermand an autocratic presidency. As one TV comic put it while imitating Trump: “Checks and balances? I thought it was only checks.”
Intriguingly, it’s not even as if the capitalist class is united behind the Trump administration. Tech organizations such as Microsoft and Amazon joined the state of Washington’s legal challenge against the “Muslim Ban” in a very high-profile move. This serves to highlight the particular composition of the Bannon/Trump regime, which can basically be seen as Big Oil, predatory capital (the Vampire Squid a.k.a. Goldman Sachs), chunks of the military and paramilitary industries (such as Blackwater) and the white supremacist alt-right. For more on the composition of the Trump government, check out Nafeez Ahmed’s brilliantly researched article. At a time when the planet is entering into crisis on a number of fronts (climate, the economy, food, and resources), the answer of these elites is to fight a rearguard action to maintain their positions of privilege, even if the price to pay will be the destruction of the planet in the not-so-long term.
Set against that we have the magnificence of the Women’s March on Washington, the heroic stand taken by the Sioux and their environmentalist supporters at Standing Rock, anti-fascist and immigrant solidarity mobilizations across the country, and the beginnings of a major LGBTQ mobilization against the expected onslaught. And I think it needs to be said that not only is the world watching, but that the messages being sent out from the US resistance movement have been inspirational, compassionate, defiant. In the face of naked greed, hatred, callousness, inhumanity and fear-mongering we have seen love, solidarity, magnanimity, selflessness, humility and determination to defend the earth and our fellow human-beings.
It’s difficult to express how deeply moving this has been to witness.
There has been a consistently clear articulation within the resistance movements on the ground of a determination to be inclusive, intersectional, interconnected. Preparations are underway for further protests and even for a women’s strike on March 8th and a general strike on May 1st. There is an awareness that partial resistance, while necessary, is not enough, and that the space is there for a “movement of movements”. As the White House moves in the direction of autocracy, dictatorship and even civil war, America society is more polarized than at any time since the 1960s. At the moment the future is unwritten and there is everything to play for.
Seen from afar, it seems that the oppressed peoples of the United States are waking from a torpor, are shaking off a bad Hollywood dream and are learning to overcome their own fear and isolation. For those on the sharp end of the oppression of the new regime, the question “Is there anybody out there?” takes on an existential significance. For someone being held at an airport, or being hunted by an ICE squad, the difference can be a life-or-death one. The Resistance has made it clear that, yes, they are there, yes, they are with you.
And to the resisters who ask, 'Is there anybody out there?' We, in the rest of the world, can say: yes, we are watching. Yes, we are with you, just as you are with us, in our hopes, our hearts, and our dreams.
Previously published as ‘Is Anybody Out There?’ in Mike’s SOAPBOX column in The Wild Word magazine. www.thewildword.com
For more great Wild Word essays see:
The Beginning of the End of Donald Trump by Maria Behan
My Awakening at Standing Rock by Sarah Drumm
Why Trump Supporters Must Begin America’s Healing by Reverend Rachel Kessler
Surviving a Long Winter with Kids by Jami Ingledue