We began Wednesday morning with the sight of Greenpeace activists scaling a 270-foot construction crane in downtown Washington and unfurling a gigantic orange and black banner that bore the message: “RESIST.” We ended the day with several hundred protesters marching to the White House to condemn President Trump’s executive order on immigration.
Welcome to Trump’s capital. It’s a spectacle a day here.
Self-proclaimed anarchists swarmed through downtown D.C. on Trump’s Inauguration Day, torching a limousine, smashing bus-stop glass and vandalizing businesses. Then hundreds of thousands of people massed on the Mall the following day for the Women’s March on Washington, waving clever and sometimes scathing signs aimed at the new commander in chief: “There Is So Much Wrong It Cannot Fit on This Sign” and “We Want a Leader, Not a Creepy Tweeter.”
Coming Friday: The annual March for Life, which will bring tens of thousands of newly energized antiabortion demonstrators to the nation’s front yard.
Even the country’s scientists are planning a march on Washington.
Meetings? Deadlines? Schedules? All plans are soft in the District, a city where people chanting in the streets or rappelling off construction cranes bring traffic to a halt. The working world is feeling it. #Thisisnotnormal.
I have to confess that I’ve always been a street protest skeptic.
This comes from decades of covering protests. I’ve double-time marched backward for miles, interviewing people about apartheid, gay rights, abortion, Rodney King, racism, Palestine, globalization, layoffs, public dancing, the World Bank, female genital mutilation, women’s rights, the death penalty, homelessness and war after war. I’ve slept in the bushes to hang with the protesters, I’ve been in the control rooms as police chiefs strategize riot control.
Yet I’ll never forget talking with the banker in his crisp suit and air-conditioned office, looking out the window at the protesters below and just laughing, laughing, laughing. Because he knew they’d eventually be gone and nothing would change.
That reality dulled the power of protest for me.
Even one of the founders of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which spread to 82 countries and had millions of people in the streets, agreed with my assessment.
“The end of protest is the proliferation of ineffective protests that are more like a ritualized performance of children than a mature, revolutionary challenge to the status quo,” said Micah White, who wrote “The End of Protest — A New Playbook for Revolution” after the Occupy movement had the world’s attention, then sputtered and stalled in a pile of ragged tents and trashed city parks.
“Activists who rush into the streets tomorrow and repeat yesterday’s tired tactics will not bring an end to Trump nor will they transfer sovereign power to the people,” White wrote. “There are only two ways to achieve sovereignty in this world. Activists can win elections or win wars. There is no third option.”
But this time feels different. Keep it up, protesters, because this time, it’s working. You’re getting to him.
This daily public humiliation — the massive, televised rejection of the direction of this administration — Donald Trump cares about that.
The war hawks didn’t care. The bankers didn’t care. The party hard-liners didn’t care. But Trump cares.
He’s a showman, a ringmaster, a ratings junkie. And nothing angers an attention addict more than a bigger, louder show next door.
This is Trump’s language.
It’s not going to change policy, but it will rankle and distract him. And it will signal to the rest of the world that most of America isn’t on board the lying train to Absurdistan.
The letters and calls to Congress, the preparation for 2018 elections and the full-throated participation in all levels of the democratic process are ultimately the only path to real change.
But meanwhile, the protests will be effective if they’re peaceful, on point and relentless.
Remember all those post-election vandals arrested in Oregon who didn’t even vote? Nope. Can’t do that again.
And no more torching limos. The one that was set ablaze on K Street in front of The Washington Post belonged to a Muslim immigrant who has no idea if his insurance will cover the tens of thousands of dollars of damage. And the one-percenter riding in it just called another one.
Here’s my protest prescription: Anti-Trump activists need go to every single Trump hotel in this country and around the world and set up legal, peaceful, annoying-as-hell vigils. Occupy them day and night. Take shifts, don’t leave. Make it really uncomfortable to stay there.
Oh, he’ll see that. And it will infuriate him.
This should be the new normal. This time, it will work.