Violence and racism in the US is as old as the country - but Americans are now waking up and protesting like never before
For many years I wore a button on my backpack, prodding people: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”.
Trump has angered enough Americans, and at a fast enough pace, to catalyse the resistance
The button was a great conversation starter, as many people would ask me what they should be outraged about, or why, as they put it, I had “a chip on my shoulder.”
My answers then did not differ much from what my answers would be now: I am outraged at the unabashed racism of this xenophobic country, first settled by undocumented immigrants, founded on the genocide of the indigenous people and built with the slave labour of enslaved Africans and their descendants.
I am outraged when men of the cloth bless wars launched by our country, which is supposed to have separation of church and state. I am outraged at this country’s addiction to war, its glorification of the military.
I am outraged at the epidemic of law enforcement violence.
I am outraged at the very persistent pattern of profit over people, which impacts every aspect of our lives, from education to health care to the environment and a lot more besides.
Police in riot gear in Pittsburgh prepare for protesters during the G-20 summit in September 2009 (AFP)
I say my answers would be the same now - except that nobody is asking anymore.
Clinton the hawk
President Donald Trump’s brutishnes has outraged tens of millions of Americans who, until very recently, were lulled into apathy by the elegance, charm, and charisma of Barack Obama.
And many of those millions who were charmed by Obama would have celebrated in the streets, had Hilary Clinton been elected as our first female president.
The country has been on this path, following this course of action, ever since it was founded, as a settler colonial state built with slave labour
Yet Clinton’s record as a hawkish secretary of state recalls that of her predecessor, Madeleine Albright, who thought the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children as a result of the sanctions was an “acceptable price to pay…”
Despite my critical assessment of the Obama administration, I do not seek to attempt to minimise the harm Trump will do to this country and the world.
People today are living in fully justified fear for their freedom, their wellbeing and their lives. Many are going to die as a result of Trump’s policies, who would otherwise have been fine under Obama.
When refugees are denied entry to the US and forced to return to the country they fled in order to save their lives, they will die.
Ku Klux Klan members harass black residents in January 1938 (AFP)
When sick people cannot afford healthcare, they will die.
When children drink contaminated water, they will die.
Not Trump’s legacy
Trump’s first week has confirmed and exceeded our worst fears. The rapid-fire volleys of executive orders issued by the president have, rightly, given rise to comparisons with “shock and awe” military assaults. The blows to basic rights are coming fast and furious.
Nevertheless, we must stop blaming Trump for all that is wrong with the US today.
It was Obama who first drew up the list of the seven countries now comprising Trump’s 'Muslim Ban,' and Obama bombed five of these
This is neither a denial of the harm he is inflicting, nor letting him off the hook. Rather, it is recognition that the country has been on this path, following this course of action, ever since it was founded, as a settler colonial state built with slave labour, that then grew to become a hyper-militarised uber empire. With that recognition comes the realisation that we need to change more than the president.
Deportations, torture, law-enforcement violence, gender violence, heteropatriarchy, support for dictatorships, support for occupation, ongoing occupation here, military coups abroad - none of these are Trump innovations.
The US-Mexico border fence at Sunland Park near the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez in January 2017 (Reuters
Long before Trump aspired to the presidency, Japanese Americans had been rounded up and taken to internment camps.
European Jews fleeing the Holocaust were turned away at American ports of entry. There already is a border wall with Mexico. Islamophobia has infused every aspect of this culture for decades, escalating, if not emerging out of the blue, after the 9/11 attacks.
It was Obama who first drew up the list of the seven countries now comprising Trump’s “Muslim Ban". Obama bombed five of these, and imposed heavy sanctions on the other two.
Trump did not materialise out of nowhere, and every executive order he has issued so far dealt with an issue that has been festering in this country for years.
Capitalise on outrage
Yet he has accomplished something few, if any, presidents or even career organisers have achieved: he has angered enough Americans, and at a fast enough pace, to catalyse the resistance.
His vulgarity, his repulsive behaviour, are such that most people cannot ignore them.
There is no sugar coating here, no banality to the administrative violence that characterised previous administrations.
Trump brags about what other presidents would have tried to disguise. And as a result, people who had grown up believing it was best to just go with the flow and be “good Americans,” are being stirred out of their complacency. Today, it is not only progressives and long-term activists who are taking to the streets. Many are joining protests for the first time in their lives.
The mobilisation, the organising, the commitment to resist this administration’s blows are happening at levels not seen in this country before.
The University of Michigan, a very large public university, has refused to release the immigration status of its students
Mayors of sanctuary cities such as Chicago and Seattle are vowing not to be “bullied” into compliance with Trump’s orders, even though they know that they will lose federal funding for their non-cooperation.
The state of California has threatened not to pay taxes if it loses federal funding for keeping its sanctuary cities.
Forced by a presidential order into media blackout, so as not to report on environmental devastation, park rangers from seven national parks have taken to sending out information on social media.
Governors are openly denouncing the president as grossly incompetent, engaging in “highly illegal” acts. “We’re drawing the line here at Sea-Tac,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee said, addressing the protesters at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where federal officers had detained six refugees upon arrival.
Native Americans celebrate after a victory over the Dakota Access Pipeline in December 2016 (AFP)
And an ever-growing number of people are taking to the streets, throughout the country, battered by decades of repression (none of this is new, it’s just out in the open now), yet buoyed by the rising time of determination to shut it down.
We must now capitalise on our outrage, not only refusing to cooperate with this new administration and become utterly ungovernable, but also take stock of the culture of complacency that allowed such a man to become president in the first place.
Now, in this chaos, in this cauldron of catalysed energy, we must finally cultivate and nurture the alternative. Looking at the past is most useful if we learn from it, and focus on the future.
The slogans on our protest signs are eloquent. Let’s make them a reality, not just an aspiration.
“From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go.”
“No ban on stolen land.”
“Never again is now.”
“Zionism is racism.”
“Black Lives Matter.”
“Your silence will not protect you.”
And SHUT IT DOWN!
- Nada Elia is a Diaspora Palestinian writer and political commentator, currently working on her second book, Who You Callin' "Demographic Threat?" Notes from the Global Intifada. A professor of Gender and Global Studies (retired), she is a member of the steering collective of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: People attend an afternoon rally in Battery Park to protest US President Donald Trump's new immigration policies in New York City on 29 January 2017 (AFP)
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.