Will protests stop Trump?

My time is winding down here in McCarthy, and so I’m trying to enjoy the last week of my time in Alaska, which isn’t hard to do with all the September sunshine, a welcome relief after an Angry August of rain and cold. It’s also easy to enjoy the time here because as more and more folks disperse in the annual Alaska diaspora, the bar empties out save for locals.

Last night I was chatting with a local buddy at the bar. He lives in McCarthy now, but he’s originally from California. We started talking politics and culture, and eventually he began reminiscing about attending Iraq War  protests, back during the Bush years. The protests seemed to have left a distinct impression on him, mostly negative. They felt a bit ineffective, quixotic even. He mentioned a certain festival type of atmosphere, with fire jugglers.

I mostly remember the Iraq War from the other side, because in the early 2000’s I was still a conservative and still very hooked into right-wing media. I voted for Bush twice — enthusiastically in 2000 and then much less enthusiastically in 2004. During that era, I remember protests being reported by right-wing pundits as a trivial thing. For the right-wing media, protesters were a form of entertainment, especially for someone like Rush Limbaugh, who has a natural comic sense and has used that gift to great success in satirizing leftist protesters and activists.

Occupy L.A.
Khazraei Vajid conducting his own form of yoga in the meditation tent at the Occupy LA site in downtown Los Angeles, circa 2011

It only makes sense that protests would evolve, as politics changes. There are still violent protests in the traditional style, but a protest today might as well involve fire jugglers or meditation cushions.

But are protests effective? We live in a time period where activism is now mainstream, so more people than ever are attending protests. In the meantime, though, we have a government succeeding in a massive roll back of civil rights, and we have a President who is destroying the democratic foundations of the Republic as well as the governmental checks and balances put in place by the Founders — and they don’t give a shit about protests.

“Activists can win elections or win wars. There is no third option”

As Micah White puts it: “Just think of the three years many activists spent on Black Lives Matter versus the 18 months it took Trump to sweep into power.”



Micah White is an activist and was a co-founder of the Occupy Movement. Shortly after Trump’s election in 2016, he wrote Protests Won’t Stop Trump.

“Nominally democratic governments tolerate protest because elected representatives no longer feel compelled to heed protest. The end of protest is not the absence of protest. 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.

“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. There are only two ways to achieve sovereignty in this world. Activists can win elections or win wars. There is no third option.”

I’d like to go on record saying that I like fire jugglers. I appreciate going to protests where there are things like mindfulness circles and fire jugglers, because it lifts the spirits to join in solidarity, and it’s an important forum for solidarity and fellowship. Even a gathering that is more festival than a protest can still play the critical role of raising awareness on issues. Physical presence is important, and anytime activists occupy a space, good things can happen. So, it might be overly simplistic to say protests are ineffective.

FOX aka The Trump News Network

Even so, activism must evolve. Politics are always evolving, and so must activists. To illustrate the point, consider that when protests raged against Nixon and the Vietnam war, the media situation was very different. Roger Ailes was a mere media consultant to Richard Nixon, just before the Nixon ship sank, and later Ailes would go on to build Fox into the right-wing spin machine that it is today. Fox and their friends on other media have succeeded, in fact, in painting any and all activism as merely serving the so-called “liberal elites,” which is pretty much the opposite of what activism is actually seeking to do.

So, how must activism evolve? According to White, it’s about power, which makes sense to me. The litmus test for activism is whether it is moving us toward a world that is less destructive/violent/abusive/exploitative.

“Activists can win wars or win elections,” White says, “There is no third option.” As such, activism must always center itself on the task of seizing sovereignty:

“American activists must move from detached indignation to revolutionary engagement. They must use the techniques that create social movements to dominate elections.”

“Concretely speaking, activists must reorient all efforts around capturing sovereignty. That means looking for places where sovereignty is lightly held and rarely contested, like rural communities. Or targeting sovereign positions of power that are not typically seen as powerful, such as soil and water district boards or port commissions. Protests will remain ineffective as long as there is no movement-party capable of governing locally and nationally.”

Published by

Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

8 thoughts on “Will protests stop Trump?”

  1. I really shouldn’t probably comment on this since I just don’t view protests the same. So, I am a bit off subject, but related.

    I try very hard not to be either a hater or ill-informed/deluded… (So I feel real crazy when I say I give the president “a chance” over and over again. Not like I have a choice. I live in Texas where even if I did vote, my vote against this guy would just not have counted anyway. But still, I always pray for him and hope against hope that either he will smarten up (Only God could help that, I think) or that he just my blunder into some surprisingly beneficial decisions and actions. I mean this guy is so unloyal to anything or anyone that he really could pull a 180 and call up a few liberals and work WITH them just to spite his own cronies. And I cant actually change this at all, so I might as well hope against hope)

    So why am I saying all this?

    Because every now and then when I hear or sense movement that might really oust him, I find a fresh breath of hope that surprises me. And even if that movement were a protest, I would sense a bit of hope and relief despite all my efforts to be settled and respectful with a really raw situation.

    Anyway, that was a lot of words to not really say much…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. So you’ll be state side soon? What are your plans? Are you coming to SDak or going to California?

    I miss you! Love always!! Mom

    On Fri, Sep 14, 2018, 4:35 PM Jonathan Erdman, indie writer wrote:

    > Jonathan Erdman posted: “My time is winding down here in McCarthy, and so > I’m trying to enjoy the last week of my time in Alaska, which isn’t hard to > do with all the September sunshine, a welcome relief after an Angry August > of rain and cold. It’s also easy to enjoy the time here” >


  3. Comrade, I don’t know if you follow @prisonculture on Twitter, but I highly recommend it–she’s incredibly well-informed on prison issues, and related matters (race, violence, and so on). She said the other day that she can’t stop wondering whether Donald Trump would’ve been elected president if Black Lives Matter (a protest movement!) hadn’t happened. That she just keeps thinking/wondering if the extra-radicalized/panicked white supremacy that elected Trump would’ve been a thing, if BLM hadn’t been a thing. That seems like such a valid & important point to me. Rebecca Solnit makes the point that protests/movements often don’t have the direct consequence hoped for, but they often actually have a bigger, farther-reaching consequence. (I think you could make this argument with Occupy, too.)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Your post and the comments were very interesting. It was interesting to hear you used to be on ‘the other side,’ that gives you a unique perspective. I used to go on all kinds of CND demonstrations as a child and teen in the 1980s. Our world focussed on the imminent threat of being vapourised. I went to the big Stop the War (anti Iraq war) demo in London, and later spent several hours standing about in my home city wearing a placard saying Not in My Name. But I don’t do anything ĺike that anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your post here has been a catalyst for many new thoughts on protests for me ever since I read it.

    My new thoughts are not, I don’t think, in the same vein as yours, but sparked by yours all the same.

    I once had a friend (much older than me) who told me that the Beatlemania of the sixties will never be repeated. “Do you know why?” he asked. And of course I saw Michael Jackson mania, but it was not the same. I saw Bon Jovi mania, and it was not the same either. But I did not know why, and so he gave me his analysis.

    Because before 64 there had not been a strong feminist movement in this country. Not like after it. And one thing you don’t see in the video footage of those screaming females going nuts for John, Paul, George n Ringo is the loss of bladder control.

    Well, I don’t claim to believe his analysis at all. I never say any data to back that up. But it did open my mind to new thoughts. And similarly, yours has too.

    I am thinking of protests in the 60’s and 70’s that have not since been paralleled or surpassed that I can tell. I am Gen X and we are known for apathy on this stage. We saw our parents gen come down off that frenzy, but we never followed in kind. What changed?

    Well a lot changed.

    But I cant help but consider how that the WWII Gen (my grandparents) grew up in the Gr. Dep. Then they went to the war – the World War. They started out as very humble simple, farm kids for the most part. Never left the county all their life. In fact for a couple generations and more in a lot of cases, they had not left the county much. And were VERY simple and rather humble by today’s standards. Not overly free and individualistic like you see later.

    And these kids dropped a bomb on the world. Well, not the kids, but they were the face of America when it happened. And they ushered in the age of suburbia and geopolitics etc at explosive growth. Humble simple farm kids all grown up pinching pennies and all that.

    Their kids, though….

    The Baby Boomers had a sense of entitlement along with a strong sense of individualism and they grew up proud all over the world in a country that dominated the geo politic and walked softly and carried a BOMB. Not that they approved, but they did this. They rightly saw much injustice in the simple minded ways. There was racism, sexism, and a nuclear threat – not to mention the very unjust and despicable war in Vietnam!

    My point is that these kids of the B. Boom Gen, were the precious children of the WWII Gen. That was their kids out there protesting. The Generation Gap was real, but the family ties were too. When you see your kids protesting, burning draft cards and bras and getting lynched or burned up in a freedom bus, you care!

    When its someone elses kids, not so much.

    Our world is way more anaonymous now. We also do not have a unifying story – a meta narrative. Not like before. There is barely a steering wheel to hold on to anymore. You can protest, but I don’t know who you are or what you want. And it all looks like chaos to me that just threatens me and mine.

    Maybe I am way off, but I think there is something IN THIS mix that needs to be addressed before just any old protest will catch a gear.

    Liked by 1 person

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