If you’ve watched the news this weekend, you’ve seen footage of protesters clashing with security forces and Donald Trump supporters at the site of a scheduled Trump rally in Chicago. The Trump campaign ended up canceling the event due to security concerns.
The MSNBC website has an interesting story about how a bunch of activists — some from the Bernie Sanders campaign, some from other groups like Black Lives Matter and Fearless and Undocumented — organized a massive protest against the Trump event. According to the story, a few key factors helped the protest gel.
The Trump event was on the University of Illinois-Chicago campus in the heart of the Windy City, where lots of Sanders supporters and activists are found. Progressive groups were already well organized in Chicago, because they’ve been routinely protesting against Democrat Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his police policies for months, so communications networks among groups were already established. And Trump’s message has so alienated many people that large groups were eager to join in the protest. The protest organizers came up with a plan, got thousands of protesters to show up and get into the Trump rally, and then when fights broke out the protesters got what their “#SHUTITDOWN” Twitter hashtag suggested — the Trump campaign pulled the plug and Trump himself never appeared.
How to react to people ripping up signs, throwing punches at political rallies, and shutting down a campaign event? My reactions are decidedly mixed. There’s no doubt that a lot of Donald Trump’s rhetoric is inflammatory — intentionally so — and he and his supporters shouldn’t be surprised when his strong statements provoke equally strong reactions. If Trump wants to lash out against immigrants, or Muslims, he’s got to expect that, in some quarters at least, he’s doing to be harshly criticized as a racist and a demagogue and he’s going to encounter lots of protests against his positions and statements.
At the same time, I hate to see violence erupt and political events canceled because of security concerns. The protesters had every right to advocate against Trump’s message, but Trump and his supporters had every right to speak, too. One comment in the MSNBC piece was a red flag for me: a protest organizer said, “We wanted to show Trump that this is Chicago, and we run Chicago, and we’re not going to take this.” Some other commentators have said that Trump was to blame for the clashes because his campaign dared to schedule an event on a college campus in an urban area. Such comments suggest — very uncomfortably, in my view — that there are “safe” areas and “unsafe” areas for campaign events to be held, depending on the political views and party affiliation of the candidate. That’s a dangerous, precarious viewpoint in a country where the Constitution guarantees free speech for all, even if the speech is deeply offensive to many.
One other interesting point about the Chicago clashes is that the Sanders campaign seems to have tapped into a strong vein of anti-establishment feeling on the left side of the political spectrum that cuts across racial lines. If you are disaffected — whether you are African-American, Latino, Anglo, or other — you’re going to notice that it was members of the Bernie Brigade, and not Hillary Clinton supporters, who helped put together the anti-Trump protests. It will be interesting to see whether this development, which could seriously cut into the support Clinton expects to get from African-Americans and Latinos, changes the political calculus as big states like Illinois, Ohio, and Florida vote on Tuesday.