Miguel del Toral, May 30, 2016
Buzzing phones, non-stop emails, late night planning, rushed interviews for local news and online media, and last-minute preparations dominated the days before the now infamous rally in Chicago to “Stop Trump.” It all began Monday, March 7th at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The initial meeting was organized by UIC students and spread via Facebook the week before titled “STOP DONALD TRUMP 2016”.
When I entered the meeting, I was greeted by a lecture hall full of students, activists, and community organizations. Members of the Anti-War Committee and the ANSWER Coalition were present, as well as the Black Youth Project, the Black Student Union, the Muslim Student’s Association, Socialist Alternative, Black and Pink Alliance, Students for Justice in Palestine, UIC Black Student Union, College Democrats, Fearless Undocumented Alliance and many others. As a UIC student and representative of the Socialist Party USA and Young People’s Socialist League, I took a seat.
The presentation began with a discussion about the situation at hand: The Chicago debut of Donald Trump at the UIC Pavilion. This shocking event had students outraged at our administration for allowing this bigot to speak on our campus, one of the most ethnically diverse campuses in the country. The plan was simple: shut Trump down. The problem was: “How?” Planning began in this meeting. The diverse group of radicals and liberals ranged the spectrum from Democrats to anarchists, which made planning all the more difficult to effectively organize. We finally decided to make the group’s mission statement as simple, concise and apolitical as possible. We made it clear that we opposed the presence of Trump on our campus as well as his xenophobic remarks and racist followers in order to defend and protect fellow students from the violence that follows him. Regardless of political orientation, we all realized the threat the event would pose to our fellow students and we wanted to show them that our student community will not tolerate racism, xenophobia, sexism, or jingoism.
Once the mission statement was drafted, our attention turned to the march and rally to the UIC Pavilion. Immediately there was contention as to how we should organize the actions; many preferred a militant approach to take over the street, while others called for a peaceful protest. Pro-Bernie Sanders students demanded the rally be respectful to Trump, his supporters, and the police in order to protect students and show our moral high ground. The entire room ridiculed the idea. They kept insisting that we not disrespect police and label ourselves as agitators and “thugs” (Yes, they said “thugs,” which did not go over well in a 95% black and brown room.) At one point, someone in the back shouted to the spokesperson to check her white privilege, which garnered much applause.
The main organizers asked if anyone had any experience organizing an event like this. As one of the main coordinators of the May Day 2015 event I raised my hand. I joined a member of Black Youth Project as well as Joe Iosbaker from the Antiwar Committee, someone from SEIU, John Beacham of ANSWER, and two other students. From there, things evolved rapidly.
We decided on a militant approach to our march, hierarchical to streamline the process, but democratic in our methods of decision-making. We quickly developed the plan, which was simple Start the rally, march to the UIC Pavilion and take over Harrison Street. We prepared for any potential police confrontation by utilizing an armband color guard system. Green meant that the person did not want to participate (or could not participate for various reasons) in the direct action or confrontation with police. Yellow denoted guards who would be on the front lines, who were in constant communication with the organizers in case something broke out. Lastly, red signified anyone willing to take arrest.
After the larger general meeting ended with a loose plan, the organizers met immediately after to further hammer out details. During the organizing meeting, a fellow SPUSA comrade Barret joined in. We discussed methods, potential problems, and safety risks. Logistical issues were identified, such as organizing folks who would infiltrate the Trump event, sound system setup, communication methods, as well as trainings to work with the media that would inevitably hound us (and did they!). Lewis, a member of the Black Student Union, was in charge of coordinating the groups going inside while everyone else focused on the march outside.
Over the next two days, we decided to include a list of speakers and performances. MoveOn.org made a banner and signs for the protest, and a small group of leaders met with UIC administration and campus police, the Chicago Police Department, Senator Luis Gutierrez, and a representative from Alderman Solis. We were told by CPD that we would not be able to go onto Harrison Street, and that we had to stay in the parking lot “for our own safety.” We demanded that we have access to the street, but were met with police pushback. UIC police accepted our demand that they, neither CPD nor Secret Service personnel, escort protesters outside if need be. Luis Gutierrez gushed about solidarity with the students and how he’d be there to protest and speak against Trump’s racist rhetoric, though no one had asked him or given him permission to speak onstage. We interpreted this as political opportunism coming from a typical Democrat, who would publicly proclaim his support Hillary Clinton a few weeks later.
After the meeting Juan, Cassandra, and I made it to SEIU headquarters where we got a crash course in public relations and were interviewed by local news stations. After several interviews, we returned to UIC to hold a meeting updating the group as well as sign up volunteers to disrupt the Trump event from inside. The following day, we finalized the plan. We would force past CPD to Harrison Street and take over the intersection. I would clear the stage before the march while the infiltrators began waiting in line to enter the pavilion. There was also a SPUSA/YPSL (Young People’s Socialist League) contingent that would meet outside of the UIC library and join the march to the pavilion.
The morning of the rally, I was inundated with messages. Several reports came in concerning Trump supporters on campus intimidating students, some dressed in camouflage. I had seen a couple of skinheads the previous night while on my way to drop one of the organizers off at home. We instructed people to walk around in groups to ensure their safety.
Inside the HQ, I started working on materials; we’d fly the SPUSA banner along with our red flag, which would lead the march. While putting on the finishing touches, we found out that Students for Bernie and others had organized a separate event scheduled for a few hours before the planned march as a deliberate attempt to poach protesters. This infuriated but didn’t surprise me. Social democrats throughout history have a nasty habit of co-opting and sabotaging radical workers’ organizing in order to preserve and strengthen their own positions.
I was on the stage beginning our rally when the march rounded up Harrison Street. They hit the police wall and the march stammered for a bit. I could hear yelling; the chants and cheers were getting louder as the group pushed their way past the police line that was trying to corral the group behind the fenced-off parking lot. The march went right past the cops and took over the intersection! Banners, flags and signs dotted the street as several hundred students and supporters flooded the street. I stayed with Barret and Popeye as security for the stage to guard the SEIU equipment. By the time we joined the group, we had grown to several thousand people. We had a student mariachi group perform at the beginning of the rally, but decided on not having entertainers perform during the march itself. I joined the organizers and speakers that were in the center of the intersection, where we led chants, speeches and personal stories.
A double line of pigs with paddy wagons separated us from the entrance of the pavilion. The supporters seemed to know what was up when they saw large groups of young minorities in line with them to enter the event. Our members made it inside though, and organizers outside were getting messages describing the situation. They had gotten into position but didn’t need to follow through, as Trump’s opposition vastly outnumbered his supporters.
Suddenly, Trump shut the event down before we could even implement the plan. When we heard the news, we blared it from the sound system and the roars of victory from the crowd were electrifying! There were several small scuffles outside which I could not see, and it was the fights that the news would selectively focus on for the duration of the coverage on the rally. We kept the outside rally going with speeches and chants until we made sure that every student we sent inside was safe, and then marched back to UIC together.
Throughout the night, local and national news broadcasts fixated on the actions of our group, and I was angered that both liberal and conservative media gave credit to Bernie supporters and Moveon.org, who played only an ancillary role. This was organized by us: the students, by Cassandra, Juan Usama, Ethos, Lewis, Barret and I, along with so many others. Those who helped the most were the SEIU and the ANSWER Coalition, and for that we’re grateful. (Personal shout-outs to Joe Iosbaker from the Anti-War Committee and SEIU as well as John Beachum from the ANSWER Coalition.) Thanks to our volunteers, to the supporters of YPSL (I mean you Israel!) and to Popeye for their support. While this may not have stopped or slowed Trump down, the intention was always to prevent the Hate-mongering Orange from putting our fellow students at risk of injury; while he insults us on our own campus. We did a damn good job of doing just that.