Blaming protesters for the existence of the things they protest is like blaming your umbrella for the rain. That hasn’t inhibited recent arguments that demonstrators — like those who helped shut down Donald Trump’s rally in Chicago or blocked roads to Trump events in Arizona — are “self-defeating” and, in fact, handing the election to Trump. Some have been quick to run to the defense of Trump’s right to free speech (ignoring that vocal criticism is still not censorship, and protesters have freedom of speech, too). Others assert that Trump’s supporters are swelling in numbers because of protesters, as if he weren’t already the Republican front-runner, capable of packing out venues well before people shut down his rally.
Those who decry protesting Trump as self-defeating misunderstand both the root and purpose of these demonstrations. Protesters are responding to the injustice and hate being cultivated by Trump’s campaign; they’re fighting to reject the false narratives of a man and a party that has stoked racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and Ayn Rand–inspired Übermensch bullshit in the name of putting on one hell of a reality show for America’s votes. When acting with organization and principle, protesters remind us that we do not have to accept the vision of America Trump presents, and that we hold the power to shape this country’s future.
Protesters are valuable not only for their own tangible gains, however, but also for what they reveal about those they protest against. In this case, they’ve exposed a not insignificant number of Trump supporters to be false patriots with a chronic case of I-Wish-A-Motherfucker-Would, itching for an excuse to assault anyone who disagrees with them.
Protesters draw out the true nature of Trump and his most rabid followers; they make them bark and bare their teeth. A Trump enthusiast told people outside a rally in Cleveland to go to Auschwitz. We’ve seen Trump supporters at his rallies threaten harm to any who oppose them. The hateful fervor of people who love Trump rises to a fever pitch when someone who just looks as if they might consider demonstrating against Trump is in sight. And when the violence breaks out, we’ve seen Trump’s people cheer it on while Trump gives his tacit approval.
To break it down to a seventh-grade civics lesson that apparently escaped many pundits, protesters are not stripping Trump of his First Amendment rights by exercising their right to a peaceful public assembly. A man who can be on any national news outlet with a single phone call has no problem making his voice heard, I promise you. But those who are protesting don’t have the luxury of calling into Morning Joe whenever the mood strikes them, and must seize our attention in other ways.
As a result, protesters will occasionally impede our daily routines by blocking a road or gathering outside an event. That may frustrate and inconvenience you, but the target of any anger should be those injustices that compel American citizens to risk arrest or bodily harm, or both — just to be heard. Be frustrated, in this case, with Trump and the rage he feeds on for power. The backlash against him is no small thing. That is the spark of revolutionary change. It is the call of Chicago echoing down to Arizona, and carrying itself wherever it’s needed next. We should hear the voices of those who are protesting. They remind us that we can stand against Trump’s campaign of fear and bigotry, and win.