When Donald Trump began his run for the presidency, like many people, I didn't take him seriously as a candidate. Yet in the last few months, we've seen him increase in popularity, with the press and his base describing his bigoted comments as "no-nonsense, telling it like it is."
His run has taken the veiled racism that we're used to and opened it wide, influencing more moderate candidates' rhetoric and giving white folks permission to lift high the banner of white supremacy in support of him. Seeing how much media attention he has wielded, and given that he is self-funding his campaign, I have little hope his spotlight will wane. I now take his candidacy very seriously and say with no reservations that Trump is a dangerous demagogue.
Several days ago a group of black and Latinx student organizers contacted our SURJ chapter and asked us if we would join them in disrupting a Trump rally nearby. I attended their organizing meeting and took their plans back to our group. We made a commitment to join them in solidarity and to follow their lead.
Our chapter is only a few months old. At this point, we have several actions under our belt, but we were still anxious given how several of Trump’s supporters have been violent at his events. Donald Trump has only spurred this on, taking to social media and speaking in the press endorsing his supporter’s aggressive behavior. Several of the students we were working with knew organizers who had disrupted Trump earlier this year here in Virginia, only to be beaten and spit upon by Trump’s devotees. We knew that this action would be the biggest physical risk we had taken as a chapter.
Prior to the event, we gathered and talked about our resolve. We shared why we thought it important to be there in this moment. Supporting the black and brown students was paramount, but several of us wanted to be there out of solidarity with friends and family who had been implicated in Trump’s racial slurs and bigoted statements. We also wanted to show folks in our chapter who weren’t ready to take that kind of risk what it looks like for white people to put their bodies out there for racial justice. White folks need examples of this. We need white people talking bold action if we are collectively going to move out of the fearful fragility white supremacy has used to keep us silent in the face of oppression.
In every disruption we have participated in so far, the success of the action depended upon preparation. For this event, the students had done their own homework and laid out ground rules that would protect everyone involved as much as possible. Sticking together was key. We also shared out some de-escalation strategies so everyone would have tools to handle whatever might come our way. One of our members even shared a meditation practice and songs that she used to center her focus on our way up to the rally.
We knew the crowd would be predominantly white, yet I was surprised by how white it was. The presence of whiteness and the animosity toward anything that wasn’t whiteness was palpable at times. I knew we blended in, but I was concerned for our young friends who had yet to arrive. I was thankful for their savvy in planning to carpool and walk in together. Having those entrance and exit strategies were important parts of preparing for the action.
The other thing I’ve learned through this and other actions is that in addition to being prepared, we had to be flexible. Some of the elements of our plan were foiled by the fact that the venue was quickly at capacity, so we couldn’t enter the building as planned. The student leaders were well-organized and once everyone arrived, it only took a few minutes to discuss, adjust, and move into the action. We all locked arms in a circle facing outward, standing outside the open doors to the building where Trump was speaking and yelled “DUMP TRUMP” at the top of our lungs. We were able to disrupt his speech long enough for him to have to address the distraction and call for our removal. We were pushed all the way out to the highway by police and chanted “Black lives matter” until we were off-site.
After the action, our SURJ members met to debrief and discuss what happened, how we felt, and what we would have done the same or differently. The truth is, Trump milked what we had done and used it to rile up his crowd. He trades on being an agitator. To some degree, we gave all of them what they wanted. But we were not there for those folks.
We were there to stand with the students who were speaking up against oppression. We were there to prove to our group, and ourselves, that we white people can and do show up for racial justice, especially in situations where whiteness is overwhelming and potentially dangerous for people of color. White people on the fence, those who are trying to figure out how to enter this movement, all of them are looking for examples to follow. They are looking for white leaders who will give them the courage they need to call in their friends and family and stand up to white supremacy. This was an invigorating action for our group and I know it inspired more of ours who weren’t able to be there. When we acknowledge our fears and move forward together anyway, we are strong. We are more powerful than we know. I hope more SURJ chapters will take up this charge to action. White people, let’s dump Trump!
-Cayce Utley, SURJ Northern Virginia (SURJ NoVA)