Wednesday morning. i get up early with my kiddo every morning. We’re both early risers. This morning i decide to take us both for a walk around the neighborhood so my partner can sleep in for a bit. We walk down to the nearest park and stop for coffee at the place on the corner. There’s a poster hanging in the window next to the Black Lives Matter sign that says “Stop profiling Muslims, now!” and another that reads “We welcome refugees”. i note this in a little corner of my mind you could call “signs of the times” and after a bit more walking head home.
We pass the neighborhood mosque on the way home. Some kids in the parking lot by the mosque are trying to get a game of pick-up soccer going. One of the Somali guys i know approaches me, we exchange greetings: him, with an emphatic “Salaam”, my still not entirely wakeful response “how you doing, neighbor?” His expression and demeanor changes, and he cautiously hands me a little folded piece of paper with bits of messy scotch tape folded over on the edges, the paper had clearly been crumbled at some point. He tells me “we found this at the crosswalk in my neighborhood”. i unfold a flier for the Ku Klux Klan. i’ve seen this same flier several times taped up the the bus shelter just a few blocks from where i live, ripping it down each time i’ve found it. “Thank you for showing me this. This is so fucked up. i don’t know what else to say but i’m sorry”. He dribbles the soccer ball a bit before replying, “I just thought you and your family oughta know about this. This is dangerous for us all. Wa-Alaikum-as-Salaam, friend.” i answer in kind, and finish my walk around the remaining couple blocks home.
The kiddo and i get inside & unwind, and find my partner sitting at the table we pulled from the alley a week prior. She closes our laptop, scoops up our kiddo up off the floor, and asks me “Do you wanna go to this anti-Trump rally downtown on Friday?” Somehow, it didn’t register with me at first that she meant downtown StL. It just seemed so counter-intuitive to me, for some reason, that Trump would come to St. Louis.
Since surviving a nasty car accident a few months ago, to be honest, while i’ve been focusing on my physical and emotional recovery from a very scary collision i’d been trying my best to avoid knowing too much about all the political party electioneering and the political theatre around the Trump campaign. But the past two or three weeks in particular the billionaire fascist had become impossible to completely ignore, even in my day-to-day relations with the people closest to me who understand and respect my decision to not focus on this too much while i’m recovering. Trump had given me a great reason to steer clear of social media for months, but it’s been getting to the point that i hear so much each time i take the bus to work, and what i’ve been hearing has been so disturbing, i resolved recently to try to catch up on current events in American politics.
Having just the prior evening seen footage for the first time of the ritualized oath of allegiance to Trump that Trump’s supporter swear en masse at his rallies, his repeated encouragement of his followers’ “roughing up” Black Lives Matter protesters and promises to defend his supporters in court when they get violent, and his thinly veiled threats to deport, force registration, and block immigration of families like mine to the United States, i had resolved to get involved; somehow.
We agreed we should go, but for the next 48hours debated whether or not to take our kid. Just one week before and a few blocks away, during a bullshit traffic stop of a black family headed to church, StL police held a loaded gun to the family’s terrified 2year old, telling him to “shut up & sit down!” After an evening protest outside police headquarters, the police department released an edited dashcam tape that doesn’t show what the cop on the passenger side of the family’s car was doing, and accused the family of lying about the incident & claimed the edited and incomplete footage “proves” the police’ narrative. Another day, another familiar story.
The evening before the Trump rally in StL i made the mistake of looking at social media, and saw on the event page urging folks to show up to protest & disrupt the rally, as well as on several friends & acquaintances’ pages, people were arguing over whether or not it is “safe” to show up and protest, at all. A lot of people referenced recent acts of ultra-rightwing vigilante violence against minorities, and the KKK’ stabbing of anti-fascist protesters at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Anaheim as reason enough to stay “safe” at home and, as one comment on a friend’s plea for a forceful AntiFa turnout put it: “we should stay safe now so we’re all alive and healthy to take down Trump at the polls”. A few liberals even pulled some scaremongering BS, alluding to the supposed threat of “outside agitators” (local anarchists) instigating violence with the Trump supporters, thus “justifying” police repression of “peaceful protesters”. Don’t even get me started on what an oxymoron “peaceful protest” is to me, each and every time i hear it described that way.
The fear-mongering pissed both of us off. A lot. So we decided to take the kiddo with us, and since low-key has never been our thing, we resolved to keep a cautious distance from any physical altercations. We packed a couple spare diapers, some sunscreen for the kid, a black flag on an old wooden mop handle, pepper spray, a bottle of Maalox, some vinegar, and a couple keffiyeh, just in case shit went down. We talked out a few rough contingency plans – we’ve been in these situations enough times before to know it’s foolish to make one plan and stick to that no matter what – made sure the right people knew we were going and what we were doing, and turned in a bit early the night before, so we’d be plenty rested for the crazy day ahead.
Friday, March 11
i’ve always been an early riser, but what is it about going to be early the night before that triggers an un-restful sleep coma? We got a late start, made our coffee extra strong and had a big breakfast. We learned a long time ago to eat a good meal before going into a situation which might result in one of us or our friends getting captured by the police and locked up.
In St. Louis, getting arrested on a Friday often means that – best case scenario – you’re staying in custody until at least Monday afternoon, and it seems like these sort of things disproportionately happen in StL on Fridays. Sometimes when the weekend falls across a big drinking holiday the pigs just issue folks captured from protests or direct actions a court date and fast track us back out onto the streets to keep cells open to fill with drunken festivalgoers, the white middle class “revelers” who these days are somehow totally “different” from rioters, basically because their disorderly behavior helps support the local economy of beer brewing and the enablement of alcoholism. Either way, StL survives on the tax revenues of big drunken corporate sponsored festivals, and on systemic kidnapping & extortion by police. With Saint Patrick’s Day antics all weekend to-come, i was hoping no one arrested would be locked up all weekend, but i wasn’t gonna bet on that.
We parked north of downtown and steered clear of police, barricades, and anything that looked like it might be a checkpoint. Already Trump supporters flooded downtown, and police were over-extended in their effort to manage the line to get into the venue, which stretched all the way round the block, while simultaneously corralling protesters and occasionally arresting protesters & getting involved on Trump supporters’ behalf when scuffles broke out. St. Louis police were also profiling and removing people from line who they thought “looked like trouble”. On any given day i never can quite tell what the fuck the police’ job actually entails and encompasses. i’m pretty convinced at this point that they all just make it up as they go along. Across the street from the venue, the Peabody Opera House, vendors were setting up for Saint Patrick’s Day festivities, and police were also attempting, and failing, to keep Trump’s followers and the protesters out of pop-up tents and barricades.
One of the first things that struck me was how homogenous in appearance were the people in line to see Trump. A LOT of blond hair, blue eyes, skin four or five shades lighter than my own, Dockers and khakis (their Sunday best) or jeans from Walmart & sneakers. There were a lot of folks wearing local sports team paraphernalia, camo pattern clothing, “Don’t Tread On Me” and American flag themed t-shirts, hats & pins, and US military veterans sporting patched jackets and occasionally medals.
It took us awhile to locate and reach our friends. Police had set up a barricade splitting the protest in two, and were forcing folks to walk around the block through thousands of Trump supporters to reach the other side of the barricade. There was oddly no police presence around the block, and several friends and acquaintances told us they’d been confronted by Trump followers and at least one friend had rocks thrown and misogynist & racist slurs hurled at her on the walk around the block. We also saw Trump supporters engage in body-shaming and the sort of low-brow bullying common on elementary school playgrounds at recess time. We saw Trump supporters telling elderly Black women to “go back wherever it is you come from”, calling redheaded protesters “Carrot Top” and protesters with curly hair “Sideshow Bob”, and especially antagonizing a small group of Muslim Persian & Arab women holding signs which read “Muslims are your friends” and “Islamophobia = Hate, Islam does NOT = Hate”.
A friend struck up a conversation with the Muslim women, and a few of us decided to march with them. My partner got into a verbal altercation with a Trump fan who was body-shaming several protesters and ranting about far-rightwing conspiracy theories steeped in anti-Semitism. Around that time the police announced they were closing the doors to the venue and not seating anymore people. There were still a few thousand Trump supporters in line, and there was a moment when the tension significantly escalated.
A few people from the line wearing military jackets and medals, POW/MIA patches, and Tea Party t-shirts started shouting something at me about ISIS, having spotted a vaguely “middle eastern-looking” person standing with the Muslim women’s group, holding a solid-black flag while wearing a keffiyeh. Somehow that combination of actions and perceived character traits = i’m part of ISIS. One man yelled at us that my flag kills Christians in Iraq. One of the Muslim women yelled back that Trump supporters don’t know their political geography if they think my flag was an ISIS flag. Undaunted by facts, another person from the line shouted that my flag “kills Jews in Syria”, to which another Muslim woman shouted back, “and we Muslims mourn and pray for them all, just as we pray for the countless Christians and fellow Muslims murdered by ISIS. People like you and your imperialist wars make ISIS possible!”
Somehow my friends got their hands on some homemade pennants that read “Make America Gay Again!” Several times confused Trump supporters approached us and asked what that meant. We heard more than a few disgusted bigots murmur amongst themselves “it’s the gay agenda!” Then word got out that the Peabody Opera House was going to blast audio from the rally inside through loudspeakers for everyone who couldn’t get inside. A huge number of people, cops, Trump supporters, and protesters all flooded into Market Street, in front of the opera house. All of a sudden we found ourselves shoulder to shoulder with the Trump people. None of us could remember a time in StL that the cops shut down a major street downtown so that a political candidate who reserved an indoor venue could broadcast his speech to thousands of his supporters standing in the streets outside. i felt that same sick feeling i had when i was a kid the first time i saw pictures of the mass rallies the Nazis held almost a century ago.
Before Trump’s speech even began, protesters who had reserved tickets and made it past security’s profiling to be seated inside started disrupting the rally and getting thrown out, some of them were arrested. This went on for between ten to fifteen minutes at a time. Trump literally spent most of his time on stage screaming “Get them out!” to security, rambling about building a wall, scapegoating China for America’s economic woes, demonizing Muslims, refugees and migrant workers, and talking about how, in his view, “the problem” with protesters is, apparently, that they get “out of line” because police are – again, supposedly – “afraid” to “rough them up a bit” and there’s “no consequences” for “them” protesting, anymore.
In response to this some of my friends started angrily talking about all the people locally who were seriously injured by police at Black Lives Matter protests, the past year and a half, like the pregnant woman who lost an eye to a police “less lethal” round at protests the night of the grand jury decision to let ex Ferguson pig Darren Wilson off the hook for the cold blooded murder of Mike Brown. But all i could think was “this is all redneck theatre, like a WWF wrestling event”. Trump’s “Get ‘em outa here!” catch phrase, the more and more i heard it, began to strike me as a symbol for his supporters’ desire to purge America of anyone who doesn’t look like them, live like them, love like them, or worship the same hateful green paper god they do.
As the first major fights broke out, the ones i witnessed resulting from white men putting their hands on people of colour who weren’t having that, who were then tackled and arrested by phalanxes of police, who surrounded and protected the Trump supporters who had started the physical altercations – at least once i saw police giving a Trump supporter who started a fight an “atta’boy!” pat on the back – it dawned on me that Trump isn’t really the real threat; his supporters are. Donald Trump, just a few short months ago the joke candidate only taken seriously by far-rightwing conspiracy nuts, has become a lightningrod for the already festering ultra-rightwing in America, drawing together hypernationalist racists, xenophobic “nativists”, elements of the Tea Party and Patriots movements, AM talk radio creeps, gun & conspiracy nuts, Oathkeeper & Minutemen militias, the neo-Nazis and the KKK – the Ku Klux Klan’s former “grand dragon” David Duke having recently endorsed Trump for US President, of whom Trump recently said:
“I have to look at the group. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about… You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I’d have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them and certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong. You may have groups in there that are totally fine — it would be very unfair. So give me a list of the groups and I’ll let you know.”
While standing in the streets thinking about Trump’s refusal to disavow the KKK without “looking into them”, another interaction my partner and a friend had with a Trump supporter during his speech left me speechless. A young white woman selling Trump merchandise approached my partner and a friend of ours. Amongst the Trump regalia was a large selection of buttons featuring right-wing slogans. Seeing our kid strapped to my partner, the Trump supporter told us “Your child is so beautiful! My baby is due in a few weeks…” Just as i was hearing this, i noticed one of the buttons she was selling read “Just nuke ‘em”, paraphrasing ultra-rightwing ideologue Ann Coulter, with a crude map of N. Africa and the Middle East beneath the slogan. Suddenly, i realized this person standing next to us, acting so friendly toward us and trying to strike up conversation about kids could be anyone, the person sitting next to you on the bus, standing next to you on the train; that she was moving seamlessly between chatting us up and praising our kiddo, while directing her customers to purchase the “Just nuke ‘em” button.
A nightmare scenario unfolded, something like a movie montage in my mind: Trump says he’ll bar Muslims from the US; his favorite slogan lately has been “Get ‘em outa here!”; he says he’ll “round up” and mass-deport refugees, migrants, and Muslim immigrants; he promises to bomb “ISIS” to smithereens; his supporters love all of this, and are linking his campaign, at least in this one instance, to genocide-mongering Ann Coulter’s fantasies of nuclear holocaust in the Middle East. My kid is part Iranian. i am part Iranian. My family is part Iranian. Though none of my family are Muslims, many, MANY of our friends and the people we know and are close with are Muslims. This person adoring our kid wants to nuke the place my family came from. And before today i wouldn’t have known her from anyone else standing in line to order during lunch break at my crappy job.
Several fights between Trump supporters and protesters later, and about five minutes before Trumps speech was scheduled to end and his fired-up supporters inside were to come out into the streets, my partner and i decided to get our kid out of there, as a lot of other protesters we know with kids, handicaps, or serious health conditions chose to do, too. Most of our friends stayed behind to confront those inside the opera house when the rally was over. My partner and i and a couple friends talked about our conflicted feelings about leaving early on the long walk to where we had parked, north of downtown, and later well into the night with friends we invited over to try to process together all we’d seen and experienced and felt today.
Personally, i had meant to be more confrontational with Trump’s supports, but instead found myself horrified and left speechless not so much by his words or his fans repetition of them – that is not to downplay how disturbing is Trump’s rhetoric and the mainstreaming of that rhetoric, rather, i was most horrified of how casually his supporters switched from polite small-talk and “pardon me”s to advocating genocide and encouraging their kids to pick fights with racialized persons protesting Trump, people of colour who are subject to substantially greater violence at the hands of the police than the white suburban teens who, having just shoved someone with darker skin, group-chant “Thank You Police” as the pigs slammed Black St. Louisans face-first down into the pavement of Market Street. The relationship between the ultra-right aspiring to state power, and the enforcers of the day-to-day order of state power, the police, is drawn out for all to see in graphic detail.
i’m still processing what i saw, what i experienced, and how it make me feel. For the first time in a minute, i feel like there are a great many people who hate me, hate my family, and want to do harm to us and people we care about who are marginalized and Other-ed in different ways from us. What i realized is how easily even a dirt poor Iranian-American single parent barely getting by on foodstamps, an anti-authoritarian with no illusions in representative democracy, capitalism, normativity, or the status quo of “struggle”-for-reform via identity & ally politics, can be lulled into a false sense of security. i live in a majority 1st generation immigrant neighborhood, surrounded by people Other-ed for similar reasons in similar ways as my family and i. But even in this environment, coming from this background, believing and living as i do, i realized that i too can focus on the wrong enemy.
Donald Trump and what he represents, the mainstreaming of ultra-rightwing politics, absolutely is a problem. However, i would argue that the greater problem is the great many and growing mass of people who have hitched their hopes for a whiter America on Trump, people already brimming with bigoted hatred frustration for their perceived lack of validation of their genocidal fantasies, and craving the actualization of same LONG before Donald Trump transformed from birther peanut gallery hack to possible frontrunner for a major mainstream political party nomination as candidate for the executive of global capitalist empire. These people, for whom legitimacy and state-power matters so much, have received validation for what they already believed. It does not follow that an electoral defeat for Trump would seriously impede the growth of this burgeoning reactionary movement that built up its base primarily outside of electoral politics.
i suppose the question i’m posing is, do we recognize the threat in front of us as an ultra-rightwing movement that will remain a threat long after Donald Trump, and, are we prepared to take the fight to them, not so much in social media, message boards and comment sections, not in polling places, but in the streets, and in the relationships and micro-interactions which comprise everyday life? Do those of us concerned with the threat posed to ourselves and to each other by the escalation the ultra-right reactosphere’s quest for state power get stuck staring into the blinding highbeams barreling down the road toward us, or can we recognize how much we have to do, and urgently set about building the relationships and material force adequate to confronting the many forms immiseration takes in all our lives?
i prefer to live in a world where we are capable of breaking the storm of hatred and reaction that is building, a world where we can imagine other worlds, better worlds, and we can realize those worlds in our own lives, ourselves, together; a world where we can choose something other than a life on our knees in a world of ruins, we can fight, really fight, and we CAN win. Because if we want more than mere survival, but to actually live in these better worlds, we must find one another and together learn to learn to do by doing. Now.