How weekly Trump protests in the Loop aimed at more than first 100 days
Protesters rally in Chicago after the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Jan. 20, 2017.
A revolving door of local protest groups and activists — some that have never worked together before — have banded together to keep their anti-President Donald Trump message alive for his first 100 days in office, hoping it stalls his agenda and builds momentum for the midterm elections.
What became "Resist Trump Tuesdays" in Chicago and across the nation gained steam thanks to social media. Almost every Tuesday since late January, scores of left-center activists from groups all across the city have waged their battles against Trump’s federal government on the gray granite tiles of the normally staid Federal Plaza. Outside the steel-towered federal office building and other skyscrapers, dozens loudly have pledged to "Resist Trump" at every turn for the first 100 days of his term, which will be marked on Saturday.
Some observers say those first months in office are when new presidents have their strongest influence, while others reject the milestone, saying modern presidents and Congresses have been far less productive since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal era.
Deflated by Trump’s upset win last November, national and local activists who focused narrowly on their own agendas say they now work together to channel widespread voter disappointment into quick response protest teams able to swiftly respond to any emerging moves by the new president and his surrogates. The best examples of these are the raucous town hall meetings taking part in Republican districts and protest marches against Trump’s court-rejected travel ban on people from Muslim-majority countries.
Whether the protests effect change is a matter of opinion.
When asked, the White House didn’t offer a statement. Local Republicans minimized the effect of the protests. Chris Cleveland, chairman of the Chicago Republican Party, lumped Trump protesters with those who demonstrate at GOP fundraisers or disrupt town hall meetings.
"These are people who believe in diversity in all things, except talk," Cleveland said. "It’s fundamentally undemocratic."
Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and former Chicago alderman, sees the Resist Trump and other early anti-Trump factions as a precursor to much bigger protests if Trump’s first proposed budget passes later this year.
That budget, which early on proposed massive cuts to social programs while boosting billions in spending on defense, the Mexican border wall and tax cuts, will bring activists and nonpolitical groups together that could swing midterm elections, he said.
"What will begin to happen is the groups that are nonpolitical — 501(c)(3)s and the not-for-profits — will begin to join the political groups in a variety of different methods, leading eventually to elections," Simpson said. "Right now there are protests and maybe they’re blocking the street, being in front of Trump Tower, those will continue and swell just like they did with the women’s march. But they’re going to be minor in comparison to the total effort of rolling back the Trump policies."
More than 200 protesters gathered Feb. 1, 2017, outside the Department of Homeland Security in Chicago, the latest in a string of demonstrations that have erupted since President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.
The Trump Resisters
Each week, at the foot of the Kluczynski Federal Building, different local organizations have taken the reins to lead the Loop protest, almost exclusively saying Trump’s agenda does nothing to solve long-standing local issues. One Tuesday, The People’s Lobby, a local organization that fights for education and health care, staged a sit-in, while the following week North Side activists led a march regarding the state budget stalemate, tying Illinois’ Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to Trump. The following week, clergy from the South Side led a march and sit-in regarding the judicial system. Another week, Black Lives Matter Chicago led the charge.
At a rally in late February, a crew of about 200 protesters — black, white and Hispanic, clergymen and atheists, yarmulke-wearing or dreadlocked — streamed along Dearborn Street toward Daley Plaza in a crowd so massive that volunteers in fluorescent jackets had to keep the pulsing mass together.
Like other marchers the Rev. Dwayne L. Grant, a pastor who runs a ministry out of Englewood, said he supported outreach to communities of color, adding that many young minorities on the South and West sides were beyond eager to join the fight against Trump.
"With Trump in office, it’s got everybody kind of in an activist mode," said Grant, who spoke at the late February rally, decrying Cook County court’s cash bond system that has meant poor people must await trial in minor cases behind bars because they can’t scrounge the money to get out of jail while their case is pending. "I think God has placed Trump in office to bring out that unity that we’ve missed. We haven’t been unified, but now everybody has a common enemy, if you will, and we can all come together," he said.
Fragmented during the bitter 2016 Democratic primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, various activist groups have found some momentum to lock arms over anything from civil rights to climate change and environmental issues. In some cases they’re showing up at the same protests — or at least coordinating to give each other the space on the plaza to proclaim their cause.
One expert says the marches alone won’t effect change, but the resulting coordination could serve as a springboard for change — by motivating people to get out and vote or lawmakers to think long and hard about policy changes.
Eight people, including clergy members from Chicagoland, were arrested after failing to move to the sidewalk upon orders from Chicago police while protesting the policies of President Donald Trump in front of the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in downtown Chicago on Feb. 21, 2017.
(Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
"There seems to be an understanding nationwide almost among those that are opposing Trump that they need to do more than just march," said Erica Chenoweth, a noted author, expert on civil disobedience and professor with the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. "They need to be meeting with one another, talking across communities, building coalitions with people that they may disagree with or they may have not cooperated with in the past."
Mobilizing dissent has invigorated the movement with young, enthusiastic people eager to show their zeal.
At a late January rally, seven current and recent college students were arrested at a sit-in inside the lobby of the Kluczynski Building. Outside, Maddie Tallman, a seminary student at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in Hyde Park, watched about 300 people cheer the students and loudly protest Trump’s then-nominee and now Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as Tallman’s schoolmate Samantha Nichols took a bullhorn and accused local elected officials of cozying up with special interests rather than improving public education.
"I grew up in the public education system. I had great teachers, but I also saw disparities of resources — some of my classmates had great textbooks and some of us didn’t," Tallman said. "I’m a seminarian, so for me personally my faith is what brings me here the most. I feel called to speak out against this and to keep our representatives accountable."
The Rev. Tom Gaulke, pastor of First Lutheran Church of the Trinity of Bridgeport and the president of People’s Lobby Education Institute, said in February that organizers were amazed by the number of strangers drawn each week solely by the group’s Facebook page. He could still recall his shock on seeing the faces of hundreds of strangers gathered for Facebook-advertised "agonize and organize" events two weeks after Trump’s stunning win.
"When we had those events, they were swelled over with hundreds of people just by making a Facebook event (posting)," he said. "We had to ask some of our regulars not to come so there would be room for the new people."
No matter the grievance, Gaulke said he was excited that so many were joining protests. "People are angry, and they are angry because of real and perceived fears. But I think now that these fears are real, things are actually getting cut and people’s lives are at risk," Gaulke said.
"Thank God people are actually responding."
Groups of activists gathered in downtown Chicago on March 7, 2017, in advance of the nationwide "A Day Without a Woman" scheduled to take place March 8. The protests were organized by several groups, including a police accountability group and groups opposed to President Donald Trump’s agenda.
First 100 days
One of the most compelling hooks in the "Resist Trump" campaign in Chicago and, according to organizers, another 400-plus cities is activists pledging to show their resistance to Trump for the first 100 days of his administration, a time Trump campaigned would bring sweeping changes to the country. He said on the campaign trail that his first three months would see sweeping changes, from dumping and replacing the Affordable Care Act, a move that continues to be negotiated in Congress, to threatening federal spending cuts in sanctuary cities such as Chicago.
This age-old benchmark of presidential achievement is often attributed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who signed an unprecedented 75 bills into law designed to end the Great Depression and put millions to work. But despite promises of swift action by Trump on the campaign trail, some political scientists are saying the first 100 days of any new president is overblown.
In January, the polling website FiveThirtyEight cited a 2001 study that pointed out that presidential productivity in the first 100 days has fallen sharply since Roosevelt’s time, adding that Congressional action has declined since the 1950s because of changes in how Congress works. Activists say the first 100 days is largely symbolic, adding that the point for them is to take their grievances public and build a coalition with people of all political stripes who also oppose Trump.
"We’re building a movement, and it’s growing," said Amir Weg, a member of ONE Northside, one of the local groups participating in "Resist Trump Tuesdays."
"The reason we’re committed to coming out every Tuesday is we want a sustained resistance," Weg said. "Trump’s going to be in office for the next four years … and we’re going to have to resist him for four years, and that’s going to mean people in the streets throughout that whole term."
But after this week, "Resist Trump Tuesdays" will be no more, but the protests will continue at various times. On the 100th day — Saturday — activists will hold local protests on climate change to coincide with a larger rally in Washington, D.C.