NEW YORK — One week after Charlottesville, “the Resistance” is planning its next move. Members of a group calling itself “Resist Fascism” met in five cities around the country on Saturday with the intent to plan and organize nationwide demonstrations later this year. Their goal, according to Eva Sahana, a 22 year-old organizer, is simply to “drive out the Trump and Pence fascist regime.”
The planning is still in its early stages, but the organizers have an idea in mind. On Saturday, November 4—approximately a year after President Donald Trump’s election—members of the Resistance will descend on America’s major cities. They’ll march and demonstrate, as they have in the past, but this time, say organizers, they won’t go home at the end of the day. Instead, the plan is to occupy city centers and parks and not leave until, and only until, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have fallen.
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“Outrages that once shocked people about this regime aren’t quite as shocking anymore,” said Sahana. “We need to act now, before people have learned to accept the unacceptable.”
The lead organizers at the New York conference are a disparate bunch. They include a Maoist activist and a leftist bookstore owner and anti-gun advocate who describe themselves as anti-fascist but differentiate themselves from the “Antifa,” the black-clad protesters who have clashed violently with white supremacists and the “alt-right” at Charlottesville and the University of California, Berkeley. The organizers’ disillusionment with electoral politics and radical talk of “regime change” sets them apart, too, from more moderate organizations within the so-called Resistance, such as Indivisible or Swing Left, two constituent-based activist groups that formed in the wake of Trump’s election.
The New York meeting, which included around 90 people, took place at a community center only a short walk from Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street got its start six years ago. The plan for November 4 resembles that 2011 protest in more ways than one. Not only does the tactic of urban occupation directly stem from Occupy Wall Street, but several “Resist Fascism” organizers were active participants in the Zuccotti Park protests—experience that made them sound like hardened veterans dishing out tactical advice to the new recruits.
“Everywhere there will be a need for a round-the-clock base of operations,” said Andy Zee, a Resist Fascism organizer who took part in Occupy Wall Street. “Starting now, we need to plan.” Protesters will take shifts, they imagine, and those who are able will camp out each night.
But despite the obvious similarities, the masterminds of Resist Fascism are taking care to not frame the upcoming protests as “Occupy 2.0,” probably because the original protest has become infamous even among its participants for creating a great deal of noise but achieving few results.
“This movement is in a different moment of history than Occupy,” said Sunsara Taylor, another organizer. And unlike Occupy Wall Street, whose protesters were plagued by their inability to coalesce around a specific set of demands, Taylor pointed out, this protest will have one, very specific demand: The end of Trump’s presidency.
For all the talk of “regime change,” these activists insist they’re not looking to initiate an unconstitutional coup. The exact method of pushing Trump out of office is hazy, and they’re open to different possibilities. As they described it, if Congress refuses to impeach, then advisers could declare the president unfit to serve under the 25th Amendment of the Constitution. Trump’s inner circle could pressure him to resign, or maybe the president would simply quit in frustration. To naysayers, the activists point toward the Arab Spring and the resignation of South Korea’s president last year as evidence of the efficacy of mass protest.
But the first question is whether Resist Fascism can persuade anyone to show up on November 4, which was one of the goals of Saturday’s meetings in New York, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles and San Francisco. At the New York meeting, activists began arriving at the community center around noon, received name tags, shuffled into the main room and found the bagels. Many of the attendees wore black; others carried yoga bags. Once the event officially got started, they watched a recording of Susan Bro, whose daughter Heather Heyer died last week in Charlottesville, give Heather’s eulogy. After a few more videos, the lead organizers gave their speeches, outlining their visions for the encampments.
“We must begin in the key cities with several thousand people in each,” said Zee. “We can imagine the protest site alive with serious discussions and debates over the big issues of the day, strategizing about the road forward in our struggle to drive out the regime.” Zee participated in Occupy Wall Street as the owner of Harlem-based Revolution Books, and at Saturday’s conference he took the opportunity to set up a table of books for sale, ranging from “The New Communism” by Bob Avakian to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.”
Told about the meeting, others on the left voiced their support for grass-roots efforts against the Trump administration but emphasized the importance of strategic diversity, or warned that protest alone probably won’t push Trump out of power.
“I think that’s unlikely,” said Michael Kazin, a Georgetown professor and editor of Dissent Magazine. “You need events like this,” said Kazin of Resist Fascism’s plans, “and you need more mainstream electoral kinds of activism.” He pointed to activists pressuring their elected officials at town halls as an example of more effective tactics. “Social movements succeed when they have an inside-outside strategy.”
“From traditional calls [to] going to district offices, running for office or doing sit-ins in district offices … the broader Resistance has been doing a ton,” said Ezra Levin, a co-founder of Indivisible. “It is healthy that people are coming up with new, nonviolent tactics for engaging in civic space.”
Also complicating matters for Resist Fascism is the rise of a young and energetic “alt-right,” and the eagerness of the Antifa to physically fight them off. An urban occupation might exacerbate the opportunities for skirmishes like those that occurred at Charlottesville a week ago. And while mutual participation in violence might not deter protesters from joining on November 4, it could make it easier for politicians to ignore their demands.
“There is always the danger of the protesters becoming the problem instead of part of the solution,” said Kazin. “That happened to the anti-war protests in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, which I was involved with. Even though the war was less and less popular, the anti-war protests also became controversial and were associated—I think mostly erroneously—with flag-burners and people who were spelling America with three ‘k’s.” Once the public deems them too radical, Kazin warned, protesters might hurt their cause more than they help.
The organizers of Resist Fascism distinguish themselves from Antifa but don’t condemn their radical brethren, and even emphasize their common cause.
“I think the entire resistance is anti-fascist,” said Jay Walker, one of the Resist Fascism leaders.
“We will need firm principles of not initiating violence and opposing violence against the people and among the people,” said Zee, “while recognizing the right of the people to defend themselves.” But the radically different ideas on what “self-defense” means could make it difficult to maintain the big-tent protest that Resist Fascism is planning on.
None of the lead organizers ever claimed that “regime change” would be easy. “This is harder and riskier than other solutions,” acknowledged Eva Sahana. “But the truth is, it is much more realistic.” A fundamental disbelief in the Democratic Party’s ability to stop Trump through electoral politics appeared to underpin their preference for direct action.
“People who hate and oppose the regime are being led to look to elections, hearings, investigations and protest as usual to ‘make their voices heard,’ as if we are dealing with a normal regime,” Sahana told the audience in New York. “We are not.”