After considering the economic and historic factors of Trump’s election, Toay reflected on what we need to be doing now. He started by recalling the post-election atmosphere that he had observed at Bard Annandale. Toay felt that Bard students were experiencing a kind of defeatism that he had not witnessed before. He hoped that this will change in the future and that there will be greater political resistance, especially among college and university students. Toay said something that stuck with me both because it expressed something that I could not properly phrase myself and because it elegantly captured my thoughts and feelings on the matter: “If it’s not the role of higher education to stand for truth and justice, then what are we in the business of?”
Finally, Toay expressed full support for the anti-Trump demonstration that took place on the 4th of February, which I promoted at the beginning of the lecture in a less than eloquent public speaking style, inspiring our arts instructor John von Bergen to allow people to make protest signs with BCB’s art supplies. And this is where I and, more importantly, non-academic political action, come in. Together with a decent amount of my fellow classmates, I attended the Solidarity protest last Saturday. There were articulate speakers, a great energy manifesting itself as hopefulness for change (or at the very least sort of slowing down the seeming political armageddon), and signs with creative slogans ranging from “Dump Trump” to “Build a Wall Around Trump, We’ll Pay for it,” to “Walls Are So Last Geo-Political Epoch” to a drawing of Trump with the KKK, suggesting the new administration’s white supremacist motives. My friends and fellow students had great signs as well: Elizaveta (Smolny Exchange Student) had a green sign in Russian that read “No Wall, No Ban”; Matthew (Begin in Berlin) had an orange sign in German that said “Kein Mensch ist Illegal” (No Human is Illegal); and Julia (BA2, HAST) had a red triangular sign with the words “Solidarity Forever”. My yellow sign read “Ban Steve Bannon” – a pun I was proud of until I saw variations of it on other people’s signs. It was also pointed out to me that “Ban on Bannon” would have had a better ring to it. Nevertheless, my sign, as un-rhythmic as it was, made it into the political sphere.
It was wonderful to be a part of a diverse group fighting against a phenomenon we all agreed was of international concern, even though it might not directly affect us all. We marched from the Brandenburg Gate and went around the corner to the front of the U.S. Embassy in a well-organized route that had been cleared with the German government authorities by The Coalition Berlin. We chanted short yet vibrant messages such as “Refugees In, Racists Out”, “From Palestine to Mexico: All the Walls Have Got to Go!”, and the signature “No Ban, No Wall”. I even got to shout some of these messages through a megaphone, which was a (protesting) first for me. The demonstration ended with the organizers informing the rest of the crowd of an event that was to take place on the 9th of February called “Resisting Trump: From Protest to Movement,” where future action would be discussed. Even though I could not attend the announced event, I felt that it was fantastic to end the protest on not only an optimistic note, but also one of organized dissent.
It was just the event I needed to stop feeling somewhat helpless as a lone individual in the face of the new, oppressive administration. As good as this demonstration made me feel, I ended up sharing Toay’s sentiment of hoping that more of Bard’s students would take to the streets in the wake of Trump’s election. I, too, was disheartened to learn that not as many people were as outraged as I had hoped they would be: only about 1500 people showed up. Sure, demonstrations aren’t everyone’s thing, and sometimes we have things to do at 2 p.m. However, Berlin is not only a big city, but it is a city that has itself erected walls and seen fascism up close. Yes, at this point, we can indeed call Trump’s actions fascist. I would expect that as many BCB students show up to an event that tangibly fought President Trump’s policies as had showed up to a lecture to understand his rise. Indeed, I say “fought”. Protests, rallies, and demonstrations have battled all kinds of oppression, started revolutions and brought civil rights: If the numbers are high enough, they might very well make a difference.
Perhaps those who did not attend the Saturday protest were also experiencing a similar defeatism as Bard’s student body or simply do not have faith that a remote protest from Berlin would do much – I do not want to believe that they do not care. However, I think that a mindset that discourages valid demonstrations of protest is a detrimental mindset to have and one which could negatively shape our environment and perhaps harm all of us — though protecting our own interests should not be our primary motivation for dissent. In all honesty, we should have been more active way before Trump got elected. We should have protested racially targeted police brutality, we should have protested corporations continuously destroying our environment, and we should have protested Obama’s record number of deportations. We always should have been fighting and keeping elected officials on their toes, whether immoral deeds were done under the watch of Democrats or Republicans. At least we are finally starting to pay attention!
And yes, the truth is, if not organized constructively, protests may fail, but doing nothing almost certainly will. I, for one, am placing my bet on protests because, well, what is the alternative? Should we just sit back and put our trust in a president that has already signed 25 Executive Orders? Should we hope that the moral arc of the universe will bend towards justice? It will not bend unless we make it, and if we do not at least try to do that, then we do not deserve the justice that we claim to desire.
And let’s not forget that protests, whether they be in the form of demonstrations, boycotts or strikes, could also actually succeed in combating that which they stand against. Just look at how quickly Trump’s Executive Order was halted and how some of the chaos that’s come with his presidency has been mitigated. The Muslim Ban would not have been struck down as quickly as it has been if it weren’t for mass mobilization of ordinary citizens expressing their outrage. Of course, the courts were ultimately the institutions that handled this issue on the legal front. Nevertheless, the speed with which it was done is at least partially owed to public pressure.
Even if you haven’t been convinced about the effectiveness of protests, and even if you still feel like you can’t make a difference, do you really want to look back years from now and realize that you were silent during a period of severe moral and political turmoil? Now is the time to speak up, fight back, and show solidarity. Besides, if we’re not standing up for truth and justice, then what the hell are we in the business of anyway?