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Vancouver: three different rallies against Trump

Robyn Karina

November 25, 2016

Working and oppressed people around the world will feel the backlash of Trump’s election; this is not an event isolated by national boundaries. Just as the working class is an international force, so too is the ruling class. Trump will impact the world as head of the US government, thus steering the imperialist war machine. In addition, he will represent a more openly sinister step in ruling class ideology that can seep into the minds of people in countries near and far.

Across Canada, from Montreal to Vancouver, people recognised this fact and the need to show resistance against Trump and his ideas—while also showing solidarity with the marginalised people that will be most directly targeted after his victory.

Here in Vancouver three rallies were called in response to Trump’s election: one by the local chapter of the anti-fascist organisation Antifa, another by an individual liberal, and a third again called by Antifa in the hopes of a more radical turnout. As we’ll see the results between all three were vastly different.

The bourgeois media coverage of all three has been severely biased in favour of the peace rally and incredibly short for the Thursday rally and spontaneous march. So, here we will go into more detail of each to paint a clearer picture of what happened.

November 10 rally & spontaneous march

After seeing immediate protests rise across the US and even in Canada, people in Vancouver wanted to take action as well. By the day after the election the Vancouver chapter of Antifa had put up an event page on Facebook calling for an Anti-Trump rally to happen at the Trump Tower—one of the new US president’s luxury hotels, which, to no one’s surprise, has his name in giant letters out front.

The event page got swarmed with over one thousand interested people, from liberals to revolutionaries. It was, however, also swarmed with Trump supporters and sympathisers. These people jeered at those interested, they laughed in confusion at why people in Canada should care, tried to shame people for being against a “democratic” election, and they even attempted to mislead people by making comments about the event changing its location last minute.

One protester (a member of the Climate Convergence) noted that the reason a rally was needed was: Firstly, for building solidarity with the marginalized people of Vancouver. Secondly, it grows solidarity with our fellow protesters in the States. And thirdly, we as a nation are not isolated from the hatred bred from the far-right.” This last point was most evident in the comments made on the event page.

Despite the Trump supporters, by 4pm the protestors came in a great mix of people—Muslims, Black people, Mexicans, Aboriginal people, LGBTQ folks, women, people with disabilities, the young as well as the old—and the diversity also came in terms of politics. While most were young liberals, they desired active change, and in that they were accompanied by social democrats, anarchists, and Marxists. The banners, pickets, and signs quickly made out of cardboard scraps all reflected this: from “fix the system” and “make America safe again,” to quotes by Black queer civil rights activists Audre Lorde and James Baldwin, to “Trump is a symptom, capitalism the disease.”

The slogans chanted by the people were also quite the variety. Again the liberals had theirs while the more radical leaning people had alternatives. The best example to show this was when some chanted “love trumps hate,” others chanted “fuck the state” or “no police state.” Other chants which became popular through the evening were “Donald Trump go away – racist, sexist, anti-gay” and “No Donald Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.”

In 15 minutes people were slipping out into the first lane of the street, and due to the numbers the police were incapable of stopping them. By 4:30pm there were about 200 people on the sidewalk and in the first lane of the street. Fifteen minutes later three elderly women gave speeches on the topics of capitalism, Indigenous land and their sustainable methods of living, as well as the need for young people to unite in struggle. Within the hour’s end the people were restless of only occupying the sidewalk and one lane of the street in front of Trump’s tower.

Even though police were reminding people to back up onto the sidewalk, people gradually gained inches into the street. Finally, a break through the line! A handful of anarchists made the initial push past the police for the streets. Within a second they were followed by other radicals who then beckoned to the other 200 people to join. Antifa had not planned this; they merely called for the rally. It was a spontaneous march by the people against not only Trump but the ideas he represents which have taken hold of some parts of Canada.

The police were caught off guard as hundreds took the street as if there were neither police nor cars in the way. The protestors were fuelled by a love of justice. Passionate chants rang out louder than before in an elation of people power to defy the state, whether the liberals themselves recognised it or not . The streets belonged to the people for the next three hours.

Because it was spontaneous there were multiple occasions when people were confused about which direction to go. Eventually it worked out when a near silent decision was made as the majority of people chose to go one way instead of another. Confusion also came about due to having no solid leadership when marchers were undecided about how much of the streets to take. Liberals wanted half, whereas the radicals wanted the whole street. Similarly, when some radical marchers expressed their legitimate anger and frustration by knocking over newspaper boxes the young liberals cried out for peacefulness (even making a short-lived chant calling for peaceful protest).

Despite the large amount of liberals there, they were mostly young and left-leaning. These protesters obviously knew deep inside that action was needed, that the liberal leadership—from Trudeau to Hillary and Obama—were wrong in advocating people to cooperate peacefully with Trump due to being “on the same team.” Ideas that have a radical edge have been growing in many young liberals, and it’s something all revolutionaries should focus on engaging with. As the protester from the Climate Convergence said, her favourite thing about the rally and march was “the radicalization of those who normally wouldn't have been there.”

After marching for three hours, across 7 to 8 km of Vancouver downtown, the event came to where it began, Trump’s tower. People unleashed loud cheers and chants as if it were the beginning again. There were speeches by young people of colour and women, this time heard more easily due to the crowd’s more silent attention. There was a general consensus that we all had to be in solidarity with Black, trans, Mexican, Muslim, Brown, and Native people—out of which a chant was made. 8pm came and people, though needing to rest, were ready for more. The upcoming rally on November 12 was mentioned with applause. Everyone left filled with hope, ideas, and a sense of the power people have when acting collectively.

While everyone started leaving the street, another protester (a member of the BCGEU) mentioned that in the end she wished “there were speakers, a clear message about why we were marching and what we needed to do going forward.” As for the future, she felt what was most needed was “more people organizing in their communities, specifically supporting the groups targeted by Trump’s violent ideologies.”

November 12 peace rally

Initially this second rally was planned to happen at the same Trump tower as the one on Thursday, but after the lead organiser received hateful messages from Trump supporters they succumbed to pressure and changed the location to the back of the Vancouver Art Gallery a few blocks away.

The tone of this rally was vastly different from the Thursday rally. The organisers were very clear: this was not an anti-Trump protest—a far too negative perspective—instead it was a peace rally. This rhetoric mirrors the capitulation of liberal leaders upon Trump’s election, unlike the young left-liberals from the Thursday protest.

It began at 6pm and early on it reached its peak number of people. There were about 150, contrary to liberal media sources in favour of the mild gathering saying double the amount (perhaps the tighter area than the open streets on Thursday made the amount appear greater). The actual amount would quickly dwindle lower and lower from the outset.

The flags and banners and signs were a caricature of liberalism compared to the ones the young left-leaning liberals brought to the rally on Thursday. A Canada flag was waved with rainbow sides, along with an official Hillary Clinton election flag. The chants too were kept at a “respectable” level; “love trumps hate” were sung the organizers even scolded “Donald Trump go away – racist, sexist, anti-gay” as being too negative.

The liberal speakers of the evening were predominantly white. They shared such liberal platitudes: it was merely “non-ideal” that Trump was elected; that we are all human; peace is strong and unshakeable unlike action; we should move beyond hate and anger, for feelings are temporary; Canada doesn’t really see colour; conflict amounts to nothing; Trump doesn’t affect Canada; don’t lash out, reflect and be peaceful; and so on.

One is compelled to wonder if these people have ever met anyone who will remotely be affected by Trump, his ideas, and his supporters. Could these liberals honestly say these things to undocumented immigrants or young Black men wearing hoodies in the streets of the US? The disconnection to reality was astounding, and many people—even liberals—left shaking their heads throughout the whole thing.

To make things as clear as possible, one speaker cherry-picked a specific quote from a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1957 which the white liberal used to shame anyone willing to fight oppression with action. But this quote from King’s 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail is one they should learn from instead: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom.”

After these self-congratulating speeches, the organisers called for people to write words of love on a big canvas. One person, surely cursed later by the organisers, painted in red the word “ORGANIZE” with a hammer and sickle in place of the first letter. After 15 or 20 minutes of this, the organisers called for people to meditate to “fill the space with so much compassionate energy.” Ambient music played for another twenty minutes or so.

After an hour and a half there was an estimated 40 percent decrease in the amount of people, and so once the ambient music and meditating was over the organisers cut the whole thing short. They had only been able to go on for half the time they scheduled for. Due to the absurdity of the whole event some young liberals that were not as peaceful as the organisers called for a march. Only about 45 people took up the call, and so this tiny group—in true inept liberal fashion—started walking along the sidewalk around the Vancouver Art Gallery.

November 16 radical rally

The local Antifa called for a second, more radical rally shortly after the Thursday one. They put a poll on their Facebook page on Saturday asking how soon people would like it. 124 people voted, and people could vote for multiple choices. The clear winner was “in the next week” with over 80 votes more than any other option. Antifa then decided on Wednesday.

When the day came, however, it was heavy with rain and in between other actions happening during the week in the city. Despite around 100 voting for a rally, fewer than half that showed up. It began at 5pm outside the gates of Trump’s tower. No more than 10 people were there at first and in the hours of downpour ahead the amount never peaked over 40.

Much like Thursday evening, Antifa again didn’t have an open presence—there were no flags or banners, and those who called the rally made no speeches. The people who came meekly stood in small disconnected groupings as they chatted under umbrellas. Even the cheers which came as cars honked their horns in support of the few anti-Trump signs were weak.

Action came only an hour into the event in the form of a couple police officers who complained about the protesters congesting the sidewalk, as well as a few Trump supporters. One of these supporters carried a box of tissues and videotaped people as they offered them; eventually they got in an argument and then someone stole the box of tissues away. There were also at least three media sources that came to document the pitiful rally, perhaps after hearing of the success that was the Thursday one. Eventually the rally faded away. It’s difficult to imagine anyone left content.

Looking forward

Key lessons can be learned from these three rallies in Vancouver. Most importantly that leadership is essential for effective mobilisation. Not only does it prevent confusion as to which direction a march should go, but it helps raise the class-consciousness of participants higher than if they were left to draw conclusions without dialogue.

Revolutionary organisations can’t impose their leadership upon people, though. This is evident by looking at the November 16 rally called for by Antifa. Despite not leading people at the Thursday rally and spontaneous march—thus not building real connections with the 200 people there—they attempted to impose their leadership online for the following week. The result: people who are passionate in their opposition to Trump didn’t feel enough confidence in Antifa to brave the downpour to attend their anti-Trump rally.

It’s not that people were merely afraid of radical politics, but rather they were unsure about Antifa’s leadership capabilities. The masses decide which organisations are promoted to leadership; therefore the revolutionary organisation must labour away to gain their confidence. That means joining in broad actions, building connections with people and other organisations, yet openly showing that the revolutionary alternative is not only connected to the masses but is the only true alternative capable of defeating this system which fundamentally relies on exploitation and oppression.

The Vancouver branch of the International Socialists is attempting this. We are building connections across different struggles and organisations, showing that we are a revolutionary organisation dedicated to solidarity and change. Specifically in terms of Trump, the Vancouver branch is hosting an open forum. The topics focused on will be that of Trump, how he won and Hillary lost, what the left should do now to confront him and his supporters, and how he will impact people here (e.g., boosting the confidence of racist organisation like the Soldiers of Odin). We have made a point of inviting multiple organisations to participate, particularly those most directly targeted by Trump and his supporters. So people from a range of organisations will be on a panel at this forum, and the audience will be welcome to deeply engage in the discussion.

This upcoming event, hosted by the Vancouver branch of the International Socialists, titled “Dump Trump: After the Election, Calls to Action” will happen on November 29 from 7pm to 9pm at the SFU Harbour Centre in room 1525. For more information check out:

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