Nearly four weeks into the presidency of Donald Trump and the resistance is still going strong. The day after the inauguration, women and men wearing pink pussy hats filled the streets in Washington, D.C. and nationwide for the women’s march. The next weekend, protesters crammed airports in protest of Trump’s Muslim travel ban as travelers were detained. Around the country, demonstrators are taking a page from the Tea Party and shouting down Republican members of Congress for threatening to repeal Obamacare.
It’s just the start of what may be a long four years — or eight — of the Trump administration, but there’s every indication this outcry from progressives, which includes voices from the LGBT movement, will continue over the long haul.
Firas Nasr, a queer activist who has organized dance protests in D.C. on behalf of WERK for Peace, said the activism will sustain itself through “a combination of creativity and persistence.”
“One thing that we’re really trying to bring into the resistance here is creativity, is love and connection,” Nasr said. “Those are things that people are seeking from the start. That’s the reason why we go out to resist in the first place, so hearing that be the end and creating or facilitating a space where that can be expressed I think is the work that we do.”
John Becker, a gay D.C. progressive activist and blogger, said Trump is “counting on protest fatigue” and initiating multiple controversial policies — such as plans to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and a travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries — in hopes people will forget as time goes on.
“I think that’s part of their strategy is to just throw as much awful, deplorable, difficult things at us right away and overwhelm people like a Blitzkrieg,” Becker said. “I think they’re counting on dulling our senses and our sense of outrage and getting us exhausted.”
Anger with the Trump White House continues to grow not just over policy, but over the scandalous revelations about Trump’s ties to Russia. Just this week, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned after revelations he spoke with Russian officials about Obama-era sanctions and media reports revealed Trump aides were in contact with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign.
If poll numbers are any indication, the demonstrations are working and likely won’t let up soon. A Gallup poll released on Sunday found just 40 percent of Americans approve of Trump compared to 55 percent who disapprove of him. That low popularity is atypical for a new president. Last week, a Public Policy Polling poll found Americans are now evenly split 47-47 on support for impeaching Trump and support for removing him from office continues.
Igor Volsky, a gay D.C.-based progressive activist and deputy director of the Center for American Progress Fund, said he doesn’t spend “much time worrying that somehow all of a sudden he’s going to get his act together and people aren’t going to be outraged” with controversial policies continuing to come from the White House.
“I think people are outraged because he does very outrageous things and if that continues, I think we’ll see people in the street, we’ll see people online be very, very upset,” Volsky said. “And they’ll create for those people the political space and the political pressure for members of Congress to break with Trump, to disagree with Trump to undermine the kind of agenda he’s pursuing.”
Tea for progressives, too?
Observers are already making comparisons of progressive activism to the Tea Party under President Obama, which urged “no” votes from Republicans at every possible moment on his agenda even at the expense of government operations. But don’t tell that to progressive activists who see a clear distinction between themselves and conservative activists.
Volsky said he wouldn’t a make a comparison between the Tea Party and progressive activism over Trump because the latter has already enjoyed much more sustainability early on in a new administration.
“In many respects, I think, Americans today are far ahead of where the Tea Party was,” Volsky said. I mean, we’re weeks into the administration and you’re seeing three weekends in a row of tremendous protests.”
But like the Tea Party with Republicans, Volsky said Democrats may feel the fire of the progressive movement if they don’t listen to its demands and face ousters in mid-term season.
“You saw a lot of Republicans lose their seats to challenges from the right because the Tea Party created this sense that conservatives, who nobody thought would be in trouble from the right wing of their base, got in a lot of trouble, and lost their seats,” Volsky said. “People like Eric Cantor, so whether or not that’s going to happen in this case, we’ll have to wait and see.”
There’s also a difference in support for both movements. As Becker pointed out, a Washington Post poll found only 27 of Americans supported the Tea Party at the height of the movement in 2010, but 60 percent now support the nationwide women’s marches.
“I think that there are similarities, but the critical distinction rests in the genesis of it because the Tea Party in Barack Obama…there was no question about the legitimacy of his election,” Becker said. “He won the popular vote, he won the electoral vote, there was no foreign interference, there was no FBI meddling. There wasn’t the same kind of foundational questions about the legitimacy of his mandate in a way that there is for Trump.”
In terms of whether the progressive movement like the Tea Party should encourage Democrats to vote “no” arbitrarily on everything in the congressional agenda under Trump, views are nuanced.
Volsky expressed caution when asked if Democrats should vote “no” on everything that comes up during the Trump administration, saying the approach should be more selective.
Progressives are seeking to derail the confirmation of Trump’s pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, who may be the nominee most in danger of rejection in the Senate. A coalition of LGBT groups including the Equality Federation and the LGBT labor group Pride at Work have expressed opposition to Puzder, saying his employment practices and opposition to raising the minimum wage make him a bad choice for LGBT workers. [UPDATE: After the publication of this article, NBC News reported Puzder would withdraw his name from consideration.]
Becker said one aspect in which Democrats should emulate Republicans emboldened by the Tea Party is by blocking the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, citing GOP refusal to consider Merrick Garland and the Trump nominee’s record.
“They set that precedent last year when they — for no reason at all other than partisan spite — denied Merrick Garland a hearing and refused to confirm him,” Becker said. “In terms of the Supreme Court, I do think the Democrats should follow precedent set by the Republicans. As far I’m concerned, that was a stolen seat, stolen from Merrick Garland and Barack Obama and I support any and all efforts to block and obstruct Gorsuch from being seated on the court.”
One aspect of the Tea Party for which it won notoriety was engineering a shutdown of the federal government in 2013 over the implementation of Obamacare. With current funding for the government set to expire in March, the progressive activists may take up the mantle of stopping the government by ceasing operations, such as the increased immigration raids under the Trump administration.
Asserting a federal government shutdown “would sort of have to be a bridge to be crossed if we come to it,” Becker said at this time he couldn’t bring himself to support such action because of the negative impacts of the 2013 shutdown.
“The shutting down of the federal government is something that was such a drastic and reckless step that the Republicans took,” Becker said. “I can’t say that is something I would support at this moment.”
An LGBT pièce de résistance
A cornerstone of the progressive resistance is the LGBT community, which has largely remained steadfast in its opposition to Trump and has continued to speak out against his policies despite the assertion from the White House he’s “respectful and supportive” of LGBT rights. A national LGBT march is planned for Washington during Pride weekend June 11; other cities are looking to schedule similar marches that day in solidarity as was seen during the recent women’s march.
Volsky said Trump’s declared support for LGBT rights falls away after “peeling back” those stated words and looking at the anti-LGBT people advising him.
“If I’m looking at the LGBT movement, it’s to protect progress on a federal level, to continue pushing for progress on the state and local level and to really be involved in the fight against Trump because LGBT Americans are a great part of the progressive coalition and frankly have shown over the last couple of years how to organize and how to get things done, so I think they’re a great asset to advocacy and the movement in general,” Volsky said.
The LGBT movement, Nasr said, has a creativity and unique intersectionality different from other groups that will continue to energize the progressive resistance to Trump.
“At least as a person of color personally, I’ve seen the LGBTQ community be a center for intersectionality at least in the circles that I run in, so an additional thing that we’re bringing is we’re bringing everyone,” Nasr said. “We’re not leaving anyone behind. This is not white feminism. This is not prim-and-proper LGBT corporate funded work. This is grassroots, everyone’s involved, intersectionality-centered, queer-centered resistance.”