More than 200 protesters at Trump’s inauguration were arrested and charged with rioting. The government didn’t argue that the defendants had themselves damaged property, but rather that their presence made them complicit.
On Dec. 21, 2017, the first six “J20” defendants were cleared of all charges. And on Thursday another 129 defendants had their charges dismissed. As for the remaining 59 people charged, they could face decades of prison time.
In These Times spoke with one of the remaining 59 defendants, Olivia Alsip, who faces trial in the coming months.
How do you feel about the acquittals in December 2017, and dismissal of charges in January?
This is a huge victory. I’m super excited that a lot of wonderful people can hopefully put this behind them and move on with their lives. But of course, none of us are free until we all are. We also recognize that this is another tactic by the government to restructure the narrative after their spectacular failure with the first trial. They’re trying to salvage their image by arguing that they’re now focusing on the worst of the worst. But that doesn’t seem to be true. The charges filed against myself and several others don’t actually allege we did anything criminal. A lot of us still facing charges are those who have been vocal in media or those in labor organizations like Industrial Workers of the World.
What brought you to Washington, D.C., the day of the inauguration?
Largely, I wanted to send a message to the administration and to the people emboldened by it that we’re still here. Not everyone can take to the streets and resist in such a bold way, given the color of their skin or their immigration status or class status. It’s really important for able-bodied people who have the capacity to do so to resist in a physical and noticeable way. Maybe because of your race or class or gender you have the luxury to not be affected [by the Trump administration] directly. But people are dying, they’re suffering and they’re hurting. They’re being oppressed and it’s wrong.
What has been the overall feeling among the defendants throughout this ordeal?
I think we feel as good as we can about it. We have a very conservative judge who’s not been too friendly to us. They do anything to remind you that it’s their world and you’re supposed to fit into it.
How can people show solidarity with this movement?
We need help securing housing, getting the word out and fundraising. Whatever you have an affinity for. We have yard signs if you’re in D.C. Even if you’re not an activist, you need to care about this case. The struggle against Trump, bigotry and fascism is so broad that everyone can get involved no matter your capacity or ability. How many people have died in Puerto Rico while Trump was throwing out paper towels?
And as we’re waiting for verdicts, it’s important to note that a conviction does not equal guilt or wrongdoing, which you can see in the charges. They’re trying to say, “If you were there, you were part of it and you’re responsible for everything else that happened there.” The justice system it not meant to bring about justice, it’s meant to bring about judgment.
How has the case changed your life?
I’ve never had panic attacks before, but oh boy, have I had them now! As awful as this year has been, I have a bunch of new friends and comrades. We’ve been getting a lot more support from broader movements: Black Lives Matter DC, a couple unions, and now, the Women’s March, which is really great because initially they did not show any solidarity.
And we, in turn, try and show solidarity to others who are facing political repression, like the water protectors arrested at Standing Rock, the Jason Stockley verdict protesters arrested in St. Louis, and the Dreamers arrested in a congressional sit-in in December 2017.
If we can come back from state repression with more strength in our bonds, more trust and understanding of different communities, that’s really marvelous. And maybe it will make them stop repressing us so hard.
Ha, that would be nice.
Dare to dream!
This in an expanded and updated version of an interview that appeared in print.