Stopping Trump: The Chicago Model

How the people of Chicago silenced Donald Trump.

Marilyn Katz March 13, 2016

On March 11, Chicagoans wait for Donald Trump to arrive at a rally at the University of Illinois-Chicago. The Trump campaign decided to postpone the rally after learning hundreds of demonstrators were given tickets for the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.)

Con­grat­u­la­tions to the peo­ple — young and old, Black, Lati­no, Asian and White, Mus­lim, Chris­t­ian and Jew­ish. They did what nei­ther his com­peti­tors nor the Repub­li­can Par­ty have been able to do — still the voice and the vit­ri­ol of Don­ald Trump.

Faced, not with the threat of violence but lack of control of the message or the montage, Trump retreated.

The pro­tes­tors, a loose amal­gam of labor, women, immi­gra­tion, stu­dents and Black Lives Mat­ter activists, did­n’t do it through vio­lence, or shout­ing. No dirty tricks — just the old fash­ioned way. They organized.

It all began ear­ly this week with an online peti­tion to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois-Chica­go to deny Trump the use of the pub­licly-sup­port­ed facil­i­ty on the basis that the ral­ly posed a threat to the secu­ri­ty and safe­ty of stu­dents. This, tac­tic, in turn, led to two oth­ers. First, using their exten­sive email lists, they encour­aged us to secure tick­ets through Eventbrite. It ensured that oppo­nents of Trumps’ racist, anti-choice, anti-immi­grant poli­cies and state­ments could secure seats in the pavil­ion. It appears that hun­dreds, if not thou­sands, took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to secure a free tick­et. I know that I did. Trump was denied the back­drop of 10,000 ador­ing sup­port­ers. Sec­ond, they orga­nized dozens of civ­il, women’s, labor and immi­grants’ rights orga­ni­za­tions to protest out­side of the venue and to reflect the vision of the diver­si­ty and uni­ty that makes our cities and our nation great.

And they suc­ceed­ed. Faced, not with the threat of vio­lence but lack of con­trol of the mes­sage or the mon­tage, Trump retreat­ed. What is now clear is that the answer to the rise of Trump is, as always, orga­niz­ing for action.

The media has giv­en Trump a pass — cov­er­ing his bril­liant­ly staged events, play­ing right into his hand. It’s a nat­ur­al syn­er­gy. He knows that his most out­ra­geous state­ments will draw media cov­er­age because the media has found that trump sto­ries draw large audi­ences and improve rat­ings. The more out­ra­geous the state­ment, the more cov­er­age. More cov­er­age means more adu­la­tion by the thou­sands of peo­ple fac­ing finan­cial pre­car­i­ty and social dis­lo­ca­tion who find it eas­i­er to turn on the poor, on women and on minori­ties, than on the cor­po­ra­tions or Wall Street that have robbed them of their jobs or their future. Even when the media crit­i­cizes any Trump posi­tion the cov­er­age results in new recruits.

Sim­i­lar­ly, the Repub­li­can establishment’s effort to thwart Trump’s rise has failed; from George W. Bush’s and Mitt Rom­ney’s denun­ci­a­tions, to Mar­co Rubio’s expose of Trump’s fail­ures and the Koch broth­ers’ mas­sive adver­tis­ing expen­di­ture. It is like watch­ing a sin­gles ten­nis match where one play­er always wins.

What the peo­ple of Chica­go did was turn a ten­nis match into a team sport — rely­ing not on the com­ments or stature of a few alter­na­tives to Trump but on the pow­er of thou­sands of ordi­nary peo­ple, in the full bloom of their diver­si­ty, to come togeth­er to cre­ate the effec­tive force need­ed to shut him up.

It will not be the Demo­c­ra­t­ic alter­na­tive that saves this nation from an inal­ter­able shift to the right under the lead­er­ship of Trump or the even scari­er Ted Cruz. It will not be slick com­mer­cials, tar­get­ed vote oper­a­tions or thought­ful edi­to­r­i­al con­dem­na­tions. As in every suc­cess­ful for­ward move­ment, it will be orga­nized peo­ple, on the ground, aid­ed now by the pow­er of tech­nol­o­gy, that will have the pow­er to stem the tide of reac­tion (some might call it fas­cism) that is the dan­ger our nation faces.

Whether Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clin­ton ulti­mate­ly leads the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, what Bernie says is true. To change the course of this elec­tion, indeed the nation, will take a polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion — of the peo­ple, by the peo­ple and for the peo­ple. Chica­go has giv­en us a glimpse of how it can be done.

Mar­i­lyn Katz is a writer, con­sul­tant, pub­lic pol­i­cy com­mu­ni­ca­tions strate­gist and long-time polit­i­cal activist. She is pres­i­dent of MK Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, a part­ner in Democ­ra­cy Part­ners and a founder and co-chair of the new­ly formed Chica­go Women Take Action.
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