As the J20 Trial Begins, We Must Not Allow Trump to Imprison Dissenters When They Are Needed Most

A defendant calls for collective defense against repression—and continued resistance.

Olivia Alsip November 21, 2017

Police confront anti-Trump protestors in downtown Washington, D.C. on the afternoon of Donald Trump's presidential inauguration on January 20, 2017. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: On Inau­gu­ra­tion Day, thou­sands of peo­ple took to the streets of Wash­ing­ton, D.C. to par­tic­i­pate in a Dis­rupt J20” coor­di­nat­ed day of direct actions, block­ades and protests against the incom­ing Trump admin­is­tra­tion. One part of this mobi­liza­tion — the anti-cap­i­tal­ist, anti-fas­cist con­tin­gent — was tar­get­ed by a heavy police crack­down, and more than 200 peo­ple in or near this demon­stra­tion were sur­round­ed and arrest­ed. Now, more than 190 of the peo­ple caught in this sweep face rolling tri­als, with the first kick­ing off this week as sup­port­ers flood the court­room. The major­i­ty of defen­dants are fight­ing heavy charges and up to 60 years in prison at the hands of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Dis­trict of Colum­bia, which answers direct­ly to Jeff Ses­sions’ Depart­ment of Jus­tice. Often vil­i­fied in the press, J20 defen­dants have had few pub­lic plat­forms to share their expe­ri­ences on Inau­gu­ra­tion Day — and describe what moti­vat­ed them to take action.

Help us fight these charges, so we can all continue to stand against bigotry and defend each other.

Not even a year into the Trump pres­i­den­cy, our social and polit­i­cal fab­ric seems to be unrav­el­ing. Wild fires have rav­aged north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and record-break­ing storms have bar­raged parts of the Gulf Coast and Caribbean regions. Swasti­ka-wear­ing white suprema­cists marched through the streets of Char­lottesville, and mass depor­ta­tions are tear­ing com­mu­ni­ties apart. This is the ter­ri­fy­ing future promised by Trump that moti­vat­ed me to join oth­ers in protest on the streets of Wash­ing­ton, D.C. on Inau­gu­ra­tion Day.

In response to protest dur­ing the inau­gu­ra­tion, the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Police Depart­ment (MPD) used chem­i­cal and pro­jec­tile weapons to attack dis­si­dents—in line with the MPD’s his­to­ry of mis­han­dling protest. Police direct­ed abuse at chil­dren, the elder­ly and dis­abled peo­ple. The reac­tion was so vio­lent that the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Mayor’s Office of Police Com­plaints accused police of using exces­sive force and rec­om­mend­ed an inde­pen­dent inves­ti­ga­tion, which is cur­rent­ly in its ear­ly stages.

After assault­ing peo­ple on the streets with chem­i­cal weapons and stinger grenades, the police ket­tled more than 230 peo­ple. This drag-net style of arrest indis­crim­i­nate­ly sweeps up large por­tions of march­es and sub­jects those it catch­es to arrest — often ini­ti­at­ing lengthy, resource-drain­ing court process­es. Despite wide­spread con­dem­na­tion of this tac­tic, ket­tling has become an all-too-com­mon police method for sup­press­ing protest. We see these police actions, also recent­ly used in St. Louis, as an effort to get large num­bers of dis­si­dents off the streets and into the court room so they can no longer resist.

Those of us ket­tled on Inau­gu­ra­tion Day were forced to stand out­side in the cold and deprived of food, water, med­ical treat­ment and bath­rooms. As if that weren’t bad enough, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged us all with the same blan­ket eight felonies that car­ry a sen­tence of up to 70 years if con­vict­ed. We believe this was an attempt by the pros­e­cu­tion to scare defen­dants into accept­ing pleas. As tri­als drew clos­er, some charges were low­ered or dropped. But I am one of near­ly 200 peo­ple prepar­ing for a tri­al where I will face six felony charges and up to 60 years in prison for resist­ing the Trump régime. 

We are not alone. Oth­er activists from across the coun­try are also fac­ing repres­sion for resist­ing the Trump admin­is­tra­tion and the racist lega­cies it sup­ports. Hun­dreds of pro­test­ers in Durham, San­ta Fe, Philadel­phia, St. Louis, St. Paul, Chica­go, Stand­ing Rock and beyond have been crim­i­nal­ly charged for their resistance.

The march on Inau­gu­ra­tion Day was to be the antithe­sis of all that Trump stands for — a lev­el of oppo­si­tion that the admin­is­tra­tion finds intol­er­a­ble. We and oth­er dis­si­dents come from com­mu­ni­ties that Trump has already den­i­grat­ed and harmed. The vio­lent fas­cism and big­otry that accom­pa­nied Trump’s rise to pow­er pos­es a threat to us all. The last year has proven that the gov­ern­ment will do lit­tle to stop his admin­is­tra­tion from dev­as­tat­ing and harm­ing mar­gin­al­ized communities.

The only thing that can real­ly pro­tect us is a robust and per­va­sive cul­ture of resis­tance. Yet, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is treat­ing our acts of self-defense and oppo­si­tion as more of a threat than real acts of white suprema­cist ter­ror­ism, such as those seen in Char­lottesville and Gainesville.

Unlike some of the alt-right” groups that orga­nize so-called free speech” ral­lies that afford oppor­tu­ni­ties to attack vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties, anti-cap­i­tal­ist and anti-fas­cist orga­niz­ers don’t spend our week­ends train­ing at para­mil­i­tary camps. Our move­ments are vil­i­fied in the press and tar­get­ed by police, but we’re your friends, your neigh­bors and your fam­i­ly mem­bers. Some of us in the move­ment are first respon­ders, nurs­es, water pro­tec­tors, teach­ers, stu­dents and par­ents. Some of us are in our ear­ly 20s, and some of us are old enough to be grand­par­ents. Our move­ments are com­prised of every­day peo­ple who refuse to let our friends and loved ones suf­fer and live in fear.

When we’re not out march­ing in the streets, we spend our time set­ting up food shares, found­ing libraries, pro­vid­ing health­care and some­times even fill­ing pot­holes when the state fails to do so. While Trump ignores cli­mate change and those it harms, our move­ments are pro­vid­ing autonomous dis­as­ter relief in Texas, Flori­da and Puer­to Rico. After U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion checked peo­ple’s immi­gra­tion papers as they fled Hur­ri­cane Har­vey in Texas, and arrest­ed undoc­u­ment­ed par­ents while they await­ed their child’s surgery, our move­ments are help­ing pro­tect those tar­get­ed by ICE raids and held for years in deten­tion centers.

Despite the strain these polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed charges put on defen­dants and our com­mu­ni­ties, those of us direct­ly impact­ed by this case are doing all we can to sup­port and pro­tect each other.

We can­not rely on the state to pro­tect us or meet our needs — a real­i­ty rou­tine­ly con­firmed by the actions of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. Our hope for a bet­ter world lies with each oth­er. As peo­ple across the coun­try and world work to con­front fas­cism and big­otry, com­mu­ni­ties in resis­tance will con­tin­ue to face esca­lat­ing vio­lence and repres­sion. It is essen­tial that peo­ple con­tin­ue to resist — and give voice and pow­er to a future in which we not only sur­vive but tru­ly thrive. If we fail to ensure our liveli­hood and our dig­ni­ty, the gov­ern­ment and the alt-right will con­tin­ue to mar­gin­al­ize and tar­get us.

Now is a time to build our col­lec­tive defense against the polit­i­cal repres­sion and vio­lence of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion and its tac­it sup­port for white suprema­cy. We ask those who tru­ly desire a free and egal­i­tar­i­an soci­ety to stand with J20 defen­dants and oth­er activists. Help us fight these charges, so we can all con­tin­ue to stand against big­otry and defend each other.

Olivia Alsip is a Chica­go-based defen­dant in the J20 case.
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