Ahead of the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States of America, activists and civil society are mobilising protests against the new establishment. CIVICUS speaks to Nicole Barner, an activist who works on economic justice and is based in Washington D.C. Barner will take part in some of the inauguration day protests.
1. What is the mood among human rights and social justice advocates in the United States ahead of the inauguration of Donald Trump?
I look at the history of the country, and I know that backlashes to progress occur. I look at the current times within this framework. For example, Jim Crow was a response to progress made by Black people during Reconstruction, the post-Civil War period. Under the Obama administration we saw the first black president, we made progress on LGBT issues, we took steps in the right direction on immigration, and we approached the end of this presidency with the most viable female candidate for President of the United States looking to succeed Barack Obama. That's a lot of progress.
Many people I know are approaching this time with resilience. They say we've made it through so many bad times, slavery and segregation, and we will make it through this. I know various groups are finding their own ways of being courageous and their own sources of strength that come from their history and culture.
Many human rights and social justice advocates, across the spectrum of issues and identities, are mobilising for actions and digging deeper into their work, which is really the work that will change outcomes and improve opportunities for marginalised groups. That is the long work of building organisations, strengthening ties between organisations, and doing important community organising. The shock and sadness that some people felt post-election may still be there for some people, but most people have turned those feelings into action. They have tapped into a righteous rage.
2. Could you please tell us about the mobilisation happening in your city on inauguration day?
Being in Washington D.C means I am at the epicentre of the action for inauguration day. There will be people in town to support the president-elect and there will be people there to support a more inclusive vision for the country. For the protests occurring during the inauguration, the protest organisers have clearly said they are working with the view to disrupt the actual event. Being present at the inauguration is important. Therefore the site is vitally important.
The day after inauguration day is the Women's March on Washington, which many people are organising for and attending. There are also a lot of spontaneous events that individuals are planning. Of course organisations are planning activities that correspond with the march, but people are also inviting friends over for dinner, brunches, and salons to discuss different topics. I've been struck by the number of informal events that align more with popular education than they do with traditional social gatherings.
As for the Women's March, having a march on Washington is very symbolic due to the iconic March on Washington in 1963. Many marches try to capture a similar sentiment. It is important because it will be D.C by the Capitol, our centre of government. As a protestor, you will be taking your message directly to the people who hold power and represent you in Congress.
As a participant I am participating in activities because I want to provide a viable and visible example of resistance to a framework of ideas and ideologies that are reductionist and harmful. I want to show public support for values and a vision that is radically inclusive and focused on bringing about a society that provides opportunities for all people. I would think organisers of the events I am attending are trying to do this as well. However, some organisations definitely have more concrete and specific asks and agendas.
3. How is the mobilisation linked to other similar mobilisations in the United States and what response do you anticipate from the police?
The Women's March has a tonne of corresponding marches and activities in cities across the country and the world. The Women's March website has a list of other mobilisations. I don't know the specifics about which ones might be the biggest. However, I would think the marches in large liberal cities with an organising infrastructure would be the biggest (New York City, San Francisco/Oakland, Chicago, Philadelphia, etc.). I know people who aren't coming to DC because they are leading activities locally and participating in marches in their city. Most of the people I know who are coming to D.C are coming from around the area or in the Northeast corridor and the south. However, that is not necessarily representative of everyone coming.
Due to the range of activities planned for the next couple of days and the uncertainty about the tone it is hard to predict the types of potential clashes that may occur. Given past experiences, we know what is possible, but it is hard to say what will happen. I know a lot can happen, but I think more about people who may act out against our protests based on a set of values that are different to mine and don't respect my humanity.
4. How do you intend to carry forward the momentum of mobilisation beyond inauguration day?
Sometimes just being is rewarding. Just living as who I am. I'll do smaller acts of resistance and subversiveness and power-claiming activities. That might include walking down the street holding my wife's hand.
I will also continue doing the resilient work. My job is in the economic justice arena, and I'll continue to organise for economic opportunities for underserved communities. In my personal time, I'll also do a better job of supporting the organisations that share my values. In short, I'll keep doing what I've been doing, but I'll do it with more fervour.
Others also keep fighting for what they believe in and about a week ago, there were a series of rallies in support of Obamacare. Many Republicans are also saying that it only makes sense to repeal Obamacare if there is a replacement that is ready to take its place.
5. How do you see your struggle connected with other struggles for justice and equality around the world?
As a Black woman in America who is married to a woman, I live at the intersections of many identities and issues. I have spent much of my adolescent and adult life thinking about and organising around those issues to create a more just society. That work is very much tied to my own identity and the experiences I have had, but it is also tied to the communities I am a part of.
As I have fought for my own humanity, I have also understood that it is linked to other people. We are interdependent in many ways including in our pursuit of justice. I am a part of an African diaspora that includes people who have fought for liberties and freedoms. I am part of a lineage of women across the globe who fight for their rights. I am both inspired by organising and movements past and present in my country and in others, and in the words of June Jordan, I know that freedom is indivisible. Some of us can't have it unless all of us have it. Within that complexity is where I like to work from.
Nicole Barner works on economic justice issues in the United States of America focusing on expanding access to capital, credit and basic banking services to low- and moderate-income communities and communities of colour. Follow on Twitter @NclBrdn