Protesters in Chicago may have shown the rest of the country what it's going to take to stymie the Donald Trump candidacy for the Republican nomination for president. On Friday night a scheduled campaign stop of the GOP frontrunner was cancelled after anti-Trump protestors both inside and outside the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion clashed with Trump supporters. Reports of verbal of physical skirmishes led to the Trump campaign announcing the event would be postponed "for the safety of all of the tens of thousands of people that have gathered in and around the arena," according to a Press Release.
News agencies report that this organized political demonstration included members of the city's Muslim, Latino, LGBTQ, and #BlackLivesMatter communities, and footage of the protesters chanting We Stopped Trump and We Gonna Be Alright spread through social media.
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow said this evening it "may go down in history as one of the darker moments in American major party politics," pointing out how three of the too many cities in which unarmed black citizens were killed by law enforcement (Michael Brown in Ferguson outside of St. Louis, Laquan McDonald in Chicago, Tamir Rice in Cleveland) have been the most recent stops for Trump's rallies.
Maddow zeroes in on Trump's rhetoric from the podium, where he's advocated violence against people who disagree with him, be they black, Latino, Muslim, women or journalists. Trump supporters have assaulted, harassed, and punched black protestors, and Maddow argues that what happened last night in Chicago is the logical outcome of a presidential candidate who advocates physically removing the people who have a dissenting opinion from his own.
Speaking earlier last night in St. Louis, Trump claimed that demonstrators today don't know that there are consequences to their actions anymore—implying that being assaulted, harassed, and punched by his supporters are legitimate responses to protest—and added that protestors "aren't the people who made this country great."
The city's history of protests and strikes beg to differ. Though 20th-century presidential voting history paints large parts of the Midwest as staunchly Republican, leading to that coastal knee-jerk assumption of the flyover states being red, political organizing in Chicago have time and time again provided an example of what standing up to power looks like.
In December the Chicago Teacher's Union voted overwhelmingly to permit its leadership to authorize a strike in the wake of school closings and budget crises, the most recent of which was the Chicago Public School's district telling principals it might not have the funds to finish out the current school year.
Teachers went on strike for seven days in 2012, the first time the union called for one in 25 years, but the CTU has been a major national presence in what fighting for school improvements and teacher's rights throughout the 20th century, and was instrumental in forming one of the national teacher's union, the American Federation of Teachers, in 1900.
In March 2006, Latino demonstrators in Chicago protested immigration reform resulting from the House of Representatives passing the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437), which, among other measures, authorized installing a fence at high-traffic locations along the U.S.-Mexico border and criminalizing any persons who assist undocumented immigrants to remain in the country. An estimated 100,000 demonstrators marched through downtown Chicago, beginning a number of similar protests in major cities around the country. H.R. 4437 didn't pass through the Senate, but Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids on suspected undocumented immigrants living in States increased.
In August 1968, the Democratic national convention was held in Chicago, and protesters from the Youth International Party, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, the Students for a Democratic Society, and other anti-war groups converged on the city to protest the Vietnam War. Since 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson had escalated American troops presence in country—about 189,000 troops were deployed at the end of 1965, roughly 500,000 by the end of 1967—and the Tet Offensive, launched by the Viet Cong and North Vietnams army at the end of January, resulted in severe Americans casualties, a request for more troops by military command, and the second largest new draft call for the war (48,000 men) at that time. Beginning on August 28, Chicago police violently cracked down on the demonstrators as news media and film crews watched.
This protest was one of the more pivotal eruptions of unrest simmering in the country throughout the 1960s. School boycotts and civil rights activity in 1963 and 1964 led to Martin Luther King picking the city for his first northern campaign in 1965. And in October 1969 the Weathermen and the Students for a Democratic Society launched the Days of Rage anti-war demonstration. But footage of the August 28 crackdown (when police officers used Billy clubs, mace, and tear gas against protestors and onlookers alike) reached American living rooms, showing a city with a Democratic mayor using force to subdue protestors at the Democratic party's national convention, became a key moment in that year's election. Political pundits anecdotally started calling this clash the night America decided to vote for Richard Nixon.
Though hundreds of protestors were arrested that night and many cops and civilians were injured, miraculously nobody was killed. The same can't be said of the Haymarket affair of May 4, 1886, when a bomb went off at a rally for workers fighting for an eight-hour workday at Chicago's Haymarket Square, and both law enforcement and civilians were killed by the blast and the resulting riot. May Day worker celebrations commemorate the event, and the four men who were sentenced to death because of it, and it remains one of the pivotal events in the history of American labor movements.
Today, people from America's working classes form a good part of the Trump candidacy's base -- and not because they're all unrepentant racists. As political historian Thomas Frank recently pointed out in The Guardian, if you can get past Trump's insults and xenophobic rhetoric, he is one of the few national politicians talking about trade and the destructive trade deals that have decimated American manufacturing jobs over the past 30 years. Frank raises the possibility that "deindustrialization and despair" could be driving the current Trump phenomenon as much as reactionary fear of the nonwhite and/or non-Christian other. None of which recuses the heinous behavior of Trump supporters when confronting people who disagree with them, but it complicates the comfortable simplicity of writing them off as crazies entirely.
Now, the above actions aren't the only examples of Chicago's political protesting --we could just have easily alluded to the recent strike of Coca-Cola workers, the 2008 worker's strike at Republic Windows and Doors, the women-led garment worker's strike of 1910, or many more -- and, of course, Chicago isn't the only American city where political protests have recently or historically made national news. But the actions of political organizing in Chicago have a tendency to become the pivot point in national political narratives, and it's possible we just witnessed another.
So in the coming days, as blame for what happened last night gets thrown around and clickbait headlines tidily attempt to explain what it all means, keep in mind that there may be another way to think about it. The protestors who shut down last night's Trump rally didn't come from one single organization, but from a broad spectrum of groups that pulled their members from the wide range of people who live in Chicago. And when confronted with a united, diverse group of people who represent what this country really looks like, the boastful, swaggering, can't-be-bought Trump backed down.
His campaign is probably making efforts to try to prevent such postponements at future events, but protesters around the country have also now seen what stalling the Trump train looks like.
Thank you, Chicago.
(Photo: AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Bret McCabe is a Mexican-American freelance writer based in Baltimore and senior writer at Johns Hopkins Magazine.