A Report on Leg One of the RefuseFascism.org National Organizing Tour
From New York City to El Paso, Texas: a Month on the Road Organizing to Drive Out the Trump/Pence Regime
From the RefuseFascism.org National Tour Volunteers
April 2, 2017
The National Organizing Tour to Drive Out the Trump/Pence Regime traveled for a month, venturing out from New York City and driving our van all the way to El Paso, Texas—a total of 6,000 miles round trip! We stopped in Washington, DC; Greensboro, Durham, and Charlotte, North Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia; Montgomery, Alabama; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Houston, Austin, as well as El Paso. We hosted organizing meetings, participated in informal gatherings and discussions, led rallies and marches, spent time on several university campuses, and made a powerful impact at the South by Southwest festival in Austin.
We passed out tens of thousands of Calls to Action, tens of thousands of stickers, hundreds of posters, and raised thousands of dollars. We visited preexisting Refuse Fascism chapters and many places without them. People opened their homes to us, cooked us meals, and spent time talking with us about the movement to drive out this fascist regime, and how they can contribute. Beyond these wonderful, welcoming hosts, we encountered widespread and often fierce anti-Trump/Pence sentiments.
We began as a group of six and grew to 10 at our peak. We embarked on this busy, important, exciting, and enlightening Tour with a series of goals: to educate people about fascism, how it is manifested in this regime, why we must drive them out, and how we can accomplish this; to bring the message “NO! In the name of humanity we REFUSE to accept a fascist America” to every corner of society and to distribute posters, stickers, and the Call to Action to help others carry out this essential task; to travel to hotspots of struggle, building resistance and connecting up with people who are fighting back; and to organize anyone who wants to protect humanity to become leaders of this movement to bring millions into the streets until the Trump/Pence Regime is driven from power.
Below we’ve provided a collectively created summary to share some highlights of our experiences and a few of the most common patterns of responses and questions among the many people we encountered. Although we can’t fully capture all of the elucidating conversations and important moments, we have tried to synthesize and draw out some key conclusions that will be most useful for continuing and strengthening our vital, urgent, and undeniably necessary movement to drive out the Trump/Pence fascist regime for the sake of all of humanity and the planet.
One of the richest and productive meetings we had was in Charlotte. The fact that this wasn’t a main stop on our Tour underscores the potential this revealed. Two Tour volunteers were arrested during Jeff Sessions’ Senate attorney general confirmation hearing, and when they were in court they met protesters who had disrupted the secretary of state hearing of Rex Tillerson. One of those arrested lives in Charlotte. She invited a few people for breakfast as the Tour made its way from Greensboro down to Atlanta. Twenty-five people showed up.
We were joined by activists from Indivisible and MoveOn.org, Resist Trump Tuesdays organizers, college and high school students, youths from a communist collective, and the Greenpeace activist who had been arrested at the Rex Tillerson hearing. The meeting began in “a very Southern way,” as one Charlotte activist put it. A reverend and professor, who is affiliated with the NAACP, led a prayer about the importance of equality and rights for all people. We were blown away by the enthusiasm of the crowd, their powerful sense of urgency, and consistent participation throughout the meeting and afterwards.
We presented about the Call to Action. After a volunteer gave a compelling fundraising pitch, a community activist did her own fund pitch for the Tour. Attendees openly affirmed the points we were making, clapped and nodded in support, and participated freely to contribute their own ideas, concerns, and goals.
We spoke about the implications of fascism for the United States broadly as well as issues in North Carolina, specifically the anti-transgender House Bill 2. We grappled together with this relationship between local activism and the national need to drive out this regime at many stops along the tour (HB2 in North Carolina, a resolution in El Paso against granting city contracts to companies that work on the Border Wall, the fight over Austin’s “sanctuary city” status that is under attack by the federal and state authorities). We worked to unite with, amplify the voices, and strengthen the resistance of people on the front lines of these battles. At the same time, we struggled for this crucial understanding from The Call: “This resistance is righteous and necessary, but it is not sufficient. We must recognize that the character of fascism is that it can absorb separate acts of resistance while continually throwing the opposition off balance by rapidly moving its agenda forward. The Trump/Pence regime will repeatedly launch new highly repressive measures, eventually clamping down on all resistance and remaking the law… IF THEY ARE NOT DRIVEN FROM POWER.” We encouraged people to take the Call to Action and the NO! stickers and posters into the local protests and across the city, which most of the people at the meeting enthusiastically pledged to do.
The reverend asked whether the message of NO!, while powerful, may be too negative. He asked, what exactly are we saying “yes” to? One Tour volunteer gave our audience a significant response: “Imagine if everyone in Nazi Germany stood up and said NO! and stopped the Holocaust before it started. Think of the Abolitionist movement. We do not remember the Abolitionists as the people who said ‘yes’ to no slavery. They said NO! We will not accept this. There is nothing more positive than saying NO! right now.”
One of the greatest outcomes of this meeting was the concrete organizing. One volunteer asked people who would be interested in joining the new Refuse Fascism chapter to raise their hands. Then she asked who would host the first meeting. A new chapter was set up and planned a conference call with the Refuse Fascism National Office. We received donations and distributed more materials than we had at any previous meeting. Afterward, all of the volunteers had more intimate conversations with attendees. Once we got back on the road, we received a text from two women who attended the meeting with pictures of posters they put up all around the city.
The Tour spent a week in Austin for the South by Southwest festival, which draws hundreds of thousands of people from across the United States and around the world to celebrate music, film, art, and educational programs. We worked together with innovation and the determination to create a disruptive and striking visual presence. We spent most of our time at the busiest intersections of the festival with our “NO! Drive Out the Trump/Pence Fascist Regime!” banner and our giant Trump puppet, with his recognizable orange face, in a white KKK hood, which was created from thrifted materials by one amazingly artistic Tour volunteer.
We worked to involve people immediately—holding the banner, speaking on the megaphone, chanting, drumming, or passing out fliers and stickers—as well as throughout the week, by attending our meetings and protest and coming out with us in the streets each day, and finally by becoming organizers for Refuse Fascism chapters back where they live.
We frequently drew crowds of people who took photos and posted on their social media with #NoFascistUSA. We struck up conversations with passersby They were generally very intrigued by us, the majority of them held strong anti-Trump sentiments.
We signed people up from all around the world—Tokyo, Germany, UK, Chile, Peru, Mexico, India, California, New York, DC, Colorado, locals from Austin, as well as people from big cities and small towns throughout Texas—and passed out tons of stickers for people to wear around the festival. We used our megaphone to cause even more of a commotion, starting chants like “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!” and asking people to shout out why they want to drive out this fascist regime. The involvement was great and we collected donations and gave out NO! posters.
We encountered more Trump supporters than we had previously—many of them were white military men, some even showed Confederate symbols (on flag phone cases or wallets). Far more frequently, people asked, “What makes them fascists?” or, “How can we drive them out?” The mood was one of widespread curiosity, provoking countless interactions that made it difficult to keep up! It was indispensably helpful to have assistance from those we had met at our meetings and our Teach-In.
Our group also headed to a few shows, including two ¡Outernational! concerts. The band’s drummer wore a NO! Refuse Fascism T-shirt while performing. They passed out NO! stickers with their show times handwritten on the back, and gave a shout-out to the Tour during their performance. It was great to hear awesome live music with fierce and unapologetic lyrics opposing Trump and calling for the fall of this fascist regime.
Another outspokenly anti-Trump artist, Residente from Calle 13, performed at a massive outdoor show called “All Latinos Resist,” where the Tour set up as well. As Residente was performing, he picked up our poster and read both sides, “¡NO! ¡A expulsar al régimen de Trump y Pence!” and “¡NO! ¡ ¡En nombre de la humanidad, nos NEGAMOS a aceptar a un Estados Unidos fascista!,” and “RefuseFascism.org.” This was an exciting moment in bringing our message to a huge audience, especially when factoring the extensive social media coverage of the concert, as well as a photograph of our sign in an article on NPR! After Residente’s show almost every single person eagerly took the materials and cheered us on. We circulated hundreds of NO! materials in just a few minutes!
Another amazing concert was called ContraBanned, featuring artists from countries attacked by Trump’s Muslim ban. Some wore stickers on stage or took pictures for social media holding posters. One Refuse Fascism volunteer interviewed a Libyan-American musician who articulated one of the primary goals of the concert as trying to “humanize all of these places” in response to Trump’s hateful rhetoric and recurring Muslim ban proposals. When asked about the Trump/Pence Regime, he replied, “This is straight fascism. It’s open xenophobia. It’s open bigotry. It’s open oppression. They’re not even trying to hide it… We’re not gonna stand for this anymore.”
The National Organizing Tour traveled to four college campuses: Howard University in DC; Duke University in Durham, NC; Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA; and University of Texas El Paso. All had widespread anti-Trump sentiment. At Howard, we connected with students from the Howard NAACP and a group called Howard Resist that has protested Jeff Sessions and secretary of education Betsy DeVos and condemned the photo-op of Trump with HBCU presidents. They also were demanding that Howard be a sanctuary campus and that Trump be banned from all HU buildings.
At Duke, a student told us she got over her denial about this political situation after her Ancient Greek Democracy professor changed the class to speak to what is happening in the U.S. now, without directly mentioning Trump. Many professors are adjusting their syllabi to grapple with the times. One professor at El Paso Community College put her class on hold for a week because students were eager to understand how Trump could have been elected.
Everywhere, we met students with a desire to get involved: from taking materials—stickers, posters, the Call to Action, hats, and T-shirts—to sitting down in one-on-one engagement on the content of the Call to Action. People appreciated the Tour coming to their campus, particularly because the message “Drive Out the Trump/Pence Regime” was often new to what they had been thinking about or discussing in life or in their classrooms.
At UT El Paso, students, professors, and administrators donated and took stacks of posters, stickers, and Calls to their next classes, for friends, and more. They also encouraged others to stop by our table and talk with us. Several students and professors hovered around our table and joined the discussions with others. All of this reveals the potential of campuses to become hotbeds of intellectual ferment about fascism and sites of resistance. We need to encourage and further develop this through the second part of the Tour, which will focus on the Northeast campuses, and in every corner of society.
In El Paso, we met a student military veteran who had served 13 years, was deployed four times in Iraq, and then worked as a recruiter. He regrets all of this, but it did reveal to him how appalling and inexcusable many actions taken by the U.S. are. He had taken a Call to Action while walking past, but after skimming it quickly, he came back to talk with us and never made it to his class. His excitement was tangible, as he exclaimed that he had been saying all along that this is fascism and that more people need to wake up and listen.
Memorable moments like this occurred many times with students, academics, scholars, and professionals who were looking critically at this administration’s policies and rhetoric while attempting to connect the dots. Many of them were extremely receptive to this Call to Action, which stresses the understanding that this regime is fascist and must to be driven out.
Patterns and Trends We Encountered on the Tour
Throughout the Tour we reached all kinds of people, from all different social strata. Everywhere, we encountered a broad sentiment against Trump/Pence. This is important! This is the broad reservoir of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people that Refuse Fascism has been working to tap into, transform, and organize into a powerful force to drive this regime out. The millions we need are out there—even in the “red” states—who hate this regime and don’t want to live in a Trump world. At the same time, there is a process of normalization and accommodation happening. Of course, we also encountered Trump supporters, who would usually just walk by and shout, “Trump! Trump!” They were often ignorant of basic history and facts about this country, and puffed up on misogyny and white American chauvinism. Convincing them was not the focus of this Tour. Here we want to focus on the three main trends/categories we identified regarding how the masses of people who are opposed to Trump responded to our message.
Widespread and Deep Anti-Trump Sentiment, but Not Yet Diving In
The predominant response can be summed up as, “Fuck Trump, keep up the good work! But I’m gonna keep on walking”—a sentiment against Trump but (at least on the surface and at the moment) resigned to having to accept four years of this regime. Often these people would have a visceral response to our banner or the Trump as KKK puppet. When asked about it, they would say things like, “I hate everything about him,” or, “I’m Mexican, of course I hate Trump.” This was deep and real, however often these same people had stopped paying attention to politics, more focused on living their lives. The understanding of fascism and the idea of driving them from power had not crossed their minds. When presented with the analysis and plan in the Call to Action, some gravitated to it, while others would resist—because they were “afraid to hope,” because they didn’t want to deal with the implications of what we are called on to do, because they didn’t really get how serious it is, because they didn’t get that the masses can change history through mass independent resistance. Some said, “Fuck Trump, I hope he gets impeached,” or, “He’s gonna get impeached,” with the hope and/or false confidence that someone “up there” will take care of the problem. Related to that, some people wrong-headedly thought Trump was on the verge of self-destructing and that the regime would implode on its own.
Finally, a Group That Is Saying What I’ve Been Feeling
A smaller but highly significant group of people responded more along the lines of, “Finally someone is saying what I’ve been thinking and feeling.” We met many dozens of these people. Some joined us on the spot to help hold the banner or distribute materials, some volunteered to join or help start Refuse Fascism chapters, some ran with the Tour while we were in their town or even joined the Tour to go to the next stop.
These tended to be people who had been paying closer attention to the different actions of the Trump regime and had been agonizing about it. Sometimes these were people from groups like Latino immigrants who are directly targeted by the regime. Many deeply believe in democratic principles they think the U.S. is supposed to stand for. Some know about the history of Nazi Germany and are alarmed at the parallels. What all of these people had in common is a real sense that this is an emergency and a feeling that we have to act now, as well as an excitement to find an organization (and Tour) that is bringing forward the truth that this is fascism and that no action short of driving them out of power will be sufficient.
At the meeting in Charlotte, a middle-aged Christian woman spoke very powerfully about how we don’t have much time because Trump will use any kind of alleged “terrorist” incident to justify a much more severe fascist clampdown. At University of Texas El Paso (UTEP), a young woman whose family is from Mexico and undocumented stayed with us all afternoon. She had gone to the Women’s March in El Paso and had been wondering what to do since then, and meeting us gave her direction. Another Latino student at UTEP was initially just filled with rage at Trump’s demonization of Mexicans and wanted to confront a pro-Trump student, but he really had a “light bulb moment” when we walked him through the analysis of Trump as a fascist and the comparison to Nazi Germany. He spent the afternoon with us passing out fliers, and he then came out the next day to our rally and march (in a dust storm!). As noted earlier, a Black student at UTEP (a military veteran in his 30s) took a Call to Action as he was walking, and ended up coming back to our table and staying all afternoon, completely missing his class. There were a number of people we met on the Tour who had this kind of reaction upon reading the Call to Action.
In Austin we stayed at the home of an elementary school teacher who teaches bilingual education and can see the effect of the Trump regime on his students. He recently started studying literature about fascism, and when he encountered Refuse Fascism at a No Ban, No Wall protest a few weeks ago, he felt like he had to get involved and is now committed to helping organize the chapter there. He also played an important role in the Teach-In we held in a library in Austin, bringing his understanding of the step-by-step process of the Nazis’ rise to power and ultimate “final solution.” One woman in Austin cooked dinner for the entire Tour, and she led a welcoming meeting for us by reading a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye called “Messenger,” about someone who had painted the message “Nothing is impossible” around her city. She then said, “Thank you to the Tour for coming here and showing us that nothing is impossible.” She later told us she would never have gotten so involved in organizing if the Tour had not come to Austin. Her decision to jump in headfirst, working with us every day we spent there and taking responsibility in starting a chapter after we leave, is described in this report.
Various Forms of Disagreement
We also ran into various kinds of disagreement, from generally progressive and seemingly radical people, with the analysis in the Call to Action that the Trump/Pence Regime is fascist and must be driven out. We encountered this both on the street and in some of the meetings we held.
Several people argued that the problem is not Trump and Pence. This took two forms. One person said the problem is the people who voted for Trump/Pence. We acknowledged how jarring it is that so many people voted for them (although not the majority) and what that says about how deep white supremacy, patriarchy, and “America first” chauvinism is in this society, and how unleashing this social base is actually part of how fascism functions: through reliance on fanatical thugs. But, we also struggled for people to see that this is part of a fascist reordering of society as a whole being led by the executive, where a fascist regime has seized the reins of power—including the power to sign executive orders, wage war and unleash nuclear destruction, and more—and that is the essential thing that must be DRIVEN OUT. A few others said that the problem is not Trump/Pence, it’s capitalism, which they said has always been fascist. They cited some important truths about the ugly history of the U.S. and elements of continuity between Trump/Pence and previous administrations which had also ramped up repression (the Patriot Act, the NSA, Obama’s deportations, etc.). But these were truths in the service of a larger illusion that what is happening with Trump really isn’t anything new and that they should just continue to do the same local organizing that they have been doing. The failure or refusal to grasp the qualitative change represented by fascism—versus the normal workings of capitalist democracy—on the part of some leftists, came up at many of the public meetings.
Another question that came up repeatedly was, “What comes after you drive them out?” This question tended to be posed against the need to drive them out. Some were motivated by their desire not to end up with a mainstream Democrat like Hillary. Others were motivated by fear of the upheaval involved in driving out a fascist regime. A couple of people cautioned that mass independent action of the people could lead to “violence,” arguing that change can only be made by voting and in particular by getting ready for the 2018 mid-term elections. We fought for the understanding that the Trump regime is fascist (which is not the same as the Democrats), and that is why they have to be driven out now, not in 2018. Our argument included the following: A) millions of lives and the environment (and future of the planet!) will be greatly damaged in irreversible ways in the next two years; B) every day under this regime, fascism is being normalized, “alternative facts” are poisoning minds, opposition forces are being purged, and dissent is being criminalized; C) this regime could use any “incident” to justify a fascist clampdown; D) this whole approach of relying on the Democrats and “politics as usual” while these Republi-fascists push things further to the right and the Dems keep reaching across the aisle to “work with” them and “give them a chance,” is part of what got us in this situation. We need to stop “looking up” to those in official positions of power to save us and start looking out at the millions of people who hate what is happening and start organizing ourselves into a powerful force to rise up and drive them out!
We learned through this Tour that the task of driving the Trump/Pence Regime from power is a mission that can empower millions throughout the U.S. and the world. The Tour brought people hope, along with a clear plan of action to end the oppression that this fascist regime is enacting and to stop their genocidal plans. People shared their stories and their fears for what the Trump/Pence Regime could mean for the future of themselves, the people they love, this country, and the planet. The Call to Action brought answers to the many questions people on the streets carried with them.
For many, the Tour and the message of Refuse Fascism signified a new opportunity to make a real difference for humanity, and a chance to take leadership to mobilize the millions to drive this fascist regime out of office. The Call to Action explains in depth exactly what needs to be done and why we must act fast, getting organized and mobilizing millions to flood the streets. The first Refuse Fascism National Tour is part of a broader national movement. Although we have arrived back in New York, we are not finished! We will continue moving forward, using all of our strength, energy, and abilities brought together until we drive the fascist Trump/Pence Regime from power, because it is necessary and urgent for all of humanity.
To join the movement to Drive Out the Trump/Pence Fascist Regime and/or to assist in the next leg of this Organizing Tour focused on the campuses of the Northeast, go to: www.RefuseFascism.org or write to: [email protected].