Bird Milliken courageously disrupted a Trump rally in Hershey, PA on December 10. She was interviewed by Michael Slate for The Michael Slate Show on KPFK FM. Following is a transcript of that interview.
Listen to Michael Slate’s interview with Bird Milliken and Refuse Fascism co-initiator Sunsara Taylor
Q: I’m really pleased to welcome to the show Bird Milliken. Bird, welcome to the show.
A: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Q: You did things right in front of Donald Trump. Tell people what you actually did.
A: Most recently, Trump came to Hershey, Pennsylvania. I went to the rally with the intention of disrupting it, which I did. But at the time and the moment, I had a hat that had a middle finger on it that said his name, “Trump,” along with hashtag #MeToo. I had a shirt that I had written on the front, “Grabbing power back,” with two middle fingers on each of my breasts. On my arms it said #MeToo. On the back is said RefuseFascism.org with a really large finger for Donald Trump. And then I had a sign that said, “Grabbing Power Back,” with the middle finger with Trump’s name on it.
Ultimately, when I started holding up the sign, and saying, “Trump/Pence Out Now!” fortunately I ended up in this area on the right of the stage that was sectioned off, where there was no security or anybody. It wasn’t my intention necessarily to get into that little area. I think I was trying to remove myself from the pit, and that’s where I was coralled into. And the security didn’t seem to know how to get me out. So I was walking around for a pretty good amount of time with my sign and giving the finger to Trump. And I swear I had a moment with him, where – and I don’t know if this is captured in the media, or how long it was, where I stood there for a decent amount of time, just holding my hand up and making eye contact with him, giving him the finger. And I’m pretty sure there was a moment of recognition, because I actually disrupted his rally and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in August, 2018, where I did something similar. And I feel like there was a moment of recognition when he thought, oh, man, I remember this woman now.
I think that’s part of why he was so upset about me doing what I did, and why he encouraged the security to “not be PC” with me in getting me out of there. So it was kind of surreal, how much the anger that I had provoked from him. I can’t say I’m surprised at all. But it was a very surreal moment. And I’m so grateful that no one hurt me physically. So that was a positive thing.
It wasn’t my first time doing that. It went over really well in my opinion.
Q: Tell me this, because you’ve mentioned this a couple of times and I’m really fascinated by this, why did you decide to made such a bold move, especially by yourself?
A: I felt compelled into action. I feel like when there’s certain injustices. There are egregious things happening. It kind of baffles me that others don’t feel similar to the way I do. And I felt like a statement needed to be made.
The goal and intent was that this time around I wasn’t going to be alone. But because it was such a mess leading up to it, it ended up where I was alone again, which, at the end of the day, I’m OK with. I’ve spoken things on my own work before Trump, especially regarding the Bill Cosby trials. I’ve done a lot of things. I think at the end of the day, too, I’m not governed by other people’s judgements of me. Some people are more worried about how other people perceive, or the backlash.
So, yeah, it’s hard for me to just stand by, and not doing all I can to make a difference.
Q: This is in connection with what you spoken a little bit about earlier, about what it was like to wait and get inside. Because you’re standing inside this big arena, and it’s filled with people who are Trumpites. I want to ask you how you did what you did and how did it feel, including the fact that you’re standing in the middle of this terrible rotten soup of Trump supporters.
A: Well let me say that prior to getting in, there was this ginormous long line outside. I took some videos and pictures of the things outside. But the line outside was rather insane. It was so long and zig-zagged back and forth. I can’t even express how bad it was, how long this line was.
So around 5:50, everybody’s still standing in this line. I can’t even say how far back I am. And everybody started bugging out, like, are we getting in, because it wasn’t moving that fast. All of a sudden, the entire line collapsed, and everybody started rushing forward in this big mass. And let me tell you, my colon almost fell out of my body at the moment, because I was like, dear god, how is anyone going to get in now? Because people had been standing in this line for hours, and now everyone’s rushing forward. It was this moment of Holy cow! I thought, I’m never getting in there now. And the universe is on my side because I was able to. I think being alone helps in that way. I was weaving my way all the way up into the front, as best I could to get actually in.
Just even getting inside, it was so unnerving. When I was at the Wilkes-Barre rally, when I was waiting to get in line I was actually interviewed by a British journalist who asked me why I was there, and it was very hard to blow my cover. But being there is surreal and it’s unnerving. And I knew the whole time that like, I’m about to piss off about 10,000 people. That’s a surreal feeling to know that within moments all these people are going to be really angry at you.
I think when you do certain kinds of activism, the more information you have about what you’re doing and how you’re going to go about it, the less anxiety-provoking and you can kind of stand pat. It was important to me to have a plan of what I was going to do, and have certain strategies of what I could do to decrease the odds of being pummeled by these people.
But hearing everybody chanting together and responding to him, or just getting riled up, especially some of the things that were said. It’s really, really unnerving. And then there’s certain things you can’t help but notice, that the vast, overwhelming majority of the people are white and male.
So it’s interesting when you hear Trump speak of all the good that he’s doing for our nation. It’s interesting because the demographics of who’s there doesn’t really represent our nation. So it’s like, how come just these people are happy with you? Where are all the rest of the people in Pennsylvania who aren’t reflected here?
So it’s an unnerving, surreal experience, but honestly, when I hear that chanting and stuff, after getting past the horror of it, my next thought is, “And this is why I’m here. This is exactly why I needed to be here, because of this. And that’s why I have to do what I’m about to do.” Because of this. And in some ways, it’s more of a driving force, versus a deterrent. And I think too, when you stand for something bigger than yourself, life is a little more meaningful. When you’re working for something that’s bigger than, am I going to get to Target on time?
I’m still not exactly grounded from it all. It’s definitely unnerving, because I’m still getting a lot of backlash online. That’s unnerving but it also steels me.
Q: Let me pursue that a little bit because I think I really did like the way that you didn’t cater or kowtow. I think of when I was a kid and I used to watch these rodeo things and you had this massive crowd of people, who were there watching all this and then I started thinking about, Okay, then you have the reflection on, what did the Germans do, what did it look like when Hitler was holding all these massive rallies and stuff and what it was bringing together and there’s a pull, I’m sure, when you’re there by yourself and you’re in the midst of this howling mob, and you didn’t cater or kowtow to them. And I think it’s really important that that actually is the stand you took because you were pretty much on your own. I watched them taking you out, and even as they were trying to pull you out, or trying to walk you out, there wasn’t one moment where you stopped and said, okay, let’s go. You actually continued to hold up your banner, hold up all this other stuff, and really make the point that you wanted to make, and I thought that was extremely important and something that people should learn from.
A: Well, I appreciate that. Oh, I thought at the time that this is my chance, If we’re gonna do it, do it and get attention. I wasn’t there to just kind of be pleading, and I think I’m aware, too, of how fleeting media exposure can be. So, I might be thinking I’m in the right time and place and that whoever can see me or my signs, but that might not necessarily be the case. So it was important to me that I was as bold and as big and made as big of a statement as I could while I was there. Before going in, I definitely prayed and was meditating, leading up to it and kind of calling the powers of good onto my side, to protect me and have my back. But the fact that I was able to get into that large area where there was zero security – again, I feel like the universe was on my side, to allow that to happen for me.
Q: You know, the other thing that is on your side, too, is that you have, you really do have a lot of determination and a lot of guts to be standing out there and saying, Look this is just fundamentally wrong, what’s being done here. It’s something that I have to stand up for and I would imagine there’s some impact not just of you standing up, but the impact you hope it has on a wider audience. Let’s talk about that a little.
A: With most of my activism work, it is not about me, I’m not looking for attention personally. It’s about in the real world my behavior would inspire others to get involved and to do something. Or to join me. Or, hey, I’d be happy to follow them, as well, into the fire. But that’s the plan, and it’s rather amazing, when my actions that are like that don’t inspire others. I’m hoping, because, again, I did something just like this in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvannia. But the plan, like I said, was that I wasn’t gonna – that there’ll be a couple of other people with me. But, ultimately, they weren’t able to get inside. But, even so, ideally, I’d be the drop in the ocean that begins the wave. So, I’m hoping that my actions will encourage others to join me. Now one of the things I’ve been working on since the other night, is I’m actually writing up a kind of “how to” manual on how to infiltrate a place like that. So the kind of tactics, things that I did, to make it more accessible to others. I’m hoping maybe if I write things down, and walk people through certain things, then they’ll feel like, “Okay, maybe this is someting I can wrap my head around or actually engage in or do.”
Because I think it’s important for protests to be outside, or whatever, but my goal was to actually cause a disruption, to interfere, to infiltrate, really. Because I think that, as dangerous as that may be, I feel that it is also effective in getting media exposure. I feel like you are more guaranteed to get that kind of exposure if you do it right then and there, put yourself in the midst of it all, than maybe wait patiently for someone to turn their camera your way. So I hope, like I said, once I finish writing this up, which will hopefully be today, and get this out there, it’ll make things more accessible to others in the future going forward.
Q: You talked about why you did this, and I wanted to pursue that a little bit more. How did you view the crowd that actually came there to support him? I mean, you’re walking, and I’ve got to say when I read the piece that said you found yourself in this open place that you could be so close to where this monster is, and, well you’re also surrounded by tens of thousands of people. And those people have come to see him, and I wondered, at that moment, what did you think? What do you think of the crowd that actually comes in to see Trump? In relation to what you’re doing.
A: I personally pity them, or I feel for them, because I think you can’t be in a good space and be one of his supporters. So those who were there, I kind of view as injured, or wounded folks, whether they know it or not. But, I feel that. Even just the hostility. When you have a lot of that kind of anger. It feels very mobby, in a way that feels on the hinge of danger. You know, not very off of a KKK type of feeling. Not that I have any idea of what that would feel like, but, Jesus, I guess I view these people as folks who are doing the best they can with what they know, and they’re misguided. Or their exposure in life, their experiences have not been like mine. Sometimes, in social work – I’m actually a social worker, as well – one of the phrases we say is to meet people where they’re at, and I feel like a lot of these people, they’re on board with this message. They’re on board with where he’s coming from, so that says a lot with where they’re at. Which, to me, is a sad place.
Now, if I were to talk to probably the vast majority of them, they would probably say all this about me, that I’m misguided, and all that. But it’s very clear to me the sickness or pain that exists within that community and the amount of potential for it to cause harm to others. So, yeah, again, I feel compelled to stand up within it, even so. Because, ultimately, I view it as an opportunity. Like it was bigger than that moment. Cause I think, worst case, I get the hell beat out of me. Super-worst case, I die. But, at least I’m assuming it would be captured on video, and maybe that’ll make a difference, somewhere. Now, maybe it won’t, but it certainly increases the odds of making a difference than if I were to stay at home and do nothing and allow him to speak uninterrrupted.
But I feel like, when we look at Hong Kong, people need to take to the streets, in my opinion. People need to physically disrupt and to get out there and rattle things up. Because going along with the process or waiting for certain things to happen, a lot of things are getting worse and more dangerous and the stakes are getting higher for people. And I guess I feel like enough is enough. What are we waiting for. There’s power in mobilizing and just interfering with things. There’s a lot that can happen from that. Again, look at Hong Kong. Like, they’re getting it done. They’re getting it done. The people have spoken. They got out there, they raised hell, and yeah.
There’s no reason why Americans can’t do the same thing: Demand something bigger, better, different. And I think we should, in so many regards. We should demand something better than where we’re at. Especially when you hear a Trump rally: take everything he said, and you’re hearing people agreeing with him, It’s like how are other people not disrupting this moment? You know? So, like I said, hopefully this will inspire others to actually go inside and make a difference. But I think there are tactics you can use to decrease the odds that you’re gonna get yourself pummeled. But, there’s no guarantee. It’s a risk. But to me, it felt like that I had to do that. You know, when I’m off this earth physically, I want people to say, “Well, man, she tried, she tried her best to make a difference and to take a stand. She did everything in her power or, maybe not everything becasue there’s always more I could be doing, but she sure as hell tried.”
I want that to be my legacy, that I didn’t go along with this, and I was one to put myself on the line for something bigger.
Q: That’s an extremely important legacy and one that I think a whole hell of a lot more people should be thinking about. But, Bird, I want to thank you very much for joining us today.
A: Well, Michael, if you don’t mind, one thing I’d like to mention is that I’ve been doing some work with Refuse Fascism, and this weekend is a big weekend. On December 14, we’re having protests all across the nation. There’s one in LA – it’s happening at 4:00 in MacArthur Park, and at 2:00 on Saturday at Rittenhouse in Philadelphia. So, if you go to RefuseFascism.org, you can print out posters from there and also find out event details. You can get invovled. And hopefully this manual that I’ve been talking about on the “How To…” will be reflected through them at some point to social media. Thank you for this opportunity to share this with you.