Report back from Michiana GDC and Anti-Fascist Action, who discuss lessons learned from a counter-demonstration in Elkhart, Indiana. They argue that these types of engagements are only going to continue as Trump returns to the campaign trail.
This is a joint report from comrades on the Michiana General Defense Committee (IWW Local 26) and Michiana Anti-Fascist Action who gathered to discuss the protest against Trump and Pence’s illegal campaign rally in Elkhart, Indiana on May 10, 2018. We wished to share our experiences from the protest as a group of allies even though we are separate organizations. We hope that other folks in the Midwest and beyond can use this info as inspiration and examples for building protests to what are sure to be a myriad of campaign visits by Trump and Pence to various campaign stops over the next few months.
How we lost the opportunity for direct action:
Originally, the event (and the protest) were scheduled to occur in South Bend, Indiana – a decidedly “blue” city in decidedly “blue” St. Joseph County, one of the last bastions in Indiana of the old Democratic machine. However, the campaign decided that the space afforded wouldn’t be large enough to accommodate both supporters AND protestors safely, as initially it appeared that protestors would outnumber supporters both inside AND outside the event. Elkhart Community Schools offered the use of the gymnasium at Northside Middle School in Elkhart – one of the larger gyms in the area and in an overwhelmingly “red” city and county. It should also be noted that the sheriff, Brad Rogers, is a sworn Oathkeeper and/or 3%er who went to visit Cliven Bundy during his standoff with the federal government.
ECS held an illegal straw vote to allow the campaign rally to be held in the school, despite their own rules to the contrary. With organizers scrambling to reset the protest event for Elkhart, and protestors scrambling to make adjustments to schedules for work and childcare, a formal vote was held at the school board meeting on Tuesday, May 8. Over the protest of dozens of Elkhart citizens, the board voted to allow Trump and Pence access to the school.
A local attorney whose office is adjacent to the school grounds offered to allow protestors to gather on his property to stage their protest and organizers agonized over losing the ability to shut down the rally and deny entry through direct action. In South Bend, this was feasible, as the number of protestors would’ve been larger and the site more accessible to this type of protest. However, in Elkhart, with it’s incredibly hostile, violent, and racist police force, and at the site of a school with large open-air areas, this idea quickly lost steam. Instead, ideas were floated of camping out the night before, to secure entrance to the event by protestors (who could then leave when Trump took the stage) and various other forms of protest. However, Trump’s personal police (the Secret Service) made clear that was not going to be a thing, allowing only Trump supporters into the parking lot of the school the night before the event, and increased heavy presence of the Elkhart City and County PDs around the building in the days leading up to the event assured the protestors would be stuck without any available plan for direct action.
In addition, constantly changing plans for the campaign event, the heavy presence of police, and a citizen’s overzealous contacting of Elkhart police posing as an “organizer” of the event (to report a death threat against protestors) also guaranteed that a number of out-of-town folx would not be attending for fear of unnecessary violence from the police with not much to gain except to yell at Trump supporters. This seems like a designed tactic engineered to deter protests and ensure that Trump gets to speak to a captive and encouraging audience – good optics for growing fascism – something to keep in mind in organizing mobilization for protests in the future.
The Actual Protest:
The day of the protest (and the protest itself) was pretty tame. Even though Trumpers camped out in the school parking lot the night before and laid siege to the school well before the end of the school day, there was no violence, no injuries, no property damage, and no arrests. Protestors were vastly outnumbered and generally stayed in “their area”. The closest any of the 400+ protestors came to violence was an incident in which an as yet unidentified police officer from the Elkhart Police Dept. shoved a group of teenagers because the police tape put up to cordon off protestors broke and he wanted to tie it back together. The violence of the Trumpeters vitriol and the impact of having a neo-fascist leader parade through a town and hold court in a school, though, may be something many of the teenagers of Elkhart never fully recover from. The most disturbing part was the large number of young men in fashy haircuts who were among the most vitriolic in screaming hate at Latino and Black children and mothers.
CJ from Michiana AFA on the frustration of protestors at being deterred from more meaningful direct action:
We are not afraid of violence…of using violence…but we aren’t generally up to start throwin’ fists for no reason. There’s like 5,000 of them over there – some of them bona fide fash and not just redhat maggots – and more than 100 police within a two-block radius. We’ve got like 400 folx over here. And half of ‘em are fucking 6th and 7th graders. Good for the kids. Be pissed off because that asshole is using your school. Get involved. But be smart and safe.
As the event was winding down and as the Trumphumpers were dispersing (while the protestors remained in large numbers, showing resolve that the Trump supporters did not show) protest organizers and members of various groups (including the GDC and AFA) spoke with several of the kids and young adults in attendance about their involvement. The overwhelming sentiments from the kids were they are angry about lack of protection of immigrants, frustration with the administrations blatant lies, and anger over the roll back of LGBTQIA+ rights and protections under the Trump administration. These kids (mostly from communities of color) had very little frame of reference for the parallels between Trump’s actions and the rise of fascism in 1930s Germany, but that seemed to make their anger more sincere – they’re not mad at Nazis because of any historical context, they’re mad at mean adults who don’t tell the truth about immigrants and the LGBT community and are taking away their right to exist. The protest organizers, Michiana AFA, and GDC 26 have members local to Elkhart and the Elkhart area and are planning outreach to these disenfranchised and affected youth this summer.
It was frustrating having planning changed a half-dozen times due to the rally organizers’ want to avoid protestors – something that needs to be noted for future organizing if this is indeed going to be a standing tactic used by the right. There was also some trepidation from both the GDC 26 and Michiana AFA of working together with folx more traditionally viewed as “libs.” However, Indivisible 02 and Stop Promoting Fascism came through with a well-organized, solid protest that made the statement they seemed to want to make – Trump may have some support in the area, but he isn’t freely welcome in Michiana…he does not own the 2nd District. In the end, even though we weren’t able to organize a large enough mass to shut down the event, having time to speak with the affected and angry kids was rewarding in it’s own right – the future is maybe not as bleak as it seems.
Wins the protest: #NotMyCheeto kid