Chicagoans 'Mobilize For Democracy' With Writing, Rallies and Protests
Arielle Diaz is working on a comedy script that follows two millennials of color named Olivia and Frankie. They like their brunch with a side of revolution.
Diaz recently tested out her material before a crowded room at the bookstore Open Books in the West Loop. She was part of the group Writers Resist, which describes itself as a “re-inauguration of compassion, equality and free speech.”
Diaz said as the country prepares for a Donald Trump presidency, democracy needs to be reimagined.
“How do we as writers, as artists, especially those of us as color, resist?” she said. “For me, it will be a decolonizing of the mind through Olivia and Frankie, because we cannot mobilize for democracy if we cannot first imagine how radically that might look.”
Diaz is part of a wave of Chicagoans who want to counter what they see as Trump’s agenda. Opponents worry about his views on immigrants, civil liberties, the environment, Muslims and women. The inauguration, and the weeks leading up to it, have been seen as opportunities to speak out.
While thousands are expected in Washington to march in opposition to Trump during and after his inauguration, there’s also local activity taking place, including rallies, pledge signings and the creation of scripts used when calling lawmakers.
One of those rallies will take place Saturday during a march through downtown Chicago in support of women’s rights and civil liberties.
Johndalyn Armstrong, one of the organizers of the Women’s March on Chicago, left a career in academia to return to school for psychology. She said she is thinking about people who may lose their insurance under the Affordable Care Act, something Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress have started to dismantle.
“I know that I’m going into a career in mental health. My perspective now has to change. I can’t just consider having a practice on North Michigan Avenue,” Armstrong said. “I need to get into the communities where no one else wants to touch. And I need to consider not only a sliding scale but offering services to those who are going to need it.”
Another organizer, Liz Radford, said the theme of the march is “connect, protect, activate.”
“We hope that we will have energized women who attended the march to think about where their focus will be for the next four years,” Radford said. “What in their community, what in their lives that is important? Where can they put their energy? It’s time to put that energy (and) those resources into institutions, people, ideas that strengthen our communities.”
Protests against the government or politicians is nothing new. But even when some Democrats felt like George W. Bush stole the election from Al Gore in 2000, demonstrations didn’t last long. It was business as usual shortly thereafter.
University of Chicago political scientist J. Mark Hansen said there are a two factors unique in the Trump era.
First, infrastructure is in place to mobilize people.
“I’m thinking in particular about organizations like Black Lives Matter,” Hansen said. “Many of these organizations that have been doing this for some time now, so they know who their supporters are, they know what it takes to get them out there and they actually know how to pull off logistics to do something in a large way.”
Second, he said, are those gilded Trump towers.
“It kinds of provides a rallying, if you will, for many of these protests, simply that he is very visible around the country in ways that previous presidents have not been,” Hansen said.
For Sheila Garland, fighting Trump isn’t enough of an agenda. She participated in the Earth2Trump national roadshow when it came to the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center in the Hermosa neighborhood this month.
“I understand people’s initial gut reaction to say we have to fight him every step of the way,” Garland said. “But we have to start building an independent political movement that really talks about what we working people need to survive in this world that brings some sense of humanity and civility.”
There are Chicagoans making the trek to Washington, D.C. Twenty Francis W. Parker School students will take a bus to the nation’s capitol for the inauguration. The kids aren’t even spending the night because they have finals next week. The students chafe at the notion they should just move on and accept the presidency.
“I focus on LGBTQ rights,” said Francis Parker junior Chloe Wagner. “My family has a lot of ties to it, my brother being gay, so that’s something that’s always on the forefront on my mind. And also reproductive rights. Part of the things I’m going to march on Washington for are those.”
For More Fabiyi, immigration is an issue.
“Because my dad immigrated here from Africa. Also rights for women of color,” Fabiyi said. “We are constantly unseen, unheard and we’re oppressed, and I want to be able to show that we care and we matter.”
Natalie Moore is WBEZ's South Side Bureau reporter. You can follow her at @natalieymoore.