Community Rise Up: How to Intervene Against Hate in the Age of Trump

Join Activist Agunda Okeyo this week for FREE Bystander Intervention Training with Civic Hall Wednesday 7/26 and Bluestockings Bookstore Sat 7/29. (Register:

By Agunda Okeyo with Debjani Roy

In her revealing 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, author Naomi Klein proposed a theory that explains some aspects of the @realDonaldTrump Twitter malaise we find ourselves trapped in like flies in amber. The shock doctrine explains how force, stealth, and crisis are used in implementing neoliberal economic policies such as deregulation, privatization, and cuts to social services (sound familiar?). Could it be that the President of the United States, whom many consider a marketing “genius” (their word, not ours), actually wants to cause emotional anxiety through never-ending political crises in order to overwhelm the electorate and obscure the bigger picture? That’s plausible. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) suggests part of the “the bigger picture” is the cultural impact of Trump’s shock doctrine, called the ‘Trump Effect’: a significant rise in hate violence and bullying from the streets to the classroom, beginning before the election through to today.

Just a few days ago in Brooklyn, NYC, two white men verbally and physically assaulted a interracial couple. The attack was instigated verbally and turned physical, with one of the men explicitly saying, “go back to your neighborhood, we’re going to lynch you, you f — — — charcoal burner!” That is just one example of the Trump Effect playing out in everyday life. The public has to start actively reflecting on what kind of communities we wish to thrive — those based on alienation and division, or those based on participation and collective understanding.

The March 2017 murder of Timothy Caughman in Times Square by a Maryland-based white supremacist targeting black people is another alarming example of the Trump Effect. Recent reports correlate the uptick in hate violence and hate groups to Trump’s regular use of hate speech targeting immigrants, religious minorities, women, black people, and others. We contend that a particular cocktail of white supremacy and toxic masculinity grips the nation amidst the complex intersections of race, religion, class, gender, and sexuality that make us targets of hate for one reason or another.

With the exception of the tragic deaths of two white male bystanders killed by a white supremacist in Portland several weeks ago, and the slain Virginia shooter targeting white congressmen, Trump has not commented on the spate of biased attacks this year. The Trump Effect, which disproportionately affects people of color, speaks to a culture of condoned white supremacist terrorism that we are not facing up to as a nation. What we have here is a deeply entrenched systemic and institutional epidemic, which by no means can be resolved by effective bystanders alone. That said, the impactful bystander must play a role.

Research by Hollaback! And the ILR School at Cornell University found that bystander presence had both positive and negative influences on a target’s emotional response to being harassed, depending on actions taken. When a bystander took action, the harassment was more likely to cease. In contrast, when bystanders failed to act, their presence tended to compound other negative emotional responses in the victim’s experience. For example, as little as a knowing glance or empathetic statement can reduce trauma in the face of harassment. However, the wrong response or no response at all can actually increase trauma, amplifying a sense of isolation where one is either left to defend themselves or, in many cases, remain silent.

This July we are offering a number of free bystander intervention trainings to the public both in-person and online (nationwide). These trainings come with the added impact of facilitation by women of color who are committed to inclusive practices for greater public safety.

What we seek to impart is the notion that public safety is not only within the realm of the police or even a bystander’s direct confrontation of a harasser, which can risk escalation especially in Trump’s America. Through our trainings, we impart our “5 D’s of bystander intervention” (direct, distract, delay, delegate and document) to open up the idea of what it means to be a good bystander, including and beyond direct intervention. We all come from different walks of life that, when reflected upon and utilized effectively, can serve to increase public safety in myriad circumstances. It’s often the simple techniques of the 5 D’s that can interrupt and de-escalate an otherwise dicey situation.

Like the loosely tossed salad that is America, New York City like is not as romantic as Sex and the City or How I Met Your Mother would have you believe. On the one hand, random slashings recalling the crime ridden 1980s saw a sharp rise last year. But on the other hand we know that technology, access to public transportation, and close quarters foster greater interconnection. This is the city of writer and activist Jane Jacobs, after all. Jacobs is considered the mother of thoughtful urban planning, beginning with her seminal text The Life and Death of Great American Cities. She argued that cities are living spaces for living people, so we should take extra care to create people-friendly environments. She was especially explicit that public safety happens on the street because there is safety in numbers. The issue is reminding ourselves that NYC isn’t simply a playground for the rich or double-decker buses, but a string of small communities that form five boroughs comprising 8.5–10 million residents. Despite the rising tide of hate, diverse cities like New York reflect the promise of the United States. If we individually commit to make our streets safer, we will all be safer because we’re in this together.

Hollaback! founded in 2005, has been on the vanguard of innovative platforms and programs to end street harassment, first exclusively around sexual intimidation and now addressing all manner of harassment — including hate violence. Our headquarters is NYC plus 56 global sites of grassroots operation. In an effort to meet our mission of addressing and ending public harassment, we determined that strategically trained, compassionate bystanders are the key to greater public safety as partisan animosity continues to rise.

Free trainings this July:

Agunda Okeyo — Hollaback!’s Program Coordinator and trainer, a graduate of Smith College with a BA in sociology, identifies as a Kenyan immigrant woman raised in NYC. She is a writer/producer/activist, on the NYC board of Women, Action and the Media, and co-founder of the women of color-led NYC grassroots collectives #GOPHandsOffMe and #HaterFreeNYC with M4BL. Okeyo is also creator of “Sisters of Comedy” at Carolines on Broadway, now 3.5 years running.

Debjani Roy — Hollaback!’s Deputy Director identifies as a South Asian immigrant woman and has over 15 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. Prior to her time at Hollaback!, she led key initiatives at Manavi, promoting the rights of South Asian women survivors of violence in the United States. She has been working with Hollaback! and developing our bystander intervention trainings for four and a half years.