Conversation with Bill Ayers: How Chicago Protesters Did What the GOP Couldn’t

Protesters in Chicago shut down a Trump rally last night —quite possibly the most substantive evidence to date that Trump can be stopped. This kind of immediate impact doesn’t happen spontaneously, instead requiring well-organized communities often developed over many years. I spoke with Bill Ayers, an experienced Chicago activist and community organizer — and part of last night’s massive protests — to understand what happened and to what extent the success was unique to the situation in Chicago:

What made yesterday’s protest against Donald Trump’s rally a success?

The demonstration last night was amazing and powerful.
Trump rallies have had a handful of brave protesters who’ve stood up against hate and gotten physically roughed up and tossed out. In Chicago young people led by a rainbow of righteous organizers from Black Lives Matter and Latino Youth, Muslim students and Asian students, queer rebels and immigrant rights folks — and many others — organized thousands to stand up against racism and hate, the new mobilized American fascism — and we shut it down. It was a massive, loving gathering. Resistance is rising! Say no to hate!

How much does action like this rely on the established community of activists in Chicago?

It depends. Chicago has a deep and wide tradition of community and labor organizing, and for several years youth have been organizing and mobilizing around education, police violence, immigrant rights, women’s issues, queer rights, Palestinian self-determination and more. The Trump phenomenon has been on everyone’s radar, and when it was announced that the Hate Train was coming to Chicago — and to our campus — the reaction was swift and sure. People met all week to plan a massive non-violent resistance. Veterans from those other struggles were in the lead. I and thousands of others got tickets on-line, and that meant that the showing outside was matched by a large contingent inside. We weren’t coordinated, but we saw one another and knew what to do.

What do you think of claims that Trump never intended to speak in Chicago, but just used the rally as a ruse to draw more attention to himself?

Who knows? I think yesterday was a turning point, both the protests in St. Louis and then the even bigger and more determined Chicago actions show a pathway forward. Trump rallies have been infomercials and show cases and spectacles. When it was clear that that would not be the case here, the campaign knew it would make bad TV for them.

What lessons can the anti-Trump movement learn from your community in Chicago?

As usual, we need to open our eyes, and get woke; we need to act; and we need to reflect and learn and act again. Change won’t come on the wings of passivity.