Unifying to resist Trump in Connecticut

May 23, 2017

Nate Moore talks about the lessons that activists in Connecticut are drawing from a recent protest against a commencement address by Donald Trump.

SOME 350 people protested Donald Trump's recent commencement speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy at an action organized by Unify and Resist, a recently formed coalition of left groups in New London, Connecticut.

Although Trump supporters came out to support the bigot-in-chief, they could only muster 50 people.

Leading up to the protest, the main organizer of the pro-Trump side, Lori Hopkins-Cavanaugh, attempted to lay exclusive claim to McKinley Park by applying for a permit with the city of New London.

When the city also granted a permit to Action Together Connecticut (a group within Unify and Resist) to counterprotest, Hopkins-Cavanaugh brought a formal complaint before the city, saying that speakers expected a permit that granted Trump supporters exclusive access to the park. On the day of the protest, Hopkins-Cavanaugh decided to contest the city's decision in court rather than attending her own pro-Trump rally.

The anti-Trump action began in downtown New London and turned into a march through city to the Coast Guard Academy, which sits about a mile away. During the march, protesters walked by the Regional Multicultural Magnet School of New London, where the elementary school students were at their classroom windows waving in support to the protesters below.

Residents mobilize to protest Trump's speech in New London, Connecticut
Residents mobilize to protest Trump's speech in New London, Connecticut

The march ended at McKinley Park, an area adjacent the Coast Guard Academy grounds. Organizers in Unify and Resist initially had decided that the march be silent for the last few hundred feet approaching McKinley Park, where the right had already staked out its ground. While marchers respected that call, once they arrived to the park, they were in no mood to continue the silence as the right wing began to make noise.

Despite the city of New London not granting a permit to members of Unify and Resist to use amplification equipment (including bullhorns) while the right was permitted the use of such equipment, protesters managed to drown out the hate speech from Trump supporters.

A small group of young women responded to a pro-cop chant with "Black Lives Matter!" which immediately rang through the crowd. In response to a "Build that wall" chant from the Trump supporters, the counterprotesters immediately shouted "Tear down the wall!" Other popular chants included "Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go!" "This is what democracy looks like" and "My body, my choice!" which was led a group of Connecticut College students.

Some Trump supporters, frustrated that they were outnumbered, entered the counterprotest space at various points throughout the demonstration, but our side didn't take the bait, with coalition-designated "peacekeepers" intervening to peel people away from escalating further with the bigots when necessary.

The counterprotest proved that the best way to organize against the right is to outnumber them and exercise our freedom of speech to drown out the bigotry. The event was an important step forward for the left in a city beginning to wake up politically during the Trump era.

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