Last month, at an event at Scripps College intended to educate students on activism, I learned the art of “solidarity”—helping undocumented immigrants circumvent our nation’s immigration laws, and collectively shouting down opponents in student-led political protests.
Ever since the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States, protests of his administration and other acts of resistance seem to be happening everywhere and every day, from the streets to the town hall meetings of members of Congress. Participation by my fellow college students in the “anti-fascist resistance” (or, in millennial speak, “anti-fascist #resistance”) is the norm, yet I had been puzzled as to how my peers planned to resist and what exactly the #resistance entails.
I finally had the opportunity to find out when I attended the event held by the #resistance at Scripps College with the purpose of teaching the students of the Claremont Colleges how to “resist the fascist and white supremacist policies being espoused and enacted by our current administration” by “[roleplaying] solidarity actions.” Walking in, I had one question that I hoped would be answered: Will the methods of resistance taught be legal and effective? I hoped that this question would be answered affirmatively.
The event began with a discussion led by representatives from the labor union UNITE HERE, who explained that they hoped to teach students about the rights guaranteed by our country’s rule of law. Besides the gimmicky antics of the speakers, who called each other “comrade” and urged “students and [the] community to fight capitalism” in one of their PowerPoint slides, the opening discussion addressed the Trump administration’s deportation of undocumented immigrants and the legal rights of undocumented immigrants in a substantive way. The speakers explained, for example, the differences between administrative and judicial warrants, clarifying that only judicial warrants give Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents the authority to search private homes for undocumented individuals, and detailed the legal processes that undocumented immigrants face if arrested.
But this substantive discussion, which lifted my hopes, soon gave way to the roleplay simulation of ICE arrests, as well as a crash course on how to disrupt and protest in the streets and in the offices of politicians.
To simulate an ICE arrest, some participants (mainly students) were given roles as suspected undocumented immigrants; others were assigned to be ICE agents. When questioned by the ostensible ICE agents, the students who played suspected undocumented immigrants were instructed to pretend to be undocumented—staying silent in the face of ICE commands. This method saddened me; to set a precedent of undermining our rule of law is dangerous, and to expect the people of our country to buy into obstructing law enforcement belittles the decency and respect for the law Americans have; we should have better ways to change our government. The organizers called this tactic “solidarity”; by pretending to not have documents, citizens and documented immigrants can make it difficult for immigration agents to find the undocumented individuals among them. However, teaching a group of presumably documented students who are mostly citizens how to pretend to be undocumented to show “solidarity” does not seem likely to solve the problems of undocumented immigration. The change in content, from explaining the American legal system to obstructing the rule of law, struck me as another example of the organizers’ unconstructive message—teaching students how to hinder the rule of law should not be the answer to perceived injustices—but this message did not end here; the speakers soon started criticizing dialogue, touting uninterrupted protest as a better alternative. Rather, we should use our rights—voting and calling our representatives—to enact real change.
Changing course, the speakers moved to discuss how protests trump dialogue as effective and just means of resisting the Trump administration, even if they block the flow of traffic and affect local businesses. To help students understand how to protest effectively as a “delegation,” the organizers initiated another roleplay scenario. I was assigned to be a member of the “herd,” the backbone of the delegation the role of which is to project numerical superiority. Some students played the role of “speakers,” who deliver the group’s message to a “person of power,” and others played “monitors” and “herders,” who are supposed to keep the delegation together and lead chants whenever the speakers encounter any trouble, which the organizers defined as any attempt to interrupt the speakers from delivering their message, even if it was an offer for constructive dialogue. I was hopeful that my peers would not believe suppressing dialogue is a solution to their perceived problems, but their enthusiasm proved me wrong. Their enthusiasm discouraged me; dialogue, the very foundation of communicating and solving problems with people of different opinions, seems to be shunned now. We simulated storming into a politician’s office and delivering a message, with the monitors leading a zealous chant of “Let them speak!” whenever the speakers were challenged by drowning out any voices of opposition.
After the event ended, I could not help but feel disheartened. Despite the commendable determination my peers displayed, it seemed they were willing to shut out dialogue to “deliver their message,” avoid confronting any challenge to their ideas by simply drowning out opposition with chants, and obstruct the rule of law that has served our nation so well. They were willing to divide and label this nation which we all share into groups of “oppressors” and “resistors,” rather than achieve their goals through what has been done in America for two centuries—voting out whom we don’t like.
After almost two hours of “roleplaying oppression,” I left discouraged with my fellow students’ methods and misconceived ideas about the state of America. However, not once did the organizers mention which specific policies we should challenge. To meaningfully challenge the President—and what he stands for—rather than coming up with blanket statements, the organizers should point to concrete specifics; only then, will they be able to convince the vast majority of American independents like me to their cause.