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Talking to New Yorkers Who Went on Strike to Protest Trump

"I'm just really sad for the country and I want to register my dissent wherever possible."

Ever since Donald Trump's inauguration, protests have been cropping up in America's large cities, as one vulnerable population after another voices opposition to the new president's discriminatory policies and rhetoric. In late January, when Trump issued his executive order barring citizens from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the US, demonstrators swarmed the nation's airports to show solidarity with those caught up in the ban. Two weekends ago, New York's Yemeni and LGBTQ communities held separate rallies. Thursday marked a "Day Without Immigrants," as Latinos and immigrants stayed home from work to demonstrate how much the country relied upon them and their labor. And on Friday, a nationwide general strike brought anti-Trumpers out of the offices and workplaces to the streets.

The action, known as #F17 for the date, was organized by a number of groups, including one called Strike4Democracy, and included more than 100 events in towns and cities across the country. The idea was simple: Go on strike and participate in a day of action from 1 to 8 PM. Those who couldn't take the whole day off to protest were encouraged to spend their lunch breaks at a rally.

The National Lawyers Guild organized the first rally I attended in New York. These are the lawyers who help protesters navigate the law if they are detained by police—I know the group's work and have stayed connected with the NLG since 2015, when I was arrested while covering a Freddie Gray march in Baltimore for VICE.

From 1 to 3 PM, about 200 people rallied in front of the Manhattan Supreme Court. Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, spoke to the crowd: "We're not accustomed to being the law and order guys. But that son of a bitch is turning us into the law and order guys. And we're telling him that nobody, especially him, is above the law. So we're going to hold him accountable, we're going to stand with the people."

Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, the president of the NLG, took the megaphone said, "We live in, and are from, these communities—it is our communities that are also under attack and we are willing to lend out titles, our positions, and our skills in defense of who we are and where we come from."  

I took Bannan's portrait in front of the courthouse and asked her how people looking to become active in advocacy can participate. "Anyone can be a legal observer," she told me. "On NLG.org you can sign up for training, which means that you can observe and document the interaction between law enforcement and the people at rallies and protests, spaces that are likely to become increasingly criminalized."

(From left) Helena Sarber, Stephanie Olszewski, and Stephanie Johanssen

I also met three Global Justice Center Employees. Stephanie Johanssen told me, "I'm a human rights lawyer from Germany and I feel quite passionate about the rule of law being upheld. No matter who the government is, no one, even the president, is above the law."

Micheleen C. Karnacewicz is a corporate finance lawyer who had to close her practice due to health reasons. She came to the rally to offer her knowledge and experience. "This is about human dignity, human rights, human potential—we all have that," she told me. "But if we don't have representation and support, none of us can survive."

Adan Soltren (right) is a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society, where he is a part of the Attorneys of Color Caucus. "We need all hands on deck to fight for our clients, for our communities, for justice, for the principles our democracy were founded on," he said.

Jane Sampeur (left), also with the Attorneys of Color Caucus, told me, "Today we are organizing a lawyers' resistance. We want to make sure that lawyers are participating in the struggle and the resistance to oppose these racist Trump policies. We want to make sure that we're not leaving our communities hanging. I want to make sure I'm in a position to help protect my community." 

Around 3 PM I headed to Washington Square Park, where strike participants and dissenters of all kinds were partaking in a rally.

Some students linked arms and chanted anti-Trump slogans.

"This is a very integral part of the First Amendment," said Richard L. Entrup. "When totalitarianism encroaches on us I have the humanistic instinct to rise up."

"I came out to show my outrage and my disappointment that somebody who is so un-American was elected president," said Erica Zurer, a retired Brooklynite. "I'm just really sad for the country and I want to register my dissent wherever possible too."

An easel was set up with free paints to allow demonstrators a different way to express their feelings.

"I try to take part in every way that I possibly can at every occasion. Like all of my colleagues, friends, and family I'm horrified by what has happened and in shock. I think we all need to express ourselves to overturn the tragedy that is happening in our country," said Amy Yoes, an artist. "We'll keep going, even though we all have busy lives. I think this is the most important moment of my political life and I think it's crucial for us to all stand together and defeat this travesty."