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Protests and politics in the Donald Trump era

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017 – Page A11

Danielle Moodie-Mills had hoped the offensive rhetoric that swept over her country during the U.S. presidential campaign would finally come to an end on election night, when she would be in the CBC Toronto studio on a political panel and witness the victory of Hillary Clinton. But then Donald Trump won. That night, Ms. Moodie-Mills controversially said her country had been overtaken by "hatred on a level we have not seen since Jim Crow" - a bold claim that lit up Twitter and drew attention from both sides of the border.

Since Mr. Trump's inauguration, both Americans and Canadians have taken to the streets to protest the racist, xenophobic and misogynist views they say the President holds and the executive orders he has signed (most notably the immigrant ban focused on seven predominantly Muslim countries). As a Democratic strategist and political activist, Ms.

Moodie-Mills says maintaining that level of resistance is key to preserving a free society. But while protests can unite, they've also exposed the complex divisions among progressives that existed long before Mr. Trump's victory.

On Feb. 15, Ms. Moodie-Mills, who lives in Washington, will return to Toronto to deliver the 2017 Jack Layton Lecture at Ryerson University. She'll discuss intersectionality (the way gender, race, class and other identities are interconnected when it comes to discrimination), immigration and the role of organized resistance.

Ahead of her visit, she explained what challenges lie ahead for the United States and Canada in the Trump era.

You've said that much of what's happening in America comes down to the fact that people are fundamentally uncomfortable with this demographic shift that's happened. And we've seen it spreading across Europe. To see change at this point, do you think we need to wait for the scale to tip in the other direction?

What Trump did, and the reason why he won, was he gave people who felt disconnected and unheard a voice and somebody to blame. The reality is that there is nobody to blame for your lot in life. Yeah, governments fall short sometimes but the reality is that the coal industry isn't coming back to America. Factory plants aren't coming back to America.

Innovation has hurt them more than any immigrant or person of colour that Trump wanted to point to and say, 'That's why you don't have a job.' I think it's not about us waiting and crossing our fingers and saying okay when we finally reach 2030 or 2050 or whatever the magical number is that this country will be majority minority that all of a sudden things will change, because honestly, who is in power will not change until we change it.

We're living in this sort of posttruth era and the Trump administration routinely gaslights its critics and serves up these socalled alternative facts. How do we navigate this new political world we're in?

The reality is he's gas-lighting the hell out of this country, out of America, out of the world. Every day there's a new bomb that drops. It's not by accident that things are being announced and done in the middle of the night. I personally place a lot of responsibility on the press to call out things when they are lies. I don't know why we find it necessary right now to move further and further away from reality in order to appease Trump. That's what we do in Communist countries, in dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. That's not what you do in a democracy. To me, it's the media's responsibility and if the media are not going to do their jobs, it's the rest of us. We're wasting our time fact-checking and he's moved on to the next target.

You say that the Trump administration is doing this in a very strategic way when you look at the timing of the release of some of these announcements. With this refugee ban in particular, some have described this as a shock event - something that's meant to cause total chaos so the real objective that they may have can be carried out while everyone's distracted. Do you think that's what's happening here?

Are they like, 'Look at me over here' and doing something behind your back? Absolutely.

The reality is he wants to drop all these executive orders, tire everybody out, make it seem like we have no control over our lives, over our government, and that we don't have a say, so that we just essentially take in what it is that's happening and forget what our power is and responsibility is as citizens. And we have by virtue of media and the ratings and desire to be first, allowed this to happen and continue to allow it to happen. I remain hopeful because of the turnout at all of the airports on the weekend [following the executive order for the refugee ban]. And because people that have never in their lives protested, never in their life got up and [identified] as activists are showing up. This is not the America that they know.

What is the role of organized mass resistance now?

The role of organized mass resistance is to stay in the streets, to stay vigilant, to remember what our democracy is about. To continue to call your members of elected office and when they decide they're going to disconnect their phones like many Republicans are, show up in their offices, show up on Capitol Hill and demand to be seen and to be heard. The more we can do this, the more we're able to thwart [Mr. Trump's] mission, which in my belief, is to destroy our democracy. Because he is the same person who capitalized off the tragedy of 9/11. Chaos breeds success for him. Our constitution begins with, 'We the People' not 'I the President.' .

There's this one photograph from the Women's March on Washington that went viral. I'm sure you've seen it. In the background there are three white women in the pussy hats looking at their phones. In front of them is a black woman. She's sucking on a lollipop and she's holding a sign that says, "Don't forget white women voted for Trump."

Yes, she's actually a friend of mine. Her name is Angela Peoples.

All right, so, you're a black woman. You're a member of the LGBT community. You talk a lot about intersectionality. What do you make of this?

[This is] a reminder that it is the responsibility of all of us, particularly those that carry a level of privilege, to use that privilege and platform to advance an intersectional framework that allows all people to advance. And it's important for us to remember that all of these people who came out to march and protest and stand in solidarity, their friends and family members are the ones who went in and pulled the lever for Donald Trump, that put tissue in their ears and didn't want to hear, 'I can do whatever I want to do with women because I'm a star.' I think it's a very important reminder that the voices of women of colour and people of colour have continually been diminished. If we're going to achieve the progress that we are marching for and hoping for and praying for and creating strategic action around, it has to be intersectional because that's what our future is.

What's happening right now in the United States is having a huge effect everywhere else in the world. What do you think Canada's role is as all of this is unfolding?

I think Canada's role is to be the beacon of hope that America is not. I think Canada's role is to preserve democracy and to show what a democratic country looks like. I think that Canada, much in the same way as Germany and other places, really needs to be the standard bearer for the world and the democracy we want to live in and to hopefully not fall to the phony populism that America and the U.K. and other countries are falling for now.

Canada is in the middle of this race to select the new leader for the federal Conservative party.

We have this one candidate, Kellie Leitch, who's been described as "Trump-lite," and she's proposed screening immigrants for so-called Canadian values. Do you think our country is at risk of going down this same path as our neighbours to the south?

I think we're all at risk and it's incredibly frightening to be a part of history repeating itself in the most awful ways. I truly believe that this is white supremacy's last stand and I think that things are going to get worse before it turns the corner. I pray that the people can be better than their elected officials and as the 2018 midterm elections in the United States come around, that we have the same vigour and appetite for resistance that we are seeing now, [at the start of] Trump's four-year term. We'll see the people who are staying silent or being represented as 'Trump-lite' or think their silence is going to save them, that those people are voted out of office.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Associated Graphic

Protesters and immigrants' rights advocates rally in opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump's immigration order at Battery Park in New York in January.


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