Note: This is my personal take as somebody not directly involved with the organizing of this action (but with many friends who were). I’ve organized similar actions in the past, which is where I draw my experience.
This past Friday a fantastic action went down outside the Hyatt Regency hotel near San Francisco. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, was scheduled to speak to the California GOP Convention at noon. Instead, he was met with a technical blockade and massive opposition from protesters, preventing his motorcade from getting to its destination.
Unable to drive to the Hyatt, Trump was forced to exit his car, walk down the shoulder of the highway, cut through a fence, and climb over a wall to reach the back entrance to the hotel where he was speaking. It was glorious.
This created quite the scene (and some incredible pictures), but the strategic value of blockades like this can often get lost in the excitement. This isn’t a bad thing (since part of the point is the excitement), but it can leave those not already familiar with blockades wondering why they’re used as a tactic in the first place.
Fear not! I was once one of those people who ‘didn’t get it’ and will explain some of the reasons actions like this are valuable.
First off, let’s set the scene. As mentioned, this was a technical blockade of the road leading up to the hotel where Trump was giving a speech. To accomplish the goal of stopping Trump, activists used lockboxes (PVC pipe connecting two people together) to blockade the road.
There were also huge numbers of folks protesting Trump and supporting those locked down with music, signs, and chants. Concurrent to the blockade, there was a banner drop from a balcony of the Hyatt boldly proclaiming the protest’s purpose: STOP HATE. There was a lot going on!
So here’s my take on why blockades – and nonviolent direct action more generally – are important and what actions like the Trump blockade can accomplish.
Disrupting the media narrative.
The traditional media has had a significant role in shaping this election. By taking actions like this one, activists are able to provide a counter-narrative to the large wins Trump is wracking up. As the world looks on in wonder at how so many people can be voting for Trump, it’s important to provide an alternative to his hate-filled campaign. A visible and strong opposition is necessary to make sure Trump isn’t able to dictate the media narrative.
It’s also important to make sure Trumps ‘grand pivot’ strategy towards the general election isn’t allowed to take place. Actions like this help to make sure the media – and by extension the general public – don’t forget that Trump is a very dangerous candidate. Pitting Trump, the bad guy, against everyday people fighting to stop his power grab helps to create a point of conflict, which the media can grab onto in their attempt to explain what’s happening this election season.
An additional way the action on Friday disrupted the media narrative was by taking advantage of the sheer number of cameras that constantly follow Trump around. The media circus surrounding his every move provided activists an opportunity to get in front of those cameras and provide our side of the story.
Rallying the forces of good.
Traditional media is no longer the only game in town when it comes to engaging with the public. Activists are now more in control of their stories than ever before. Alternative media outlets and social media offer unparalleled access to the broader public without the filter of traditional media. This allows us to develop stories for each other, for our families, for our friends, and for those undecided on important issues with much greater precision.
Taking collective action is a way to take a relatively small set of people, time, and energy and leverage it into a compelling narrative about what those participating are willing to do to stop a person like Donald Trump. This personal connection with people ‘putting it on the line’ via social and alt media helps inspire others to action and reinforces the point that there’s a fight underway and that others need to join it. It lets us tell our own story about who Trump is and serves as an exciting point of reference for what’s possible when people band together to stop him.
Directly engaging with the target.
On some level, blockades are always meant to physically stop the target from doing something. In this case, it was meant to stop Trump from reaching the California GOP Convention. The reason I list this lower than other objectives (which some may disagree with) is because it’s difficult to permanently stop something from happening due to the disparity in power between regular people and the police/secret service/state. They have guns and the legal authority to use force if necessary – we don’t.
As a result, the best that can be hoped for in these situations is as much delay as possible. Delay becomes the name of the game. Every minute is one more minute where we, the protesters, are the story rather than whatever is coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth. And that in itself is a victory.
If all goes according to plan, a forced interaction with the target can become a media story in itself – which is what happened on Friday. Instead of being a simple protest, the blockade added additional interest because Trump was forced to physically leave his motorcade and scramble in a back door of the hotel. That’s not something you see every day from a Presidential candidate.
Creating a shared experience.
Though not the primary objective in most cases, events like this can also be extremely powerful as ‘activating’ moments for those participating in them – especially if it’s the first such protest a person has been to. And for those who have been around the block a few times, actions like this strengthen bonds, hone skills, and serve as a future reference point when planning similar actions. In short, they build the local movement.
The demonstration on Friday didn’t happen in isolation. It’s part of a long history of nonviolent direct action, disruption, occupation, and blockades. Actions like this aren’t stand alone events, but vital moments in the longer story of resistance that needs to continue if we’re going to see the system change we need.
Friday’s blockade probably didn’t change the mind of Donald Trump or the minds of those at the GOP Convention over the weekend. It wasn’t supposed to. Instead, demonstrations like this are meant to spur to action those looking on in shock at the state of politics in this country. It’s meant to make it clear that the fight for the soul of this country is underway and we need people doing whatever they can, wherever they are, to help win that fight.
Actions like this help to prove that love really does trump hate.
Thanks to Shadia Fayne Wood of Survival Media Agency for the fantastic images. And big shoutouts to Black Lives Matter Bay Area, Anti Police Terror Project, Black Youth Project 100, BlackOUT Collective, and all the other individuals and groups who helped pull this thing off.