Defending dissent in a time of fascism

Written by: Darakshan Raja

Date: October 12, 2018

If anything can give us hope in the face of the inhumane and unjust policies of the Trump Administration, it’s the visible dissent from millions of everyday people in the United States.

The Women’s March brought millions out to the streets. Thousands flooded airports as sites of resistance to protest the separation of Muslim families through the Muslim and refugee ban.

Water protectors bravely put their bodies on the line to fight corporate greed and protect indigenous lands. DREAMERS occupied Senate offices to let those in power know we belong here and that immigrant families belong together.

The Movement for Black Lives has continuously mobilized to protest the killings and targeting of Black communities.

Most recently, chants of “we do not consent” and “no more rapists in power” from survivors of sexual violence reverberated in the Capitol in protest of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

We have seen some of the most powerful forms of direct action and resistance led by impacted communities in the past 2 years.

Because of the power of these confrontations and the inconvenience it creates for those who go about business as usual, we are witnessing an unprecedented attack on the people’s right to protest. At least 20 states have introduced laws that criminalize dissent.

Now just this week, the Trump Administration, in coordination with the National Park Service (NPS), stealthily introduced new regulations to curtail public demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and effectively silence protesters.

These changes would have a devastating impact on grassroots groups organizing for equity and justice.

In a time when courts and government agencies are upholding violent policies at a larger scale against Black, brown, Indigenous, immigrant and refugee, Muslim, women and LGBTQIA communities, protest is a tactic that allows for us to instill hope and build power.

For example, when the Supreme Court upheld the Muslim Ban this year, my organization – in collaboration with Muslim Advocates and the No Muslim Ban Ever Campaign, and through support from the Proteus Fund – held a rapid response rally outside the court to demonstrate our outrage.

The rally was a way for us to communicate to the broader public and our communities that no court determines the purview of our humanity, and more importantly, that we are here and will continue to fight.

However, with the new rules that the NPS has introduced, rapid response actions like ours will face steep barriers. According to the ACLU and Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, proposed changes to laws around protest in Washington, D.C., include: 

  • Charging burdensome fees for holding a demonstration, including paying for police barricades and overtime costs for park rangers.
  • Prioritizing the well-being of grass over people, as protesters will have to pay for the harm caused to turf during events.
  • Allowing police to shut down vigils and protests for any minor issue, including counter-protests.
  • Severely restricting emergency vigils and actions that occur in D.C. after a breaking news incident.
  • Implementing restrictions on banners and signs, which is an important mode of communication for effectively share messaging and framing for actions.

These dangerous, undemocratic regulations would impact public spaces where people peacefully assemble in D.C., including sites of some of our country’s most historic marches and direct actions:

  • Freedom Plaza
  • The sidewalk in front of the Trump Hotel
  • The National Mall
  • Lafayette Park
  • The sidewalk in front of the White House
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • The Ellipse
  • The sidewalks and park land along Pennsylvania Avenue

An emerging Muslim women-led grassroots organization based in D.C., Justice for Muslims Collective has used many of these public spaces for years to host community-building events, healing spaces and speak-outs where we make demands of those in local and national government without any support.

While national, well-funded organizations with multi-million dollar budgets and mainstream support will be able to afford these new expenses, it would effectively curtail the ability of small grassroots groups and individuals to mobilize and publicly hold those in power accountable.

Moreover, it would give the Trump Administration and its supporters the space to organize hateful events and rallies.

Some of these regulations are meant to prevent counter-protests, which can be an important display of resistance to shut down hate in D.C., such as when white supremacists and neo-Nazis planned to convene in D.C. this past August on the anniversary of the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In addition to investing in important power-building work such as advocacy and community organizing, it’s urgent that funders and nonprofits take action and push back against the Trump Administration and the National Park Service’s attempts at curbing protest in Washington, D.C.

We only have until this Monday, Oct. 15, to submit comments to oppose the NPS regulations.

If we allow these changes to take place, we will permit the Trump Administration to destroy dissent in the capital, erode our rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech even further, and drive the rise of fascism.

Darakshan Raja is the founder and co-director of Justice for Muslims Collective. Follow @DarakshanRaja and @dcmuslimjustice on Twitter.

Proteus Fund will submit a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on Oct. 15 detailing foundation and individual donor opposition to the proposed rules. You can view and sign-on to the letter here. The deadline to sign-on is noon EDT on Monday, Oct. 15.