San Diego’s Chicano Park was the gathering point for at least 800 people who participated in a politically militant and well organized action to unwelcome the anti-Arab, anti-Black, anti-Mexican, anti-Woman, power-hungry, neo-fascist oligarch Donald Trump. The event took place on Friday May 27, 2016, and represented dozens of organizations, cultural groups, MEChAs, local businesses, artists, barrio youth, families, elderly people, activists, and allies from diverse communities.
Participants repeated slogans like ¡Trump Fascista – Tu Eres Terrorista! and ¡Luchar, Luchar – Luchar Contra Trump! throughout the event, which began with a short rally in the park and moved on to become a march down Cesar Chavez Parkway and Harbor Drive, right up to the main entrance of the San Diego Convention Center. Unión del Barrio member Maria Rodriguez remarked “The best moment of the day was when the Chicano Park marchers appeared on the bridge to join forces with the hundreds of other anti-Trump protesters already at the Convention Center!” By all accounts that was indeed the high point of the anti-Trump rally.
Our dozens of flags representing Mexico and all of Nuestra América shocked many observers, as did the tight security, unified message, and obvious political discipline required to pull something like this off with not even a single violent incident. Contrary to the so-called “news” coverage of this event, not one physical confrontation took place, not one object was thrown – nothing violent occurred at all. The only message that came through was ¡Fuera Trump! and ¡Unidos Venceremos! – evidence that la raza of San Diego will not conform to the racist trumpista stereotype being used to portray our community as a disorganized riotous mass. We made our organized intentions very clear from the beginning. On May 24th we shared this message online:
Compas, Allies, and anti-trumpistas – Unión del Barrio in San Diego has put out a call for people to assemble at… Chicano Park… We have been organizing to defend barrios across Southern California for 35 years. The event that will take place this Friday is also a call to defend our community from the aggressively racist and violent rhetoric that has been pouring out of Donald Trump for months… Ours is a defensive position, and as such our activity… will not tolerate any form of physical aggression, not from outside nor from within our activity. We expect the participation of families with children, older people, and fearless undocumented raza at our activity, and their safety and well being is our priority…. This is a warning to aggressive trumpistas – stay away from us. We have nothing to say to you, nor are we interested in what you have to say. You are a supporter of Trump, and that is all we need to know about you… This is also a warning to individuals that seek to physically disrupt or are looking to get into an altercation of some sort in order to express your anger about Trump. We understand your frustration, but you will need to express your anger elsewhere, outside of our planned activity. Any person seeking to provoke a physical altercation will be identified as a provocateur and will be asked to leave this organized event… That being said, we welcome all… progressives in general, and the Mexican community in particular, to stand united and oppose… neo-fascist oligarch who has every intention of taking for himself the highest political office within the current borders of the United States…
When we put out our call for people to unite for an organized repudiation of Donald Trump, we publicized our plan to usher participants of this event safely from Chicano Park into the belly of the trumpista beast, strongly represent our message, and safely get our people back to Chicano Park. This is exactly what took place.
If there is anything positive we can attribute to Trump’s visit, it is that his poison has engendered a level of progressive political unity in San Diego that has not been seen in a lifetime. Indeed, the activities of May 27th were pulled together within only six days of the original public announcement that Trump was coming to San Diego. In the end, this Chicano Park event was endorsed by 33 organizations, representing the incredible sense of unity among the groups that arrived in front of the Convention Center from Chicano Park. Once we arrived at the Convention Center an even greater sense of unity was enjoyed by what was a broad coalescing of community organizations, peace groups, labor unions, human rights advocates, among others. In spite of the fact that at least five different anti-Trump coalitions converged in front of the Convention Center, during the culmination of the event we were all united against Trump.
Still, it is true that not all that took place ended well. During our entire march we were subject to tremendous tension because of pro-Trump neo-Nazi threats that had been made against our march the day before. Furthermore, downtown San Diego was completely militarized, occupied by hundreds of police and sheriffs brought in from throughout Southern California, outfitted in paramilitary riot gear, with several armored vehicles parked prominently to one side of the anti-Trump “free speech” zone. This massive deployment of police was designed to send a message, to make it completely clear to us and everyone else that we were not welcome there, and that downtown San Diego had been declared trumpista territory, at least for the time being. The overwhelming “shock and awe” police presence imposed a palpable tension on the scene.
But that is not all. Our security team observed at least twelve large white men to the rear of the anti-Trump rally who were visually coordinating among themselves in order to secure a perimeter around anti-trump protesters. Obviously there were other undercover police and private security agents dispersed within the anti-Trump protest, but these twelve individuals in particular were clearly not part of any effort seeking to observe and maintain order. Several members of this covert group were clearly equipped with concealed sidearms, military style hats, backpacks, and boots. At least two of these men allowed racist tattoos on their arms and legs to be seen.
As this covert operation was underway, two overt provocations were unfolding as well. Within the heart of the anti-Trump “free speech” area, at least six open Trump supporters were freely allowed to enter the densest areas of the anti-Trump rally, while SDPD was simultaneously directing late-arriving Trump supporters to walk right through the anti-Trump rally after having parked their vehicles in the lot behind the anti-Trump “free speech” area.
By 2:45 pm it was obvious to us that the overall situation was actively being destabilized, and that the anti-Trump “free speech” area would soon be converted into a pre-planned staging area for police action and/or a trumpista instigated riot. At that time our security team made the call to evacuate our contingent of protesters from the area as quickly as possible. Within 45 minutes we were safely back in Chicano Park for a spirited closing rally.
What happened next is not entirely clear to us, but we have been told that after our departure there was some form of altercation between individual anti-Trump protesters and the SDPD police line in front of the Convention Center. This altercation was caught on video and had been circulating online. At that point the vast majority of remaining anti-Trump protestors began to leave the “free speech” area. We can only assume that the anti-Trump people who decided to stay in the area after that point were conscious of the heightened threat of violence and had made the choice to hold their ground against the increasingly aggressive presence of trumpistas that had started to make their way into the anti-Trump “free speech” area. At some point thereafter, a Spanish speaking police officer on a loudspeaker declared the event an “unlawful assembly.” Police in riot gear moved in, pushing a dozen or so people back across the Harbor Drive bridge and into Barrio Logan. When these incidents occurred, the larger coordinated protest had already been concluded. Let it be crystal clear, that we see this episode as a coordinated post event police/ trumpista disturbance.
Furthermore, we are convinced that the whole “free speech” plan was a public relations fiction. There was only one institutionally guaranteed “free speech” area this day, and that was securing the entire Convention Center and all of the Gaslamp area in favor of Trump. The overwhelming police presence was primarily deployed to protect the hate speech of Donald Trump and his trumpista followers. All the video and pictures that document this provide evidence that police enforcement pre-planning, deployment, direct action, and arrests were focused almost exclusively on the anti-Trump “free speech” area. Most if not all provocative actions and physical confrontations that took place between trumpistas and anti-trumpistas occurred within the anti-Trump “free speech” area.
In other words, the trumpistas wanted to “start some shit” and the SDPD provided them with the logistical space to make it happen. Again, it is important to note how in all the images collected that day, the most provocative aggression came from trumpistas entering the anti-trump area, and uniformed SDPD doing nothing to keep those trumpistas away from the anti-trump “free speech” area. Instead, SDPD was observed directing trumpistas to walk through the protest as they made their way into the Convention Center to the see their pelo de elote hero. Consequently, we can only assume that the SDPD “free speech” map was not to protect the free speech of all people, but primarily designed to corral and contain what high ranking officials had decided would be inevitable violence. Thus, their plan was to push whatever violence did occur back over the Harbor Drive bridge, as far back as Chicano Park, even after most anti-Trump protestors had left the rally and those that remained did not have anything to do with Chicano Park or Barrio Logan in general.
This is what we understand took place when Donald Trump came to San Diego, but this is not the story that is being told on the local news, nor across the country. Instead, people are being told that riotous brown skinned hordes once again attacked poor Mr. Trump. The shameless media, even the local Spanish language media Univision, are responsible for reproducing this trumpista narrative. The local and national media were present in massive numbers this day in San Diego, and almost none of the coverage that was subsequently broadcast focused on the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of the protest. Instead local and national TV outlets decided to have their lead stories focus primarily on reproducing a story about violence and chaos at the Trump protests.
Media outlets have not expressed any interest in foregrounding news stories that promote logically argued, substantive anti-trump messages from a Mexican perspective. It is impossible to find any media reports detailing the views of anti-Trump raza outside of painting us as irrational “thugs” – a tendency they have always had, but it is now the official line they assimilated from their Trump campaign media handlers. Ask yourself when and where have you seen any mass media coverage describing the political complexity of the issues, or the intense hatred being stoked against our communities here and in other parts of the country. Generally, local and national media outlets have decided to reproduce this trumpista line and therefore become de facto mouthpieces for the Trump campaign. Local and national media blindly and endlessly repeat trumpista rhetoric 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And because Trump knows how to manipulate the media game in his favor, his campaign has literally used the media to seize operational control of the Republican Party.
More evidence of how the media distorted what happened at the Trump event is exposed by the fact that none even mentioned how on May 26, the evening before the protest, police and naval intelligence issued a city-wide warning referring to a potential neo-Nazi threat against Chicano Park and the residents of Logan Heights. Unless you were connected in some way to community based social media networks, you would never have known about this threat, nor the tremendous unified response that came from the community to actively defend the park within one hour of the threat. Lastly, not one word was uttered in the local media about the exceptional diversity and positive coordination among the different anti-trump forces in San Diego. Not one word highlighting the passion or commitment of organic community leadership and organization.
Any rational person might think that a known neo-Nazi organization issuing public threats against an entire community within the City of San Diego might be an important story for the local media. Perhaps San Diego residents in general, and even some trumpistas, might be interested in hearing about how one of the most important and internationally recognized public spaces in our city was being threatened with violence by a hate organization from outside San Diego? San Diego local news could of at least bothered to mention this threat as a “human interest piece” at the end of their regular news day. We are at least 35% of the population of this city after all!
Any rational person might also assume that the national media would be interested in reporting how neo-Nazi skinhead organizations are openly declaring their support for Donald Trump as the republican nominee to the presidency of the United States. More importantly, the national media might see it as important to note how neo-Nazi organizations have now escalated their support of Trump by serving as trumpista shock-troops, issuing threats against entire so-called “immigrant” communities. The historical parallels between this story and the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany are striking. But no! Most local and national media have completely bought into the trumpista narrative that promotes Trump and his supporters as the victims of wild, Mexican flag waving rioters. The national and local media had a totally biased pre-packaged story they wanted to tell, and eagerly waited around to capture evidence that would confirm their story, and they decided to not use any of the hours of video showing peaceful protest because that was not newsworthy, choosing instead to reinforce a narrative built on the premise of brown-on-Trump violence as a rule.
Below are some of the lessons we learned during this event, and we feel these should be shared with other communities that will soon come under siege as the trumpista presidential circus spreads it racist poison to other places. In order to prepare the ground for effective anti-Trump struggle we share the following advice:
- Establish a solid community-based network of local organizations and community media. The deeper the roots the better. The community itself is our only defense against trumpista violence.
- Be as organized as possible. State your political intentions upfront and be clear about your community organizing. Hold to these goals no matter what – regardless of short-term passions that flare up before and during your event.
- Keep your participants as safe as you possibly can – this is essential. For many people in our community, coming out against Trump will be their first engagement in real political struggle. Unless they feel relatively safe doing so, they might be scared back into passivity because of escalating trumpista rhetorical violence.
- The police tactic of setting up “free speech” zones is one that cities are using across the country to contain anti-Trump protests. Police have implemented this tactic for decades, but what is new is that these “free speech” zones are being used to actively contain and sometimes provoke anti-Trump protesters. There is a risk that unless this tactic is explicitly exposed by activists on the ground, Trump supporters and provocateurs will be allowed “open-season” against our communities and our organized resistance to Trump.
- Be prepared for provocations. These may be Trumpista provocations. Individualistic ultra-leftwing provocations. Or police provocations. Remain vigilant before and during your event. Develop strategies like training a small mobile security team to deal with provocations within your event quickly and effectively. Inform the highest ranking local PD official about how you intend to deal with provocations so as to avoid inadvertently provoking lower ranking PD from intervening in your event.
- Develop a media plan and prepare a media team in advance of your event. The media have an agenda and are willing to ignore all evidence that does not fit into the narrative they have already decided to promote. Also, remember that reporters are generally lazy, so make it as easy as possible for them to report your perspective on the event.
- Be prepared to respond to the opportunism of people who chase the media. These are individuals who have no relationship what-so-ever to your planned activities, but will wait until two or three days before your event to use their media contact list to misrepresent themselves as “community leaders.” They will use your event to self-promote, and they are usually very skilled at developing media sound bites to guarantee that the media outlets use their statements before they broadcast your own statement about your event.
Compas and allies – this is the political environment Donald Trump has created for us. It merits stating that Unión del Barrio does not support any democrat or republican – our view had always been “Ni Republicanos, Ni Demócratas – Solo El Pueblo Organizado Vencerá.” Nonetheless, Trump has unleashed the most aggressively anti-Mexican sentiment the country has been exposed to in nearly 100 years. Now is the time to get organized. If you don’t already belong to a community organization, then join one. We must organize ourselves to defend ourselves from the political violence that has already been let loose against our people.
¡Raza Sí – Trumpistas No! ¡Alto al Racismo! Alto a la Ignorancia!