Michigan, Black Lives Matter, Discussions

Bernie Sanders won the Democratic primary in Michigan last night. This is a significant upset. However, what appears to be happening in the mainstream media is that Sanders and Trump are being grouped together as “outsider” candidates. I hope this is not a trend.

(Note from 2 days later: The San Francisco Chronicle reported Bernie’s win as “too close to call” on Tuesday and then completely didn’t mention it on Wednesday.)

And on Sunday Quentin Young died, age 94. As a young doctor he went South during the Civil Rights movement and provided medical care for the Freedom Summer volunteers. He then became, among other things, the leading spokesperson for Single Payer healthcare, which Bernie Sanders supports and which was voted in by people in Sanders’ state of Vermont (although the governor backed off and didn’t implement it).



This is a picture of a discussion. People are sitting in pews but turning around to talk to people beside and behind them. Last night, at the First Congregational Church in Oakland, there was a meeting announced as responding to the question, “What can white people do to support black people in their struggle against oppression?” The meeting was organized by Black Lives Matter and several other groups. At least 1000 people came. The crowd was mostly white, old and young. Here’s a picture of the crowd:

Crowd at BLM


There were four speakers from different groups. Overall, the speakers did not really answer the question; what was impressive was the size of the crowd.

But the first speaker was from Black Lives Matter, which was founded by three women after the Ferguson, Missouri demonstrations in protest of the cop shooting of Michael Brown. Black Lives Matter has chapters now all over the country, loosely connected. This chapter decided to do a BART (the commuter train) stoppage, went to the Fruitvale BART station (the site of the murder of Oscar Grant, another cop shooting) and took over the station for four or five hours, stopping the trains. A white group helped by dropping a banner. After this protest, the Black Lives Matter folks were hit with a $70,000 bill from the BART board of directors to cover the costs of stopping the trains. At this point, the Black Lives Matter folks realized that in order to get this $70,000 bill dismissed, they would have to organize on a much broader base and get public opinion behind them. They did this, and after some months, it was in fact dismissed. This was a lesson in organizing: the learned how broad a base they really needed in order to accomplish what they wanted; they learned that the organizing had to be built on real relationships, not “mobilization” where you just get people to join an action and throw their bodies into the crowd.

The other speakers were not as well prepared.

However, what I want to show our Vietnamese friends is what happened next. First, the crowd was told, “Talk to the people sitting next to you so that you are talking in groups of three.”  The prompt for the discussion was something like, “What has your experience been supporting black struggles for justice?”  We introduced ourselves to the person next to us, a young computer guy, and talked for 5 minutes. The next instruction was to put groups of three together and make a group of six. We were given another prompt, intended to get us to share opinions and experience. That’s what the picture shows.

My purpose in mentioning this is to show what is for us in the US a very typical way to hold a meeting. This practice is not limited to left political groups.  A meeting will be planned and publicized by some organizations.  They don’t need a permit, these groups just form and name themselves. They can have a bank account and an address. If they want to accept donations for which donors will get a tax deduction, they have to get a certain status with the Internal Revenue Service which includes showing that they are not doing political work, but that’s the only limit. Then, the meeting is held. People come. They pay money if they’ve got it (tickets to this were $10 but no one was “turned away for lack of funds,” as they say.”) Then, at the meeting, people express their opinions. The people on the podium have presumably been chosen by their organizations, but when you talk in small groups in the crowd, it’s assumed that you say whatever you think and listen to what other people have to say. You can talk about yourself or comment on the speakers. Nobody is expected to know the full truth, the authoritative version. If someone has a fact wrong, you can tell them that you have different information, but it’s not an argument. It’s sharing. This is how you learn. Overall, we assume that when people walk out of a meeting like this they know more than they knew when they walked in, and they have also tested some of their own ideas against the ideas of others.

Speaking of discussions as fundamental to a functioning democracy, this is an insert from March 24, about 2 weeks later.

In the Chronicle this morning, on page A-2 under the News of the Day from Around the World, there was an item that went as follows:

Blogger imprisoned. A court in Hanoi sentences a prominent Vietnamese blogger to five years in prison for posting anti-state writings. In a one-day trial Wednesday that highlighted the Communist country’s tough approach to dissent, Nguyen Huu Vinh, a former police officer and son of a late  government  minister, was convicted of abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state.  Vinh, better known as Anh Ba Sma, quite the police force and set up a private investigation firm. He then launched the blog Dan Quyen, or Citizen’s RIghts, in 2013, and Chep Su Viet, or Writing Vietnamese History, in early 2014. The blogs provided links to news on political, social. economic and cultural issues from state media as well as from activists. Prosecutors said the two blogs posted 2,397 articles and generated more than 3.7 million hits, and that 24 of the articles had “untruthful and groundless contents” which tarnished the country’s image.

I went to the blog, https://anhbasam.wordpress.com. It is huge and long and full of news and history, including — from my half hour of perusing it — some pretty detailed history of the US. If you click on translate it will translate into English and the English is a lot better than what you usually get on Google. Someone must be putting some time into translating it.

This blog is part of what I would judge to be the necessary discussion that has to be running all the time, in the background but sometimes in the foreground.


Planning the Anti-Trump Protest in Chicago on March 11, 2016

People often say that discussions and sharing opinions are nice but you have to set that kind of thing aside when planning something that has to happen quickly. I am going to post a link to a story that suggests the opposite. This is a story about how the protest against Donald Trump speaking at the Arena on the University of Illinois Campus was organized. The planners started working on the protest the moment the event was announced, but they only had a week. They used social media (Facebook) and moveon.org (which has millions of subscribers) and an app called Signal, but they also had big face-to-face meetings where people volunteered for things and discussed things. Notice how the writer says “It became clear during the meeting….”  That’s because the meeting was not just someone lecturing the audience — there were real discussions.

My point here is that this demonstration was not just a spontaneous outpouring of anti–Trump sentiment. It was carefully but quickly planned, but it was planned collectively. It also drew on the past experience of activists in many different campaigns, from unions to immigration to anti-police brutality. These activists stepped up and became leaders in a very complex and effective action. The article is by Joe Iosbaker, a friend of ours in Chicago and a union leader at the University of Illinois.

March 13, 2016

How students in Chicago organized to shut down Trump

By Joe Iosbaker

Chicago, IL – The announcement of Donald Trump’s visit to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) came one week before his scheduled, March 11 appearance. Within minutes, there was a Facebook page announcing plans to protest. There was also a moveon.org petition calling on the administration at UIC to cancel the rally.

By later that afternoon, over 5000 people signed up to protest, and by later that night, 50,000 had signed the petition.

The gathering of student leaders on Mar. 7 wasn’t full of movement veterans. There were 15 or 20 members of Students for Justice in Palestine, who had experience winning a vote in the student government for divestment this semester. But during the meeting, when the question was raised, “How many people here have been to a protest?” 20 of the 100 students present raised their hands. Then the question was asked, “How many have organized a protest?” only a few hands went up.

One of the hands was that of Ethan Viets-Van Lear. Viets-Van Lear is a member of Black Youth Project 100, and was part of the We Charge Genocide delegation that went to Switzerland in October, 2014. There, they testified to the United Nations Committee Against Torture about the Chicago Police Department.

Cassie Robledo, a member of the College Democrats, said, “My first protest was when I was 12. My dad and uncles are members of the Steel Workers Union. They took me to the megamarch for immigrant rights.” But the protest against Trump was the first time she was organizing anything like this.

Planning the actions

The students agreed to support two sets of tactics: one inside the Trump event and one outside. It became clear within the meeting that the main drama would be the protests taking place to disrupt Trump’s speech. Cassie Robledo was going in. Usama Ibrahim of Muslim Students Association intended to go in as well.

Another veteran of past protests, Nathaniel Lewis, a grad student in public health, was incorporated into an informal leadership group for the inside group.

Communications were set up, including the use of the app Signal, which allows for encrypted communication. A plan was hatched for the groups planning to disrupt to be organically developed, and then coordinated by dividing up the period of the Trump rally into ten minute intervals.

The tactics for the mass march and rallies outside the Trump event venue were debated during the meeting. Given that the protest was only four days away, there was an emergency character to the planning. There was tension in the room. But after a wide-ranging debate in which more than one third expressed their views, the organizers were able to present a plan which united the room.

The march

When Friday, March 11 came, the Quad on the center of campus was packed, with 1000 people who gathered at 4:30. The organizers realized that they had to be to the corner of Harrison and Racine, outside the Pavilion where the Trump rally was occurring, prior to 5:00. Since the news stations start broadcasting at 5:00, Lewis said, “It is important to get established as soon as possible.”

It was agreed to have only a few speakers. The rally was emceed by Viets-VanLear, also a spoken word poet, who helped keep it short and lively.

The plan was to attempt to take over Harrison Street and then march to the corner with Racine. The police had placed metal barricades in the median in Harrison.

As the crowd marched across campus, it swelled to several thousand people. When it reached Harrison, the tactical leadership of the march made the call: They would take only one the eastbound lane. The barricades were locked together, and once separated into two lanes, the protest would be divided.

Confronting the police

The next challenge was dealing with the Chicago Police Department (CPD). In meetings with the administration earlier in the week, Juan Rojas reported, “They told us that we had to go to the parking lot across the street from the Pavilion.” One activist with SEIU Local 73, the main union on campus, called the lot a “cattle pen,” because it was surrounded by high, wrought iron fences.

Rojas explained why they still went into the meeting with CPD and the administration. “Essentially to tell them that we’re taking Harrison and that we want them to keep off the crowd and let us as organizers control it.” After the meeting, Rojas reported, “CPD wants us to march from the Quad and take the crowd into the parking lot.”

As the ever-growing crowd got within sight of the Trump crowd lining up at the Pavilion, CPD bike cops blocked the street, trying to force the front of the march to divert into the parking lot. Ethan Viets-Van Lear, Juan Rojas and Bear Steck, the tactical leadership group, stood firm. “We have the right to confront the hate that has come to our campus,” said Rojas.

The marchers stood their ground and kept up chanting. Meanwhile, at the intersection, another 1000 anti-Trump protesters had gathered on the corners, behind barricades. Jerry Boyle of the National Lawyers Guild, a legal observer, explained to the police, “Those people have moved into the intersection, and are marching east to meet the larger group.” At this point, the commander realized that the bike cops were surrounded, and pulled them out of the intersection.

The front line of the march cheered, and surged forward to meet those waiting in front of the main doors to the venue.

A rally was then held just in front of the Trump crowd standing in line. Over the next two hours, the police would have to retreat two more times as the protesters demanded to take the entire intersection so that those speaking out could be heard by more of the anti-Trump group that stretched back over a block along Harrison.


Perhaps 1000 anti-Trump protesters inside the Pavilion filled an entire section of the arena. Before Trump made his announcement that he was chickening out, every 10 minutes, another group would raise their voices. Police would come and remove them. Trump wasn’t facing violence. He was facing courageous youth who were determined to speak out against his hate. As Ibrahim said later, “We would not allow racism, bigotry and xenophobia tarnish our pavilion, nor our city, nor our presidency. Not in our lifetimes.”

Ibrahim continued, “Yesterday, the University of Illinois at Chicago made history. Could this be a turning point in the Donald Trump campaign? Could we have portrayed his cowardice to the millions of Americans and tens of millions of non-Americans across the world? We’ll have to just wait and see.”




Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

2 thoughts on “Michigan, Black Lives Matter, Discussions

  1. No summary, just shaking hands and exchanging contact info in some cases. Didn’t realize it wasn’t so common back in Chicagoland. No follow-up; most impressive thing, as I said, was the size of the crowd.

    I posted the Joe Iosbaker report a few days later; it extends my point.

  2. thanks, Helena; most promising. Was there any summary presented from groups? Anything for followup? btw, this breakdown w neighbors is not so common out here, in our little corner. cu soon, Earl


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