The movement against presidential candidate Donald Trump’s racism, sexism and xenophobia is growing nationwide and activists in Madison stepped up to shut down the hate as Trump visited Wisconsin this week.
“I think that Donald Trump is really leading the White Lives Matter role and he’s stoking some of the racial fears that have been stirred up by the Black Lives Matter movement,” says Z! Haukeness, a local leader in restorative justice. “Because of the power of BLM, people are having a fear of a loss of white power and white privilege. I think his strategy is to pull on those racial fears. So, I think it’s important that we continue to put pressure on him.”
Haukeness was one of six protesters who fastened themselves together and sat down in the hotel lobby of a Janesville Holiday Inn on March 29 demanding that a Trump event they were hosting be cancelled. The six chained their arms together inside sections of PVC pipe in a tactic called the “sleeping dragon,” which is designed to make it difficult for authorities to separate protesters. Police negotiated with the six for several hours, but they refused to leave the lobby and were arrested.
“Our goal was to shut down Trump’s hate speech,” Haukeness tells Madison365. “His hate speech has had effects on people in southeastern Wisconsin. Three people of color who were immigrants were killed in Milwaukee recently by a white man repeating some of the same kind of rhetoric that Donald Trump has promoted.”
A multi-racial coalition of groups — including Voces de la Frontera, Coalition for Justice, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and Mi Gente, a national network — have been sending a message to the Trump campaign this week that hate is not welcome in Wisconsin. Protesters held signs that said things like, “No hate in our state” and “Hate is not a Wisconsin value.” They chanted and they sang. As a hotel chain that insists it “doesn’t tolerate racial discrimination” in its own practices, the protesters felt like they should not be hosting Trump. “We tried to persuade The Holiday Inn to not be a host for hate,” Haukeness says. “We had a petition signed by 2,000 people.”
Janesville, a largely white rural city with a history of racial tension and job losses, is a contrast from Madison. It was a city where the KKK once marched and where Trump felt comfortable holding a rally. At the Holiday Inn, men tried to provoke the protesters in numerous ways with one man jumping in the middle of the circle and crumpling up their sign. “They tried to intimidate us, but we had a very strong conviction to be there,” Haukeness says. “We know that there was a threat of violence going in. That’s part of the reason that it was predominantly white people who were doing the action because we were at less risk of extreme violence.”
In recent weeks, African-American protesters at Trump rallies have been punched, kicked, shoved, violently arrested and heckled by Trump supporters in overwhelmingly white crowds.
“It’s intense to have people getting in your face. One person grabbed somebody’s sunglasses off of her chest and put them on and tried to put them back on her chest,” says Haukeness, the 2016 recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award that is awarded jointly by the city of Madison and Dane County. “Other people connected to the Trump campaign were getting in people’s faces and being antagonistic. All in all, it furthered our convictions as to why we needed to be there and for us to be taking that risk because this is the type of violence that is spreading and we want to put a stop to that.”
Isn’t it kind of hard to defend yourself when your arms are caught up in sections of PVC pipe?
“Absolutely,” Haukeness laughs. “But we had our peacekeeper team there and it was so important to have their support.”
One of the goals of direct action, Haukeness says, is to show that Donald Trump has really escalated the situation and the rhetoric. “We need to realize that and challenge that and not stay silent as that continues,” Haukeness says. “I think he’s starting to feel the pressure. He’s feeling the intensity and I think people are waking up to it.”
But there are still people who will say: Why even give Trump any attention at all? Why not ignore him completely?
“We get a lot of people saying that. I think we know that in the past staying silent hasn’t worked,” Haukeness says. “There’s a good quote that says, ‘When you awake the sleeping giant, you have to confront him.’ People are becoming more educated about his racism, sexism, and homophobia, and transphobia. People are having to choose a side. Are we on the side of racial justice or are we on the side or racist hate?”
This week, Trump has also stopped in Milwaukee, Green Bay and Appleton. There’s a rumor that he might be making one more stop ahead of the Wisconsin Primary Tuesday, April 5.
“There’s supposedly something that is planned for Monday in Madison but we haven’t been able to confirm that,” Haukeness says. “We’ve heard some insider information that he is looking for a venue.”
Really? In Madison?
“Yeah, I know. We were a little surprised,” Haukeness smiles. “We’ll see if that actually happens. We will definitely be seeing him if he chooses to come to town.”