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On the Eve of Impeachment, Where Have All the Trump Protests Gone?

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Donald Trump in one of his speech | On the Eve of Impeachment, Where Have All the Trump Protests Gone? | Featured
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By Julia Prodis Sulek and Kaitlyn Bartley, Mercury News

Nothing re-invigorated the American tradition of protesting in the streets like the election of Donald Trump.

While demonstrators plan to rally Tuesday at street corners on the eve of a historic impeachment vote, even the most ardent activists are acknowledging that what started as a fire hose of anti-Trump fervor has dwindled to a drip.

Millions turned out around the globe to vent their anger during the Women’s March the day after Trump was sworn in. Tens of thousands more rallied in the following months for science, against the travel ban and to protest the retreat from the Paris climate accord. There were Trump Tuesdays, Solidarity Sundays and pink pussy hats.

But over the last three years, a survey of news clips found the number of organized Trump protests that brought at least hundreds of people to the streets has plummeted from 32 in 2017 to six in 2018 to just two this year. And one of those was in London.

What gives?

“I think mass protests work better when you have leaders who know shame,” said Elisa Camahort Page, co-author of the book “Road Map for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Activism, and Advocacy for All,” summing up her droll assessment of futility that frustrates so many anti-Trump activists.

Ask Trump supporters who credit the president with the booming economy, however, and they’ll say that anti-Trumpers should have little to complain about.

“Maybe they got a job and have something better to do now — or they finally realized that all of us who voted for Trump, that we’re not going to let this country go down the drain,” said Carmen Navarro, 63, a Nicaraguan immigrant who lives in San Jose.

Perhaps, the malaise on the streets could be bleeding over at the polls. A USA Today/Suffolk University poll released Monday shows Trump leading all of his potential Democratic rivals in his bid for his second term — even if he is impeached.

That lack of enthusiasm and urgency is alarming for Democrats, who can look around the globe to see nightly headlines of activism on overdrive.

In Hong Kong, protesters are so committed that an action figure armed with a water canister to douse tear gas is selling out. In Chile, where millions have been protesting corruption and inequality since October, the battle cry is “Chile Awoke!”

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Here in the U.S., have we dozed off? The last major anti-Trump, take-to-the-streets action was way back in February on Presidents’ Day to protest his declaration of a national emergency to divert funds to fund the border wall.

“It could be that a lot of the country is just exhausted with what’s happening,” Garrick Percival, a San Jose State associate professor of political science, said Monday. “We’re now three years into the Trump administration, and the volume of scandal and conflict has ironically made it so any one thing doesn’t take on great importance. If this (impeachment) was the only thing, it might be mobilizing more people.”

Several other forces, however, may also be at work. As Camahort Page says, while citizens may be fired up about Trump in dozens of ways and “every news day can be depressing, people have to focus on where it seems we can make a difference. You’ve got to triage, you have to live your life or you’ll burn out.”

Besides, she said, while street protests may be waning, “the protest is showing up at the ballot box.”

Many activists who rallied during the first year or two of Trump’s administration are shifting their attention to 2020 elections.

Jenny Higgins Bradanini, who headed the Women’s March in San Jose, is now running for office herself, for an open San Jose City Council position.

“Part of the reason is that people have learned that it’s not just taking it to the streets, it’s taking it to the doors and getting other communities involved in registering people to vote,” she said.

Besides, she said, planning major, organized rallies can take weeks — the Women’s March in January 2017 took nine weeks — and be expensive paying for permits, Porta-Potties and other expenses.

What pushed people into the streets early in Trump’s presidency, experts say, were emotional issues — his insults to women and family separations at the border.

But impeachment?

“This is a hard topic to mobilize people around because it’s hard to fully understand,” said Jane Curry, a political science professor at Santa Clara University, where she is teaching a seminar on protests. “We had Vietnam War protests, but we had American guys being killed. Here, there’s no direct horror. The critical issue is that our president is ignoring the rules of democracy.”

But it might not be enough to get people off their couches, she said.

After all, despite the enthusiasm of the millions of people demonstrating around the world the day after Trump’s election during the Women’s March, it’s effect remains questionable, she said.

“It was like saying, here we are, you must be respectful and pay attention to us,” Curry said, “but it didn’t have any effect.”

John Holme, a 65-year-old computer programmer from Oakland, says it’s been 18 months since he last joined a demonstration, when he gathered with other activists at Lake Merritt to protest separations of immigrant children from their parents at the Mexican border.

Now, though, he has answered the calls from Common Cause and Moveon.org — the national activist groups behind the “No one is Above the Law” rallies planned for Tuesday across the country. He is organizing his own impeachment rally near his job in Emeryville, at the corner of Powell Street and Christie Avenue, and so far, 200 people have signed up to attend.

Trump, he said, is “counting on people saying, who really cares?”

Brandanini, who will be showing up at the intersection of Stevens Creek and Winchester boulevards in San Jose, says anti-Trump passion shouldn’t be judged by the number of people at any one event.

“There may be some people who are burned out, but they rest and we carry on the flame for them,” she said. “I definitely don’t think enthusiasm is dying down. We’re just at a realistic pace now.”
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(c)2019 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
Visit the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com
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