Solidarity and resistance are the way forward: a message from the US

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The new issue of Middle East Solidarity magazine will available to buy from March 2017. Read a preview of our cover story here, with reports from US activists on how the movement against Trump is challenging his policies on the Middle East.

Firstly we hear from New York City-based Palestinian activist Sumaya Awad, followed by interviews and comment from Joanne Landy (co-director of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy which promotes a new, progressive, and non-militaristic U.S. foreign policy) Seth Uzman (a student organiser at the University of Texas), Howie Hawkins (a Teamster who works at UPS in Syracuse, New York who was the Green Party candidate for New York Governor in 2014), Bill Fletcher Jr (a lifelong activist with several trade unions) and Andrew Pollack (activist with MENA Solidarity-US).

Not my president!
Sumaya Awad

In the first six days of his presidency, Trump signed an executive order banning refugees and Muslims from majority Muslims countries including, Iraq, Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Obama was no saint when it came to opening US borders for Syrian refugees, most of whom are refugees because of US imperialism in the Middle-East. He accepted a meagre number of 10,000 refugees while small countries like Lebanon, roughly the size of Rhode Island, accepted hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Still, Trump’s ban has critical political consequences. For example, he’s likely to encourage and embolden other right wing demagogues who have taken power in places like Hungary, UK, France, Germany, Holland, Austria, and the Philippines. Trump and right wing zealots across the globe will continue to use, perhaps to a greater level than Obama, anti-refugee and anti-immigrant rhetoric to transfer blame away from the the very real poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and exploitation working class people face. Blaming refugees, immigrants, or any vulnerable faction of the population for the problems the government is responsible for has been and continues to be the strategy of those in power, whether democratic or republican. The closure of borders and the increase in anti-refugee, islamophobic and racist rhetoric will further isolate refugees and result in the rapid escalation of violent pushback in response to imperial war.

Here in the US, there are so many different ways people are resisting Trump, his cabinet and everyone he emboldens. In the hours and days after Trump’s victory, hundreds of thousands poured into the streets. It was so inspiring and uplifting to witness and be a part of such a massive mobilization, united for behind one cause, one message; Not My President! By late November the Sanctuary Campus movement, launched by Cosecha, a movement to protect and fight for the rights of undocumented immigrants, was in full swing. Across the US, from NYC to Portland, Oregon, hundreds of students walked out of class and took over campus squares or student life buildings demanding their administration make their campus a safe space for protest and resistance and a immigration police-free zone.

The Women’s Marches that took place across the country were possibly one of the largest marches in US history. Most of the big figures in the Democratic Party didn’t attend the march. Not only that, but the core of the party has even voted in Trump’s dinosaur cabinet appointees in the senate, which is downright shameful. Other marches and rallies in response to Trump’s executive orders banning refugees, freezing funds to Planned Parenthood, building border walls etc. were able to mobilize thousands of people within hours. In NYC, a rally organized by Center for Islamic American Relations (CAIR) brought out three thousand people at short notice (less than 24 hours) to protest Trump’s executive order to ban immigration from Muslim majority countries. Mobilizations like this must keep happening on a weekly basis. We need to create extensive emergency response networks so we’re ready at a moment’s notice to fill the streets.

One important part of the movement needs to be the inclusion of Palestinian rights in the resistance to Trump. Empowering and mobilizing to spread the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), and, with the help of organizations like Palestine Legal and different formations of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) exposing the figures and institutions who malign and harass BDS activists.

Solidarity is a crucial step in fighting and resisting the consequences of Trump’s presidency both locally and abroad. The imperial wars the US is waging abroad are directly linked to its actions at home. Protesting low wages, unemployment and lousy healthcare should go hand in hand with resisting war and occupation abroad. Afterall, its US tax dollars that fund the missiles that create refugees, and the cost of those missiles is what leads to high taxes, student debt, and poor health care. It’s a cycle and to break through it we must resist the racist rhetoric meant to distract us from the real reasons wages are stagnate, poverty levels are skyrocketing, and student debt has reached an all time high.

There are plenty of other ways to connect Trump’s foreign policy to his policy at home. On multiple occasions he’s used the illegal Israel apartheid wall as a model for the US/Mexico border wall. The surveillance of BDS advocates has enabled the surveillance of Muslims in general. In some instances we’ve seen solidarity between those attacked by the US at home and abroad spur up spontaneously. This past December, protesters at Standing Rock sent a message of solidarity to those trapped under Assad’s siege on Aleppo.

We need to resist not only Trump and every executive order he signs, every statement he makes, every outing he takes, but also the very reason he was able to take power in the first place; the Democrats and Republicans that came before him, the same ones that today are pleading with us to ‘accept’ him and to ‘give him a chance’. To this, we must say No. We need to protest and resist in the street as we have been doing for the past several months, but more than that, we need to organize ourselves and build solidarity between our various movements. We need to focus on building a strong and united alternative to the existing parties of power. Together, we outnumber the two parties and the one class that is responsible for our current state. They are weak, divided, and few. The more they try to silence, bribe, or manipulate us, the louder and stronger we will become. Solidarity and resistance are the way forward.

Building resistance to Trump: US activists speak out

“Donald Trump regularly contradicts himself, and takes pride in being unpredictable, so it’s difficult to say what his foreign policy will actually look like. But one thing is certain: Trump’s cynicism and indifference, even contempt, for democracy and human rights will permeate his relations with the rest of the world,” peace campaigner Joanne Landy explains. “Trump is an equal-opportunity endorser of routine human rights violators”, she adds. “Trump’s admiration of Vladimir Putin is well known by now, but his respect for strongmen isn’t limited to the authoritarian Russian president. Referring to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s brutal consolidation of power after the military overthrow of the Mohammed Morsi government in 2013, Trump said “He took control of Egypt. And he really took control of it.” He praised Sisi and expressed his “strong support for Egypt’s war on terrorism,” and described  how “under a Trump administration, the United States of America will be a loyal friend, not simply an ally, that Egypt can count on in the days and years ahead.”

A key battleground will be the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement initiated by Palestinian activists, and now widely supported by the student movement in the US. “Trump’s policies toward Israel/Palestine may be the last nail in the coffin of a two-state solution as West Bank settlements continue to expand, now with U.S. backing, leaving one democratic state as the only viable solution for the left and the peace movement to support”, says Howie Hawkins of the US Green Party. Trump is sending strong signals to the Israeli government that he will support the expansion of illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories, Joanne Landy warns. “In January 2016 Trump called for a veto of the UN Resolution calling on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.” He has nominated his own bankruptcy attorney David Friedman — a notorious supporter of settlements — for ambassador to Israel, and has said he supports moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

According to Bill Fletcher Jr, a lifelong activist with several labour unions, a move to recognize Jerusalem as capital of Israel would not only violate international law and precedent but it would give the go-ahead for further settlements and annexation. “It is clear that there is no two-state solution and that we are looking at a situation much like the fight within apartheid South Africa. It is not only a matter of fighting Israeli apartheid: it is that a separate Palestinian republic is being rendered impossible,” he argues.

Seth Uzman, a student activist from the University of Texas says that “it is essential that we deepen the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.  The international call for solidarity issued in 2005 has been seized by activists across the globe and since then their activities have made serious inroads in isolating Israel, costing corporations billions of dollars and sending the Israeli state apparatus into panic. Because of this success, however, we’ve seen a global backlash of legislation (with bipartisan support in the U.S. and large financial backing from Israel) and blacklists seeking to slander, curtail and punish BDS organizing and Palestine solidarity activists.  We need movements condemning the blacklists, local committees that will defend the right to boycott Israel and most importantly, an undaunted BDS movement that will continue an uncompromising, principled struggle amidst repression.”

The question of defending migrants and refugees lies at the heart of the mass movement which has erupted against Trump and his government, US activists say. The assault on migrants’ rights by the state has been accompanied by rising levels of prejudice in society. But there is also a serious fightback, Howie Hawkins explains. “Trump’s promises to ban Muslim immigration and deport undocumented immigrants will pose serious problems for Middle Eastern immigrants, even for those with documentation because of the racial and religious profiling these policies entail.” In response to Trump’s proposed immigration policy, Howie says there are plans to defend “sanctuary cities” that do not enforce national immigration laws and forbid police or municipal employees to inquire about a person’s immigration status. “We are also demanding that the U.S admit a much higher number of refugees from the wars in the Middle East.”

Importantly, solidarity between Middle Eastern activists and anti-racist activists in the US has been growing over the last few years, Seth Uzman notes. “Palestinian flags, for example, could be seen waving at Ferguson protests in 2014.  The next year, 1000 black activists, intellectuals and artists published a letter in solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian liberation. In 2016, The Movement for Black Lives published a list of demands, connecting the struggle against racism in the U.S. to the struggle against US empire abroad. The next steps are to expand and deepen these movements by building infrastructure for mass mobilization and to include struggles against anti-immigrant racism, struggles for indigenous peoples and to give them all real striking power by integrating the core struggle of labor against capital.”

Andrew Pollack of MENA Solidarity Network – US sees an important connection between activism in solidarity with the Arab revolutions and the movements in the US defending refugees and challenging racism and Islamophobia. “Supporters of MENA Revolutions, including especially the one in Syria, were at the core of late 2015/early 2016 rallies in support of refugees and against Islamophobia, so the networking done to build such rallies, and to engage in day-to-day work on those issues, will be useful as anti-Trump actions around each and all of his policies come together”

Continued solidarity with the Syrian Revolution will be “the main task for activists working in solidarity with the Middle East North Africa (MENA) revolutions in 2017” he says.

For Seth Uzman, Trump’s policies over Syria are likely to run up against the contradictions of the rivalry between US and Russian imperialism at a regional level. “While the US and Russia were initially at odds over how best to crush the Syrian Revolution, they both seem to have made their peace with Assad and are now committing resources towards removing ISIS as a reactionary challenge to US and Russian imperialism in the region as it sits on Iraqi oil reserves valuable to Russian and US capital. It remains unclear though how far US and Russian collaboration can extend, given their ultimate competing interests as imperialist powers, Trump’s antagonizing of Russia’s ally, Iran and the US alliance with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s rival in the region.”

Trump’s policies are not all new, of course. In many respects he inherits and deepens policies from his predecessor, Barack Obama. As Joanne makes clear “We can’t forget the Obama Administration’s proposed nuclear modernization program – estimated to cost as much as $1 trillion dollars over 30 years, its support for Israel’s horrific 2014 war on Gaza and $38 billion aid pact with Israel in 2016; the increased military presence in Europe and murderous drone warfare.” And Seth agrees: “we can expect a continuation and expansion of US drone and air warfare to extend power and wreak havoc in countries such as Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Here as in so many other areas, from drones to the deportation of immigrants, Trump will avail himself of the legal infrastructure and machinery Obama built for him.”

In terms of what we outside the US can do, Seth is positive that mass solidarity mobilizations such as the internationally success of the Women’s March, and BlackLivesMatter organising lend confidence to the corresponding movements in the US and vice versa. “Mass mobilization must also extend to anti-war organizing which needs to be transnational in order to effectively challenge imperialist intervention abroad. I think bringing struggles for social justice into the workplace is indispensable and because capitalism has never been more integrated worldwide, workplace actions, whether within or without the US, have never had a more potentially global impact.” Joanne also remains hopeful that the promise of mass movements for democracy, peace and social justice in the Middle East can still be fulfilled: “We must remind ourselves and others of the tremendous moral and political power of the Arab Spring and Iran’s Green movement,” she says, “and do everything we can to help these movements to revive, flourish, multiply – and win.”

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