By AnnaLiese Burich, Annie McDonough, and Emma Henderson
Created for NYU Magazine Journalism’s Digital Journalism Class, December 2017. Digital Magazine, taught by photographer Kholood Eid, taught grad students digital journalism (audio, photography, video).
Rise and Resist: The Movement to Impeach Trump
Above a sea of commuters, holiday shoppers and tourists crowding Columbus Circle on a late November night, one image stood out among the rest — a drawing of a piece of toast with a familiar head of floppy blonde hair. “Trump You’re Toast!” it read. In a protest scene that’s familiar to most New Yorkers passing by any of Donald Trump’s buildings these days, one can at least appreciate the more creative signage.
A group of activists belonging to a movement called Rise and Resist gathered for their weekly impeach protest in front of Trump International Hotel and Tower on Thursday, Nov. 30, to demonstrate their fervent disapproval of the nation’s 45th president. They chanted in unison (“We want a leader! Not a racist tweeter!”). They marched in front of the building while hotel guests watched from their windows. A woman danced wildly to the melody of a brass trio, unfazed by the bystanders stopping to take photos. And, perhaps a bit more unusually, a man dressed in colonial garb — white wig, tricorn hat and all — led the protest. Martin Quinn, the man who resembled a revolutionary war reenactor, was the appointed town crier for the night. He organized that week’s protest, led the chants from the middle of the crowd, and, almost certainly garnered a few double takes from passerby.
“I didn’t feel like I could live knowing that Hillary had lost, that Donald Trump was elected, and that we were going in such a dangerous direction,” Quinn says of his realization last November. “I made an agreement with myself that I would do everything in my power to fight him and to get him out of office, and to protect people.”
An increase in activism started even before President Trump entered the White House. Before the election, a large uptick in political awareness had already begun. A Pew Research Center survey found that more Americans had put thought into the election than ever before. 84% said that they had put “quite a lot” of thought into the election and only 12% said they had only put in a little thought. This represents a significant change from 2000, when the last Republican president, George W. Bush, won the election, with only 72% putting in a lot of thought and 19% not putting in much thought.
Rise and Resist was founded in direct response to the 2016 election. Ranging from newbie resistors in their twenties to veteran activists in their sixties and seventies, the group boasts a following nearly 6,000 people on Facebook. Their mission is expansive, aiming to combat any state sanctioned violence, bigotry and systematic discrimination, according to their mission statement. Their general goal is to disrupt government acts that threaten democracy, equality, and civil liberties.
On Nov. 15, six congressional Democrats called to impeach Trump on the grounds of “obstruction of justice,” “violation of the foreign emoluments clause,” “violation of the domestic emoluments clause,” “undermining the independence of the federal judiciary,” and “undermining the freedom of the press.” On Dec. 6, Congressman Al Green brought another resolution on impeachment, but the motion was put on hold.
Despite the calls for impeachment, Trump’s approval rating is not too different from Obama’s at the same point in their presidencies, according to The Rasmussen Reports, a nonpartisan public opinion polling company.
While only a little over a year old, Rise and Resist has a strong foundation in New York’s history of political direct action movements. ACT UP, the international advocacy group committed to fighting AIDS, was founded in New York in 1987. ACT UP has been something of a mentor to Rise and Resist.
“The group very much stands on the shoulders of the ACT UP people,” says Dann Ramirez, a member of Rise and Resist’s communications team. “We’ve got a lot of younger activists, but they’re the main reason we’ve been successful, just learning from their best practices. We’ve got that braintrust.”
Rise and Resist is a “flat” movement, meaning that there are no leaders of any kind, just working groups that focus on specific projects like communications, actions, and budgets. At the group’s weekly meeting at the Church of the Village before Thursday’s protest, roughly 50 members showed up, many of them middle-aged. During the two-hour meeting, the group was caught up on upcoming actions, voted on new proposals, and discussed the news around the presidency. That week, it was the Republicans’ tax bill in the Senate.
Rise and Resist’s wide mission and loose structure may sound reminiscent of 2011’s Occupy Movement — a group that has been widely criticized for its generalist’s approach to goal-setting, and its hand signal-based decision making. Quinn, however, knows that Rise and Resist’s weekly protests won’t lead to the president’s impeachment on its own. But as long as the group sees a threat to democracy projecting from Washington D.C., Quinn and others will be out on the streets, lending their voices to the movement.
“A lot of things have to happen for him to be impeached,” Quinn admits. “Like Trump has normalized dysfunction in the government, we aim to normalize the concept of impeachment.”