National Press Club

Panel: Activists will look to civil disobedience to challenge Trump

January 8, 2017 | By Julia Haskins |

Micah White, co-founder of the Occupy Wall Street Movement discusses the changing nature of protest.  White said, "The only way to gain sovereignty is to win elections or win wars.”

Micah White, co-founder of the Occupy Wall Street Movement discusses the changing nature of protest. White said, "The only way to gain sovereignty is to win elections or win wars.”

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Civil disobedience will be a key tactic for protestors challenging the incoming Trump administration, according to a panel of activists speaking at a National Press Club Newsmaker event Friday.

The speakers, all of whom have supported or engaged in civil disobedience, spoke to the importance of strategic resistance.

Attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, discussed the value of civil disobedience from a historical perspective. From Rosa Parks to Cesar Chavez, she said, activists have used civil disobedience to inform the public about injustices and spur people to action.

Civil disobedience has become an increasingly urgent means of resistance as President-elect Donald Trump has “openly threatened to impose...unjust and inhumane laws,” Verheyden-Hilliard, said, citing Trump’s proposed immigration, incarceration and reproductive rights policies. Many people have already protested these policies, she noted, and will continue to dissent throughout Trump’s presidency.

“No matter what [the Trump administration] tries to do within this country, there are so many people who are going to stand up on behalf of themselves, on behalf of their neighbors, on behalf of oppressed communities,” she said.

Local Washington, D.C. activist Adam Eidinger said he will use the presidential inauguration as an opportunity to push for marijuana policy reform. Eidinger is founder of the marijuana advocacy group DCMJ that will distribute 4,200 joints in the city on Inauguration Day.

Highly visible protests attract media attention and compel lawmakers to take action, he said. One such protest, a marijuana “smoke-in” that took place outside the White House last year, drew media attention and forced officials to respond to the event. The D.C. Cannabis Campaign, which Eidinger co-founded, also raised awareness by protesting at the office of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., in November, leading to a meeting with two staffers.

“We have to force tolerance sometimes," Eidinger said. “We’re being attacked for who we are, what we do. Sometimes just living our lifestyle out in the open will force tolerance.”

Micah White, co-founder of Occupy Wall Street, talked about how the concept of protest must evolve to be effective, pointing to the movement he launched as an example of shifting priorities among activists.

“The actual experience of Occupy Wall Street was to show us that protest is broken,” White said.

“It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t protest,” he explained, but that activists need “to rethink the storyline that we’ve been chasing.”

Social progressives must adopt a more radical approach to protesting, moving toward a strategy focused on winning elections, he said.

“Protest is a form of warfare. It’s a form of doing politics by other means,” White said. “What we’re trying to do as activists is have a revolution.”

He predicted that two groups will rise to take on the challenge in coming years: a “women’s social movement” and a “radical populist democracy movement in rural areas” of the country.

“In the years ahead there’s going to be a lot of pressure to double down on the tactics that we’ve been using,” White said, but activists should be open to “wild experimentation,” going beyond traditional forms of protest.

“I just get completely bored when I see any tactic we’ve already seen,” he said.