I have been arrested at demonstrations, rushed by police lines, screamed at by angry strangers, and thrust into uncomfortable public arguments with elected leaders. Yet, across years of activism, I’ve never been as frightened as I was when I attended a Donald Trump rally in my home state of North Carolina this summer.
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There, sitting beside my Muslim friend Faisal as we waited to disrupt the rally, I witnessed thousands of angry white voters screaming and chanting in approval as Trump fed them lie after lie. Refugees, in Trump world, were a mere “Trojan horse” for a hostile takeover of America. American Muslims were inherently dangerous and would be forced to register via national database. Latino residents should be torn from their families and communities and forcibly deported. “Immigrants,” Trump’s nonsense category for covering all of these predominantly non-white constituencies, were snakes who could never be trusted. He actually read a crude poem of several verses to drive home this final point, to gleeful chants of “USA! USA!”
This is not a collection of side comments, cherry-picked to shock readers. On the contrary, open incitement to violence against “immigrants” constituted the core of Trump’s hour-long speech, as well as the shorter speeches of the local and state Republican officials who preceded him.
Most of us have only experienced Trump filtered through television or the newspaper, which encourage us to see the violence of the Trump campaign as merely alleged, or perhaps an unfortunate byproduct of his message. But that’s incorrect. The violence is the message.
We are too eager to seek shelter from Trump’s troubling ideas by placing them into a conventional election narrative. But make no mistake: nothing about Trump’s campaign is conventional.
While I am sympathetic to those who connect decades of prejudicial Republican public policy and dog-whistling rhetoric appealing to white voters to Trump’s blatant racism, we must recognize that 2016 is different and calls out for moral clarity. We cannot be satisfied with the usual calls for bipartisanship and political neutrality from our community institutions. On this point we must be clear: there is a difference between supporting laws that are indifferent to the suffering of people of color, and advocating for new policies that will expressly victimize people of color. The former is wrong; the latter is something darker.
“We’ve Seen This Before,” Bend the Arc Jewish Action’s campaign to stop Trump, isn’t about pitting the young against the old, #ImWithHer against #FeelTheBern, or moderate Republicans against their base. This is a unity campaign that draws on the universal values of the Jewish community, and we are calling on all American Jews to stand together against the violent white supremacy that Donald Trump’s campaign represents and has unleashed.
We are leading this campaign as Jews not because we are out to convince Jews--who, polls show, are already overwhelmingly in our column--but because our very recent historic experience of racist state violence has left us with something to teach our fellow Americans about this political moment.
Although this campaign is structured around the tactics needed to win on Election Day, it is also building on a political vision for America that is broader and deeper than the narrow terms offered by a simplistic, left-right debate.
We are seeking, and challenging all Americans to seek, a country that is free from coercive violence, racism, and inhumanity. While these forces of injustice did not begin with Trump, they have coalesced around him in a way that is disturbing, and the credibility he has given them means their new centrality to the political debate will not end with his campaign. That new political reality that Trump’s candidacy has created cries out for a response from our historical experience, and our tradition of compassion and justice.
That’s why we’re mobilizing hundreds of Jewish activists to go to work as volunteer canvassers in a half-dozen swing states this fall, to have the face-to-face conversations with voters that could make the difference in this battle between justice and violence. It’s why we’ve held public demonstrations in cities across the country condemning the reckless, racist incitement of the Trump campaign. It’s why we put out a viral video featuring Jewish grandparents that’s reached over 2 million people, and features the central message of our campaign in a way that’s accessible, humorous, and deeply sincere. And it’s why we’re continuing to put pressure on Jewish organizations to disavow Trump once and for all.
This is the prophetic role progressive Jewish communities must play in this moment of transition and uncertainty in American politics. We are called to speak to each other out of our deepest ethical traditions, and right now that means giving each other the courage to oppose, with our voices, our votes, and our bodies, the introduction of racist violence into our national politics.
Max Socol is a National Organizer for Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, a cofounder of Carolina Jews for Justice, and a Jewish educator. Originally from Greensboro, North Carolina, he lives in Washington, DC with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @mbsocol
For more details of Bend the Arc’s campaign against Donald Trump: www.weveseenthisbefore.org