These Are the Groups Behind Those ‘Spontaneous’ Anti-Trump-Ban Protests

How little-known groups were behind the thousands taking to the streets after Donald Trump’s election win—and thousands more filling airports across the country over the weekend.

02.01.17 11:09 PM ET

On the dark and cloudy morning in Brooklyn after Donald Trump’s Election Night upset, 20 members of the nonprofit Make the Road New York gathered in the conference room of their office for an all-hands emergency meeting.
The Latino and working-class organizing group, which specializes in immigrant rights, had not fully prepared for its nightmare scenario of Trump winning the presidency. Few people in the room believed the Republican candidate had more than a slim chance of victory.
The mood was extremely emotional. Some were visibly distraught, some were furious, some even cried.
But as the day went on, the small huddle of organizers got back to work to chart a course forward—to prepare for what Daniel Altschuler, their director of civic engagement and research, would later describe as a “defining fight of our lives.”
The team worked the phones and started coordinating with their membership and allies in the community for future action and public protest. Within 24 hours, they had a plan for organizing a march that would take place in Manhattan the Sunday after Trump’s election. Roughly 15,000 people flooded the streets to tell their next president, “We will not let you tear our families apart.”
Make the Road New York, and local groups like it, were laying the groundwork for what the country would see on the news out of JFK International Airport less than three months later in response to President Trump’s refugee and “Muslim ban.”
“This is man who actually won on a campaign of hate and xenophobia and sexism… We knew we had to respond rapidly,” Altschuler told The Daily Beast this week. “Folks on our organizing team and communications team were poised to respond rapidly because of what we do… We went out to the airport immediately on Saturday. I was en route to the airport around 11:30 a.m.… We were on the phone with other groups, saying, ‘Bring your people to JFK, bring your friends to JFK.’”
Altschuler and his colleagues spent the following days in near-constant contact with attorneys on the ground and lawyers’ associations, lawmakers, reporters, the New York Immigration Coalition, and immigrant- and minority-rights organizations, including progressive Jewish and Muslim groups.
And Make the Road New York was just one of many groups, virtually unknown and unheard of nationally, leading the anti-Trump mass resistance and airport demonstrations that erupted all across the United States over the weekend.
News reports and TV broadcasts about the week’s protests described the events as “spontaneous protests” mounted in response to the Trump administration’s travel and immigration executive order.
But to Make the Road New York, and the groups like it across the country, there was nothing “spontaneous” about it. As some observers and activists were quick to point out, these grassroots and professional organizers had been waiting and planning for this type of mass, direct action—ready-made to go viral on social media—ever since, well, Nov. 9. From the moment Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the general election, they’ve been anticipating and mapping out their battle plans for Trump’s orders on deportations, bans, and detention.
So when you heard about a large crowd at an airport in the past few days yelling catchy slogans like “FUCK TRUMP, FUCK PENCE, THIS COUNTRY’S BUILT ON IMMIGRANTS,” it was no “spontaneous” outpouring of support. It was the result of a lot of unseen work and man hours.
“It was a domino effect of rapid mobilization,” said Renata Pumarol, communications director at New York Communities for Change, which was also on the ground at JFK. “And going forward, we have our plans in place to resist Trump… and pressuring corporate Dems to resist every appointment, every aspect of Trump’s agenda.”
Over the past weekend, tens of thousands took to the streets in demonstrations in cities including Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Newark, and Los Angeles. Activists in New York who spoke to The Daily Beast were also in close communication with organizers at the O’Hare International Airport “emergency protest,” which took place simultaneously.
“We had been laying the groundwork for this for a long, long time,” Hatem Abudayyeh, the Chicago-born Palestinian-American and executive director of the Arab American Action Network, told The Daily Beast. “We partially have infrastructure in place already as an organizing institution that has a lot of relationships with the strongest organizing institutions in Chicago and around the country. We have been having conversations with our allies and friends and attorneys—we’d been having these conversation before the election. A week before the election, we all had panicked because we were thinking, ‘Oh, man, this guy could definitely win.’”
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On Election Night, Abudayyeh and his co-workers knew they needed to prep for a “surge” in their workload and marching. Now he and his allies in Illinois “want to be in the streets as much as possible,” he said.
“We’re inspired by what’s happening all across the country,” he added. “The fascinating thing about Saturday is it just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger after the initial call to get out there at 6 p.m. By 8 or 9 o’clock, folks saw this happening live on TV or live on Facebook or live wherever, and they came to it without knowing that it had been called for.”
He and fellow activists have been actively coordinating with other local advocacy groups—Organized Communities Against Deportations, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, and the local Black Lives Matter chapter, to name a few—as well as private law firms extending offers of pro-bono work for refugee and immigrant families. It’s been a round-the-clock blitz that those involved expect to continue indefinitely in the Trump era.
“We absolutely have our work cut out for us,” Abudayyeh said. “We talked about that the very first night [on Saturday], knowing we were going to be organizing ’til 2 in the morning and waking up at 6 to start all over again.”
Lara Kiswani, leader of the Arab Resource & Organizing Center, was still losing her voice as of Wednesday, when we talked on the phone. She and the center had been busy during the weekend of protest at San Francisco International Airport.
“We’ve been preparing ourselves [since November] on getting people to understand the rights around protests, especially for undocumented people who are more vulnerable in these situations,” she told The Daily Beast. “We’ve been digging in for a while… given the Trump administration… we have to deepen our work as we’re preparing for these mass mobilizations.”
Along with working with local union leaders and protesters, AROC is a member of the “Bay Resistance” action network, which is bound together by a text-alert system that goes out to the members and leaders of specific social-justice groups.
“The system is for when people are under threat or attacked—and Saturday triggered the text-alert system, and we organized around it, and took some leadership,” Kiswani said. “We stuck around all day and night, and our demands weren’t met. So we decided to call for a shutdown [of the airport] on Sunday because those demands weren’t met. Our demands were simple: Let the lawyers in… [and] let the families out.”
“It’s a time for a culture of resistance,” she continued. “The work now is to get the community to step up and be prepared… and really build across movements while Trump is in office.”
From San Francisco to New York City, her fellow progressive activists are building toward the same long-term objectives of peaceful but noisy resistance.
“This is the moment,” Altschuler said. “We have to continue to elevate the very moral crisis that the Trump administration is creating—we have to every day.”