By Barbara Slavin
From Bucharest to Baghdad to Birmingham, England and its namesake in Alabama, people are filling streets, squares and town halls to demand more transparent, accountable and welcoming government.
The protests have become a regular occurrence in the United States since the inauguration of President Trump on January 20. But they are spreading in a way not seen since demonstrations against the U.S. war in Vietnam in 1968.
Unlike those days, when those in the streets were largely young people angry at the war and the capitalist system, the new demonstrations are multi-generational and promote a variety of causes. The biggest event so far –the Women’s March on Washington – occurred on Jan. 21 and attracted nearly a half million people. It was replicated around the United States and in major cities overseas.
Demonstrations have continued on a weekly basis in Washington and other places to challenge the Trump administration’s January 27 ban on refugees and visitors from seven mostly Muslim nations and more recently, accelerated roundups and deportations of Latin Americans in the United States illegally.
The protests spread Sunday to Mexico, where thousands marched in the capital and around the country to denounce the deportations and insist that Mexico would never pay for a wall the U.S. president has vowed to build on the border.
At the same time in New York, Washington and 15 other U.S. cities, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which once helped Soviet Jews resettle in the United States, staged rallies in conjunction with the “national day of Jewish action for refugees.” The Trump administration has sought to stop refugee admission for four months, cap the total admitted this year at 50,000 and to bar any Syrians.
Protests against the ban have spread to states that voted overwhelmingly for Trump, such as Alabama — home to the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who backs stringent curbs on immigration. As they did at larger international airports around the United States, Alabamans opposing the travel ban turned up at Birmingham airport on January 30 to show support for foreigners barred from entry. Protests have continued in that city central to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s.
Large crowds also came out last month in Birmingham, England and other cities in the United Kingdom to challenge the travel ban, which many see as discriminatory toward Muslims but Trump calls necessary to ensure security.
Trump’s actions during his brief tenure in office have been the main catalyst for demonstrations but not the only one.
In Bucharest, Romania, thousands of people have been crowding into the city center, withstanding freezing temperatures and snowfall for more than a week to demand an end to government corruption. Under pressure, the justice minister resigned but the crowds have vowed to remain until the prime minister and his entire cabinet step down.
Corruption and electoral reform were the focus for mass protests in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, over the weekend. A local journalist, Hayder Hamzoz, tweeted a picture of the crowds gathered outside the Green Zone, where government offices are located. Six people were killed when troops opened fire on the protestors.
Meanwhile in Iraq’s neighbor Iran, a larger than usual crowd came out Friday to commemorate the 38th anniversary if the 1979 Islamic revolution.
In the past, the crowds have been smaller at the annual event, which is organized by the government. In an interesting symmetry this year, however, many of those demonstrating in Tehran’s Freedom Square held posters thanking Americans who had in turn objected to the travel ban. The ban — which has been temporarily blocked by U.S. courts — disproportionately hurts Iranians, more than 30,000 of whom annually travel to the United States to visit relatives or attend universities.
Iranians also came out in large numbers last month to mourn the death of Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatist who in his later years criticized government repression. The crowds were the largest since 2009 protests against fraud-tainted elections, which gave a second term to then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In the United States, progressive organizations have borrowed tactics used in the past by members of the Tea Party conservative movement to mobilize protestors. Thousands of people have turned up at town halls held by Republican members of Congress and expressed concerns about Trump plans to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s signature health care program, among other policies.
In a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah, more than 1,000 people attended a meeting last week with their congressman, Jason Chaffetz. Many demanded that Chaffetz, who chairs a House committee on investigations, invest as much energy probing the business activities of Trump and his family as Chaffetz did Democrat Hillary Clinton’s emails.
A major question is whether the momentum of the past few weeks can be maintained. So far, it appears that it can. New social media tools make it easy to attract large crowds with very short notice and that is already affecting the president’s travel schedule.
Trump cancelled a planned visit to a factory producing Harley Davidson motorcycles last month because of concern that the event would be overshadowed by protests.
Demonstrators have followed him to his winter retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, where he hosted the prime minister of Japan over the weekend.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, the first foreign leader to visit Trump in the White House, invited the president for a reciprocal visit to the United Kingdom this summer. But Trump opponents have vowed to stage massive demonstrations should the U.S. president accept. Labor Party members of Parliament have insisted that Trump not be allowed to address that venerable legislative body.
The Telegraph newspaper reported that Trump might skip London – a multi-ethic city with a mayor of Pakistani origin –in favor of a smaller, less diverse venue less likely to be the scene of large demonstrations.