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Donald Trump's reaction to protesters, unfriendly media highlights growing crackdown on dissent

I'd firstly like to address the dominant narrative about protest and the coverage of protest. US President Donald Trump's rhetoric gathers the reasonable anger of working people and points it like a laser at the press, at immigrants, at racial minorities, and at people who protest these injustices.

In a bid to consolidate power, Trump is in the early stages of constructing a powerful propaganda machine. And his narrative is compelling. In a Trump worldview, the press is a partisan enemy agent, and — the smear of all smears — biased. The protesters they write about are agitators who are disloyal and bent on sowing chaos and dissent through the realm.

Protesters hold placards and chant slogans during a demonstration against US President Donald Trump. AP

Protesters hold placards and chant slogans during a demonstration against US President Donald Trump. AP

I'd like to say that it is, in fact, important to parse what is happening behind the scenes at a protest. It is important to engage our critical faculties. What are the factions? Is this a grassroots movement or is a politician using inclusionary woke-speak to appeal to a potential voting base? Is it a wide and diverse coalition of organisers? How about the people on the ground? Why have they decided to participate? These are the questions an honest journalist should ask.

Furthermore, it is very important to parse the coverage of protest. When a corporate broadcast station calls armed suppression of protesters engaging in civil disobedience a "clash between protesters and law enforcement", how are they reinforcing existing narratives? If someone throws a brick at a building, shouldn't we ask who is throwing it? It is important to parse who is acting in what way for what means and what ends.

And yes, the media has bias. Journalists have bias. To have a perspective is to be human. It is important to recognise these biases, lay them bare, question them, and attempt to ask questions that add depth and nuance to a story. Nuance is the enemy of rhetorical persuasion. By questioning the frames within which information is presented, we can get closer to the truth about our world, about allocations of power, and about justice.

It is important to talk about coverage of protest because that is the lens through which we view recent actions. We cannot purport to have a clean view of the events on the ground without acknowledging this bias.

That said, let's talk about protest itself. The White House has done everything to smear anti-Trump protests as criminal, unpatriotic, disloyal, and treasonous. Though we must resist these characterisations, we must avoid making martyrs out of the protesters as well. Some movements are lionised in media narratives, as long as they don't veer into the territory of criminality. When a protest breaks with the narrative of clean-cut white people holding signs and hugging each other, it is condemned.

As journalists, we must forgo proscriptions for questions. Criminality is a top-down narrative that is generally projected onto the most downtrodden members of our society. Black boys, as young as 12, playing with toy guns, are perceived to be criminals because a century of mythmaking has associated blackness with criminality.

Similar narratives have been constructed to describe poverty. Poor people are perceived as lazy and deserving of their squalid conditions. In actuality, most people on welfare are in the workforce as well. Isn't the true problem, then, that people can be working two or three jobs and still not be earning enough to make ends meet?

When people buck the narratives constructed for them, when they start to punch upward, they are immediately designated as criminals. They have become threats to the order of things. And this is the lens through which protests are seen both by the media and by those in power.

The consequences to marginalised communities for not fighting are grave. Black children will continue to be gunned down by police officers in the street. They will be ghettoised, stuck in poverty, without any recourse. Indigenous people will be forced to cede more land and access to clean water. This is what we must remember when we consider protests. Why would people risk their bodies and their safety to fight against such a powerful system? Maybe the repercussions for not fighting are greater. Maybe struggle is the only means people have to preserve their dignity.

We must remember that people are multi-dimensional, and movements are vibrant. There are varied, and sometimes conflicting, opinions and perspectives within coalitions. We must disabuse ourselves of the notion that masses of people are either malevolent or are misled sheep with no brains, no guts, and no thoughts of their own.

Now let's talk about some of the laws being passed to codify these myopic narratives. The State apparatus relies on these stories about dissent to push draconian agendas. The narrative is for the benefit of the public and the actions are plain and simple repression. Before our very eyes, dissent is being criminalised.

Minnesota lawmakers are gearing up to pass a law that effectively litigates protest out of existence. The bill would allow the state to sue protesters for the full cost of police and crowd control, cash-strapping inconvenient protests.

Conservatives in North Dakota are pushing for a bill that would grant immunity to people who run protesters down with their cars.

And in Louisiana, a "Blue Lives Matter" bill was passed. This is a gross inversion of hate crime statutes, designed to protect marginalised classes of people from crimes based on their race status, or similar designated classes. Now, an action like resisting arrest can be classified as a hate crime against a police officer, and carry sentences of 10 years to life in prison.

The violent crackdown of dissent by law enforcement is sweeping the nation. At least 10 states have passed similar laws criminalising and dissuading any form of dissent. The opportunity cost of fighting for one's right to exist is rising. If we continue to allow top-down narratives about criminality to color our perception of protest and dissent, acts of protest and dissent actually become criminal. We must resist these narratives at every turn.

Updated Date: Mar 02, 2017 12:24 PM

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