There is something comfortingly familiar about a protest in Jacksonville, and Tuesday afternoon’s anti-Donald Trump protest was no exception.
The chants heard at the Duval County Courthouse were, at least many of them, heard before.
At this point, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA” has been workshopped repeatedly in the Jacksonville DMA, and may have peaked in terms of market saturation.
The chant was a standby on Tuesday, a refrain as familiar as “Whoot, there it is.”
New for this event: “Say it loud, say it clear; refugees are welcome here,” an obvious reference to the banning of travel from seven majority-Muslim countries, of which the majority (Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and the Sudan) could be said to be failed states.
At the very least, none of these countries are models for the 21st century.
The speakers, likewise, were familiar — and very likable.
Perennials, such as Wells Todd, Chevara Orrin, and Dr. Parvez Ahmed, spoke.
Ahmed gave money to the primary campaign of Rep. John Rutherford ahead of the GOP Primary last year because, he said, Rutherford was a friend, and because the rest of the field was even worse.
The University of North Florida professor spoke of Rutherford and his political ally, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, having given in to a “bully” by offering support for the travel and immigration ban from the White House.
The speakers used a less-than-audible megaphone to address the crowd for over an hour — a group of 200, give or take, who stood in a circle around them.
Many of the crowd members held up signs, creating the inevitable reality of those trying to listen to the message on the mike being distracted by a face full of poster board if they wanted to hear the messages.
The sign holders didn’t mind, of course. Toward the end of the event, when a speaker called for all Muslims to come up to the front, two college-aged women, holding up signs, began jumping up and down like they’d been selected to appear on the Price Is Right.
And cameras? Lord, yes, there were cameras.
Every TV station showed, as did the Florida Times-Union, and the coverage was earnest and respectful.
But in that coverage, something was lost: namely, the quixotic nature of going to a local courthouse to protest a national policy.
The local clerk of courts, the local chief judge, and so on — they had nothing to do with Trump’s travel ban.
As the sun began its descent, the protest began to move.
A quick trip to the federal courthouse; because it was already past 5:00, and because a politician didn’t have a hearing that day, there was no one there to see the crowd move.
From there, the protest moved to the front steps of Jacksonville’s city hall, also largely bereft of pols and those who work for them at that point in the day.
That backdrop created the most compelling imagery of the whole event, with the protesters voices echoing through the recessed entry way on the front of the St. James Building, as the two or three security guards who normally work the metal detector came out to look at the spectacle.
However, there were missed opportunities.
If the protest, at that point, was targeting the mayor, then why not issue specific grievances toward his agenda?
Certainly, the attendees all had them.
The ineluctable answer: protests in Jacksonville, for the most part, are localized reactions to national actions. And this was no different.
Mayor Curry’s embrace of the Trump travel ban from those seven countries, out of context, is more shocking than it is when considered in context.
The Republican mayor of a resource starved city, and a former party chair who understands his role as building Jacksonville’s relationship with the White House after eight years in which the Jacksonville mayor and the president didn’t interface, Curry has practical reasons for supporting the White House position — which, say many, is not a complete 180 from travel restrictions and moratoriums in previous administrations.
Additionally, Curry has an affinity for Donald Trump himself.
The mayor appreciates the president’s swagger, and when this outlet asked him about the executive order rollout last weekend, Curry said he didn’t want to talk about the process.
Curry actually defended the Trump administration: ““The intent of the administration is mired in the bureaucracy of big federal government.”
An interesting spin, and one that delineates emotional investment in the outcome.
Protests in this country seem to come and go depending on who is in the White House. In that sense, these outpourings of populist angst are time-sensitive.
There were many protests of American foreign military actions during the Bush 41 and Bush 43 administrations. However, despite the fact that the United States was active militarily on a global level during the Clinton and Obama administrations, the protests mysteriously abated.
In that sense, the protest trend is almost like the comedy of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, each of whom became a lot less funny after Inauguration Day 2009, and never quite recovered.
There is plenty of cause for local action for progressives.
The city’s Democratic Party is about as effective as its public schools.
Many of the Democrats on the city council have more affinity with their district churches and donors than with a progressive platform. Beyond the HRO expansion bill, the only other progressive piece of legislation to be considered lately is Councilman Garrett Dennis filing a bill to fund a position authorized last decade, one which would attempt to ensure equal employment opportunity for underrepresented minority groups.
Meanwhile, the impact of social conservatives is disproportionately felt. And, point of fact, arguably the biggest social conservative in Jacksonville politics is Democratic state representative, Kim Daniels.
On a local level, working through the churches, social conservatives mobilize votes and they scare the hell out of politicians.
Whether one agrees with their viewpoints or not, the folks on the right are formidable opponents, who understand how to leverage their power into legislative action.
The progressive movement in Jacksonville may have been newly “woke” by Donald Trump.
The question the stakeholders will have to consider: is protesting national policies its best use of time, or should the focus be on driving specific, targeted legislative action and pressure to counter the institutional inequities and shortcomings that compelled them to their political positions in the first place?