WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Monday, three activists from Ithaca traveled to Washington D.C., where they attempted to blockade the entrance to a conference where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was speaking.
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Trump was speaking at the annual conference of AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, at which several presidential candidates spoke.
The three Ithaca residents, Ariel Gold, Amber Gilewski and Beth Harris, blocked the sidewalk entrance to the venue during Trump’s speech. According to a press release from the group, the goal was “to express opposition to Trump’s hateful rhetoric toward Muslims, immigrants, women and more and AIPAC’s unquestioning support of Israel’s military occupation of Palestine.”
“We were protesting both Trump’s hate rhetoric as well as AIPAC… and recognizing that those two are really connected. Many of the policies that trump is proposing are already in place in Israel- Palestine,” said Ariel Gold. Gold is a protest organizer for CODEPINK, a feminist activist group opposed to militarization and war.
“One of the reasons it’s so compelling right now is because we’re in this kind of… proto-fascist movement that’s around the elections and it’s also pervasive in Israel, too, in another context. It’s an extremely urgent situation,” said Harris, a former Ithaca College professor of politics, noting the similarities between the climate created by Trump and the one that preceded Hitler’s rise in Germany.
Tense, but peaceful protest
The protest had been ongoing in various forms for two days, including marches and other blockades. During the time of Trump’s speech, Gold was clear that their goal was to prevent attendees form entering.
The activists said that there was a certain air of “lightness” for both the protesters and attendees, despite the heavy issues at hand and the close proximity of the protesters and attendees. Harris said that attendees would sometimes try and drown out the protester’s speeches with songs, but it was never “mean-spirited.”
“I would say the only time it got contentious was during the sit-in blockade, then it was somewhat contentious between us and the police,” said Gold.
She explained that five people, including the three Ithacans, sat down covering the sidewalk, and the police immediately tried to push them back and create a line for the attendees to move through.
Gold said she then move to attempt to try and cover more space. “There was a time when they had their knee quite forcefully in my back. They also picked me up on numerous occasions and threw me back toward the ground where I was caught by fellow protesters.”
Gold continued to persist, eventually essentially laying down in the middle of the sidewalk. The police, she says, told the attendees to just step over her.
“I think at that point the police were basically giving up on that… it was quite an absurd scene, I would say,” Gold said. “Which really was actually a somewhat dangerous situation, with an opposing group walking over me… I was quite shocked.”
Harris acknowledged that the police have a difficult job, because they don’t really want to arrest the protesters, but they also need to prevent a blockade.
Eventually, the police established a police barricade and said that anyone who crossed it would be arrested. Gold did, and was promptly arrested while police moved to block any other protesters from doing the same.
According to Gold, the situation was essentially disarmed with her arrest and tensions lowered. She said she actually had an opportunity to speak with some of the officers and have open conversations about Trump, AIPAC, and the Israel-Palestine conflict.
She said she was charged with crossing a police line, and was processed quickly and respectfully. This isn’t the first time Gold was arrested — along with Harris she had also been arrested at last years AIPAC, as reported by The Ithacan.
Asked her response to the common criticism that blockading Trump events only feeds the anger of his supporters, Gold disagreed.
“I think it’s the opposite. I think we’re part of a rapidly growing movement to say no to this type of blatant rhetoric which is… unique among the candidates,” Gold explained. “The specific rhetoric of Trump, the misogyny and the overt racism is its own rise and there’s this massively growing movement to stand up to that and work for justice. It prevents the allowing of this dangerous, dangerous force.”
She added that she felt hope and solidarity seeing the first Trump rally was shut down in Chicago, likening it to feeling of solidarity during the protests in Ithaca following the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
“We’re at a very dangerous point,” Harris said. “If we just let this continue, this kind of mobilization, then we’re complicit in getting this racist, islamaphobic, right-wing regime.”
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