President’s Day Protest and Whitesplaining

I attended the “President’s Day Protest” on Monday, and was greeted by over 2,000 people gathered on the Plaza park. The official aim of the national day of protest was to get Trump to release his taxes, but unofficially it was a day to showcase great signs, wear their pussy hats again and relieve a little bit of pent up anger about the upsetting Washington politics.

I arrive a bit late, and find a lamppost to lock my bike up on. As I’m OCD checking the lock a few times, a person across from me riding their bike says “it looks safe to me.”

Leaving my bike and opening my notebook, I dive right into the middle of the crowd.

“… he’s taken his power as president to make law, he’s overstepped his boundaries…”

It’s Professor Edward Cantu speaking, a law professor at UMKC who Carp and I heard at a lecture earlier this year.

“Many of you may think that I am talking about Trump. I mean, that is what this protest is about, right? Trump? I’m not just speaking about Trump, I’m speaking of almost all of our past presidents, including Obama.”

The crowd gets quieter, and you can feel an unease in the air.

Cantu states that he does not believe there was a Muslim Ban, he doesn’t believe Trump is the modern George Wallace, he doesn’t believe Trump is legally entitled to show his taxes and he doesn’t accept that Trump is “not our president”. He’s a law professor, after all.

As a Hispanic man with immigrant heritage, Cantu states he does not feel more threatened now than he did 5 years ago despite all the talk. He concedes that this is probably different for Muslims, though. Why is he concerned though, why is he at this protest?

“I am concerned about the man’s temperament and proclivities. But my main concern stretches before and after this election, and toward the office of the American presidency itself.”

Cantu lectures the crowd, saying that they need to pay more attention to the “boring stuff,” and not just what makes top news.

“I know you came to this protest looking for red meat. And I’m not going to be able to give it to you. Many of you may not like what I’m about to say, but I’m going to say it…”

He then goes on to explain that Obama was blatantly unconstitutional when he created the Executive Order that exempted people from deportation (DACA). Even though this was a positive advance in human rights, it was also an overstepping of his role as president. He was making legislation, which is something that only Congress is supposed to be able to do.

Cantu continues that people like action, and so when the people agree with the president politically, they are okay with the president overstepping his powers to make change happen. And this goes for Trump or Obama supporters.

Trump’s presidency is damaging the liberal agenda, but deeper than that, the continual excess in presidential power is damaging the governmental framework of our country, according to Cantu. He places the blame for this not on the presidents in power, but on the people of America for letting this happen. He invited people to come together across political ideologies, and begin to reign in the presidential power as a system, not as a person (Trump).

The organizers whisper something to Professor Cantu, and he begins to speed up his classroom style lecture.

“What I’m trying to say is that the president can make law without say from Congress, and that is dangerous regardless of what party you align with. That is not how our government was designed to work, its been a slow slide of power with each president taking more liberties than the last. What I’m asking is if maybe we can think about how we might be a part of this system; a part of the problem and hopefully a part of the solution.”

Cantu finishes his speech, with enthusiastic clapping from the radicals in the group, but a murmuring from the rest of the crowd. The rally organizer takes the stage again, and does some clean up work.

“I think Professor Cantu made some great points that we should not only be protesting the current president this President’s Day, but also celebrating all the great presidents that we have had the chance to have in America! Thank you Obama!”

Cantu can be seen behind the podium shaking his head, as his lecture is grossly mis-summarized for crowd appeasement.

I dislike Trump just as much as the next person, and I also think what the professor had to say was extremely important. It might not have been “red meat” or exactly what you want to hear at a protest rally, but it was so necessary to hear. The people who think that Trump is the only problem (and once we can take Trump out everything will be okay) are delusional and possibly dangerous, because they are missing the point. They are using Trump as a scapegoat, while ignoring their own role in society to help elect a man like Trump. It’s dangerous whenever people put all of their hatred toward Trump, but do not realize their own white privilege and imperialistic tendencies in our capitalistic society.

Carp and I visited our friends Anna and Sammy the other night for a few beers. Over the course off the night the discussion turned to local activism, and Pant Suit Nation. Pant Suit Nation is a hugely popular social media group inspired by the fact that Hillary Clinton always wore pant suits. The social media group became a space for sharing stories of solidarity around feminism and liberal causes.

Pantsuit Nation is also an example of the problems we still have in the liberal community. According to the Huffington Post, Pantsuit Nation is not acting on their ideologies of inclusivity:

The mantra of “Everyone is welcome here” morphed into “Why are you ruining this environment by attacking our sisterhood?” There was a lot of whitesplaining in the comments section (I cannot tell you how many times I saw something like “If you actually read the post, you would see she explains all of that”). Every time a Black or Latinx person raised an objection, white women piled on with insults and general dismissal.

Um. Do you not get it people? If you believe that women constantly judged more harshly than men, how does it not translate to race? How do you not see that you yourself are using your white privilege and imperialistic tendencies to shut out people of color’s voices that are so important to the movement if it is to succeed? And you’re doing exactly what you are supposedly fighting against!

I ask Sammy what are we going to do about all of this? What will stop this tide of whitesplaining women taking leadership in America. What will it take to get them to listen to people of color and other marginalized groups?

They already think they are listening, but what they are doing is tokenism. They are finding people of different colors to sit at the table, but they are not listening to what the people of color have to say, which makes it almost worse than just not inviting diversity in the first place.

I think what we are in right now is the messy transition from 2nd wave feminism to 3rd wave feminism. We’ve got the ideas, we’re talking about intersectionality (the need for all social justice movements to work together to achieve real change) more often, but we still don’t get it as a nation. Which baffles me, because all it really means is listening to others and recognizing and checking your own privilege.

The Huffington Post continues that Pantsuit Nation has become just the same as the worst of the “colorblind” generation.

“It is another apolitical neoliberal project, more interested in selling feel-good passivity than making concrete sociopolitical change. There is no attempt to elect women to office, no movement to repeal Trump’s policies.”

I have seen this “whitesplaining” (“to explain or comment on something in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner, from the perspective of the group one identifies with) happening here within supposedly progressive groups in Kansas City. And I’m still not sure what to make of it all, or how to get the message across that these movements need to listen to other perspectives. So I am going to just keep focusing on myself, and try to not be that annoying, tunnel visioned white person who has all the answers about the world.

I leave the President’s Day Protest to the chants of, “We Need a Leader, Not a Creepy Tweeter” by the thousands. There many more speakers after Professor Cantu, and most of them were giving the crowd the red meat that they wanted. Which I think is important. We need to be pissed. But the thing is, we should always be pissed at our government. And we should always be rallying in the streets, at least as long as things continue the way that they always have in America.

Originally published at on February 22, 2017.

midwestern librarian, writer, activist. subscribe —

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