In the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to dismiss former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, more than 400 students, faculty and city residents marched through Ann Arbor streets Thursday night to protest the president’s announcement and show support for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
On Wednesday, the day after the midterm elections, President Trump replaced Sessions with Sessions’s former Chief of Staff Matthew Whitaker. According to national news outlets, Trump had reportedly been disgruntled with Sessions for numerous months, after Sessions recused himself from the Department of Justice investigation into Trump’s potential ties to Russia. Sessions’s recusal had left Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein in charge of the investigation. Rosenstein was responsible for appointing Special Counsel Robert Mueller to the case.
The march was organized and led by Stop Trump Ann Arbor, an organization created in the wake of the 2016 election to protest against Trump’s policies. Thousands of other protests were staged across the country in a display of solidarity with Mueller’s investigation. The Ann Arbor march started at the Federal Building on East Liberty Street, before crossing the Diag, around in front of the University Museum of Modern Art and back to the Federal Building.
The protest began with a number of speakers outside of the Federal Building in front of a crowd packed with anti-Trump and pro-Mueller signs. Most of the speakers touched on issues relating to Trump’s perceived misuses of power or his hostility toward women, minorities and immigrants. After the speeches concluded, protest organizers lead the group to the Diag and back, flanked by police cars. Once the march made it back to the Federal Building, the organizers held an open mic, allowing any of the protesters to come and speak before the event concluded.
Adam Nash, one of the leaders of Stop Trump Ann Arbor and a march organizer, said he thought the march was a good start to opposing Trump’s actions through organizing. However, he also said there was still more to do, and going forward, this wasn’t simply about voting in the 2018 midterm elections or participating in one march.
“I feel like people are realizing that we can’t just vote in the right people and trust them to do the right thing,” Nash said. “That was reflected in the open mic, when people came up, and the spontaneous chants people started, like ‘Let Mueller do his job, or we’ll give Trump his angry mob,’ that’s pretty good. I don’t know if it’s radical, but I feel like people are waking up.”
Nash continued on to say he knows a single protest wouldn’t reshape anything, but numerous marches and innovative new tactics could be extremely effective in creating change. He also stressed how it is more difficult for the government to ignore large demonstrations, as opposed to a single march. He additionally commended the role University of Michigan students and faculty have taken in past protests and said he called on them to continue protesting innovatively.
“The entrenched power structures have learned how to weather one day of protests, they’re good at that,” Nash said. “The unprecedented-ness of this will wake a lot of people up and the unity of the people who came out will motivate them to continue resisting … Historically U-M students and teachers have lead the way in resistance. The teach-in was invented here at the U-M campus and I want to see more of that … If there’s something new, entrenched power structures won’t know how to respond to that. We need diversity of tactics.”
March leader Jessica Prozinski said she felt the march was a success and a win for democracy.
“I think that we did exactly what we needed to do when we needed to do it,” Prozinski said. “I’m looking forward to going home and seeing what the protests looked like all across the country. I think that this was a good protest because it was very democratic, we had the open mic at the end. I feel like people in Ann Arbor got a chance to have their voices heard.”
She also likened the methodology of the movement to that of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, saying she felt voting was not enough and protesting was also essential to fighting for progress.
“We need to keep this movement going,” Prozinski said. “And people keep asking, ‘What’s next,’ or ‘What’s tomorrow?’ To be honest, to a certain extent we don’t know. But we know that we need to stay active and we need to keep coming out into the streets. Voting is not enough … We are trying to build a mass direct action movement, to change things beyond the ballot box, not within the confines of the approved, strictly voting-based system.”
LSA sophomore Zac Kolbusz said he came to the protest because he felt it was important to stand up to injustices, and the best way to do that was through protesting. He also called upon other students to join the movement as well.
“We live in a nation where our laws and our constitution have been compromised by a complicit (Republican Party),” Kolbusz said. “As students, we have a responsibility to stand up for our future, and to stand up for people marginalized by this campus, and the only way we can do that is through mass mobilization. I’d like to call on students to mobilize, to participate in something bigger than they are, and to protect what they can while they still can do it.”
In addition to organizers and students, Ann Arbor residents joined the demonstration to convey their thoughts about the president’s decision to effectively fire Sessions. Ann Arbor resident Dave Schlenker said he felt Trump was a fascist, and people needed to prevent Trump from weakening the investigation against himself.
“I’m with the anti-fascists and Trump is a fascist,” Schlenker said. “He’s blatantly and flagrantly abusing his power to try and appoint crony people who will do his bidding, essentially. He’s trying to defend himself from investigation but we’re not going to let that happen. Hopeful,ly Whittaker recuses himself or resigns, obviously. Best case scenario, the laws in place as they are written, Rod Rosenstein gets put in the attorney general position and continues the investigation.”
After the first protest Thursday, the organization announced they have a second protest planned for 12 p.m. on Friday at the Diag.