On Friday (January 20) – as the US swears in its most controversial president to date – Berliners are called to march against “Global Trumpism”. We sat down with Pennsylvania-born socialist Kathleen Brown of Die Linke Berlin International and asked her why not only American citizens but also all progressive Berliners should care and join the demo…
Kathleen, why will you be demonstrating against “Global Trumpism” on Friday?
I’m personally very concerned with the rise of nationalism, and exclusion of minorities, especially Muslim ones, of Islamophobia as mirrored in mainstream American politicians, as well as the more extreme right-wing politicians in Europe. Trump openly said he wants to ban Muslim refugees from entering the United States. People who practice Islam or refugees fleeing from a war are not the problem. The racism used against Muslims is deeply troubling, and the fight against Trump and Trumpism should have that at the centre of it.
Democrats Abroad and your movement Die Linke International, as well as many smaller leftist and pacifist groups, are on board. In the press release you refer to the many movements behind this demo as “The Coalition”. Can you tell us more about this rather Star Wars-sounding movement? How did you get together?
It came out of a demonstration that we organised on November 12. A few individuals that had met on Facebook decided to demonstrate directly after the election. I was one of them. On that day, we had around 2000 people.
That was pretty successful for an improvised demonstration, right?
Oh yeah! It was called with only three days’ notice and we organised it coming off of the internet, meeting each other for the first time, and it really took on the character of a speak-out. People sang, people gave testimony as to what the Trump presidency would mean to them. So it was really an emotional moment. And from there we talked to each other about the need to develop something that extends to the inauguration and then beyond. So this is a broad spectrum of people – Independents and Democrats as well as individuals from Autonomous Anarchists, Die Linke… We’re also getting involvement from the unions as well as Aufstehen gegen Rassismus and then people who have never demonstrated before. It’s really exciting to have people who have never been part of a social movement before come into this and realise that collectively we can do so much.
So what’s on your coalition’s agenda beyond this demo?
We’ll organise a demonstration in Hamburg against the G-20, where Trump will be present. And there have been rumors of Breitbart news offices starting in Berlin and Paris. The whole idea is to raise awareness and try to intervene as much as we can. Other things have been discussed like Deutsche Bank, Beyer, Siemens. We know that many employees have donated to Trump and we also know that Deutsche Bank lent Donald Trump €180 million, so it’s kind of his go-to bank. The Deutsche Bank’s lead economist, David Folkerts Landau, even came out yesterday to say that a Trump presidency is preferred over the status quo.
So this movement is meant to reach beyond this one election and its dejected Democrat voters. Are non-US nationals part of it?
Oh yeah, definitely. And for that we’re looking at how the the political ideas of Trump and the political ideas of AfD and Marine Le Pen overlap. There is definitely a lot of overlap, like the reversion to nationalism and racism and exclusion by either deporting immigrants or stopping refugees from reaching safe harbour. And this is what these parties champion again and again.
You’re starting the march at the AfD headquarters… Is Germany’s right wing populist party part of that “Global Trumpism” you’re talking about?
Well, we’ve come up with this term because we’re trying to grapple with the rise of right-wing nationalism, which seeks to undo particular trade deals or globalisation to a certain extent, but is using the question of immigrants and refugees for scapegoating. For a time after the 2008 economic crisis we had austerity and cuts in social spending, which Germany forced the rest of Europe to bear. But instead of putting that under the microscope and calling for more funding, what AfD and Marine le Pen do is to blame immigrants and refugees. The AfD has been part of that, with Petry’s comment that the borders should be shut or shooting at migrants trying to come in, saying Islam does not belong in Germany… I think we really have to say that this is a distraction. It’s using racism to blame people who are not responsible for the economic crisis and who are fleeing Western bombs – whether Russian bombs in Syria or American bombs in Iraq or Saudi bombs in Yemen.
Do you see a natural unspoken coalition between Europe’s nationalist parties and Trump?
Sure. We know that Le Pen was seen at Trump Tower. And she’s been arguing for “building a new world” against the global elite for nationalism. And ending education for the children of undocumented immigrants. And this anti-immigrant rhetoric is a lie. Yes, there is a repetition in the world over and over again – whether it’s UKIP in the UK or the Dutch Freedom Party. And they all have similarities. Climate change denial – that’s something they share. Reproductive rights are under attack. The idea of women in the home. Just in general, the right-wing’s hostility towards trans people.
Berlin pro-choice groups from Poland and Ireland are also part of the coalition… besides racism, Islamophobia and women’s reproductive rights, which other issues are you looking to address?
I mean, we’ve got climate change, which is a huge issue – especially with Scott Pruitt, a climate change denialist, being nominated for head of the Environmental Protection Agency. And he’s from Oklahoma, which is basically the home of fracking in the United States at the moment, so it‘s very clear at the moment that Trump is accelerating the reversal of regulations and protection. Or for instance Betsy DeVos, who’s the secretary of education and has never gone to a public school – she’s opposed to it. There is also No to War – No to NATO. They’re also part of this, and they’re against the weapons that go to NATO.
Ironically, of the two presidential candidates, Trump was not the most pro-NATO! Which brings me to the cohesion of your coalition. Would you say that Berlin’s Democrats have overcome their internal ‘feuds’? Americans here were strong Bernie Sanders supporters, but disagreed on whether to vote for Hillary Clinton…
Well, Hillary’s response to Trump, with her slogan “America is already great”, rang rather hollow. As a socialist, I disagree with that. The US is not already great: it has incredible income inequality, the world’s largest prison populations, childhood poverty and millions of people lost their wealth in 2008 and haven’t recovered. So it’s not as if Obama’s handing off a country that doesn’t have these huge contradictions. Including police violence and brutality disproportionately affecting people of colour. These things will continue. Trump will accelerate that. So we need to take a longer and broader view.
Seems that everyone is reconciling over their opposition to Trump, though – even Obama seems to be benefiting from it!
Well, certainly what we’re seeing right now is kind of a broad spectrum of opposition. The Democrats have definitely been more accepting of things done under Obama which will not be accepted under Trump. We do have Democrats who voted Hillary or are defending Obama’s legacy. Lisbon’s sister demonstration on Friday is gathering under the slogan “Thanks, Obama”…
So what do you all agree on?
We all agree that Trump will only make things worse, and we all recognise that the world is heading into a direction that is fundamentally dangerous to all of us – whether it is climate change or reproductive rights, or if it’s a question of racism, income inequality – we’re not heading in the right direction. Trump does not represent anything progressive. For all of his populist arguments of taking on the elites, and really trying to win the working class – he does represent the elite, he does represent the one percent. And so this is the big question: How do we shift things? Political education, political panels, there’s marches, there’s the Frauenkampftag. Certainly with the German elections happening in September, it’s just something we need to urgently discuss.
Die Linke will have speakers at the demo, but so will the Greens and the SPD… Do you agree with their policies?
There are problems with centrist parties as well. I mean, there’s the CDU and SPD getting together to deport people to Afghanistan, which is not a safe country, or Merkel’s ban on the burqa. We see reflections of it across the spectrum. Also the way in which the centrist parties are splintering to the left and right: because of right-wing growth, we’re seeing centre parties shift their rhetoric to appease those voters .
So you’re accepting speakers from different parties, but not supporting the parties’ agendas.
At the moment, no. And we’re still in formation. We’ve only been around since late November. We’re at the beginning of this and that we’re trying to get more groups involved and more individuals involved and not just in Berlin or in Germany, but across Europe.
You mentioned the pro-Obama demo in Lisbon; there will be sister demonstrations all across Europe, right?
Yes, in Paris, Madrid, Copenhagen, Madrid, Brussels, Athens… Australia as well. That’s another example. Certainly Australia’s refugee policy is inhumane. So in response to all of this, we need to have solidarity, we need to protect each other, we need to oppose the right’s agenda. And implicitly we need to oppose the agenda of the one percent who are making the decisions. They’re not elected but they get to make these huge decisions about policy.
Are you afraid that you might just be preaching to the choir?
This is the point of our coalition: in Berlin there are a lot of groups, but they’re not always working together. So we want to get everyone to work together and we want to invite new people who have never been a part of it. For me it reminds me a lot of the moment before the invasion of Iraq when we had demonstrations all across the world on February 15, 2003 – in the way that people who maybe don’t consider themselves so political saw themselves becoming involved for the first time. For example, I have an aunt, a solid Democrat, we disagree, but she’s going to the March on Washington. She’s not an activist, but she’s going. The point is let’s get together, build it together, have discussions along the way.
You’ve been in Germany for three and a half years, one and half in Berlin… How would you compare the political activism here to what you’ve experienced in the US.?
What’s really healthy about German politics is that there are more than two political parties. Maybe we have to talk about how effective they are – what have they been able to do? How have they been able to work together, or not? But what I think was so really wonderful was the Willkommenskultur in 2015 when refugees were arriving in Germany. That was something that really heartened me, to see all these people volunteering. I did a little bit in my neighbourhood that said: No! We reject the racism of the right wing. These people do need safe harbour and safe passage. That was really moving for me, and I’d like to see that happen in the US as well. There’s a discussion about what’s called a “sanctuary city” which is something that, when I was living the US in 2016, we tried to implement. It was when lots of deportations of undocumented immigrants were happening. I was living in Burlington, Vermont, home of Bernie Sanders. We managed to get Burlington to become a sanctuary city. Now, then years later, we’re seeing sanctuary cities popping up all across the US, where the police won’t cooperate with immigration authorities to deport people.
Do you think this Merkel’s Willkommenskultur has kept its promises? Germany is deporting so many people right now…
Yeah sure, we’re concerned, and people in Frankfurt have been opposing people being deported to Afghanistan. But this is the connection where the anti-war movement that I was a part of in the US needs to come together with refugee rights. Because people who are fleeing Afghanistan and fleeing Iraq and fleeing Syria, are fleeing war. Because of US intervention, Russian intervention, Iran, Saudi Arabia.
German soldiers are in Afghanistan, and Germany’s selling weapons all over.
Germany is the fourth-largest weapons exporter in the world after the US, Russia and China, so there’s a lot of things that need to be done. I think there’s a lot of potential to shift things in a different direction. If the AfD can get 12 percent in Berlin, it shows there are a lot of people who feel that way. Or the Brexit people… We need to acknowledge the problems and bring different answers. I’m not in defense of the status quo. I think that’s a problem too, the defense of the EU as it exists. Or, in the US, the Democrats who have presided over the status quo for so long. So as we’re developing this movement against Trump, we have an opportunity to talk about the problems right now and offer alternative options for the future.
How many people are you expecting to join at the demonstration?
We hope as many as possible. We were 2000 at the Brandenburg Gate in November, so certainly we’d hope for that. But not everyone in the German left agrees. Some of the older groups are in favour of the US and Russia collaborating, and so they have a more wait-and-see approach with Trump.
Inauguration Day Protest: No To Global Trumpism!, Fri, Jan 20, 17:00 (Afd Berlin Office, Schillstr. 9), 18:00 | Brandenburg Gate, Mitte