Smith and Carlos did our campus and our country proud when standing on the stage of medal winners in their track and field events, they raised their arms black-glove fisted in symbolic solidarity to elevate the conscious of the world to the plight of people of color in the United States.
“That’s totally amazing,” shouted the student. “Now I really have to talk with you about history.”
Since I heard about the erection of the statue since my previous visit, I ask her to direct me to it, which she did. I left her and promised to see her again at the rally later that evening.
Chills of pride and remembrance overtook me upon approaching the statue honoring two of our most notable alumni. I had the privilege of hearing John Carlos speak at Iowa State University quite recently when I served there as an associate professor.
Following his presentation summarizing the events surrounding the 1968 Olympics through his continuing civil and human rights work, I walked up to him and introduced myself as one of his admiring classmates. We reminisced briefly of these times, and the events that have since transpired.
At the student rally with the statue as the backdrop that evening, SJSU Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Kathleen Wong, spoke first to the large crown, comprising many hundred activists. Dr. Wong asked us to form into group circles of about 10 people. She gave us the charge of each person going around introducing themselves, and expressing what they are feeling about the election.
I found this actively particularly important and poignant, especially since the election was decided only the previous day, and people had been experiencing a range of emotions. Before we can take effective actions, we must first process our feelings. I believe this is true in all areas of our lives, especially in cases of traumatizing events. One such event for many of us was the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States. I shiver even typing those words.
In our circle, we introduced ourselves. When it was her turn, a Latina student angrily declared that “I am so sick and tired of trying to teach white people about racism.”
I took a risk and said to her, “It is not your job teach white people. That is my job and the job of other white people.”
With a surprised expression turning to shock, and then tears forming in her eyes, she looked at me and said, “Wow, thank you. That’s the first time I ever heard a white person say that.”
I continued, “It’s the job of white people to teach other white people about racism. It’s the job of men to teach other men about sexism. It’s the job of heterosexuals to teach other heterosexuals about homophobia. And so on for all the many forms of oppression.”
“Yes, yes,” cried other students in the circle. A major theme most students brought up was that until the election, they had not been “political” and were “uninterested.” The election of Trump, however, was a loud and clear wake-up call. Each student committed to process their feelings and to take actions from then forward.
Dr. Wong then moved the crown to a corner of the plaza beneath bright light for the open-mic session of the rally. Within the series of moving and inspiring speakers was an undocumented student who vowed never again to live in the shadows blanketed by the fear of deportation. He along with his peers vowed to help and shelter one another from what may lay ahead in the next period of time.
Attending this protest rally that evening, I finally understood the symbolic meaning of my vision of the sorcerer’s apprentice while I was inflight. Donald Trump is the personification of the unqualified political novice, the dangerous sorcerer on The Apprentice who mystified many voters by dumping wooden pails of venom across the landscape and ultimately exposing a partially submerged tidal flow of bigotry across the land.
Donald Trump, however, is no Mickey Mouse, and the United States is not Fantasia. Trump did not simply hold great number, though fortunately not a majority, under his hypnotic spell. No, not at all. Trump astutely perceived the undercurrents as well as the surface molten lava flows of resentment – not only of the massive economic divisions and disparities that Bernie Sanders gave voice – but also the fear and resentment by many white people of the changing complexion of the population.
Bernie, on the one hand, fashioned a movement to empower the disposed. Trump, on the other hand, exploited the fear and resentment of many to feed his own insatiable narcissism and lust for power and celebrity. By so doing, Trump brought out the worst in people.
From that first day he descended the escalator in his tower of gold, with head raised arrogantly forward as he held court at his press conference announcing his run for the presidency, Trump tossed down the bodies of Mexican people, as if they were red Trump steaks, as his initial stepping stones on his long and brutal march to the White House.
Throughout the remainder of his jaunt, he stepped over the bodies of Muslims, Jews, all women, black people, Latinx people of all nations, activists in Black Lives Matter since they did not matter to him, people with disabilities, bodies that did not fulfill his rigid standards of female beauty, prisoners of war, the military in general and military generals whom he knows more about how to defeat ISIS, women who have the audacity to fight to control their own bodies and their own lives, couples in same-sex relationships, invading “alien” immigrants, dreamers, in fact, anyone and everyone who disagree with or criticizes him.
Eventually, however, the apprentice’s powers tend to turn on the apprentice. In the immortal words of anti-slavery activist and writer, Frederick Douglass:
“No man can put a chain about the ankle of another man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.”
The most exciting and positive result to come from the election is the spark igniting the newest iteration of the youth movement. They represent the dynamic force, the experienced sorcerer of Fantasia, who steps up and drains the flood, removes debris, and restores us to a semblance of stasis.
With Trump’s blaring Islamophobia and dog whistle anti-Semitism, plus his racism, misogyny, and ableism throughout his campaign, and now with white nationalist Steve Bannon’s ascension as Trump’s chief policy advisor bringing his blatant anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim, racist, misogynist pronouncements and actions, now is the time for further and enhanced alliances between U.S. Muslims and Jews, people of color, women, and people with disabilities, and people of all socioeconomic classes to work together for common interests. And in the formation of these coalitions, I see young people leading the way.