‘This nightmare must end’

Fascism protestor
While we’re in an election year, people who can’t take any more of Donald Trump took to the streets of Philadelphia on President’s Day in protest of what they feel is a systemic breakdown of American society as we know it. | Image: Courtenay Harris Bond

On Presidents Day, a motley crew of individuals, holding signs and chanting, “Trump, Pence, out now!” gathered on Independence Mall in response to what they view as a fascist regime.

In fact, the national group, with a local chapter in Philadelphia, calls itself “Refuse Fascism.”

“This is a movement that is open to any and all who share the idea that this regime imperils humanity and the planet, and we can’t sit back and allow that,” said Samantha Goldman, 32, who teaches young children. “No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, you are welcome and needed.”

Goldman, one of the Refuse Fascism organizers, went on to explain that the movement is unified around the belief that Trump has destroyed the rule of law and that the only way to get rid of him is by taking to the streets and engaging in sustained, non-violent protests.

Presidents Day brought a relatively thin crowd, about 30 people; but nonetheless, the Refuse Fascism participants marched around Independence Mall, stopping traffic in the streets, vociferously protesting the current regime and holding signs such as the one Pam Spencer, a senior citizen and educator from Cheltenham carried reading, “This Nightmare Must End: Trump/Pence Must Go!” 

While the mass on hand was sizable for this most recent protest of Refuse Fascism, organizers of the group say numbers have been dwindling and that not enough people are coming out to affect real change. | Image: Damian Lobato

Janet Janka, a senior citizen from New Jersey, held up a sign that read: “Dissent is Patriotic.”

“I’m really doing this for my grandchildren, Janka said. “I can’t sit still without giving voice to their little voices.” 

But despite Refuse Fascism members’ and allies’ devotion to their cause, not enough people are turning out to effect change, several protesters said. 

“If we don’t want that cruel and brutal future represented by Trump and Pence, represented by this whole fascist coalition that’s come together behind Trump, then we need to act now, not waiting for the system to fix itself,” Mark Tinkleman shouted through the megaphone on Presidents Day, wearing a bright orange sweatshirt reading, “#OUTNOW.”

“The system is broken,” Tinkleman, 32, a cook from Philadelphia, said, adding that one of the main goals of the Refuse Fascism movement was to rouse people out of their complacency.

People are under a lot of “misguided illusions,” Tinkleman said later. “One of the illusions is that the system is going to fix itself. … Some of those things might happen but that’s definitely not the direction things are going in.” Another illusion, he added, was that “somebody else is going to take care of it.

“This is a movement that is open to any and all who share the idea that this regime imperils humanity and the planet, and we can’t sit back and allow that.”

– Samantha Goldman, organizer, Refuse Fascism Philadelphia

“All these millions of people who don’t like what Trump is doing, but they’re not there,” Tinkleman lamented. “Fascism is scary to a lot of people. …  A lot of people are really scared of acknowledging it, so I think it’s so important that it’s right up there in the name. If people acknowledge that it is fascism, then the choices that they have in front of them are a little different.”

Eden, 20, a Temple journalism student who only wanted to go by his first name, said that he had been endlessly complaining online about the Trump administration; so when he saw someone handing out pamphlets about Refuse Fascism, he grabbed one, showed up at the next meeting, and “never left.”

The faces of a President’s Day protest of Donald Trump from the local chapter of Refuse Fascism. | Images: Courtenay Harris Bond and Damian Lobato

Now Eden participates in protests, attends organizational meetings, and does outreach – trying to recruit new members.

“I think people should know that we’re not just some crazy people shouting in the corner for no reason,” Eden said. “I think people should join us because without strength in numbers we’re not going anywhere.”

Lindo Jones, a poet who teaches at a number of area schools, said he responded to a Refuse Fascism call for artists, and they allowed him to read his poetry that “activated and brought awareness to the fascist regime of Trump.” 

Jones said it was correct to call Trump a fascist because he is running the government like his personal business rather than something that’s for the people, by the people. For instance, Jones said, Trump had been using the attorney general as his personal lawyer and calling for ICE to police people in ways that were unlawful, among many other “hideous acts that would not be tolerated at another time.”

A poem he wrote for the Refuse Fascism movement reads in part:

“They want to cut family ties, that have been knotted since history/,
With more stories than the tallest building,/
Small, but we are building!/
Brick by brick, from the wall they use to oppress us, to impress upon them!/
We will…/
Resist Hatred”

“People who know better and who believe us and give us the thumbs up – they’re not visible in the streets,” said Koyuki, one of the Refuse Fascism organizers, who only wanted to use her first name. This was a general refrain among members of the movement, that not enough people were standing up and taking action.

That is certainly not true of John Prenis, 72, who said he hoped to enjoy a “quiet retirement” as a computer systems administrator. “But then Trump happened,” Prenis said.I refuse to let Trump cast a shadow over my golden years. So I’m at various marches and rallies carrying signs.”

His neon yellow sign at the Presidents Day protest read, “We refuse a fascist America” on one side and “Lock him up” on the other.

Goldman remains optimistic about the work Refuse Fascism is doing. However, she issued a warning: “The window is closing when we can make a change. There comes a time when it becomes too late, and our future really depends on the actions that we take. We’re living in one of those moments.”

For more information about Refuse Fascism, visit refusefascism.org.

  • Courtenay Harris Bond Headshot

    Courtenay Harris Bond is a Philadelphia-area freelance journalist, who covers behavioral health, social justice, the opioid epidemic, among other topics.

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