It’s sort of a running joke in Albuquerque that Civic Plaza is a terrible place to hold a political rally. Civic Plaza is a couple of acres of drab concrete mall tucked away amongst equally drab concrete government buildings several blocks off the main drag. The vast space swallows up most gatherings and the brutalist design aesthetic of the complex limits its appeal for all but the occasional skateboarding teen. Mainly, it just sits silent, windswept, and empty.
That made it all the more jaw dropping on January 21st rounding the corner to see the wall of humanity packing the plaza from end to end. Thousands of people trekked through the driving sleet, descending on Civic Plaza from all corners of the city to join the protest. They came decked out in pink hats, children carried on their shoulders, and brandishing signs with slogans like, “We are The Resistance,” “Fight like a girl,” and “We the people are greater than fear.”
Similar scenes played out in Santa Fe, where 10,000 people took to the snowy streets, marching from the plaza to the Roundhouse, and in Las Cruces where more than 1,500 gathered in the plaza. Even in the sleepy conservative town of Portales, more than 70 people showed up to protest. In Gila, NM—population 314—some defiant soul reportedly staged a protest of one.
These gatherings were part of the 2017 Women’s March—the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. The day after Donald Trump, a man whose campaign was defined by overt misogyny, xenophobia, and racism, was inaugurated as President of the United States, nearly five million people rose up in communities large and small to resist his un-American agenda.
The Trump administration wasted no time in turning its prejudice into policy. Just days after millions of Americans marched in the streets to protest his agenda, President Trump signed a flurry of executive orders, including a blanket travel ban against people from seven majority-Muslim nations.
Dramatic scenes unfolded in international airports across the nation, as people from the banned nations learned that their visas had been revoked mid-flight and were now trapped in the airports. The ACLU sprang into action, following a game plan that had been developed months in advance for just this contingency. We immediately deployed attorneys to JFK International Airport and filed a barrage of lawsuits on behalf of the stranded flyers, quickly securing a temporary restraining order that blocked the Muslim ban from continuing into effect.
“No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!”
While the ACLU found clients and prepped lawsuits inside JFK, thousands of people gathered to protest the Muslim ban outside. Soon the mass protests spread to other airports across the nation where travelers and refugees were also trapped. In Albuquerque, more than a thousand people marched in solidarity to the International Sunport, packing two levels of the concourse, and made the airport echo with chants of “No ban, no wall, Albuquerque is for all!” and “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!”
In the face of such blatant injustice and discrimination, people’s resistance has been urgent and palpable. It’s not enough to just sound off on social media—people want to do something. They want to get their hands dirty, get involved, and rise to the moment. A new generation of activists is rising up, and they’re ready to fight.
One of the first things many people did was join the ACLU, swelling national ACLU membership to more than 1.6 million and tripling membership in New Mexico to more than 12,000 people statewide. Beyond signing up as members, hundreds of New Mexicans came forward to volunteer with the ACLU ready to do their part in the resistance.
We are inspired by the passion and energy we see in our members and out in our communities, and we’re putting that passion to work.
Historically, grassroots organizing hasn’t been a big focus for the ACLU, but this kind of opportunity only comes once in a lifetime. We are inspired by the passion and energy we see in our members and out in our communities, and we’re putting that passion to work. We’ve already hired an extra organizer to help us harness the collective power of ACLU supporters in New Mexico, and use it to fight for justice and equality in our state. During the 2017 New Mexico legislative session, the ACLU of New Mexico mobilized this new army of volunteers to reach out to their legislators on key civil liberties issues and even testify in legislative committee hearings.
The ACLU of New Mexico has also built a network of volunteer attorneys who are preparing to defend New Mexico’s Muslim community should President Trump make good on his campaign threat to create a national Muslim registry. A similar registration scheme called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) was enacted under President George W. Bush post-9/11. At its height, more than 138,000 individuals were registered through the program and more than 83,000 Muslims were interviewed in-person by the FBI and other federal agents. Of these, at least 13,153 were ultimately placed into deportation proceedings.
The ACLU is organizing grassroots activism at the national level as well. The national ACLU hired a group of digital organizers to help build and launch a major new grassroots mobilization platform called “People Power.” On March 11, over 200,000 people at more than 2,200 gatherings around the nation, including dozens right here in New Mexico, tuned in to the inaugural people power event, which livestreamed from Miami.
During this first resistance training, the ACLU provided a roadmap for creating “Freedom Cities” all over the country. As part of this Freedom Cities campaign, the ACLU has developed model local policies that will help ensure that our communities are safe and welcoming for LGBT people, Muslims, immigrants, and other vulnerable communities threatened by the Trump administration. The idea is that all these local People Power groups, armed with strategic advice, advocacy tools, and model policies from the ACLU, can take the fight to their own cities and neighborhoods.
And that’s where this battle is going to be fought and won: right here in our own backyards. It will be won in our neighborhoods, in our towns, in our courts, and in our legislatures because that’s where we are. We the people. We the Muslims, the immigrants, the women, the transgender people, all of us. It is easy to feel discouraged sometimes when the problems and the threats feel so big. But together, we’re big too. We’ve already thrown the Trump administration back on its heels with our mass protests, ground his discriminatory executive orders to a halt with our lawsuits, and put the fear of God into our elected leaders at town halls by making them stand in accountability for their actions. Now collectively as ACLU members and as Americans, we are fighting our way inch by inch away from the edge of the precipice towards a future where the values of freedom, equality, and fairness are at the very center of our politics, our culture, and our communities. It’s going to be a long, hard fight. There will be setbacks, and victory will not come easy. But we are prepared, we are relentless, and we rise up stronger every day.
Welcome to the leading edge of the resistance.