THE CHALLENGE OF THE ANTI-TRUMP ZINE AT A PRO-TRUMP RALLY
by Jason Luther
Last April, friends and community organizers in Syracuse, N.Y. were mobilizing — like so many others in the US — to protest an impending Trump campaign rally at our downtown civic center. Leading up to it, they were promoting sabotage tactics like going online to claim admission vouchers so that campaign managers would think the venue was sold out; they were also encouraging people to come downtown for direct action the morning of the rally. I wasn’t sure if I could make it down to support it, so feeling badly, I made the zine and posted the pdf version on the Facebook pages of the community organizations involved.
In hindsight, there were really two goals with the design. One was kind of obvious: to make the zine as simple as possible so that others could print/copy and fold them from their own homes/offices. But then there was a second goal, which was more complicated: how to make the hand-to-hand distribution effective but safe. I wanted to somehow get Trump supporters to reflect upon their choices, especially in terms of how their support of this sexist, racist, xenophobic candidate might actually be at odds with their other values — but I also wanted to do this peaceably. From what I remember, I made the content as I went along, considering especially what I found most repulsive about Trump’s ethos. So I began to screen-grab willy nilly from several listicles on his worst tweets, chopping them down to 6, and pasting those images into a template. Thinking that supporters would maybe feel enthused (or at least ambivalent) about these tweets, I had the idea of using the back of the zine to flip the content. Thinking that my own voice we be interpreted as typical liberal sermonizing, I pasted the US government’s coordinated attempt to stop the same kind of bullying, incendiary rhetoric that the president-elect was propagating in his campaign. The idea was that by the time supporters put it all together, I (or the distributor) would be long lost in the crowd. In theory, anyway.
As it turned out, I was able to make to the rally and I brought 30 or so zines with me. The two crowds were separated by a city street, which served as a buffer, with Trump supporters on one side, protesters on the other, and the cops in between. For me, this led to a peaceful protest, but emphasized the division — a few Trump supporters were flipping off the protesters from their side, calling them names and such. Protesters had signs and banged drums. When I first arrived, I talked with friends and gave them a few zines, but I was really trying to work up the courage to cross the street and pass my zines out. But by the time I got to the other side, most of the crowd was already in the civic center. I had my admission voucher with me so I decided to go in alone, which was a mistake. Not having the guts to pass these out, I ended up going in-and-out of the men’s room, dropping zines near urinals and sinks. There weren’t any other places to drop them and the place was very much surveilled. Once the rally started, I saw some of my comrades dragged out of the civic center from the other side and I remember wishing I was with them.
Although I would love to say that the zines made a difference, I think it actually reminded me of the importance of coalitional tactics when it comes to public protest. This will be so so important in what are sure to be dark days ahead in the U.S. Zines can and should play a role in that work, as long as they can be made and distributed in the name of solidarity.
Jason Luther is a writer and teacher currently finishing a PhD in the Composition & Cultural Rhetoric doctoral program at Syracuse University. He contributes zine reviews regularly to Broken Pencil.