[Marxism] Lights for Liberty

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 31 08:06:05 MDT 2019

Washington Post, July 31, 2019
The anti-Trump ‘Lights for Liberty’ events might be the most significant 
protests you’ve never heard of.
By Erica Chenoweth, Tommy Leung, Nathan Perkins and Jeremy Pressman

Two weeks ago, “Lights for Liberty” protests were held throughout the 
country. Their purpose, according to the protest organizers’ main 
website, was “to protest the inhumane conditions faced by migrants” 
detained by the United States at the southern border. These protests 
received limited national media attention, certainly less than the 
Women’s March. But a careful look at the data shows these protests may 
be more significant than one might assume.

1. A decent number of people came out in a lot of places

We counted 696 such protests, including a few in Louisiana that were 
delayed because of the weather, and six pro-Trump counterprotests. They 
took place in all 50 states and Washington. We estimate that 105,154 to 
121,732 people attended them.

That number of participants was not in the same league as, for example, 
the Women’s March or the March for Our Lives. But garnering over 100,000 
participants on relatively short notice in over 600 cities and towns is 
still a notable achievement. Attendance at recent protests against the 
Trump administration has been much more modest, with only around 3,000 
people counted in last month’s rallies supporting impeachment.

Moreover, many of the Lights for Liberty vigils took place outside of 
the largest urban areas, which usually account for a disproportionate 
share of the participants in protests. At the Women’s March in January 
2017, the 10 most populous U.S. cities accounted for 38 percent to 41 
percent of the protesters. At Lights for Liberty, it was only about 21 

It’s also notable that many of the Lights for Liberty vigils were held 
in pro-Trump areas. Although we haven’t done a complete count of how 
many protests occurred in red states or in pro-Trump counties, we found 
many such instances in the data. For instance, in Alabama, where seven 
vigils took place, five were held in counties that Donald Trump carried 
in the 2016 election. Among North Carolina’s 23 vigils, nearly half (11) 
were in counties that voted for Trump in 2016. This is significant 
because it signals committed dissent in places commonly associated with 
supporting his policies. And for protesters in these areas, there’s a 
higher risk of ostracism or retaliation.

2. Place matters

In considering exactly where the protests were held, organizers followed 
past practice and chose visible places that in many cases had symbolic 
meaning. For example, these locations drew attention to immigrant 
detention and to the politicians who could influence policy.

Consider the five sites that were Lights for Liberty’s initial focus and 
held some of the biggest gatherings: in El Paso, at the Santa Fe 
Bridge/Paso del Norte Bridge that links El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, 
Mexico; outside a detention center for migrant children in Homestead, 
Fla.; a march in California’s San Ysidro area to the eastern port of 
border entry; at Foley Square in New York City by a U.S. federal 
courthouse; and in Washington, in Lafayette Square, across from the 
White House.

In Albert Lea, Minn., the vigil was held outside the Freeborn County 
Adult Detention Center, hosted by Families Belong Together, an 
organization associated with June 30, 2018, protests over U.S. migrant 
detention policies. In Columbia, Mo., organizers chose the Boone County 
Jail “to protest Sheriff Carey’s cooperation with ICE to detain 
immigrants for deportation.”

The Lights for Liberty vigils also drew significant support from faith 
communities, so religious buildings, especially churches, were common 
sites for the gatherings. Religious references and biblical verses 
appeared on signs, such as “Jesus was a refugee” and “Immigrants are 
children of God too!” Host locations included the Billings, Mont., First 
Church; the Cherokee Buddhist Temple in St. Louis; the First Baptist 
Church in Beverly, Mass.; and Temple Concord in Binghamton, N.Y.

3. Organizers understood that a protest needs to lead to concrete action

Almost every Lights for Liberty vigil had a Facebook event page. On 
those pages with active discussions, a central theme was what actions 
vigil attendees could take in addition to the vigil. Over and over 
again, organizers and other discussants posted about things such as 
calling members of Congress, supporting new immigrants, donating to 
organizations helping immigrants, and talking with friends about the 
issue. In Tacoma, Wash., participants chanted “No estan solo!” in the 
belief that those detained in the Northwest Detention Center could hear 
them in solidarity.

BeLoved Asheville, running a vigil in Hot Springs, N.C., made the point 
succinctly in a Facebook post that read “We are in a ‘movement not a 

4. The grass-roots activism that has sprung up since Trump was elected 
could help determine whether he gets reelected.

A number of the Lights for Liberty vigils were organized by local 
anti-Trump groups that were established after the 2016 election. Over 
150 people turned out at HB Huddle’s event in Huntington Beach, Calif. 
Action Together Lakewood Area and Indivisible CLE were two of the hosts 
of the 400-500 people who came together in Cleveland. A number of groups 
with Indivisible in their name played a role in vigils.

Political scientists Lara Putnam and Gabriel Perez-Putnam have argued 
that this grass-roots activism mattered in the 2018 midterm election, 
especially in areas that voted for Trump in 2016 but elected Democratic 
House members in 2018. More recently, they laid out the case for the 
possible effect of this organizational infrastructure on 2020.

Now the question is whether organizations translate their activism into 
concrete action — such as voter registration and mobilization — leading 
into 2020.

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Tommy Leung is a software engineer and co-founder of countlove.org, a 
website that documents local news coverage of U.S. protest activity.

Nathan Perkins is a neuroscientist studying motor learning at Boston 
University and fellow co-founder of countlove.org.

Jeremy Pressman (@djpressman) is an associate professor of political 
science and director of Middle East Studies at the University of 
Connecticut. Pressman’s book, “The Sword Is Not Enough: Arabs, Israelis, 
and the Limits of Military Force” (Manchester University Press) will be 
published in early 2020.

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