On the afternoon of Monday, November 25th, members of University of Maryland, Baltimore County YDSA found out that the First Lady Melania Trump would be on campus the following day to speak at a youth summit on opioid abuse. Within 24 hours we had planned and executed a protest against the Drug War and in support of Medicare for All.
Before the event began, several dozen protestors, including members of UMBC YDSA, congregated outside the event. Local high school and middle school students who had come to campus for the summit joined us in protest chants and even began chanting independently of us when they moved away from the protest. We gave them fliers about Medicare for All and the Drug War, which they took enthusiastically. These students would then go on to boo Trump during her speech, which gained national press attention and trended on Twitter briefly.
We ran into a single spot of trouble when a counter protester wearing a MAGA hat and sweatshirt approached the protest demanding a debate. We explained that this was not the time nor place for a debate, which upset him. He shouted loudly that we were intolerant and violent. After he failed to get the reaction he wanted, he turned violent himself. He attacked a protester, and was stopped by other protesters who deescalated the situation A short while later he attacked a different protester, throwing a punch before anyone could intervene. He fled after his second attack attracted the attention of the press and other protesters.
UMBC YDSA is glad that no one was seriously hurt, and we are proud of the energy and initiative shown by our community and chapter members in organizing a protest on such short notice that would go on to get national press coverage. We hope that we can help to make UMBC a place where students are unafraid to advocate publicly for the poor and marginalized and that campus administration takes bold steps to ensure political violence has no place in our community.
Below is the statement that UMBC YDSA read to the press at the protest:
For immediate release:
We are the UMBC chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America and we are here today to protest the hypocrisy of having Melania Trump as a representative of the White House speak against the opioid crisis that has been perpetuated by that same White House.
The opioid crisis was created by the neoliberal policies of former administrations and has only worsened under the Trump administration. The War on Drugs began as a racist effort to imprison targeted minorities, and continues to devastate marginalized groups to this day. The First Lady is complicit in the deaths of countless people caused by the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, which were made possible by Trump’s massive tax cuts for corporations. This event offers mere platitudes about personal responsibility in the face of institutionalized violence against people of color.
Today, we are rallying for a solution in the form of Medicare for All, a policy that would provide justice for the victims of the War on Drugs. We are calling for the DEA to be abolished as we move towards the decriminalization of drugs including opiates and marijuana. Addiction is a disease, and every human being deserves the right to a safe environment to recover instead of the cold metal of a prison cell. For far too long, corporations have profited off of the suffering of others, and it’s time to take a stand against a system that would rather imprison its people than work to heal them.
The university has neglected to inform the student body about this event despite the disruption to campus activities and student safety it would necessarily cause. In addition to safety concerns, everything about this event contradicts the supposedly progressive nature of UMBC as an institution. It speaks volumes that the university would quietly host a prominent member of the Trump administration while White House policies actively harm members of the Baltimore community.
This event is blatant propaganda meant to celebrate the heinous consequences of the prison industrial complex, and we cannot allow it to continue unopposed in good conscience. As part of an ongoing effort to end the War on Drugs, we must push to end these DARE-style programs and work towards legitimate solutions to the opiate crisis.
Nate Stewart is a founding member and chair of UMBC YDSA, a member of the YDSA NPEC, and an editor of The Activist. He is a senior studying philosophy and global studies.
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