In New Brunswick, A Different Kind of Protest

People went on strike against President Donald Trump on Friday at Rutgers University's Voorhees Mall.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — The wind whipped and stung more than it had in weeks as Bob Dylan songs played from a Macbook at Voorhees Mall, Rutgers University’s sweeping lawn off College Avenue.

A handful of people gathered around a rainbow-colored blanket. Near them sat bags of Milano cookies, homemade sandwiches and a batch of ravioli stuffed with spinach and cheese and covered in pesto sauce.

Passersby could’ve almost been forgiven for assuming the get-together was a rare winter picnic. But the anti-Donald Trump and pro-resistance posters strewn about on Friday made clear that this was yet another local demonstration against the new president and his policies.

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Even so, this event—a satellite of the National General Strike—was different than the other booming marches and protests that have taken place in recent months around New Brunswick.

“The idea was not so much to rally or chant about anything,” Laurent Reyes, an organizer of the strike in her first year of Rutgers’ doctorate program in social work, told TAPinto New Brunswick. “It was more about having a conversation, thinking about that this means and what we want to get out of all of these events.”

An activist group called Strike4Democracy had put last week’s demonstration into motion. The plan was for participants to not go to work, school or spend money. The hope, according to the national organizer, was that this event would show their “dissent of unconstitutional governance” under Trump.

As opposed to some of the large marches that have spread through the Hub City, the scene was quiet. Friends joked and laughed and listened to protest music. One person kept warm by knitting a pink hat—the kind made famous by January’s Women’s March on Washington.

By the early afternoon, 20 or so supporters had come to the New Brunswick strike, hung out a bit and left. More were expected to come as the day progressed.

Five people, including two organizers, were busy talking and handing out protest fliers to those walking between Hamilton and Seminary Place.

Some who passed by accepted fliers and signaled their support for the movement.

But others, Reyes said, seemed a bit cold. Maybe they disagreed. Maybe the freezing weather got to them. Or maybe all of the activism in recent weeks had caused them to grow tired and ready for a break.

“Fatigue, for me, is hard to understand because we just got started,” Reyes said. “If you need to take a break and recalibrate before you go out again, do it. But don’t give up.”

Hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. have taken to the streets since Trump’s rise to power. New Brunswick has seen thousands of its residents and Rutgers students do the same.

Indeed, the act has become so popular that some pundits and comedians have dryly claimed that protesting is the new brunch.

This renewed focus on demonstrating is in part what inspired the organizers of the city strike to act. They said Rutgers has proven itself a hotbed of passionate dissidents, and it’s time to better map out the path forward.

“I think we kind of hit this weird tipping point,” Stephanie Mischell, a longtime activist who is studying at the medical school to become an abortion provider, said. “Maybe things had to get so bad for people to wake up to what’s been going on, and what has honestly been going on long before Trump.”

From that angle, these smaller, more intimate gatherings offer a chance to discuss long-term problems in society, the new urgency that activists feel under Trump and where to go from here.

Protesters also get to connect and build friendships when their voices aren’t coarse from yelling and their feet battered from marching.

But regardless of how their message gets out, the strikers at Voorhees Mall said it’s critical that it keeps getting out.

“If it’s needed, I’ll be out here every week,” Mischell said. “But I would really like to think about what else we can be doing—how else we can be thinking about resistance.”

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