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Renée Graham

Time to get off our screens and into the streets

Protesters march on the streets against an extradition bill in Hong Kong. June 16.
Protesters march on the streets against an extradition bill in Hong Kong. June 16. (Vincent Yu/AP Photo)

Imagine if one-third of America’s population — more than 100 million people — took to the streets to protest our government’s odious policies.

That’s what’s happening in Hong Kong. More than 2 million of that country’s 7 million residents demonstrated against a bill that would allow extradition, including of political dissidents, to mainland China. They braved tear gas and baton-wielding police officers, yet their resolve was stronger than their fear.

Even after Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, apologized and suspended the bill, people have pledged to continue their protest until all of their demands, including Lam’s resignation, are met. All of this is happening with Chinese officials in Beijing closely watching.

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It’s easy to understand why Hong Kong citizens are in the streets. Harder to comprehend is why the same thing isn’t happening here.

We’re beyond the midway point of the Trump administration, and, in modern times, this nation and our rights have never felt more in peril. On Tuesday, he officially launched his reelection campaign, and it’s a given that he will do absolutely anything to stay in the White House. If Trump turned the 2016 campaign into a dumpster fire, this time we’re facing a cesspool tsunami.

He’s now threatening to deport “millions” of undocumented immigrants next week. “They will be removed as fast as they come in,” by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he tweeted Monday. (ICE officials said they “were not aware that the president planned to divulge their enforcement plans on Twitter.”)

Lambasting immigrants, of course, is how Trump launched his last campaign. We should have recognized his entrance on that down escalator in Trump Tower as the beginning of our nation’s descent into hell. And so it has been for more than two years of his staggering cruelty, stupid posturing, and incompetence. He even continues to drop not-so-subtle hints that if he loses next year, he — or his supporters — may thwart what has always been a peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next.

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If you’ve ever wondered what you would do in a crisis, you’re doing it right now. We are a nation in metastasizing chaos. So why aren’t streets flooded with our discontent?

Yes, there have been marches. During what was billed last Saturday as a nationwide day of action calling for impeachment hearings, there were events in numerous cities.

Most were relatively small. None rated a mention on the same news broadcasts covering Hong Kong’s political upheaval. The pace of our outrage feels glacial.

This isn’t a call for violence — our country already has too much of that. It’s a plea for sustained agitation against an administration that respects the Constitution even less than the truth. Our democracy is being compromised by the man who should be leading this nation, not running it into the ground.

And it’s also a reminder that protests can work.

When South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye, was embroiled in scandal in 2016, citizens began what became known as the “Candlelight Revolution.” Demanding the president’s resignation, the first rally attracted 20,000 people; within six weeks, more than 2.3 million protesters, many holding candles, filled the streets. The weekly protests lasted until Park’s impeachment in March 2017.

And speaking of impeachment, 27 percent of Americans now believe there should be hearings against Trump. That’s a 10-point jump since last month, mostly from Democrats, who are warming to the idea of an impeachment inquiry. I hope the House Democratic leadership is paying attention. They should be mindful of the increasingly thin line between reticence and complicity.

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Audre Lorde, the writer and social justice activist, said, “If I cannot air this pain and alter it, I will surely die of it. That’s the beginning of social protest.” Of course, not every protest yields immediate action, but we need to air our pain and disgust in public, in solidarity and in defiance.

Hong Kong should serve as an inspiration. Millions there are interrupting their days to save their lives and their nation’s future. Protest isn’t just what democracy looks like. It’s the least we can do to protect it from a lawless president who is destroying it with a sledgehammer.

We can’t hashtag our way out of this roiling mess of an administration. Time to get off our screens, and into the streets.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.