Anti-Trump group riven by debate over mandating non-violence

An anti-Trump student group at The George Washington University was disbanded after a disagreement on whether to include a non-violence clause in its mission statement.

According to The GW Hatchet, the GW Coalition for Intersectional Justice held its first meeting on November 10, bringing together members of at least 25 student organizations for the explicit purpose of resisting the policies of Donald Trump.

The coalition splintered at its second meeting on Nov. 20, however, over the question of whether to mandate nonviolence or condone behaviors like flag burning and practicing “self-defense” in potential altercations with Trump supporters.

The now-defunct group had intended to protest the new administration’s policies through “teach-ins” and other on-campus demonstrations, even organizing a march on the White House during its short-lived existence.

[RELATED: GW progressives march on WH, issue list of demands]

The non-violence clause was proposed by a member of the Mexican Students Association, who said his group had joined the coalition to “convey disagreement on how the new administration was going to act towards undocumented individuals,” but feared that violent behavior would create negative perceptions of the movement.

“We didn’t want this protest to be either violent or misconstrued to be violent,” Jesus Montes, director of communications for the MSA, explained to the Hatchet. “We didn’t want our organization or GW to be defaced if something were to happen.”

The proposal sparked intense debate within the anti-Trump coalition, with some members arguing that protesters should be able to use self-defense if attacked by a Trump supporters, while others pointed out that the clause would insulate the group from fallout in the event that a rogue protester became violent during one of its demonstrations.

Discussions of flag burnings were also brought up at the meeting by some students, although the idea did not receive wide support.

[RELATED: ‘American’ students burn Old Glory to protest Trump]

According to documents obtained by the Hatchet, the draft of the group’s mission statement stated that CIJ “rejects the past, present, and future normalization of discrimination and violence in all forms against marginalized people”. There was also a note regarding the need for the addition of “nonviolent active resistance” in the statement, though that wording was not formally included in the statement.

A member of GW’S Progressive Student Union, one of the groups present at these initial CIJ meetings, told Campus Reform that the Hatchet article is “a bit misguided,” asserting that the coalition was simply too unwieldy due to its large size.

“They seem to try to frame this nonviolence clause as a key reason for the dissolution of the coalition,” said Ian O’Kelley, a member of the PSU Coordinating Committee. “However, to the knowledge of PSU's Coordinating Committee, the introduction of a nonviolence clause wasn't largely influential in the dissolution of the coalition. So much so that many of us don't even remember it being a topic of discussion”.

He disputed the Hatchet’s claim that the group disbanded because of the nonviolence clause, countering that “from our point of view, it seemed to be more so the inherent struggles that come with organizing a coalition that large (with such diverse interests) that caused it to collapse under its own weight.”

Campus Reform sought additional comment from the Mexican Student Association, but did not receive a reply in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @kara_kirsten