Community members surrounded the R.I. State House late Thursday afternoon to denounce President Trump’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general. Over 900 other demonstrations took place across the country to protest the appointment as an obstruction to the investigation of Trump’s relationship with Russia, said rally organizer and IndivisibleRI founder Andy Acciaioli.
In collaboration with national progressive advocacy group MoveOn, Indivisible — a volunteer collective with over 6,000 chapters — planned the Providence rally late Wednesday after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions accepted Trump’s request to resign, Acciaioli told The Herald.
Following Sessions’ resignation, Whitaker is now in charge of Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia. In a CNN op-ed originally published Aug. 6, 2017, Whitaker publicly criticized the probe for “going too far.”
As acting attorney general, Whitaker will likely either stop the investigation or defund it, said Assistant Executive Director of IndivisibleRI Shawna Rihani. Whitaker’s public defense of Trump demonstrates that he is a “Trump loyalist,” she added.
“Mueller could get fired tomorrow,” Rihani said from the steps of the State House. “We are on the cusp of a national emergency, and it is our responsibility to make our voices heard.”
Rally attendees shouted “Lock him up” — a jab at Trump’s 2016 campaign chant about then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — and thrust signs into the air, some of which read “No One is Above The Law” and “Innocent Presidents Don’t Act This Way! PROTECT MUELLER INVESTIGATION.”
IndivisibleRI Area Director Kamila Barzykowkski called for Whitaker to recuse himself from the investigation to keep Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in control of the probe. She also demanded that the Senate pass special protections to safeguard the investigation, such as the one Sens. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, and Chris Coons, D-DE, are planning to introduce.
“We are here today to … tell the Republican Senate (that) to remain silent is no longer an option,” Barzykowkski said. “They must obey their oaths to protect our Constitution.”
In between speeches, IndivisibleRI Advisory Board Member Steven Beleaus played the guitar and sang songs that underscored the rally’s focus, including “Heart of God” by Neil Young and a modified rendition of “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. “There’s an obstruction of justice comin’, we’re finally on our own. This feels a lot like Nixon,” Beleaus sang.
“When Donald Trump moves to set himself above the rule of law, he is eroding our model of democratic governance,” said State Rep. Aaron Regunberg ’12. “Trump and the Republican party’s cabals of white supremacy and oligarchy are taking steps not just to drag us back further toward the oppression and inequality we’ve been fighting against since our founding, … but they’re actually moving to attack … the fundamental tools that we need to continue this American project.”
Philip Graham, IndivisibleRI advisory board member, encouraged protesters to celebrate the results of the midterm elections — Democrats now have control of the House of Representatives — but urged Democrats to begin organizing to flip Senate seats in 2020, calling for voters to oust senators such as Sens. Susan Collins, R-ME, and Cory Gardner, R-CO.
“We won one, but we’re not done, … 2020, here we come,” Graham chanted with the crowd.
While R.I. residents may take to calling their senators, they should push constituents in red states to organize, since Sens. Jack Reed, D-RI, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, already support efforts to protect the Mueller investigation, Acciaioli said.
“Our democracy is in danger,” protester Walter Reice told The Herald. “The investigation should take its course, and the American people should be informed of what (Mueller) finds.”
Other protesters pointed to the confirmation process of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford and multiple other women, as evidence of a lack of integrity in public life. Rally attendee Ella Fitzgerald held a “BELIEVE SURVIVORS” sign and told The Herald, “I don’t know if I can have complete faith in the Federal Bureau of Investigation based on their interviewing process of Dr. Ford.”
Looking forward, Acciaioli anticipates IndivisibleRI will join other Indivisible chapters around the country in calling senators and visiting Washington to fight Whitaker’s appointment.
“We have so much work to do. I guess this is the beginning of 2020, right?” Rihani said.