From armchair to activism

Trump’s election inspires local teacher to organize protest

Matt and Dana Sutter organized a rally at the Chico City Plaza on Monday (Dec. 19), the day the Electoral College confirmed Donald Trump’s election.

Matt and Dana Sutter organized a rally at the Chico City Plaza on Monday (Dec. 19), the day the Electoral College confirmed Donald Trump’s election.

Photo by Ken Smith

Political activism was a large part of Matt Sutter’s life when he was studying history at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo a decade ago. As a member of the school’s Progressive Student Alliance, Sutter said he regularly advocated for local and national candidates and causes. He also helped organize demonstrations against the Iraq War and in support of fair trade and pro-labor issues.

But Sutter, a Paradise native who now teaches at Honey Run Academy, a community day school on the Ridge, admitted his political involvement has largely devolved to the armchair variety in recent years.

“I’ve made the occasional Facebook post and spent a lot of time yelling at the computer screen, but I haven’t done any real political activism in 10 years,” Sutter said on Monday evening (Dec. 19) at the Chico City Plaza. He was huddled next to his wife, Dana, as the temperature dipped below 40 degrees. “Until tonight … the election was enough to get me off the couch.”

About 150 people joined the Sutters at the southeast corner of the plaza to participate in what was at least the third large-scale local protest against the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. The couple began planning a few days after the election via social media and deliberately chose Dec. 19 to coincide with the Electoral College vote.

“It’s the first day that it is 100 percent clear that he will take office—the day he’s officially won the election,” Sutter said. “So it’s the first day we can really say, ‘No, we do not accept this, he does not represent us and he is not our president.’”

Earlier on Monday, Trump received 304 electoral votes to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s 227, with 270 votes required to clinch the office. Though electors traditionally vote for the candidate who won their state, Clinton’s lead of more than 2.8 million popular votes, fears over the president-elect’s erratic behavior and questions about Russia’s manipulation of the election had Trump detractors hoping for another outcome. Ultimately, only seven people bucked tradition to become what’s known as “faithless electors.”

Demonstrators began gathering at the plaza at 6 p.m. They stood facing traffic on Main Street, with honking horns inciting sporadic chants of “Not our president!”

Sutter said there are many reasons he opposes Trump’s presidency, but that his main concerns are the “authoritarian nature evident in his actions and words, and his complete disrespect for the foundations of American democracy.”

Other protesters expressed their own criticisms: “This is someone who can’t even turn in his taxes,” said Nelly Vargas. “We don’t know anything about him except the lies he tells, and he’s constantly contradicting himself.”

“I know people are discouraged about a lot of things in our country and that’s why some voted for Trump, hoping he might make a difference, but they’re in for a big shock,” said Cathy Koko, another protester. “I think we’re all going to be very badly affected in the next four years.”

At 6:30 p.m., those gathered marched down Main Street, completing a circuit through downtown before returning to the plaza to rally. The Sutters intend to form a standing coalition and organize future actions against Trump and his policies.

“As valuable and as important as it is for us to make a big show of what we feel and what we stand for tonight, it’s important that we not lose this energy for the next four years,” Sutter told the crowd. “This has to keep going, and growing.”