BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | A former East Village activist who is going ballistic over Donald Trump’s tweets about starting an arms race with Russia is co-organizing a “Homes Not Bombs” anti-nuclear protest and concert in Washington, D.C., around the upcoming inauguration.
John Penley, who now lives in North Carolina, and Bruce Wright, a Florida-based activist and minister, are teaming up to put on the all-day affair on Thurs., Jan. 19, at Franklin Square, in downtown D.C. It’s just a few blocks away from both Pennsylvania Ave., which the post-inaugural presidential procession will roll down on Jan. 20, and its destination, the White House.
It was that tweet by Trump and his comments right before Christmas about launching a nuclear-arms race — “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them” — that spurred Penley and Wright to organize the protest.
They have been granted a permit for the small park for Jan. 19, and are also hoping to get one to allow overnight camping out on the spot for four nights.
“We all will be as close as we can get to protest the actual inauguration, but will be back in the park after,” said Penley, a former longtime Alphabet City resident. “People are planning to sleep in the park with or without a permit. There are many homeless people that sleep there on a regular basis. D.C. has a homeless rate double the national average because of a shortage of affordable housing, like New York City.
“We’re very concerned,” Wright said of Trump’s saber rattling. “This is almost akin to wanting to ignite another Cold War. Trump continues to talk about nuclear proliferation.”
The pair had earlier sought a permit for nearby McPherson Square. However, DisruptJ20 — a group of hardcore anarchist protesters — is planning to gather there. The anarchists are vowing to physically disrupt the presidential procession, and confidently say that they only need a small group of people to pull it off. But Penley and Wright don’t want their protest mixed up with the tactics of the anarchists.
“We’re committed to nonviolence. We’re a peaceful group,” Wright said. “This is probably going to be the largest inauguration protest in many, many years. It’s definitely akin to the Nixon era in terms of the numbers that’ll show. As far as we’re concerned, Trump is dangerous and he’s the closest thing we have had to a fascist running this country.”
The Jan. 19 event, featuring a full lineup of speakers and live music, will run from noon to 8 p.m. Speakers will include Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate; Medea Benjamin of Code Pink; Colonel Ann Wright; radical attorney Stanley Cohen; Margaret Flowers; Paul De Rienzo; Frank Morales; Cheri Honkala; Kevin Zeese; Vermin Supreme; Penley, Wright and others.
Performing musicians will include Rebel Diaz, Room Full of Strangers, Lauren DiGioia and more.
Protesting against nukes is not new to Penley. In 1990, he was arrested for blocking the road at the Savannah River nuclear weapons plant at Aiken, South Carolina. He wound up serving prison time for his anti-nuclear activism.
“That’s been my issue,” he said. “This only makes it more imperative that something needed to be done at the inauguration. I mean, he’s doing this s— on Twitter. He’s conducting foreign policy on Twitter. Foreign governments are looking at his Twitter feed and trying to figure out what’s going on.”
Penley ultimately sees dollar signs behind Trump’s hawkishness on arms of mass destruction.
“It’s all about the money, my friend,” he said. “The Savannah nuke plant — which I went to jail for protesting — is the largest employer in South Carolina. These plants are run under contracts for the government. It’s all about money.”
Speaking of money, Penley said, beyond the danger a nuclear-arms race would pose, neither the U.S. nor Russia can afford one. It’s possible Trump’s initial tweet was in response to remarks in a speech by Vladimir Putin a few hours earlier, in which the Russian leader had promised to upgrade his country’s nuclear capabilities.
“Russia has over 1 million citizens with H.I.V. because of heroin use, and the U.S.A. has a national problem with heroin OD’s,” Penley said. “So why spend billions on a new nuclear arms race? Neither Trump nor Putin are saying anything about this healthcare emergency, which both countries have.”
Mick McIuan, of Room Full of Strangers, said he’s glad his band is going to be part of the day of protest.
“I’m certainly dead set against nuclear proliferation,” he said. “I grew up with it in the ’80s. At this point, I think any nuclear proliferation is war profiteering. I think we’re going backwards.”