To that long and growing list of people declaring unmitigated resistance to President Trump—a distinguished bunch that includes Charles Blow of the New York Times, the Reader‘s own Derrick Clifton, and pretty much everyone in my family—let me add one more name: Luis Gutierrez.
That’s right, the dean of the Illinois congressional delegation sounds like he’d fit right in with the lefties with whom I recently shared a delicious Thanksgiving dinner.
OK, so he doesn’t come right out and say “fuck Trump,” as one or two people I know may have proclaimed over their stuffing and cranberry sauce.
But he did say that he’s planning to boycott the inauguration—the first one he’ll miss since getting elected to Congress in 1992—and he urges everyone to resist any attempt by Trump to make good on his campaign promises to conduct mass deportations of undocumented immigrants.
I know this because I checked in with the congressman one dark and dreary day just before Thanksgiving, just as, coincidentally, I watched a few teenagers gather in the alley outside my neighbor’s garage to fire up a joint.
And, man, did Gutierrez give me an earful.
“If you believe in anarchy and a clash of American values, you’re going to get a great experiment,” he said of Trump’s election. “Personally, I feel sadness and fear. This is a scary time for our country.”
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by his tone. He’s a scrappy counterpuncher—I’ve been on the receiving end of a few of his barbs over the years—and he has a personal stake in the battle with Trump.
For almost 20 years, Gutierrez has been at the forefront of the national movement for immigration reform. He proposed the original Dream Act legislation back in 2001, and he was the keynote speaker at the 2010 immigration reform march in Washington, D.C.
Trump, on the other hand, vowed to roll back whatever progress Gutierrez and his allies have made, promising to deport all illegal immigrants and ban federal funding to sanctuary cities, like Chicago, that don’t. He also openly denigrated Mexican immigrants, calling them criminals and rapists, and promised to make Mexico pay to build a giant wall along the southern border.
God, just rehashing this shit makes me want to join those kids in the alley.
Anyway, I caught up Gutierrez on a day when he was free from the legislative grind, spending time with friends and family in Puerto Rico.
As always, what followed wasn’t so much an interview as a deluge. I’d ask a question and he’d respond with an answer that evolved into an oration.
I guess some things haven’t changed since the day I met him back in 1982, when he was an activist making a living driving a cab and I was a kid reporter.
—Congressman Luis Gutierrez
“On election night I went to Moe’s Cantina for the Hillary Clinton party,” Gutierrez said. “I watched until—I don’t know, 7:30, 8 o’clock. I said to myself, ‘Hillary’s up in Florida, North Carolina—she’s running the board. I’m gonna go home. Get some popcorn. Get into my pajamas. Watch Hillary win.’ But by the time I got home 40 minutes later, everything had changed.
“I can’t think of anything like it. I remember in 2000, I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and George Bush was the president. I remember feeling a little shell-shocked. But this is very different. This is not Reagan. This is not Bush—father or son. I almost feel sorry about all the terrible things I said about Bush. Man, I was selling wolf tickets when he got elected.
“This is real. This is—you know what I feel? I feel a sense of danger. Existential dread, man. Everybody says, ‘Oh, it’s all campaign rhetoric.’ Yeah? Look at those early appointments. Look at Jeff Sessions. You want to return to a time when women are in the kitchen and gays are in the closet and Muslims are not allowed? Welcome to the Jeff Sessions era. He wasn’t qualified to be a federal judge, but he’s going to be your attorney general.”
I asked what advice he had to offer his fellow citizens.
“Organize. If Trump wants to deport millions of people like he says he does, then the people he wants to deport should say, ‘I want my day in court before a judge.’ You have to paralyze the system. You need to do what you need to do to fight to save as many people as you can from the devious plans Donald Trump’s got coming.”
So will he join Trump on inauguration day to watch him get sworn in?
“I doubt it. Do I really want to go to the inauguration of President Trump? My wife says, ‘Hell no, we’re not going. I’m going to march with one million women.’ Well, if they let guys in the women’s march, I’m going with her. Or if they have an immigrants’ march, I’ll go to that. If they have both marches at once, we’ll split our time. I’ll go to one and she’ll go to the other.
“And I went to all the inaugurations—Clinton, Bush, both of Obama’s. But this is different. I don’t feel welcome. I don’t feel like I belong.”
I was pressing Gutierrez to give me more details about what he plans to do specifically to fight Trump as a congressman, but he said family was arriving so he had to get off the phone.
My takeaway from our talk? Well, on one level, it’s reassuring to know that some of our elected officials are in tune with what most Chicagoans—in this bluest of all cities—are thinking and saying.
On the other hand, it’s all a little daunting. Gutierrez’s right about one thing: with so much at stake, this won’t be an ordinary political fight. v