To Use His Space Against Him: Learning As A Form of Protest

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Garbage trucks surround Trump Tower. Perfect. Getty Images

Every Friday since our calamitous election, in the gaudy, cavernous, brass-and-marble lobby of the singularly narcissistic “Ultimate Residential Building Worldwide” - Trump cafe, Trump gift shop, Trump buffet, Trump crap - Jeff Bergman has joined the gawkers, 1%ers, selfie-takers, armed cops and Secret Service guys checking bags for his own act of rebellion, a "sustained, non-violent resistance” in the form of an improbable weekly teach-in he calls Learn as Protest. An art dealer from Westchester County who works a block from Trump Tower, Bergman walks there each Friday at lunchtime to read aloud from a stellar roster of authors - Orwell, Neruda, Yates, Zinn, Camus, Malcolm X - exploring issues of power and justice. At the start of the sordid reign of "a president who hates words," he says, "it felt subversive to stand here and hold a book.” Today, with protesters largely replaced by scowling law enforcement, “it still feels like contested space...(But) I knew it was my right to be in here, and I wanted to use his space against him."

Over the months, Bergman has been joined by fellow-travelers offering their own resistance readings. They are part of a small group of protesters who continue to use what are legally designated public spaces in the building - the first-floor lobby and a fifth-floor terrace - as part of a zoning deal with the city. (In shocking news, Trump is not in full compliance with the terms of the agreement.) Among their actions, often documented on the website Take Trump Tower, have been climate teach-ins, performance art, "Resistance and Restoration" yoga. Bergman is the most persistent. Having grown familiar with what the Guardian calls "the emptiness at the heart of Trump’s dystopian dreamscape," he describes “the tinkle of the golden-shower 60-foot waterfall, and the Mel Tormé over the speakers...It’s an echo of the space, but without any content.” Into the prevailing crassness, he reads: Elie Wiesel, Emma Goldman, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, T.S. Eliot, Rachel Carson, Hanna Arendt, Vaclev Havel, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gil Scott-Heron. On Friday, for his final reading of 2017, he chose an excerpt from Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark, because we need it.

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. To hope is to give yourself to the future - and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

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Also cops.

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Fifth floor climate teach-in. Courtesy Emma Stieglitz

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