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Organizing In The Trump Era: Trump Tower Edition

December 9, 2016

trumptowerWe’ve already started talking about how the Trump administration is going to provide a target-rich environment for all sorts of folks.  (Among the most troubling possibilities: What if terrorists decide its in their self-interest to attack one or more of the Trump Organization’s highly visible properties in the US or around the world? What if foreign-controlled banks decide to call in (or threaten to call in) Trump’s business loans unless President Trump follows a particular course of action?)

Today I want to talk about how Trump’s business interests could be targeted by nonviolent campaigners in ways that could weaken his political power over the next four (or eight) years.  Let’s start with his most iconic property: Trump Tower.

Donald Trump cares about Trump Tower…a lot. (Don’t believe me? Watch this 4 minute video he put out in 2014 on the building’s 30th anniversary.) The gold-plated skyscraper is Trump’s primary residence, as well as headquarters for the Trump Organization. It’s also in the heart of midtown Manhattan, where Trump received less than 10% of the votes cast for president. During the presidential campaign Trump Tower was already the target of nonviolent immigration activists from Cosecha blocking its doorways, and projecting video on its walls to spread their message. Since the election, it’s been the target of  marches, demonstrations, and more arrests.

But if that’s all that New York-based advocacy groups, social movements, labor unions, and community organizations do at Trump Tower over the next 4-8 years, they’re missing a huge opportunity.

First, read Josh Marshall on Trump’s style of “dominance politics” and his fear of humiliation. Read anything (heck, for that matter, read everything) Timothy O’Brien has written about Trump. (Wayne Barrett too. You want to know what you’re up against.)

Now start thinking about the many ways in which this highly vindictive and very powerful (about to become exponentially more powerful) man is vulnerable to attack through this one building that means so much to him.

Watch the video again. There are five(!) Trump-branded retail outlets: a store, an ice cream shop, a bar, a grill and a café. What if the bar were filled on a Friday night with customers who ordered nothing but glasses of seltzer water? Which they drank very slowly as they were enjoying an evening out with their friends and co-workers? What if they tipped the servers and bartenders very generously? And what if this happened night after night, targeted on what would otherwise be the bar’s most profitable nights? What if something similar happened with each of the other Trump-branded businesses?

Then there’s Ivanka Trump’s Fine Jewelry Boutique. What would happen if it was filled with customers who were very polite, but had lots (and lots) of questions? And what would happen if those customers were terribly indecisive?  (Understandably so, given the amazing variety of items for sale at the boutique.)  Maybe they wouldn’t be able to decide what to buy, and would have to come back with a trusted friend or relative (and ask all the same questions again)?  Who knows? It might take several trips…and then the customers might decide to buy their jewelry somewhere else…but only after carefully, and in great detail, explaining to the manager why.

Gucci’s flagship NYC store is in Trump Tower. As is Tiffany’s. (According to Fortune, Tiffany’s seems to be in a somewhat vulnerable position: sales at its flagship store were down in the 3rd quarter, and that one store apparently accounts for 8% of its business.) There’s a Starbucks there, and a Niketown. What if they and other retailers one by one closed their stores because the cost—the actual, economic cost—of doing business at Trump Tower was no longer worth it?

Trump Tower also has 26 floors of commercial office space. Qatar Airways is a tenant, as are Braver, Stern & Co., and Concord International Investments Group. Apparently there are several vacant floors already (although the Secret Service may end up leasing two of them at a cost to taxpayers of $3 million/year).  Which (if any) of those tenants might be vulnerable to economic, political or social pressure that an organized nonviolent campaign aimed at persuading them to leave Trump Tower?

Finally, Trump Tower isn’t just home to the Trump family. It has dozens of floors of apartments and condominiums. Real estate ownership is a matter of public record, so it would be relatively easy to find out who owns most of those units.  And there is a wide variety of tactics that could be used to bring pressure on President-to-be Trump via the residential part of Trump Tower.

One would be to drive down the reputation of Trump Tower by making it a building that current residents would want to leave (even if they had to take an economic loss to do so), and prospective residents would decide to live in some other luxurious midtown Manhattan high-rise. Another would be to identify residents who might themselves organize and join (publicly or privately) a campaign to pressure Trump.

And then there are all the workers at Trump Tower: janitors, maids, clerks, plumbers, electricians. How might they, for example, participate in a campaign to persuade a President Trump to fire a Labor Secretary Puzder and replace him with a pro-worker appointee?

Once you start thinking, the possibilities are virtually endless.  (That’s even more true if you’re thinking together with a group of like-minded-and-interested people.) Then, once you have all your great, exciting, outrageous ideas out on the table, remember this: your opponent is, by all available evidence including his own words and actions, an extraordinarily vain, vindictive and vicious man who is about to take hold of the most powerful political office in the world…with all that that implies.

If you go after his favorite thing in the world—which is what Trump Tower appears to be—he will come after you and the people you care about. Which is why any such nonviolent campaign would need to be preceded by extensive research, training and preparation, and would need to have a carefully thought-out strategy. Even with that, you’d have to expect losses.

But all available evidence suggests there will be losses—including some major and devastating losses—during the Trump Era anyway.  Better to minimize those losses and have them mean something, right?

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