It was a brisk February day and the sound of Indigenous prayer songs echoed down the street. A crowd of demonstrators, onlookers, and police was huddled around a striking, new skyscraper while security guards barricaded its entrance.
Earlier that day, representatives from the Holborn Group and the Trump Organization, including Eric, Tiffany, and Donald Trump Jr., had gathered inside the new building to cut the red ribbon and mark the official opening of Vancouver’s Trump International Hotel and Tower. At the invite-only press conference, Joo Kim Tiah, president and CEO of the Vancouver-based Holborn Group, thanked Vancouver for giving him the opportunity to “help shape the skyline of this beautiful city.”
Outside, the mood was decidedly less celebratory.
When it was announced a couple weeks prior that the president’s sons would be attending the tower’s official opening, local activists quickly began organizing protests to greet them. Speaking on behalf of Occupy Vancouver, the group that planned the protest outside Trump Tower, activist Mathew Kagis said they wanted to show support for those who have been directly affected by Trump. “There are a lot of people in the States that are marginalized and are very afraid. We want them to know that we are with them,” said Kagis.
The so-called “Welcome Trump Party” was an all-day affair featuring various speakers, DJs, and Indigenous drumming. As the official ribbon-cutting took place that morning, over 100 protesters were outside demonstrating.
Whether it be with those personally impacted by Trump’s actions or with fellow protesters, solidarity appeared to be the reason many decided to attend. “I came out to show solidarity with all the other people who disagree with Trump and everything he stands for — especially [those against] having a symbol of Trump in Vancouver,” explained Andrew Latimer, a fourth-year undergraduate student from SFU.
Both Kagis and Latimer were unsure whether the protests would have any local impact. “I hope it has an impact on the bookings. I hope it has an impact on Trump Tower’s business, but I don’t know if it will,” remarked Kagis.
Douglas Ross, an SFU professor and expert on international relations, also questioned the impact of the protests. “Trying to gauge the effect of a rather hostile Vancouverite response to the opening of the new Trump building on the president, or even whether he will notice it, is not possible. We’ll only know if there is some sort of casual tweet from the White House. I suspect there won’t be,” stated Ross.
Nonetheless, Ross highlighted how unprecedented the opening of the hotel was. “A president who has all these ‘active’ property holdings and investments being run by immediate family members is certainly without precedent — unless this sort of thing happened pre-World War II. For the modern era, he is in a class by himself.”
Meanwhile, others are still calling for the Holborn Group, which developed and maintains ownership of the property, to cut ties with the Trump Organization.
While the company has expressed concern with Trump’s controversial politics, Joo Kim Tiah has insisted that the deal is essentially “locked-in.” According to Tiah, the company would endure significant legal and financial repercussions if they broke their contract with the Trump Organization.
Diego Reyna, who spoke at the separate Resist 4 Peace March held later that day, still urged the company to reconsider changing the building’s name. “We all make mistakes — sometimes fixing those mistakes is costly. The right thing to do is to change the name of your hotel,” implored Reyena. The Mexican-born Port Moody resident made the news last spring when he hung a Mexican flag at the top of Trump Tower while it was still under construction.
The Resist 4 Peace march started at Jack Poole Plaza in the late afternoon as a mix of rain and snow began to fall. Organized by Richmond high school students, Nora Fadel and Yasmin Ahmed, the theme of solidarity was as present here as it was at the protests taking place at the tower.
Aaron Ekman, a secretary treasurer of the BC Federation of Labour, encouraged protesters to try and find common ground with Trump supporters. Recalling his own experience talking with some of the president’s supporters, Ekman found that there were numerous issues they agreed on. According to Ekman, trying to understand where others are coming from would work to reduce the sense of political polarization so many presently feel.
It was difficult not to notice the fairly small turnout at the march. This made some sense due to the frigid and wet conditions and the fact that it was a weekday. However, one protester said she was still disappointed by the attendance. The demonstrator, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she wished organizers had combined the two events to avoid splitting the turnout and minimizing its impact.
Regardless of their number, those who faced the cold weather did so with enthusiasm, chanting “dump Trump” as they exited Jack Poole Plaza.
While concerned Vancouverites protested Donald Trump, back in Washington the new president delivered his first address to Congress. Listing his early achievements and outlining his expansive plans for the future, the president, once again, didn’t hesitate to paint a dismal picture of the country he inherited. At one point, he said the country was “an environment of lawless chaos.”
Despite this, many in the media felt that much of the president’s speech actually conveyed a softer, unifying message than those in the past.
Early on, Trump addressed the recent onslaught of hate crimes, including vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, bomb threats targeting Jewish community centres and the racially-motivated shooting of two Indian men in Kansas. “While we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms,” proclaimed the president.
For those who came out to the protest last week, these remarks are likely to fall on deaf ears, overshadowed by the inflammatory rhetoric Trump has employed ever since the day he announced he was running for president.
With files from CBC News, The Georgia Straight, Global News, NPR, Wired, The Atlantic, the Washington Post and CBS News.