Letter from NYC: At the anti-Trump protests

 

(Photo by Eliza Siegel)

(Photo by Eliza Siegel)

When I arrived at Barnard College of Columbia University on move-in day last August, I experienced a feeling of coming home, after a long and difficult day, to a supportive and loving family. I walked through the Barnard gates, suitcases in tow and my parents not far behind, and immediately a welcoming committee burst into raucous cheers and applause. Nervous and embarrassed, I was nevertheless intensely grateful for the excitement and warmth these sophomores, juniors, and seniors met each and every first-year with. I learned shortly after that this level of passion, enthusiasm, and inclusivity is what makes Barnard the place that it is.

As November 8 drew closer, I couldn’t help but envision what a Hillary victory would feel like, experienced amongst my bold, intelligent, and politically active new community of Barnard women. I could practically hear the shattering of the glass ceiling and the cheers and tears of joy from my classmates. When the night finally arrived, I gathered with the rest of my floor-mates in the lounge. Someone had brought a cake, iced with the words “I’m with her.” I sat down at the table, where my friends were coloring Hillary-themed coloring book pages with colorful gel pens. The excitement and expectation in the room was palpable.

In the weeks and months leading up the election, I had not even briefly entertained the notion that Trump could be our president. It seemed inconceivable that a man whose campaign was fueled by fear-mongering and blatant hatred towards women and minority groups, not to mention his inarguable lack of political or leadership experience and his mercurial temperament, could be elected. I thought that these downfalls would disqualify him in the eyes of most Americans, especially when compared to Hillary’s years of experience, passion, and public service.

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Even at three a.m., when I got the CNN update on my phone stating that Trump had been pronounced the winner, the truth of the situation did not fully set in. In the hours before, I had watched as my friends alternated between weeping and staring, dumbfounded, at the television screen. The last to leave the lounge, I walked dazedly to my dorm room, where my roommates slept. I wanted to call my parents, but could think of nothing to say that hadn’t already been said.

The mood on campus the next day was heavy and emotionally charged. In every class, professors encouraged us to speak about how we were feeling. One girl in my English class broke down, saying she was afraid as a woman of color, her very identity the target of hate and violence. Another, the daughter of an immigrant and the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, spoke of having to tell her little sister about the election results. Later, Barnard held a school-wide town hall meeting led by a panel of political science professors. Hundreds of students crammed into the event space to ask questions about what a Trump presidency would really mean, from the environmental impact of his policies to access to women’s health services and the likelihood of Roe v. Wade being overturned. Despite the miserable circumstances, it was empowering to witness just how many people cared deeply about these issues, how many were already strategizing, organizing, and working past their feelings of grief and into a space of productivity.

By the evening, I felt drained and defeated. As I reflected on the day, however, I remembered the attitudes of my classmates; they were looking to the future, ready to fight again and harder than ever before. I decided that putting aside my tiredness to participate in the making of change, the making of history, was an easy task compared to the plight of innumerable others. Along with some friends, I took the train to Union Square to join in a protest that had started a short time before. When we arrived, however, the square was deserted. We soon discovered that the protesters had begun to march uptown towards Trump Tower, and set off after them, signs in hand. When we were ten blocks away, I began to hear them: thousands of voices, swelling in unison, louder and louder the closer we got. Finally we reached the vast crowd, many wielding signs that said things like “Pussy grabs back,” “Not my president,” and “We will look out for each other.” We moved towards the front, joining in with chants of “This is what democracy looks like,” “We reject the president-elect,” and “Donald Trump, go away — racist, sexist, anti-gay.”

Despite the magnitude of the crowd, and the anger and passion of the protesters, I did not feel endangered, nor did I witness even the smallest hint of violence. Instead, the overwhelming energy was that of solidarity, of unity, with enough intensity to bind thousands of people together. The diversity of the crowd spoke volumes about its mission: to represent and protect the rights of those groups Trump’s campaign marginalized. The very act of protesting hate resulted in an overall feeling of acceptance and love. The shouts were for peace; the anger was for the maintenance of fundamental human rights.

I arrived back at Barnard that night with a less bleak vision of what the future of America held. A small group of friends had, within the span of a day, formed a coalition called Mobilizing for Our Future — their mantra read “Positive Energy, Positive Change.” Their outlook struck me more than anyone else’s had. The months leading up to the election had been toxic, charged with hatred, anger, and fear that had only grown stronger after Trump was announced the president-elect. And while feelings of fury are valid and should not be silenced, inserting more negativity into a nation already waist-deep in it can only result in a climate more oppressive than before.

In the days after the election, I have been struck more and more by the determination of the change-makers on my campus, who have stood outside for hours every day with signs urging people to “Refuse to stand with hate” and to “Keep loving.” For the protesters whose resolve and commitment to hope continue to fill the streets of Manhattan. For those who are taking a stand, who are determined to keep the conversation going, to understand each other better during this divisive time. Now more than ever, it is a privilege to be part of a community that is ready and willing to fight for what’s right.

 

Eliza Siegel, 19, a Woodstock resident and a freshman at Barnard, has been a contributing writer to Woodstock Times for a year and a half. 

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