By Belen Smole, Elizabeth VanMetre, and Courtney Vinopal
On Thursday evening, just hours before President-elect Donald Trump was set to be sworn in to the Oval Office, thousands of New Yorkers gathered to put him on notice, beginning what they were calling “100 Days of Resistance.”
Strangers packed the street shoulder to shoulder at Columbus Circle, a block away from the Trump International Hotel, as Mayor De Blasio, Rev. Al Sharpton, and celebrities including Robert De Niro, Mark Ruffalo, Alec Baldwin, Cynthia Nixon, and Cher called for city residents to push back together against the president-elect’s more controversial policies, from immigration to health care to religion. Later they marched to Trump Tower, where the President-elect has lived.
“We’re here today to show unity, to be inspired, to get focused,” said Salvatore Principato, of Manhattan, one of the marchers. “It’s gotta start somewhere and it might as well start tonight.”
One speaker, Michael Moore, the documentarían—and one of the few voices on the political left who predicted a Trump win—didn’t beat around the bush about his perception of the reality of the situation. “As bad as we thought it was going to be,” he said, “it’s going worse.”
But he also recognized that the popular vote—which Hillary Clinton won—said something about Trump’s base of support. “The good news,” he said, “is there’s more of us than there are of them.”
Fight Like a Girl
Women were well represented at the Thursday rally. Some 200,000 women were expected to rush Washington on Saturday, following the inauguration, to demonstrate, and some of them started early in New York.
They included Susan Cross, 64, who said her biggest fear was losing healthcare “for all women and Americans,” she said, holding a sign that read, Fight Trump Every Day.
“Almost everyone in the cabinet is against women’s right for safe healthcare in terms of abortion,” she said. “I’m a grandmother. I want the same access to proper healthcare for my granddaughter.”
Other women also mentioned their daughters and grandaughters. “He’s got to represent all of us and he’s bringing hate in his speech and with everybody he’s bringing on board,” said Michelle Tennant-Timmons. “I have a daughter and I’m scared for us.”
She was dressed in a hoodie with a slogan on the front: “And you thought I was a nasty woman before? Buckle up, Buttercup.” Still, Timmons said that she still has hope that Trump could “surprise us, and show that he’s not full of hate.
“If you don’t have hope you’re dead in my opinión,” she said. “I have to have hope for my daughter.”
Immigrants Speak Up
In the middle of the crowd, one man stood out. He was wearing a typical Mexican fighter costume, with a mask that covers his face, revealing only his eyes and mouth. He said that he had come to this country illegally a few years ago.
On his back was a Mexican flag depicted as covered in blood. He is 26, and said he goes by the nickname El Luchador 43 (The Fighter 43), because he wants to portray that he’s a fighter for the 43 students of Ayotzinapa that disappeared more than two years ago and are still missing today. He said he doesn’t fear deportation. “If they kick us out, we’ll be here again tomorrow,” he said in Spanish.
Among other immigrants at the rally was Luis Weber Salcedo, a Dominican who has lived in New York for 17 years. Unlike El Luchador, he’s not afraid of saying his name: “We are not afraid because this is a country, this is a city, where rights must be respected,” he said. “We are willing to fight until the last consequences for dignity, respect, and better working conditions.”
Fatoumata Waggeh, an African descendant living in the Bronx, was also at the rally, along with two women and two men holding a sign that said: “African Communities Together—African Immigrants for Justice.”
“I feel like African immigrants are often left out of the picture, because when we think about immigration we don’t see it as a black issue, we see it as a Latino issue,” Waggeh said. Her biggest fear is not deportation, but living in a country that doesn’t fully accept her. “My parents came here because they have the whole belief in the American dream, and America as a great place of opportunity,” she said.
But now, she said she has questions. “You are realizing: Is America really the place for me as black, Muslim woman of immigrant ancestry?”
An Accordion Gets To Work
Some of the protesters said they came to show solidarity with friends and neighbors that they knew might be affected by some of the policies Trump intends to implement.
Beverly Thompson, 60, of East Orange, N.J., attended with UniteHere!, a union for food service and restaurant workers in the New York area. Thompson, who works at Newark Airport, said that many of her coworkers are immigrants.
“The majority of them are immigrants,” she said. “They need to have a job as well as anybody else. This is supposed to be the land of the free. How can you say this is the land of the free if you want to ship people back to Haiti or wherever?”
Alina Zuniga, who came to the United States as an immigrant herself, attended the march with similar concerns. Zuniga, 52, is a Spanish professor at Southern Connecticut State University. She said that many of her students have been allowed to stay in the country thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), an immigration policy that was passed under the President Barack Obama.
While Zuniga said that she is “of course” concerned for her students, she emphasized that no one issue should take precedence over another. “This is about racism, sexism,” she said. “It’s about people. So every single issue is important to me.
Zuniga came to the United States from Colombia. She said that she has been fortunate to stay and work in America, but she also paid her dues.
“This country gave a lot to me, but I gave back to this country. I work hard.”
The Spanish professor said that coming together with a group this large made her feel relieved and happy.
Others seemed to feel the same way. The crowd burst into laughter with Alec Baldwin’s Trump impersonation and chanted throughout the evening.
But Paul Stein, 68, of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, cautioned that activist groups are only effective if people continue to take action in their communities. “I don’t think demonstrations alone will make a difference,” he said. “But demonstrations do make the point that large groups of people are opposed to ‘Trumpism,’ which is really a kind of fascism, I believe. Demonstrations bring people together. They raise people’s spirits, and they show them their own strength.”
Stein has a tool for getting his voice heard at these marches: he brings his accordion. When Stein was active in the Occupy Wall Street Movement during the Obama years, he said he formed a musical group called “The Occuponics,” and played regularly at protests. On this night, he played his accordion as singer-songwriter Nathalie Merchant led the crowd in a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”
As the crowd made its way to Trump Tower, Stein marched along and played his accordion, proudly displaying a message emblazoned on the instrument: “Say No to Trumpism.”