Just after noon on February 7, college and high school students walked out of classrooms to meet at Foley Square in lower Manhattan—to join in a march for immigrant’s rights within shouting distance of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building. What started as a demonstration for immigrant rights grew into a march that left no issue untouched including the lunchtime confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education by Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote.
James Hoff, an English professor from Borough of Manhattan Community College brought his students down just as speakers were starting to disperse. He said the crowd didn’t die down but moved to an area adjacent to Foley Square.
By 2:30 p.m. students were ebbing and flowing out of metal barricades set up as a holding pen for demonstrators. A group of younger girls huddled together on their phones on the periphery and one spoke through braces to say she had been there a couple of hours already, but was just “done” for the day.
Eventually the students started moving outside of the holding pen. NYPD deployed officers on motorized scooters to follow the marchers on their path and they would hold the marchers at crosswalks to keep them from holding up car traffic. They walked down Broadway to Zuccotti Park not lingering at all—perhaps too young to remember the Occupy Wall Street protesters from 2011—and then turned up Church Street to head back north.
Chants along the way ranged from “Our bodies, our choice” to “Say it loud; say it clear: immigrants are welcome here.” The crowd of a couple of hundred struggled to stay together at times and occasionally the leaders at the front stopped at corners to let others catch up.
One of the students at the front, bearing a rainbow flag on his shoulder, said they were making their way to Union Square. He said that they were mostly high school students at this point. And that they had heard about this on Facebook. They came—and ended up staying.
Along the way, through SoHo, people came to the large picture windows to take pictures and hold fists up in solidarity. The students cheered. Tourists and residents alike stopped to take pictures with their phones.
As the students passed New York University, a group of men in hard hats were parked on Broadway and one of the men shouted “Get a job!” to the students. The crowd booed and restarted their chant of “Students against Trump!”
When they got to Union Square it was unclear what the next move was. The student with the rainbow flag encouraged the crowd to stay closer to 14th Street so that they could be louder.
Eventually they pulled together on the southern tip of Union Square Park and huddled together. They began what was perhaps the most important chant of their march: “We vote next!”
A 16-year-old student stood up for what she called a “mic check.” She shouted and the crowd responded. It was the final message before the crowd dispersed and went home. The message was to get involved and stay engaged.
It was a small crowd all day—no more than 300—but it was mighty.