Wednesday night, I marched from Union Square to Trump Tower with thousands of other angry New Yorkers. We screamed for the world to hear that Donald Trump is “not my president,” and revived old classics like “the people, united, will never be defeated.” As we blocked traffic, the people whose commutes we were delaying honked their horns and cheered in support. It felt, for the first time since the election was called for Trump, like maybe we were going to be okay.
It was my first protest since I was disillusioned by the inability of millions of angry voices from around the world to stop the war in Iraq.
I was a freshman in high school the year the United States invaded Iraq. I was fourteen years old, just coming into political consciousness, and I thought the power of the people could prevent the bombing of innocents in the name of oil. I went to every walk-out, every rally, every march. I chanted and screamed up and down Fifth Avenue, laid down for a die-in in Union Square, and took buses to Washington D.C. to scream right at Bush’s house.
I thought I was seeing the birth of a powerful movement, that this was my generation’s moment to come alive and make a difference. A student of the ‘60s, I braced for Vietnam-level resistance.
But as the bombs fell, and continued to fall, I learned the hard lesson that the powers that be don’t care how many people are in the streets. They’ve already factored our anger into their decisions, and consider it a minor cost of doing business. While we chanted outside of the White House, Bush and Cheney blocked out the sounds of our cries as easily as if they were a light rain falling on their closed windows.
I was crestfallen, disillusioned, jaded. I threw away my cardboard signs and resigned myself to a world where the government isn’t affected by the anger of the people. Years later, when that anger bubbled up again in the form of Occupy Wall Street, I sat it out. I agreed with everything they stood for, but I didn’t see the point of sleeping in a park when nobody in power cared whether I was cold or tired or pissed off.
Like so many, I retreated to the internet to spread information and opinions. I tweeted and wrote op-eds, my friends and I congratulating each other’s wit and wokeness with likes, thickening the walls of the bubble we’d built around ourselves — the bubble that would eventually prevent us from seeing just how real the threat of Trump was, and would leave us stunned when it popped on election night.
But two days ago, I received a brutal wake-up call. The fire that I thought had been squelched in me years ago began to rage, along with the fear, heartbreak, regret, and anger. As I joined the chants of “not my president!” in Union Square last night, I had an important realization about the value of protesting: There may be nothing we can do at this point to prevent a Trump presidency, but that doesn’t make it okay to do nothing. Even if all we can do is rail and cry, then let’s rail and cry.
The only way this can be anything but a complete catastrophe is if it invigorates people to resist, to engage, to organize. It’s important for the rest of the world to see that the majority of Americans did not pick Trump. We would be a global laughing stock right now, if this huge mistake we’ve just made wasn’t going to affect everyone around the world.
And even more important than making a statement to the world, we must make a statement to the people right here in America who are afraid for their lives under a Trump presidency. As a white woman — the demographic that shamefully handed the presidency to Trump, choosing white supremacy over equality, selling out the world for their race because the risks to women under Trump will harm them less than women of color — I feel immense shame and guilt over the election results. But instead of shaking my head, I’m taking this as a call to do better. Now that my comfortable liberal bubble has been popped, I am going to get off of Facebook, get off of my ass and try my best to make this right. I don’t know how yet, other than writing these words, marching in the streets, donating to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, and speaking up against every instance of casual racism and sexism I see. I’m going to be an abortion clinic escort, and I’m going to show up at protests, in person, to express my anger and grief, and my solidarity with those who are in more danger than I am.
I didn’t do enough to prevent Trump from being elected. None of us did. But now we have to clean up our own mess, and memes and witty tweets are not going to cut it.
I know I’m not the only one that feels like this right now, because last night I marched in the streets with thousands of others. This is my pledge to stay as pissed off as I am right now, to fight complacency as hard as I fight the ugliness that I know is ahead. I hope everyone who screamed at Trump Tower last night will hold onto their anger, too, and use it to do much-needed good over the next four dark years.
Lilly O'Donnell is a freelance writer from New York City. She's also Deputy Editor of Narratively, and a former BUST intern. Follow her on Twitter @lillyodonnell.
Top photo via Twitter
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