OAKLAND, Calif. — They stood at a downtown plaza for a third night in a row, hundreds chanting “Not my president.” They took to the microphone to talk about their fears of deportation, curbed access to birth control, increased police spending and a rollback of same-sex marriage. Some hugged each other and cried, a kind of grief session within the protest. Soon, they marched through downtown and were met with cheers of appreciation from drivers and residents peeking through their windows. They promised this protest would not be their last.
“This is not a game — this man is our president and he is going to be sworn into office,” Cat Brooks, a co-founder of Anti Police-Terror Project, told the crowd, which booed and hissed in response. “We need to be more than angry, we need to organize and funnel our anger into action.”
What a Donald Trump administration will bring remains something of a mystery. But a national resistance among liberal activists is rising in response to the election of Trump in a way not seen in modern presidential history, with thousands of people taking to the streets to pre-emptively denounce a man whose administration they fear will be rooted in bigotry. Students have walked out of classes, protesters have blocked highways and anarchists have clashed with police.
The demonstrations in cities like Baltimore; Chicago; Kansas City, Missouri; Los Angeles; Milwaukee; New York; and Portland, Oregon, have mostly been organized on the fly by local activist groups. But established national organizations like Showing Up for Racial Justice, the ACLU and the National Action Network have had a hand in supporting the protest efforts. The calls to participate have come largely through Facebook and other social media chains.
Most of the gatherings have remained peaceful, but tempers have flared sporadically. Demonstrators burned trash cans in Oakland, California, on Wednesday night and tried to block a highway Thursday before police intervened. In Portland, Oregon, on Thursday night, after a peaceful protest thinned out, dozens of people whom police described as anarchists remained in the streets, clashing with officers in riot gear. They shot fireworks at police. Car windows were smashed and smoke filled the air during what police deemed a riot.
Many protest leaders had supported Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the Democratic primary and either did not vote or chose a third-party candidate in the presidential election, said Ben Becker, an organizer with the Answer Coalition, an anti-war and anti-racism activist group based in New York. Their anger, he said, had been exacerbated by President Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s conciliatory tone with Trump in the aftermath of Clinton’s defeat.
More protests are planned for the coming days, and preparations are underway for a massive protest at Trump’s inauguration in January.
“This is an absolute rejection of the Trump program and it is not going to stop,” Becker said. “We’re starting to show that this is a social giant that is only starting to awaken. The first thing is to show people that they don’t have to be afraid. There is a tremendous amount of fear in a lot of communities right now, and our presence is very visible, public and loud. It shows people that we have power.”
But beyond the commotion in the streets, activists are doing some deeper strategizing for what they think will be tumultuous times under Trump.
Activists in Oakland are preparing to raise money to support social services programs they assume will be gutted. In Los Angeles, they are preparing undocumented immigrants in the event that law enforcement officials come for them. In Wisconsin, they are holding forums to provide emotional support to Latinos and other minorities, and to brainstorm ways to help immigrants fight policies that might hurt them. Several black civil rights organizations have plotted ways to challenge the Trump administration and the Republican Congress on various legislative fronts.
This is, in some ways, uncharted territory for a modern U.S. president. You have to go back to Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 to see these types of mass demonstrations in response to the mere election of a president, said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian who teaches at Rice University. Lincoln won only about 40 percent of the popular vote and was not even on the ballot in some Southern states. Spontaneous protests broke out across the country, Brinkley said.
Trump initially condemned the protests on social media. “Just had a very open and successful presidential election,” he said on Twitter on Thursday night in response to the protests. “Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!” Hours later, however, he changed his tone. “Love the fact that the small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country,” he posted on Twitter early Friday. “We will all come together and be proud!”
For many protesters, taking to the streets was a kind of group therapy.
When Tiffane Friesen saw a Facebook post about a protest in her hometown, Kansas City, Missouri, on Wednesday, she just had to go out.
“There are so many marginalized people,” said Friesen, 28, who works as an artist helping people with mental illnesses. “And there’s a lot of fear. And I think that these protests are important to let all of those marginalized people know, ‘We’re going to protect you. We’re going to stand with you.’”
The protests already seem to be cementing new, cross-sectional liberal coalitions.
People with “Nasty Women” T-shirts have stood with signs that read “Climate change is real.” Black Lives Matter protesters have marched alongside those proclaiming themselves “Undocumented and unafraid.”
The protests of the past week are only the opening act of what organizers expect will be years of discord.
Brooks, the Oakland protest leader, said her group and other leaders in the city were planning to raise money to provide direct services for social programs they feel certain will be cut under a Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress. They were making plans, for example, to find ways to offer diabetes testing and counseling if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.
Ron Gochez, an organizer with Union del Barrio, an activist and immigrants rights group in Los Angeles, said the group will gather community organizations together to discuss what to do if mass deportations begin. It will also train undocumented immigrants to use their cellphone cameras if immigration enforcement agents show up at their door, and help people set up emergency phone lists so that they can call neighbors if they are picked up for deportation proceedings.
“It’s not just saying that we’re against Trump, we have to defend ourselves against the policies he’s promising to create,” he said.
Leaders from several black civil rights groups such as the National Action Network and the NAACP have been holding conference calls to form a legislative strategy, the Rev. Al Sharpton said.
They plan to lobby Congress on criminal justice reform and expanding voting rights, highlighting what they believe are the negative effects of voter identification laws and reductions in early voting periods, Sharpton said. They hope to use the stories of millions of newly insured Americans to highlight the devastating consequences of repealing the Affordable Care Act. They will fight any new stop-and-frisk policies in court, Sharpton said, and bring witnesses to congressional hearings to challenge Cabinet appointments they feel are questionable.
Their efforts will kick off with a rally and a march in Washington for Martin Luther King’s Birthday, just days before Trump is inaugurated, Sharpton said.
“We’re not going to go away and say, because we lost an election, that we, therefore, lost our right to stand up for civil rights and civil liberty,” he said. “This, in many ways, we feel is bigger than one election.”