Everyone has stories about where they were at key moments in our nation’s history. Maybe your grandfather has told you where he was when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Your aunts and uncles have shared where they were when they learned Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. And most Americans can tell you where they were when they found out a plane had been flown into the World Trade Center.
The night Donald Trump was elected president of the United States will hold a similar place in the memories of many Americans. For James Greene, an African-American gay man, the event will be marked by the memory of sitting with his mother as the two cried.
“I remember when President Obama and John Lewis walked across the bridge to remember the civil-rights march in Selma,” says Greene, recalling when the president and congressman crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in March 2015 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the marches in Selma, Ala. “I remember thinking how far we’ve come as a country. But with the election of Donald Trump, it feels like we’re moving back.”
On Nov. 13, Greene helped organize a peaceful rally in Downtown Pittsburgh in response to Trump’s election. Speakers at the event represented the range of reactions emerging in the days since the election of people who oppose Trump.
Many disagree on how Americans unhappy with the looming Trump presidency should proceed. Challenge the results of the election; keep protesting; create safe spaces for marginalized populations; or all of the above? But whether you’re liberal or moderate, voted for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or a third-party candidate, most agree the left underestimated the fervor of Trump supporters and didn’t do a good enough job of communicating with the opposition.
In addition to protesting, activists like Greene plan to focus on dialoging with people on both sides of the political aisle. They’re going to continue to shine a spotlight on the hateful things they say Trump and his supporters have said and done to immigrants, Muslims and other minorities, but they’re also going to delve into his policies on issues like women’s reproductive health, law enforcement and the LGBT community.
“A lot of people just voted for Trump based on ‘Oh, I like him, he makes me laugh,’” says Greene. “But they don’t know his policies.”
Trump was a polarizing figure throughout his campaign, and every one of his soundbites has been well publicized, sometimes to the detriment of meaningful discourse on the Republican’s polices. But according to Trump’s opponents, his high-profile gaffes are a testament to where he stands on issues like immigration, freedom of religion and sexual assault.
At Trump’s campaign launch last year, he drew the ire of immigrants and allies when he said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with [them]. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."
Last year, he called for a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”
And the president-elect has long been known for his sexist comments. But one of the comments that has drawn the most ire from opponents came from a recorded 2005 conversation, when he said, “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything ... Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."
Over the next few years, Greene will be working with the recently formed group Be The Change Pittsburgh to educate the public about Trump statements like these and how they illustrate where he stands on issues important to the electorate.
“It’s important not to just sit idly by,” says Greene. “Right now we’re seeing the normalization of hate.”
But Greene says it’s also important to move beyond Trump’s rhetoric to talk to the public about his policies and campaign promises.
For example, the president-elect has pledged to sign the First Amendment Defense Act, which LGBT activists say will increase anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace, at businesses, by landlords and by health-care providers.
Another area where activists say Trump can do damage is women’s reproductive health. Trump was quoted as saying, “The primary responsibility of the federal government is to protect the rights of its citizens. Life is the most fundamental right. The federal government should not diminish this right by denying its protection. I am opposed to abortion except for rape, incest and life of the mother. I oppose the use of government funds to pay for abortions.”
And it’s campaign promises like these that have drawn thousands to recent protests in cities around the country, including the 300 college students who took to the streets of Pittsburgh on election night.
“We kind of had this sobering moment when we realized Trump could actually win,” says Zoe Hannah, a student at the University of Pittsburgh who organized the protest last Tuesday. “All of us kind of broke down and were just really sad, and one of my friends said, ‘We have to protest.’ That’s all we could really do. This is mostly an act of solidarity and a way to tell people that minorities are not giving up and we won’t accept the racism and sexism that’s floating around right now.”
Unlike many of her comrades, Hannah doesn’t believe Americans should oppose the outcome of the election.
“I think most people are still happy to be living in a democracy,” says Hannah. “But there’s just this intense fear for people’s safety, and a big part of the protest on Tuesday night was just people who were so angry and needed a place to scream and yell and get out their frustrations.”
Hannah says protests can serve as an outlet for those who feel like their voices are being drowned out by the Islamophobic, xenophobic, homophobic and other hateful rhetoric she sees coming from Trump and his supporters. And she says it’s important to keep paying attention to these kinds of acts because they disprove Trump supporters who say the president-elect isn’t promoting hate.
“But I also think this is a time we really need to stand together and start protesting as much as we can, tell people we’re not OK with this,” says Hannah. “Keep publicizing these horrible attacks that have been happening around the country against people who are not white men. I think we all need to stand in solidarity right now.”
And like Greene, Hannah says it’s important to delve into the motivations behind those who voted for Trump because a better understanding of this population can help unify the country.
“We need to start to accept that this is happening and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Hannah says. “Donald Trump is our president and clearly enough people wanted that. So from here on out, we just need to work on informing people and getting better at gauging the needs of people in this country.”
For those looking for other ways to take action in the face of Trump’s presidency, there are plenty of ways to get involved.
Many have urged the public to petition the Electoral College to cast its votes for Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, because the Democratic presidential nominee won the popular vote. Others are pushing for the abolishment of the Electoral College altogether. And citing low voter turnout, some are calling for the implementation of early voting nationwide before the next presidential election.
Others are focusing on how to protect marginalized populations they feel have been and will be victimized by Trump and his supporters. Some are contacting local elected officials for aid in the wake of rampant instances of discrimination by Trump supporters. There’s been talk of creating “safe spaces” where immigrants, Muslims, LGBT individuals, women and minorities can feel welcome. And there’s bystander intervention training for people who want to step in when they see discrimination.
“We have to band together to make sure these kinds of hateful acts don’t continue to happen,” protester A.J. Wilson told Pittsburgh City Paper at the Sunday rally Downtown. “Our senators and local officials need to understand that our vulnerable communities need protecting. We need to make sure our elected officials hear us and constantly hear us.”
And many activists are focusing their efforts on planning protests over the next few months. Nationwide, thousands are planning to protest Trump’s inauguration in Washington, D.C.; more than 160,000 have sent RSVPs on Facebook for a women’s march there the following day.
Says Car Williams, another who attended Sunday’s Pittsburgh rally: “If we just keep protesting and keep making our voices heard, we can have an impact.”