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BY ZACH WILLIAMS
Protest, in a sense, had become a part of daily life for Hell’s Kitchen resident Ben Natan by the time Donald Trump took the oath of office on Fri., Jan. 20.
That did not mean that Natan hit the streets every day. A Downtown rally that day was a literal way to protest the new president, but the 20-year-old NYU student had another idea about how to oppose Trump. Natan said it involved promoting tolerance and solidarity as much as excoriating Trump with a sign.
“That’s a form of protest in itself,” said Natan.
The idea that community building was as important as rallying against Trump spread among the 1,000 people who gathered to denounce him in New York City on Inauguration Day. They highlighted racist and sexist things he has said as they congregated outside a Trump-owned property at 40 Wall St. The event — Stand Against Trump: Inauguration Day Rally & March — drew media attention to their cause, but participants said they also recognized that asserting the vision they had for the future required more than a one-mile protest march from Foley Square.
Speakers represented grassroots groups — in contrast to a rally held the night before, where thousands gathered at Columbus Circle listened to celebrities such as Robert De Niro, Mark Ruffalo, Cher, Rosie Perez, and Alec Baldwin. The Stand Against Trump rally did not rival that star power, but organizers told the crowd at Foley Square to aim high by organizing at the lowest levels.
“We know in this city that what makes change is people coming together around the ideas of solidarity. It’s when people reject racism and xenophobia,” said Daniel Kroop, an event organizer representing a group called the New York City Coalition To Resist Trump. “We’re going to build the most powerful people movement that this city has seen in 50 years.”
Member groups of the coalition have names like Occupy Kensington, Democratic Socialists of America, and Socialist Alternatives. The combination of small social media followings expanded their reach — and while the 14,000 people who said they would attend the Jan. 20 rally did not appear, those who stood in the evening drizzle did so knowing they were among the majority of Americans who stood in line to vote against Trump.
Mallory McMahon of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, had never spoken at a political rally before she heard a series of loud bangs at 3 a.m. on Nov. 9. Her neighbors were celebrating Trump’s shocking victory with fireworks as she cried in her bed. But she did not have to go far to find a sympathetic person.
“I spoke to my mother the next night, and our conversation kept going back over and over the same thing: ‘What can we do?’ We felt hopeless — afraid — all the things that Trump and his supporters want us to feel.”
Hate crimes in her neighborhood followed the election. Early last month, a man allegedly told a woman in a hijab — an off-duty NYPD officer — to leave the country and then threatened to slit her throat. The officer reported the incident to colleagues, who arrested a suspect the following day. In the weeks that followed, a group called Fight Back Bay Ridge formed among a dozen like-minded neighbors who vowed to outnumber “the vocal and scary minority” behind such incidents, McMahon added.
Similar groups have popped up across the city as residents and elected officials cope with a Trump presidency. Some worried that he would embolden racists, misogynists and other bigots. Others predicted that he would support Congressional Republicans who want to restrict abortion, deregulate Wall St. and repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Causes as diverse as transportation safety and #BlackLivesMatter have a common enemy. Veterans of protests from the Vietnam War era have found new allies in Millennials. Ironically, Trump’s promise to unite Americans has inspired an opposition among diehard Hillary Clinton supporters and revolutionary anarchists alike. One university student who spoke at Foley Square on Jan. 20 urged the crowd to channel opposition to Trump into the ongoing movement to make public universities tuition-free. Pro-Palestinian activists waved flags nearby.
These new alliances empower small groups, according to McMahon. Fight Back Bay Ridge only has about 50 followers on social media, but Trump supporters have already demonstrated that a few people can reach millions at any moment, she added.
But they do not need a viral sensation to win in the long term, as an ever-growing presence on social media reaches new people incrementally, she explained. A “world of resistance” can form “one by one” against efforts by Trump and others to undermine an inclusive society, according to McMahon.
These efforts reached Judith Idowu the night before, after a long day at work. The Upper West Side resident wanted to be among the millions of Americans who would protest the inauguration. But first she needed to know where to go. She logged into Facebook and found not one, but two events over the weekend.
She said that she wanted to be among the Americans — who like a few people long ago in her native Germany — opposed from the get-go a politician who notoriously promised to implement policies that discriminate against ethnic and religious minorities.
A few feet away, Natan looked at the bronze statue of George Washington in front of Federal Hall. The inauguration of the 45th president made Natan fear for the future, but for the time being he found solace among neighbors.
The appreciation for diversity that defines neighborhoods like Hell’s Kitchen will keep the opposition against Trump alive even in the darkest hours to come, according to Natan.
“It’s really not about going out and protesting every day,” he confirmed.