Let me begin by saying that I love this country. I was raised to respect the office of the president and the peaceful transition of power. I believe in these things down to my very core. That is why this election has been so devastating. Our president-elect is not a man I can respect. His blatant disrespect for women, the LGBTQ community, people of color, immigrants, Muslims and disabled persons has left me and much of the country shaken. It is not just an issue of policy (though that is a major issue), it is an issue of hatred. It is an issue of human decency. It is an issue of human rights. Knowing this, the only course of action which remained was for me to join in the protests happening in my town.
I shook with nerves on Sunday as I realized I would be attending my very first political protest alone. After coming to the conclusion that I needed to do something about the results of the presidential election, I decided to go to a rally in downtown Gainesville on Sunday afternoon. (To be fair, it was not so much a protest as a peaceful organizing session for future protests.) I caught an Uber clad in my “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people” shirt with my recorder in hand, ready to report what I saw.
When I hopped into the car my driver complimented my shirt and offered me a safety pin, explaining that she was headed to the same place. It could just be that the world is smaller than I thought, but the animated conversation we had on the way to the venue struck me more as a sign that I was doing the right thing. This woman understood my grief, she understood my outrage, she understood my pain. She shared my desire to do something productive.
Upon arriving I signed in, giving my email so I could keep up to date on future events. The level of organization struck me immediately. After signing in, we shuffled inside. The crowd of several hundred listened to the organizers lay down some ground rules:
- Assume good intentions.
- Call people in, not out.
- Step up, not back.
- Own your intent and impact.
- Limit your time to two minutes.
- Respect the process.
As they explained the rules, I realized my fears were unfounded. These people, like me, came here because they felt committed to creating positive change. They wanted a peaceful and productive discussion and planning session in order to get organized. “When I saw the results of the election, I sobbed,” said Gainesville resident Sam Miller. “I sobbed for about an hour and a half. I called my mom and cried to her. She was supportive of course, but she said as well, we can’t, I can’t, just be silent anymore.”
Over the course of the meeting we heard each other’s stories, learned each other’s concerns and discussed ways to keep the hateful rhetoric that has been bolstered in this last year from poisoning our country. The Electoral College may have made Donald Trump our president, but millions of people across this country, a majority of voters in fact, do not believe he represents our values. In a week of grief, pain and fear, I have tried to keep this in mind.
Many do not understand the point of protesting. If I had a dollar for every time I heard some flippant comment about the “participation trophy generation” whining because we didn’t get our way, I could pay off my student loans. The people making those comments are missing the point though.
Most protesters don’t believe we will overturn the election. We simply do not wish to be party or fall victim to the potentially harmful agenda that has been touted by our president elect for the last year. We fear what all of this will mean for our daily lives. “I can’t stand the thought of someone that I love or myself going through some type of abuse because someone doesn’t agree with who I love,” said Miller. “Because of the fact that [Trump and Pence] work with so many people who are completely against LGBT rights, I’m not willing—I can’t accept that. I don’t feel safe. I’ve already felt so unsafe since he’s been elected.”
Correct me if I’m wrong here, but if we live in a nation by the people and for the people…the people should feel safe. That is why we organize. That is why we protest. And if trying to make our country feel safe for everyone makes me un-American, then I guess we really are lost.