New York protesters on Trump's inauguration: 'Despair is not our voice'

About 25,000 New Yorkers kicked off a weekend of protests around the United States with a clear message: It’s time to cut the depression and get to work.

Stephanie Keith/Reuters
People hold signs at a protest against President Donald Trump near Trump Tower in New York City Thursday.

When the actor Rosie Perez stood in front of a bigger-than-expected crowd gathering here on Central Park West on Thursday, she alluded to the sense of despair that many liberals have described feeling after the election of Donald Trump.

“I know a lot of you are moanin’ and groanin,’ ” she said, dropping her r’s and speaking with the drawn-out ohaw’s that helped make her famous. “We need to stop that. We need to move forward with love and hope and courage. Despair is not our voice.”

Indeed, it was a major theme among many of the estimated 25,000 who gathered along this famous stretch of residences Thursday night, an avenue of massive pre-war apartment buildings adjacent to Central Park, and long reserved for Manhattan’s wealthiest of elites: It’s time to cut the despair and depression and take to the streets.

The street protest here, intentionally next to the Trump International Hotel and Tower, was one of the first of many planned across the country throughout the inaugural weekend. And along with the up to 200,000 people expected to march in the nation’s capital during the Women's March on Washington, a number of protests are planned from Boston to Los Angeles as urban liberals, suddenly out of power, seek to find a way to respond as Republicans take the reins of the federal government.

Some 95 protesters were arrested in Washington on Inauguration Day after clashes with police. But in New York Thursday, the mood was calm but resolved.

“I’ve just been so depressed, like, we don’t have any idea of what is going to happen,” says Jenn Rodriguez, a restaurant worker from the Bronx. “All these white billionaires – and there’s not even one brown person in his cabinet,” she continues, alluding to the fact that for the first time since 1989, there will be no Latino leading a federal agency.

“So now we have to speak up, be part of the resistance,” continues Ms. Rodriguez, who has also participated in Black Lives Matter marches. “Now I’m just feeling so energized!”

She squealed, too, when the Academy Award-winning actress and singer Cher took the stage.   

“I’m an elitist libtard whose grandmother picked cotton, whose mother sang in bars when she was 8 years old during the Depression,” Cher said, using the alt-right insult for liberals. She described how after the election she took a shower, took off her makeup, and decided to go to bed. But then she heard people were out in the streets protesting.

“So I went down with my none of my fabulous Cherness, and I got caught up, and it took me out of my depression. It took me out of my sadness,” she said.

The actor Mark Ruffalo, one of the organizers of the protest, breathed a sigh of relief as he took the stage. “Man, I need you,” he began. “Did you need this? I needed to be with my brothers and sisters here to know that there is hope in the world and that we have one another, right?”

“Now we’re coming here together ... in this amazing city of New York to protect something precious to us, and that’s each other,” Mr. Ruffalo continued. “We’re not protesters, we’re people protectors.”

'City that raised me to be bold'

As the minority party in both houses of Congress, and with Democrats outside the power structures of the nation’s federal agencies, many liberals have suggested that local power, especially the municipal authorities in big cities, must take up the progressive agenda.   

“Donald Trump may control the agenda in Washington, but we control our destiny as Americans,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who unexpectedly rose to power with the class-conscious campaign slogan, “a tale of two cities.”

Faiza Ali, the Brooklyn-born founder of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York and one of the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, said she is “driven by the values of city that raise me to be bold, to have grit, and to be resilient.”

“Trump campaigned for an America that had no place for me and my community,” she said. “Not only are Muslim Americans fearful of losing their freedoms and our basic rights, but we’re fearful for our physical safety.” It is because of this fact, however, that “the struggle comes into greater focus and the role that everyone of us has to play becomes clear.”

Indeed, as many suggested on Thursday, organized protests may be the go-to form of politics moving forward – a legacy of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter.

The Standing Rock model

And more than one of the speakers, including Ruffalo, cited the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota as a model for the coming resistance movement – in terms of steady, nonviolent resolve.

“The narrative surrounding ‘us-against-them’ does not ever work,” said the actress Shailene Woodley. “Violence does not work. Aggression does not work. Anger can be transmuted into fuel, so that we can show up with passion, but that passion has to be rooted in compassion and love and prayer.”

“Love is not a word to be forgotten in this movement, love is not a word to be undermined,” she continued. “And the people of Standing Rock showed us that you can show up on the front line with your hands behind your back and your heart forward.”

Yet there were also host of signs and posters with anti-Trump slogans, many of them vulgar. And the actor Alec Baldwin took the stage to do his now-famous impression of the president, and Oscar winner Robert De Niro read some made-up Tweets, poking fun at @realDonaldTrump’s penchant for late-night battles on the social media site.  

And there was a particular irony in this Manhattan protest, especially since the nation’s new president is in many ways a quintessential native son – a wealthy celebrity with a lot of loud opinions.

“Donald Trump is from this city, he is a New Yawkah,” Perez said. “And yet he has spread a message across this country that is the opposite of who we are as New Yorkers – how we respect and value one another, not on the color of our skin or the way we pray or how much money we got in our bank accounts.”

“Tonight I want us to move forward with love and hope,” she continued, appropriating, a theme previously asserted by Republicans when they were out of power. “But love and hope does not equal weakness, love and hope equals strength, true strength, true character of what real Americans are about.”

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