Image Source: Getty / Mandel Ngan
I learned much about this election through a protest in New York City that followed it.
I went to sleep the night of Nov. 8 knowing that Donald Trump would soon be announced as the next president of the United States. I repeatedly woke up throughout the night to check my phone, only to confirm that my fears had come true. My partner had gone to sleep earlier in the night, when a Hillary Clinton win was still conceivable. When he woke up in the morning, he almost jokingly asked me, "So, who won?" Like many, he assumed it would be Clinton. I now envy those extra hours he had not having to reckon with Trump's America.
The day after the election, I got dressed and went into work. I knew it was going to be a long day, however, when I started crying while waiting in line for an egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwich, something that usually makes me smile. The mood on the subway was grim. Passengers looked at each other with downcast expressions. Some people I made eye contact with even nodded, as if to say, "Yes, this is really happening. Yes, this sucks."
As the day wore on, my hopelessness materialized into something strangely more tangible and empowering: anger. I was pissed. I was pissed that we elected a man who had so openly exhibited this nation's longstanding inclination toward racism, sexism, xenophobia, and bigotry. I was pissed that many of my peers voted for third party candidates. I was also pissed that I have loved ones who voted for Trump and genuinely wanted him to win.
I understand why many Americans flocked to Trump. He was a deviation from the so-called establishment. He appealed to those who had felt disenfranchised by President Obama's policies. As someone who voted for Bernie Sanders during the primaries, I too understand that desire for change. I just don't think someone with such an obvious lack of basic social skills — not to mention prior political experience — will be able to bring about that change.
I must have listened to Solange Knowles's "Mad" about a thousand times that day before realizing that I needed to do something about it. Her ethereal voice told me, "You got the right to be mad, but when you carry it alone, you find it only getting in the way." Instead of carrying it alone, I decided I would protest with thousands of others who were mad and had the right to be so.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Kelsey Garcia
I left work and walked to Union Square, where thousands of protesters had already gathered. I noticed the strong police presence and definitely worried about them making arrests. Unable to shake my stubborn pragmatism, I thought to myself, "How will I tell my boss I can't come into work tomorrow if I'm in jail?" Regardless, I waited around until I noticed a shift in the crowd. It was time to start marching to the epicenter of it all, the Trump Tower.
As we approached Midtown Manhattan, we had completely shut down Broadway. We chanted phrases like, "This is what democracy looks like," "black lives matter," and — a personal favorite — "p*ssy grabs back." I passed by a woman weeping on the sidewalk, just watching us. A protester went up to her and they hugged. There were plenty of cab drivers upset about the traffic, but many of the drivers we walked past were giving us high-fives and honking for us.
The other type of honking existed, too. As we passed by many of the corporate buildings that line Broadway, men in business suits laughed at us, called us sore losers, and told us we should have voted.
We all needed to make this pilgrimage both collectively and independently to wrestle with our own fears about the future.
I know there's a huge faction of this nation right now that perceives protesters as being "sore losers" or "anti-American," but exercising my First Amendment right to assemble sounds pretty American to me. The squandering of social activism is what can lead to dictatorial takeovers. As a child of Cuban immigrants, this feels especially true.
We got to Trump Tower and it took me about 20 minutes just to make my way through the crowd to see it. There, we continued chanting and crying. Everyone around me varied in gender, race, and age, and we all needed to make this pilgrimage both collectively and independently to wrestle with our own fears and doubts about the future.
I'd like to say that standing in front of Trump Tower made me feel better, but I can't. As I stood there and looked up at this architectural symbol of greed and patriarchy, it became more apparent that he really is our president-elect. I didn't suddenly come to terms with the election's outcome. I resisted the idea that our nation was more united than I had thought. A new feeling did come through for me, though. After crying, screaming, and marching 42 city blocks, I was numb. But right then, feeling nothing felt f*cking fantastic.