You know we’re living in a topsy-turvy world when Michael Moore seems like an eminently reasonable guy next to our incoming president.
On the eve of Inauguration Day, when Donald Trump will take the oath of office to succeed Barack Obama, some 25,000 people crowded the streets surrounding New York City’s Trump International Hotel and Tower for a “We Stand United” rally led by Moore and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
It was the most star-studded anti-Trump demonstration we’ve seen yet: Robert De Niro, Alec Baldwin, Mark Ruffalo, Sally Field, Julianne Moore, Cynthia Nixon, Shailene Woodley, Rosie Perez, Marisa Tomei, and Cher all took turns introducing a slew of politically progressive leaders who agitated on behalf of the Affordable Care Act, civil rights, labor unions, and a number of other programs and policies that the incoming Trump administration has threatened to do away with.
The American electorate didn’t particularly care for Hollywood’s celebrity echo chamber, but the “We Stand United” organizers knew their audience in Manhattan on Thursday night.
People of all ages and ethnicities held aloft posters and signs that ranged from the mundane (“Not my president!”) to the mildly extreme (“Trump’s Alt-Reich”), along with hundreds of humorous references to Trump’s cozy relationship with Russia, including one poster of a naked Trump with a Soviet-stamped nuclear missile for a penis with the words “Whistle for the red missile” emblazoned above the president-elect’s head.
Those at the front of the crowd, near the stage, were far more subdued than the angry mob that protested outside Trump Tower several days after the election.
Some discussed plans to flee the country if things get as bad under a President Trump as they fear they might. Richard Rice, a singer in his sixties who was born in Texas but has lived in New York for more than 30 years, is looking at Europe and Costa Rica.
“I’ve already got a place to stay in Scotland, I’ve got a work visa in Europe, and I’m trying to sell my property here,” said Rice, who carried a poster featuring Trump with a Hitler mustache (a popular image on Thursday night) with the words “Gropen Führer.”
Jay Goldman, 59, from Connecticut, said he has his eye on Costa Rica, where he said people actually treat each other civilly—certainly by comparison to America.
“I’m embarrassed for American society,” Goldman said regarding Trump’s election and imminent presidency. “It’s not about Republicans and Democrats anymore; it’s about creating a society that’s kinder and fairer to our own people and the rest of the world,” he said, adding that Bernie Sanders isn’t necessarily the only person who could rescue our country—but “he has been pitching a more just society for more than 50 years.”
Around 6:30, Rosie Perez kicked off the demonstration, which lasted more than two hours. “The world is watching, and we want to let them know our voices matters,” she said, before handing the stage over to fellow New York native Robert DeNiro, who called the president-elect “a bad example of this country, this city,” drawing cheers from the audience. “We’re all rooting for the incoming administration to abandon his racist, misogynist, divisive rhetoric... we patriots will stand for the rights of our fellow citizens!”
De Niro introduced Mayor de Blasio, whose message was less explicitly anti-Trump (“don’t define us by what we’re against, but by what we’re for”) and more about fighting for progressive rights.
He reminded demonstrators that the Affordable Care Act was “still the law of the land in this country” and that mayors across America have pledged that the next 100 days will be “days of action together,” including Mayor Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis, who spoke after de Blasio.
Then came Michael Moore, who just might become relevant again with Trump in office, as he did after the release of his conspiracy-filled Fahrenheit-911 documentary targeting George W. Bush. The filmmaker elicited the most enthusiastic response from the crowd yet that night, despite his characteristically grim prediction for our future. “As bad as we think it’s going to be, it’s going to be worse,” he said to a rapt audience (after all, he correctly predicted Trump’s election).
Moore called on the thousands of people gathered to ring up their congressional representatives every day, and reminded them to turn to comedy, too, as perhaps the most effective form of civil disobedience against our thin-skinned president-elect.
Appositely, Alec Baldwin—in character as Trump—took the stage next with a crowd-pleasing parody: He’d been out in the cold for a while and had to pee, “but I’m holding it in, holding it in… I’m going to a function at the Russian consulate... and I’m going to have a really, really long pee. Like the biggest pee I’ve ever had in my lifetime.”
For Baldwin, comedy is doubtless the best weapon against Trump. He’s a hugely talented actor, a formidable interviewer on his public-radio show Here’s the Thing, and... a fanatic when it comes to politics. When he publicly imploded in 2014, he wrote in New York magazine about his “dreams of running for office at some point in the next five years,” which he’d given up on because he hated the invasion of privacy that came with being a public figure. He lamented the malignant state of journalism (“Now I loathe and despise the media in a way that I couldn’t imagine”) and defended himself against Andrew Sullivan, Anderson Cooper, and others who shamed him for calling a Daily Mail reporter a “toxic little queen.” He railed against TMZ founder Harvey Levin for releasing a video of him in which “you hear me saying ‘cocksucker’ and then some bisyllabic word that sounds like ‘faggot’—but wasn’t.”
That Baldwin has some impulse-control issues (on Twitter and otherwise) is likely one of the main reasons he hasn’t run for political office—though it may not have gotten in his way as much as he thought it would. Because here we are, with a soon-to-be-president who has about as much impulse-control as a toddler. Compared to Trump’s temperament, Baldwin’s rivals Barack Obama’s.
Back at the rally, Al Sharpton galvanized the crowd. “This is Donald Trump’s hometown, but the hometown folk do not behave like Donald Trump! America is already great, and we will make it even greater!”
Sally Field spoke on behalf of the labor movement’s fight for minimum wage; Cynthia Nixon on behalf of the LGBTQ community (“We are not going back... we are here, we are queer, and we have no fear!”); Mark Ruffalo on behalf of climate change and Martin Luther King Jr., who knew that “without love not a damn thing could happen... so today we move forward not in protesting Trump but in recreating the Democratic Party as a party responsive to the people! Neoliberalism is dead!”
There were, predictably, a few quiet Trump supporters at the rally. Nino Hervias, a taxi driver who bought his medallion in 1991, had come with the hope of speaking to Mayor de Blasio, whom he’s disappointed in for not cracking down on Uber. He also said he’s a “free-trade guy,” which he cited as one of the reasons he voted for Trump. He didn’t like how guys like de Blasio seemed to care more about protecting illegal immigrants than, say, New York’s medallion-owning citizens. “What about me, a legal immigrant? What’s he done for me?”
Jovanni Valle, 26, from Brooklyn said another demonstrator noticed his “Make America Great Again” hat and took a swing at him. “I’m not even allowed to wear something that people disagree with, and I’ve listened to a lot of things that I disagreed with tonight.” His parents are first-generation immigrants from Ecuador and Puerto Rico and had previously voted Democrat before this election. His whole family is confident that Trump was going to create more jobs.
Still, he appreciated the “creativity of the signs” in the crowd that night, he said, before picking up his cellphone: his mom.