NEW YORK CITY — Early Wednesday evening in Manhattan’s Union Square, the chants of hundreds of anti-Trump protesters ricocheted through the park’s northern plaza: “Lock him up! Lock him up! Lock him up!”
Twenty-four hours earlier, many in the crowd associated those words with Trump’s hate-filled rallies, where the Republican presidential candidate’s supporters called for his rival, Hillary Clinton, to be jailed.
By Wednesday evening the chant had been re-appropriated by an angry cadre protesting the election of Donald Trump.
Led by the New York chapter of an organization called Socialist Alternative, the protesters would march 30 blocks north to Trump Tower, joining forces there with three other anti-Trump groups who began their own demonstrations further uptown, including the intersectional feminist #GOPHandsOffMe movement.
Similar protests erupted across the country from Boston to Los Angeles, with many others in predominantly blue cities like Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia, Portland, Oregon, Seattle, and Washington D.C.
Police estimated more than 5,000 people turned out in New York City alone, where their main target was Trump’s unforeseen victory but also the political establishment. “United we stand, fuck the system at hand!” went one resounding chant. The protesters were a fiercely progressive, overwhelmingly youthful crew of Bernie Sanders supporters and Occupy Wall Streeters on steroids.
“Trump won because of the weakness of the Democratic Party!” a Socialist Alternative organizer told the crowd at Union Square, her voice amplified by a megaphone. “I refuse to believe that this country is overrun with reactionaries—these are people who don’t have what they need in order to thrive and survive!”
The crowd erupted in cheers and hoisted their defiant “Sue the DNC” and “Not my president” posters, their apocalyptic “See you in hell, Trump” and “AmeriKKKan Nightmare” signs, the latter referencing Trump’s white-supremacist supporters.
Many expressed fear of how President Trump—whose campaign rhetoric has consistently been called out as sexist, racist, and xenophobic by the media and his detractors—could endanger marginalized communities.
“As a trans woman, I’m really scared that I might not be able to have accessible health care to pay for my hormone therapy” said Brian Villalobos, 24, who wore a pink backpack and carried a black sign mocking Trump’s campaign slogan, with the words “America has never been great” written in pastel chalk.
“I don’t believe the country has ever been that great, at least not for people of color and women,” Villalobos said as we walked north in the rain on Broadway, where cars were parked in the middle of the street. The city was evidently prepared for the demonstration, which was largely peaceful.
“I’m also a first-generation kid from Honduras,” Villalobos added, “so what does that mean for my family?”
Near Madison Square Park, a young woman in a camouflage jacket brandished her protest paraphernalia—a used mailer’s envelope with a Sharpee’d cry to “End Electoral Voting”—and explained that the Electoral College was “obsolete.”
“To my understanding, we have electoral voting because our Founding Fathers didn’t believe we were smart enough to vote on our own,” said Gigi, 24, who declined to reveal her last name. “I think that the majority of America is intelligent and educated enough to make our own decisions, and the majority of America voted for Hillary,” she said, referring to Clinton’s popular-vote victory.
Indeed, Clinton would have taken the election had she won the Electoral College, a system designed to ensure that candidates don’t overlook small states for big cities, instead seeking support from a cross-section of the electorate. Winning the popular vote but losing the Electoral College, as Democrats have now done in two of the past five elections, has prompted calls for reform that would require a constitutional amendment—and everyone hates the system when their candidate loses, even if it’s not their ideal candidate.
Up ahead, people carrying rainbow LGBTQ flags and orange “Socialist Alternative” ones snaked over to Sixth Avenue, where traffic had stopped to accommodate the demonstration. City buses honked in unison with shouted slogans, from the feminist (“end rape culture”) to the profane (“fuck your wall”), while taxi and Uber drivers exchanged high-fives and fist-bumps with marchers.
New Yorkers hate traffic, but on Wednesday evening they hated Donald Trump more. The rare unsmiling drivers were called out by protesters on more than one occasion. “Tax the rich!” one yelled at a man sulking behind the wheel of his Range Rover; others cursed and rushed toward a car whose driver had implored them to “get a life.”
Ten blocks south of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, organizers began panicking that much of the group had fallen behind. There were calls for the front to slow down, the back to keep up, and the onlookers—tourists gawping or taking videos on their smartphones while others cheered—to join the march.
Hustling to keep up with the crush of people ahead, a 23-year-old woman in a long flannel shirt and winter hat pulled over her ears struck up a conversation with me, introducing herself only as “Kitty.”
“Trump and Pence should definitely be assassinated,” Kitty offered, as if relaying what she’d eaten for lunch that day. If no one took them out, she anticipated a “huge fucking Holocaust.”
Around 8 p.m., Kitty pushed her way through throngs of people as foot traffic halted a block south of Trump Tower, where a chorus of “fuck your wall” chants echoed through the crowd, some of them aimed at a line of police officers cordoning off the streets from the sidewalk, effectively forming a barrier to Trump’s gilded headquarters. Out front, protesters waved a large rainbow flag and taunted the president-elect with a blow-up doll of his likeness dangling from a noose on a wooden poll.
Andrew Heyning, a 19-year-old student at New York University, said he felt “morally defeated that half of the country would elect someone who is such an awful candidate and human being. But tonight, this gives me hope!”
He gestured to the scene around us—the hanging blow-up doll and gleeful protesters who had pulled the city into their orbit, with many climbing construction sites and street signs to get a better view—before breaking into a “Fuck Donald Trump” chant. He and dozens of others thrust their middle fingers in the air toward several tower residents, who looked down on the braying mob from their balconies.
“The most important takeaway from all of this is that Trump duped his anti-establishment supporters into believing he was just like them,” said 18-year-old Tom Miritello, a fellow NYU student who had marched with Heyning from Union Square. He stressed that he was not, however, blind to Hillary Clinton’s troubling relationship with the truth and had “read the emails WikiLeaks published.”
But as a gay man, Miritello said he feared that a Trump presidency would threaten LGBTQ rights and reverse what he estimated to be nearly 80 years of social progress. “We’re going back to the ’40s, past Cold War fear-mongering, to where a racial divide defines our nation,” he told me.
Next to us, two young women hoisted a bloody pair of women’s underwear—a nod to Trump’s shuddering revulsion when it comes to women’s reproductive functions. To Trump, women who menstruate are interchangeable with monsters (more than a year ago, he suggested that Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever”).
Protesters cheered again and again each time a helicopter passed overhead, sometimes directly over Trump Tower, as if in solidarity with their pissed-off city. Several speculated aloud what the king in his castle thought of the scene.
“You know he loves this,” said Cody Davis, a 24-year-old student at the New School who wore a corduroy jacket and a hoop ring through his nasal cartilage. He suggested to a fellow protester that they storm Trump Tower: “That seems peaceful enough for today.”
By 9:15, people began spilling out onto 57th Street, though most stayed to disturb the peace for several more hours.
If the map of blue millennial voters in the election and strong student turnout at New York's protests were any indication, America’s youths will do everything they can in the next four years to prevent President Trump from being President Trump.