It is so much easier to cancel plans today than it was years ago. You can just send a text and you won’t feel bad about it. Three different people said they would go to the protest with me, and all three ended up staying home. I debated staying home too, no one would know the difference, but that thought bugged me. I needed to go out there. I was restlessly doing nothing while everything I believed in was being attacked.
I understand many people are uneducated about the issues at stake or they don’t understand, but this is how you spread awareness. Some people call us whiny, that we need to settle and stop disrupting things. They are entitled to that opinion, but that is what people said about the sixties. And if it weren’t for that disruption and that ‘whining,’ we wouldn’t be where we are today.
It was cold that morning, but it wasn’t cold enough for me to wear a coat all day. I didn’t have a sign, but I was ready for a long day. When I got to Millennium Park, there weren’t many people there, I got a little scared that we wouldn’t have a good turnout and I would be made fun of by my friends for going at all on a day where no one showed up. I followed a few people with signs and we simply walked around for awhile until one person with a large sign told us that everyone was gathering nearby. We stood silently on the pavement until someone else suggested we started chanting so others knew where to go. Before long, the place was crowded and we were on the move, marching around the perimeter of the park. We spanned blocks, with police standing next to the sidewalk and telling everyone to stay out of the street. People joined in, an organization was handing out signs for people to hold that said “America Was Never Great. We Need to Overthrow This System!”. As we turned north again, towards Trump Tower, we began to move into the streets completely, while police moved the traffic around us.
We marched from The Art Institute, past Trump Tower, by Water Tower, down State Street and back probably four or more times in the next three and a half hours. It was slow going and it became warm at noon as the sun shone above us. My voice was aching, all my acting training yelling at me for how I was using my voice. Even my ears were hurting while I spoke. But it was so positive. Whenever someone would start a chant such as “Fuck Trump,” it would immediately be replaced with something more positive such as “Love Trumps Hate”. There were people from every walk of life. People from all over were there. There were infants in strollers or being carried. There were seven years olds with signs that they had obviously written themselves. There were senior citizens walking slowly beside us, choosing not to chant in order to save their voices. We got a lot of support from the street. Cars would honk at us and give us thumbs up. One woman was standing by her two young children on the sidewalk and she said “Are you watching this? This is important.” One man on the street was chanting “Trump!” back against us and was garnering lots of attention from TV cameras. My favorite chants from the day were “We’re here, we’re queer, get this cheetto out of here” “Build a fence around Mike Pence” and the ever hilarious “He can’t build a wall, his hands are too small,” although I do agree that the more constructive chants were more like “Black Lives Matter” “My Body My Choice” and “We Reject the president elect”.
Around two o’clock, the march led us to a gathering where a protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline was going to start. Many left, but I also feel strongly on this issue so I figured I would stay. This event seemed to have been planned a bit more strategically. It started with speakers and some Native American traditional dances and ended with us being riled up and marching once again towards Trump Tower. One speaker remarked that she saw no one standing by someone who was the same color as themselves, and somehow that really strtuck me as I looked around. As we marched, everyone let the Native Americans lead, because this was about them, and we were there to support. We stopped when we got to Trump Tower. We couldn’t actually get close to the building because police were surrounding it, but we stopped in the street and had more chants, more speakers, and more dances. People began to split off, and after about 2 and a half hours, I left as well. I had been outside protesting for almost seven hours. Every part of me hurt and I felt sick from the cold that had become to chill me to my core, but I felt pride for what I had done. My friends seemed regretful they hadn’t come with me, though they covered it up saying “maybe it’s good I didn’t go, you look worn out”. My dad had been thinking I was going to get arrested, although he didn’t seem like he had been too stressed when I called him. I was proud of this city, and the two peaceful protests I had been a part of.
In times like these, people often look back in order to contextualize where we are today. I tried to image Bigger Thomas from Native Son today. Would he still feel uncomfortable at his job? Would he still wonder “what Jack and Gus and G.H. would say if they saw him sitting between two white people in a car”? Would his crimes still be inevitable and Richard Wright suggests? At one point in my life I was in the blissful place where I believed that we had come a long, long way since the racism of the forties. I look at the news today I see we haven’t come as far as we like to think we have.
I also wonder about women’s rights. The progress here sometimes seems more tangible, but how far could we have come when our bodies are still talked about as objects, things without feelings, merely toys for others? How far can we have come when we still haven’t had a woman president? When people see a woman running for president and think she is unfit mostly (whether naysayers acknowledge it or not) for misogynistic reasons, how far have we come? Just like Cisneros speaks of in A House of My Own speaking of her experience in the eighties, we are still battling the fact that it is always questioned when a woman doesn’t want to immediately marry or when she wants to keep working if she does have a family. Expectations remain mostly the same since Cisneros wrote that “the father wants his daughter to be a weather girl on television, or to marry and have babies. She doesn’t want to be a TV weather girl. Nor does she want to marry and have babies. Not yet.” We seem to overlook that we still have far to go in many of our issues, which is why we need to keep fighting.
Since I have been in Chicago, I have already experienced two moments that will be looked back on in history. I will be able to say “I remember where I was when _____ happened.” The first was the Cubs winning the World Series (please congratulate me for not slipping up and saying the Super Bowl), and the second was November 8th/9th, 2016. The 8th started out as an average day but ended in tears that continued for days. About nine people were in my dorm room, some trying to ignore the results coming in by being loud in a different room while others of sat staring at the screen in shock and terror. In the early hours of November 8th, many felt that their fates were sealed. One girl in my apartment looked me in the eyes and said “I’m a black, queer, woman. I’m basically dead”. Why are we protesting, some may ask? For them, for each other, for ourselves, for this country.
Many Trump supporters have lately expressed their feelings that they don’t think he is racist or sexist or xenophobic or ablest; that he has never said anything that implies that. I would say that I envy the fact that these people have the privilege in their own minds to ignore his rhetoric and not notice how damaging it is, but I can’t say that, because I envy nothing that harms others so much. How can you not think of someone who was a leader in the ‘birther’ movement against Obama and who is endorsed by the KKK as racist? How can you not think of someone who said callous things about women and never apologized for it as sexist? How can you not think of someone who calls Mexicans ‘rapists’ as xenophobic (and racist)? How can you not think of someone who openly mocks a disabled man as ablest? I can’t apologize for how I feel, because it is not something like rights to an inanimate object such as a gun that you are taking away, it is my right to my own body. It is my friend’s and family’s rights as humans.