On a chilly day in November, I climbed the steps of a chapel to take photos of a rally. Below, I could see college students from two different campuses, gathering. They carried signs and nalgene bottles and smart phones. I recognized students from our small environmental college, students who were stunned and horrified by the recent election.
I was startled to hear a young man mutter a negative comment under his breath. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Not everyone supported the protest. As an organizer began talking into a megaphone, I could feel tension in the crowd. There were scornful whispers and some nervous giggles.
I felt old. I was tired of arguing, frustrated with Facebook threads where facts were ignored. We had just elected a man who fires up crowds with racist, sexist, and xenophobic rhetoric, who thinks climate change is a hoax, who ignores science and facts. And yet I know people who had voted for him; probably we all do.
A young woman strode purposefully through the crowd. She’s a sophomore, probably 19 or 20. She approached the organizers and took the megaphone. Her voice rang out, loud and clear. She didn’t hesitate.
“I know some of you are Trump supporters,” she said. “I can hear you as you whisper to each other.”
The crowd went silent—that awkward tension that follows when someone breaks the rules of etiquette. How brave of this woman, I thought to myself, to address the elephant on the quad. I couldn’t imagine what she was going to say next. But she’d certainly gotten our attention.
She brandished the megaphone the way a young militant might hold up a fist. Her young body was so filled with passion and enthusiasm that she was almost dancing. She looked directly at the crowd, with a clear and steady gaze. “I want you to know—I’m glad that you’re here. I hope you learn something today.”
She leaned towards the crowd. She took a deep breath and yelled with all her might. “Know that I love you. I love you all.”
That was it. She didn’t argue. She didn’t explain. She just said it outright. “I love you all.”
Perhaps, when we’ve just elected a demagogue, that’s the only response, the only way to fight.
As she stepped down into the crowd, people began cheering. I could feel a blaze of energy, spreading across, moving from person to person. Then the chanting began: “This is what democracy looks like.” And then it got louder: “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE.”
We were chanting, all of us, everyone together. The guy in the pajama pants, the professor with the blazer, the tall young men in hoodies, the woman with the purple bangs.
The march began. We didn’t lose anyone; the crowd kept getting bigger. We marched to the street and began down the hill. I climbed atop a bench to take a photo, and I couldn’t see the end, all around me were people chanting and shouting. More than a thousand people in all.
As we walked, chants began in pockets, then moved in ripples from front to back, swelling louder and louder. People ran to join us. I didn’t hear any more scornful whispers.
Climate change is real!
Women’s rights are human rights!
Education not deportation!
Black lives matter!
Say it loud, say it clear. Refugees are welcome here!
I read signs as students passed me:
No space for hate!
Build a world, not a wall.
We will not be silent.
I will use my privilege to amplify your voice.
Dark days are coming. But this is the America I want to hold onto. This is the America I will fight for. A country where citizens can peacefully assemble, can speak their truths, and tell their stories. A country where students will fight for science and reason and truth, where people will join hands to protect each other and the places they love. A country where love is stronger than hate.
Janine DeBaise teaches writing and literature at the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry in upstate New York. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals including Phoebe, 13th Moon, Frontiers, Kalliope, and the Seattle Review. Her poetry chapbook Of a Feather was published by Finishing Line Press as part of their New Women’s Voices Series. Her writing reflects her involvement with environmental and feminist issues.