Hundreds of Wesleyan students gathered on Friday for a rally and demonstration against the presidential election of Donald Trump. Like many similar college protests across the country, the goal of the “Students Against Trump” rally was to express discontent with the American electoral system, as well as the systematic racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia that led to Trump’s rise to power.
The day saw many students vocalizing their response to the election results, a march throughout campus and down to Main Street, 2 students being detained by Middletown Police, and several students spray-painting “Amerikkka” on an American flag in front of Olin. Read on for photos and videos from the day’s actions, as well as more on what transpired:
The protest began outside of Usdan, where the rally’s organizers encouraged students to come forward and share their thoughts and feelings regarding the election. They were quickly interrupted by Sophia Fox ’18, one of the more vocal Trump supporters on campus. Other voices quickly overwhelmed hers, though, as students of color, survivors of sexual assault, and queer students shouted their grievances against Trump.
Devonaire Ortiz ’18 told the crowd: “I am a brown man. I am a queer man. I am a Latino. Trump is not my president.” In response to an invitation to the crowd to understand Trump supporters and to not brand them racists, he noted, “Whether or not you consider yourself a racist, you can still be behind racist rhetoric.”
A woman of color in the crowd addressed others by saying, “All minorities have always been scared, and y’all are just joining the fight now.”
A woman who identified herself as a 1978 Wesleyan alumna declared that the election of Trump is what the beginning of fascism looks like.
The organizers then led the protest to Olin, with chants such as, “Fuck Trump,” and “Love trumps hate.” Other students began more explicit chants such as “Say it loud, say it clear, people of color are welcome here,” which came up again and again during the protest.
At Olin, the chants were interspersed with students taking turns getting up on the steps and sharing their stories. One of them, Michael Ortiz ’17, a child of immigrants and native Spanish speakers, recalled how a white woman harassed his parents on a subway when he was five years old. “Many of you will not understand how I feel,” he said, “because society does not require you to. Know that, and feel that.”
“The centerpoint of your activism should be to work for those who cannot work for themselves,” he added.
Abby Cunniff ’17 took to the steps to invite the demonstrators to think about the intersections of the practices that Trump embodies with real issues that are happening at Wesleyan. She stated: “I want to make sure we’re talking about these issues as they present themselves at Wesleyan…Think a little bit about how toxic masculinity and white supremacy present themselves at Wesleyan.”
The same ’78 alumna declaring the beginning of fascism also got up to speak, holding a sign that read, “Racist, rapist, xenophobe, misogynist, liar, Islamophobe, fascist,” in reference to Trump. She urged to crowd to boycott Amazon and other businesses that had openly supported Trump or sold products relating to Trump.
Yael Horowitz ‘17 and Abby Cunniff ‘17 then took to the steps with an upside-down American flag. Yael stated that they did not wish to burn the flag, as it was Veteran’s Day and they did not wish to conflate a political demonstration with a ceremonial tradition. Instead, they spray-painted “Amerikkka” onto the stars and stripes. “This is Amerikkka spelled with what it is founded on, which is white supremacy,” said Yael.
After the spray-painting, some members of the crowd observing began to chant “No cops. No KKK. Fuck the racist USA.”
Here is a video of the spray-painting:
After the spray-painting of the flag, several student continued to share their thoughts on the steps. Luckily, Brenda Quintana ’18 came through and brought a megaphone.
Jumoke McDuffie-Thurmond ’19 used the megaphone to address preachings of respectability. He said “We are not here to placate or pacify ourselves in the face of white supremacy.” He went on to call out a white Trump supporter in the crowd, warning, “Roll up on me and we’ll see.”
Several students chanted “Go to Main” and were initially met with resistance from protest organizers. One of the organizers ascended the steps to say that they talked to P-Safe about taking the protest to Main Street, and that they were discouraged because of Veteran’s Day activities. To this, one person in the crowd responded by saying “Sit the fuck down, white man!” In response to this response, another student stated “Listen to this guy! he’s a cis, white male. He’s our greatest ally at this point,” to which another replied “No, he’s not!”
Eventually, while some concerned for their safety stayed behind, the majority of protesters marched down to Main Street. They were met largely with support from Middletown residents: chanting along, pumping their fists, cheering, honking their car horns, and filming on their phones. Only a few Middletown residents expressed anger. One woman angrily yelled, “It’s Veteran’s Day,” before slamming the door of her shop; a man repeatedly said, “You’re all losers,” as protesters marched past.
The hundreds of students marched from Olin down William Street. Initially, protesters marched in the street. Shortly after the march moved off campus, Middletown Police officers, along with Public Safety, met demonstrators on William Street, urging them to keep to the sidewalks. After this, the march moved to the sidewalk of William Street, turned left on Main and marched all the way up to the area near Eli Cannon’s. The march then turned around on Main, still on the sidewalk, and marched to the intersection of Main and Church streets.
After reaching the street corner of Church and Main, the demonstrators moved back up Church street toward campus. Upon reaching the intersection of Broad Street and Church Street, part of the march began to sit down in the intersection that was now being sectioned off by Middletown Police.
The rest of the demonstrators, upon recognizing this, joined the people sitting in the street. Chants such as “We reject the president-elect” and “This is what democracy looks like” circulated through the crowd. Participants started chanting “No justice, no peace! No racist police!” at which point a student communicated to the crowd that they should stop chanting this because “the police were helping us by allowing us to be in the street.”
Chants continued and upon a lull in the crowd’s energy, about half of the crowd migrated back toward campus. Those who remained continued to sit in the street and deliberated on next steps.
Several students agreed that the way forward was to recreate the sit-in on Main Street. Yael Horowitz ’17 announced via megaphone that several among the crowd would be marching back down to Main Street. As she welcomed the rest of the crowd, several Middletown Police officers shouted to grab her and another officer said that she was being arrested. Associate Director of Public Safety Tony Bostick was at the intersection witnessing the events as they transpired.
About 5 students approached the officers and loudly inquired as to what was going on and what their reasoning was for the arrest. Will Gifford ’17 was also detained for trying to encourage more students to move to Main Street.
The crowd remained while Horowitz and Gifford were being detained. One student called upon the crowd to leverage their networks in case Horowitz and Gifford needed legal assistance. The officers reportedly took their phones away, as well as the flag that Horowitz was holding.
The remaining protestors began to chant “Let them go!” The officers proceeded to explain that Horowitz and Gifford weren’t being arrested, but rather being issued tickets for an infraction. Yael and Will were released after around 15 minutes.
The plan to move to Main Street was abandoned and the rest of the demonstrators marched along Broad Street on the sidewalk, turning left on Washington Street to head back toward campus. Dean Rick Culliton joined the march in this last wave of the demonstration.
The march ended at Admissions, where Melisa Olgun ’20 and Emma Rose Borzekowski ’19 implored to the crowd that the actions can’t end today and that they must continue through meaningful organizing.
As the day drew to a close, many students started responding to the demonstration on social media. You can follow many of the posts by browsing the Facebook event page. A number of students had criticisms of the day’s events.
Wrote Tomás Rogel ’19: “I was disgusted by the white men who repeatedly kept trying to police women and poc, by telling us that we should not ‘preach hate’ (aka telling us how to feel), by being complicit to white supremacy and patriarchy and trying to prevent the ‘desecration’ of a fucking piece of cloth that is the U.S. flag, and trying to justify the disruption by saying ‘it’s Veteran’s Day’ and ‘America stands for great things.'”
“Folks who can need to be putting their bodies on the line,” Yael wrote in a public Facebook post about receiving a ticket, rather than being arrested. “We should be pushing, seeing how much we can use the privileges that we have. Everyone in this moment has something to give and folks need to be figuring out what that is.”
There’s a message we can take away from this rally, especially when comparing it to the Black Lives Matter and “Is This Why?” demonstrations of recent years – both largely organized by people of color. Successful demonstrations do not magically materialize out of anger and frustration; they come out of organizing, planning, mobilizing, and the willingness to be fully present. Marginalized communities know this well because they’ve had to protest out of necessity for years.
Many white students at the sit-in balked at the idea of chanting “no racist police” in front of officers, while students of color risked getting arrested or worse by sitting in the middle of the intersection and chanting. Tomás, Yael, and others have already voiced very poignant concerns over this, so here’s what I’ll say: If you’re a white ally, you can do better. I can do better. If we really want to show that we’re against Trump–and, more importantly, the systematic bigotry that got him elected–complacency is not an option. If you can, start showing up–really showing up–and using your privilege to put your body on the line and protect others.
Wesleyan students responded to Tuesday’s election results in the same way as so many others around the country: mass action. However, actions aren’t uniform, and they most certainly aren’t exempt from critique.
Here is a photo gallery from the day’s protests:
This post was a collaboration between claire and wilk.