NEW YORK, 17 Sep.: “Not my president! Not my president! Not my president!” the protesters yell as they gather at Columbus Circle, New York. People are gathering here four days after one of the biggest upsets in American political history. Their plan is to move to the nearby Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, home to America’s president-elect.
Donald J. Trump is going to be America’s 45th president. Whether one likes it or not, he is going to become part of the same group as George Washington, Honest Abe and FDR. But these protesters don’t want to believe it. At least not today.
The crowd started rolling in at around 1 p.m. and lined up across Columbus Circle. It’s a diverse crowd: women and men, young and old, immigrants and natives. What they want, other than voicing their anger, is anybody’s guess.
The preceding week has been nothing but a bad dream for many of them. This crowd is a giant ball of shock, disbelief, anger, and some more disbelief.
In the background, near Central Park’s entrance, a young man finds himself a chair, the sun shining on him. He has a clear view of the crowd. We start talking.
Meanwhile, a small but sizeable crowd moves in a disciplined manner from Columbus Circle towards Fifth Avenue. Police has cordoned off both Trump Towers – the one near Columbus Circle and the one on Fifth Avenue. “Not my president! Not my president! Not my president!” they shout.
Corey Alexander Finzel, 25, looks up at the crowd and then starts doodling on what looks like a reporter’s notebook. Finzel is an actor, preparing these days for his first stage performance in New York. He looks unimpressed.
“Protesting in front of a ******* building? That’s like crying at a grave!”
“You are saying what you don’t want but what is it that you do want?” Finzel asks. He gets why the protesters are here – to express their anger and disappointment -but he thinks they don’t know what needs to be done next. We discuss if protesters are here just so that they can fee less guilty about not doing enough to stop Trump from winning. He thinks this is the case.
Some of them, like the representatives of the League for Revolutionary Action, actually want to block president-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration. “We are not looking for a small group of people to go there and get their heads beaten but we would like to see mass action by workers,” says Eric Josephson, a retired MTA track worker who is now a dedicated political activist for the league. How that will happen is beyond Josephson at the moment.
Josephson is holding a sign: “Defeat the Attacks on Muslims, Immigrants, Blacks and Latinos!” Many of these protesters have come out in support of other communities they feel were targeted by Trump’s campaign: Mexicans, Muslims and LGBT.
Jake Stevens, a volunteer with Socialist Alternative – a Marxist political organization – fears that Trump can potentially “privatize social security and healthcare” and introduce “cuts to social services and tax cuts for the super rich.” To add to this economic argument, Stevens points out that Trump has brought “ white supremacy, misogyny and homophobia into the open.”
“It makes me really sick,” Finzel says as he explains that he can understand why the minorities feel threatened. “Their way of being is threatened by the leader of the ‘quote, unquote’ free world.”
Some protesters just want to tell the rest of the world that Trump is not their president because he does not represent what they believe in. Some want to change how America’s electoral college works. Hillary Clinton leads the popular vote by roughly one million votes. How can she not be president if the majority voted for her, they ask? “They agreed to these rules before the election,” Finzel points out.
The protesters now have a microphone and a speaker. The chants get louder: “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!”
Finzel is from Fort Worth, Texas, and he came to New York aiming to make a name for himself as an actor. He did not vote in the election, a decision that he now regrets because he thinks he is also partly responsible for the election results.
The protest, he believes, is symptomatic of a deeper malaise. “You eat terrible food, you treat your body like shit, you smoke cigarettes, you don’t exercise and when your body reacts you go, ‘I am just depressed,’” he says.
What is this deeper malaise that is plaguing America? Is it that the working-class white Americans feel that their rights have been usurped? Finzel gives a diplomatic answer: “The American people do not feel that there is a safe environment in which they can flourish and people have been quiet about it for too long.”
Just how much of this shocking loss in the election had to do with complacency of the Democrats? The odds were stacked heavily against Trump in almost all polls. “The media said, ‘Don’t worry, Trump is crazy,’ so the Democrats became lazy and backed away,” Finzel says.
“Not my president! Not my president! Not my president!” the chants continue. It’s almost difficult to hear Finzel in the noise now.
Is Trump Finzel’s president?
“Technically yes,” he responds immediately, “because I live in America.”