I’d wager that for all of you November 9, 2016 was a day of shock, revulsion, horror, disbelief, tears, confusion and a huge amount of fury. Like most of you, I had a very hard time focusing on anything but the terrifying prospect of TRUMP. It has been an amazing joy and also profoundly frightening to be part of what’s happening on the University of Illinois campus as we move from shock to action. What follows are some loose meditations on the two days right after the election.
Two men, one with a large American flag and the other with a bible, were spewing supposedly Christian but actually anti-immigrant, pro-Trump, racist rhetoric. A large group of us formed around them—some students were arguing with them and some were just watching the spectacle. I was trying to take the floor away from these two hate-mongers and focus energy in a positive way—finally a brave student took the floor and reminded them that their version of “Christian” actually has nothing to do with what Christ would have espoused (image 1-2).
Right next to all this screaming there were students quietly writing love-filled messages in chalk on the quad: “Spread love, the world needs it;” “Your skin your sex your gender your beliefs ARE VALID;” “Love is the answer.” (images 2-5). Unfortunately, another chalking, that I did not see but which a student sent me an image of, proclaimed: “White Privilege, I (heart) Trump” (image 6, sent to me by Stephen Froedge). Later in the day I saw students forming a chain in front of Lincoln Hall and chanting, “keep loving, keep fighting” (image 7). These students were contributing a wonderful energy to the quad, they were joining together to do it.
The following day, I saw a student sitting alone, and completely silent in front of the Alma Mater with a sign that read: “Vow of silence. No voice. No comment. No hate. No tyrant. #Not My President.” I gestured to him (I didn’t want to use words and disrupt his peaceful protest) to ask if I could photograph him (image 8) and he nodded yes. Then I wrote him a note: Thank you for your protest. It is very beautiful. And very needed.
Writing on a huge “What are you Thankful For” sign, I encountered a student who was chalking that she was thankful for all the solidarity and coalition-building opportunities on campus. I asked specifically which resources she was grateful for and she described both La Casa and the Gender and Women’s Studies center as offering spaces for dialogue and unloading after the election. I was relieved that, as a self-described Latina student, far from feeling isolated she felt held by these communities (image 9).
Then I talked with the Muslim Student’s association, out on the quad for a bake sale. They were so happy to have someone approach them and offer solidarity that I wondered if this was rare. The group of students I spoke to had different feelings about the election: one woman said that she did feel safe on this campus but then her friends started chiming in about Islamophobic acts that had happened here: a woman’s hijab was pulled off, and another student suffered a man shouting “go back to your country” as he walked by. When I asked them how they were feeling about Trump and about all of these revolting acts they said they were shocked but they were ready for action and to advocate for what they believe in (image 10).
Another solitary protester sat alone in a chair on the quad holding up the sign “Love trumps hate.” I asked him if he knew of other protests happening and how he felt protesting alone, and he said yes, there would soon be mass protests and it was just fine for him to protest alone. Yet another lone protester had affixed a sign on her dog that offered him as something like “post-election therapy” (images 11-12). I have to own up to the fact that the solitary protesters made be feel melancholic and protective. But they were all mourning and fighting in ways that had an impact, even those that chose to do it alone.
Among the incredibly moving and thoughtful and insightful and informative things people have posted on Facebook, I found these words from one of the many Comparative Literature graduate students who make our department so stellar particularly moving: “I have seen instructors break into tears because they suddenly feel inadequate to protect their most vulnerable students, even in their own classrooms. I have seen new communities forming around the desire to extend compassion, protection and comfort to people who feel threatened and devalued…” (Meagan Smith).
On the Friday after the election, my father, middle daughter and I went to a protest at the Alma Mater. Three generations of Kaplans were chanting “hey hey, ho ho Donald Trump has got to go!” “We welcome immigrants!” “Tell us what power looks like! This is what POWER looks like!” My Jewish-American father was part of the Civil Rights movement and always fought for racial justice; my daughter is finding her way in the world but already knows that racism is painful and wrong and that Trump and many of his supporters espouse it. The protest moved from the Alma Mater all the way around the quad and then down Green Street. We stopped traffic and took over the road—there were probably 300 or so people—black, brown, white, gay, straight, trans, young, old—an actually diverse group of people yelling at the top our lungs “THIS IS NOT MY PRESIDENT!” (images 13-17). The protest ended in an explosion of hugs.
The KKK has endorsed Trump; swastikas and other hate symbols proliferate around the nation. I don’t think it is possible to say that this isn’t a racist choice. Even if individual Trump voters may not claim the word “racist” to describe themselves…this is what Van Jones calls “whitelash.” Other people call this “white nostalgia” or the harking back to an imagined, fantastical, never-happened Eden of whiteness before there was a smart articulate black president who threatened its ascendancy. Before all these meddling professors with their diversity muddied the pure white American idyll. We now face and must fight a return of white supremacy. Coupled with and inherently part of this is a return to a celebration of masculine power. Trump unleashes the masculinist id and allows for trespasses of power and abuses against women’s right to decide when, where, and by whom we get groped and kissed. As Chris Benson rightly pointed out in conversation with Masha Gessen, Trump’s self-proclaimed abuses of power over women augur his abusive of power writ large.
If the see-saw between love and hate as represented in this small sampling from this small college town in the Midwest were to be weighed, love would definitely, certainly, trump hate. But I am not sure I could possibly hazard which one will ascend in the long run.