The students poured out of class, then crammed into Metro stations throughout the city. They crowded downtown streets carrying signs, marching and chanting until they arrived at the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Many couldn’t vote in this election, but they wanted to put a voice to their frustrations.
More than 2,000 D.C. middle school and high school students ditched classes Tuesday afternoon to protest the election of Donald Trump, telling the president-elect that, despite his campaign’s divisive rhetoric, their diverse student bodies would remain united.
“This isn’t an anti-Donald Trump rally,” said Jordan Johnson, a 17-year-old senior at McKinley Technology Education Campus in Northeast Washington. “We’re coming out here to display unity, despite all that’s happened these past few years.”
Wilson High School students in Northwest organized the protest, which ultimately attracted students from schools throughout the city. Students from Dunbar High, Eastern High, D.C. International School, BASIS, Columbia Heights Education Campus and more joined, marching from Trump’s hotel to the Capitol to the Supreme Court, closing the eastbound lanes of Pennsylvania Avenue along the way. Some of the participants then marched down Independence Avenue to the Mall, eventually landing at the Washington Monument and White House.
Students said they know that their protests won’t change the outcome of the election, but they said they want to make their demands heard in the nation’s seat of power.
“We want him to have a sneak peek of what we want,” said Kimberly Manalang, a 17-year-old senior at Wilson.
Because they couldn’t vote, the students want President-elect Trump to know that they are engaged, and maybe even help change some of his opinions.
“We are a diverse school and accepting environment, and we feel the Trump administration is going to try and divide us,” said Pearl Strand, a 17-year-old Wilson senior. “We are protesting to show we are united.”
Johan Ramirez, 16, a Columbia Heights senior, said he was surprised at the robust turnout: “I see people really care. These are big issues.”
The students chanted and rallied about climate change, reproductive rights, tolerance and immigration. “Love trumps hate,” they screamed, followed by “our bodies, our choice.” Some rejected Trump as their president, and others chanted “No KKK, no racist U.S.A.” Teenage girls wore shirts that said “Nasty Woman” and other, more explicit shirts, such as one that read: “P---y grabs back,” a reference to an incendiary remark Trump made in a leaked 2005 recording during which he made vulgar comments about pursuing women.
One student managed to climb atop a 20-foot-tall statue of Benjamin Franklin in front of the newly opened Trump hotel. The protest was peaceful, and D.C. police, who were aware of the protest beforehand and provided an escort while students marched, said they made no arrests.
The anti-Trump sentiment in the District after the election is no surprise: In the nation’s capital the Republican got 11,000 votes, or 4 percent of total ballots cast, his lowest share anywhere in the United States.
The students in Washington joined others across the country who have protested since Trump’s surprise victory in the Nov. 8 election. Most of the student protests have been centered in areas where Democrat Hillary Clinton won at the polls, including in states on both coasts, in major cities and on college campuses nationwide.
The D.C. students’ protest came a day after hundreds of students at a Maryland high school in Montgomery County walked out of their classes and into the streets to protest Trump’s election. That march initially involved students at Montgomery Blair High School but gained strength as peers from nearby schools joined them throughout the day. George Washington University students also participated in an anti-bigotry rally Tuesday in front of the White House, demanding that their school issue statements vowing to protect minority students and reproductive health care on campus.
D.C. officials had been aware of the planned high school protest since this past weekend, with students using social media to spread information about the event. Kimberly Martin, Wilson’s principal, sent an email to the school community Monday morning emphasizing that the protest was not a sanctioned school event and that students who miss class would receive unexcused absences.
But Martin wrote that school administrators and teachers defend students’ rights to peaceful protest and self expression.
“Wilson Social Studies teachers, and many other teachers, empower students to be inquisitive, informed, and engaged citizens who use critical thinking, inquiry and literacy to prepare for college, careers, and civic life,” Martin wrote in the email. “However, students will be reminded to follow their regular class schedule, as we cannot ensure the safety of any student that chooses to leave the school before dismissal.”
Some charter schools not only allowed their students to attend but also had teachers and administrators accompany them to the protest.
Tim Shaw, an eighth-grade humanities teacher at Capital City Public Charter Middle School, said civic engagement is an important component of the school’s curriculum; the school encouraged students to attend the rally if they had parental permission.
“Once we heard about it, we really wanted to get our students to participate in peaceful public assembly. It’s a human right,” Shaw said. “We are really trying to teach students how to be involved and participate in the democratic process.”
Hasinatu Camara, 72, cried as she watched the young students protesting in front of the Trump hotel. The D.C. native said watching the students Tuesday reminded her of when she was young in the 1960s, witnessing the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee compel change through protest during the civil rights movement.
“But the color line is not here anymore like it was back then,” she said. “When I watched SNCC — they were young, and they were fearless. They were led by people like Stokely Carmichael and Marion Barry. These could be Marion Barry’s grandkids.”
T. Rees Shapiro contributed to this report.