They gathered in the November night chill beneath five billboard-size American flags.
They stood on the sidewalk along Pennsylvania Avenue, not outside the White House, but farther down America's Main Street, outside the hulking stone building bearing the name of the new president-elect: the Trump International Hotel — Washington, D.C.
They came to make noise, to voice discontent, to make clear that America's decision to elect Donald Trump president was, to them, far from all right. They hoisted a motley assortment of signs listing a variety of grievances: “You can not comb over racism,” “This Is No Country For Old Men.” “TRUMP: RACIST IN CHIEF,” “Don't Tread on Me,” “Party of Lincoln 1854-2016,” “CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL,” “Stop Trump, Stand Against White Supremacy, Islamophobia & Immigrant Bashing!," and “Trump Still Uses AOL.”
Most were young, but some were silver-haired. Some wore black berets, green flak jackets and the garb of protest and resistance. Others came in business suits and trench coats, or black patent-leather pumps with a working woman's 2.5-inch heel. Some wore jeans and jackets, hats and other cold-weather gear. Others were in shirt sleeves and college sweatshirts but seemed undeterred, as the air temperature inched down toward 48 degrees. Neither was a man who passed on foot — white, muscular and perhaps in early 30s — who shouted his thoughts at the crowd.
“What a bunch of f------ idiots,” he said without stopping. “Go home. Know your f------ place.”
“Dump Donald Trump. Dump Donald Trump,” protesters chanted in unison at 8:32 p.m.
The scene outside the Trump hotel Thursday night was in many ways a living, breathing capsule of our time. Trump and the just over 60 million Americans who cast the ballots that made Trump the nation's next president are in the midst of celebration. But for many of the 60,839,922 who voted for Clinton, especially for the millions who are black, Latino, Asian, Native American or Muslim, there is fear, there is anger, there is disappointment. There has been weeping and a surge in anxiety.
In cities across the nation, from Chicago and Baltimore to New York and Los Angeles, and, violently, in Portland, Ore., Americans distraught by the election outcome have poured into the streets.
But also over cups of coffee, in office break rooms, on planes, buses and trains, on college campuses and in community centers, there are Americans seeking a community of the like-minded, assurance that all hope is not lost. They are hoping that in Trump's America, their rights will not be abridged, that they or their neighbors will not be rounded up or detained, that their political views and goals will not be suppressed, that their citizenship will not be downgraded because of who they are or what they believe.
There is shock and fear and anger in the American progressive political valley, not just because of Trump or his policy goals, but directed at the more than 60 million mostly white Americans who heard and saw in Trump the promise of a better America, a different America, a country where their rights and needs and dignity are assured.
“Love Trumps Hate. Love Trumps Hate." -- chant at 8:41 p.m.
“I say this without any irony or exaggeration at all,” said Bassam Shawl, a 23-year-old dressed in a black bomber jacket, skinny jeans and a black T-shirt featuring Teddy Roosevelt with a gold grill. “What you see here is a union of grave fear and grievances. People who are trying to come to terms with the very different America it seems we're going to have to live in. I think I need this, some of us need this. We have to be here to find a way to live with fear.”
Since Election Day, Shawl has had conversations with family, friends and just people around town about what he sees as real and frightening possibilities.
“We not only have Trump preparing to be our president, but total Republican control of the House, the Senate, of the next Supreme Court appointment. The entire right-wing fantasy agenda is going to be enacted. It's completely possible that Muslims like me are being put on some list somewhere as we speak, or that we will all be detained, that my grandparents will be unable to even enter this country for a visit. That the Affordable Care Act will be crushed. That women's reproductive rights and health care eliminated or eroded. That is what's on my mind.”
Talk to people protesting and you will hear much of the same. Peruse social media or news headlines and the bitter resignation of half the nation is clear.
To Jared Taylor, a self-described white rights advocate and editor of American Renaissance, a publication that bills itself as “America's premiere source for race-realist thought,” it is ridiculous.
“Yes, if you visit [white nationalist] websites, you will see pretty much unalloyed joy about the election outcome,” Taylor said. “But does this mean that every African American, Hispanic or Muslim should be cowering in unreasonable fear of being imminently removed from the country? No. Donald Trump is an American nationalist, he is not a racial nationalist, despite the best efforts of the media to cast him as a frothing bigot.”
Taylor said that he does not believe Trump is a white supremacist. Trump does not “think in racial terms, despite every effort on the part of media to make it seem that he is taking secret instruction from people like me or David Duke,” Taylor said. Trump has promised to remove illegal immigrants from the country to keep Muslims out, to possibly create a Muslim watch list, something that has happened before, Taylor said. Trump plans to put an end to maternity tourism, to examine the terms of birthright citizenship and to render it impossible for immigrants who make use of welfare, to develop policies that rid the country of the burden of fighting wars to spread democracy, Taylor said.
Those are ideas “ordinary Americans” support, Taylor said. That is the same thought process that compels the majority of white Americans to move out of or avoid living in majority black or Hispanic neighborhoods, he said.
Taylor is firm in his support for Trump, clear that his reasons have to do with race.
“Yes, it's true, someone like me who does have a racial consciousness supports Trump and is pleased about his election for a simple reason,” he said. “I support anyone whose policies will slow the dispossession of whites in the United States.”
“Not my president. Not my president." -- chant at 8:54 p.m.
To some of those protesting outside Trump's hotel, only those who allow themselves to overlook America's past and dismiss the constancy of bigotry and exploitation in American life had real reason for surprise.
“Listen, what we really face at this moment is the most American thing in the world: the white backlash that always follows any movement towards something different, something that even approximates equality,” said Alonzo Hunt, 18, a Howard University freshman and native of Los Angeles who came to the Pennsylvania Avenue protest wearing a black beret, with a dime-size Black Panther pin and trench coat. Hunt described himself as aligned with various “radical formations,” along the lines of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
“Trump is a fascist, and America has, from the beginning, been a settler colony, built on the expropriation of lands from first peoples and the theft of labor, energy and humanity from enslaved Africans,” he said. “What we have here is a swing of the pendulum, a move a bit closer to the nation's roots.”
Hunt did not vote in the general election, an activity he dismissed as the “most passive form of political engagement possible.” Protest, he said, reflects a determination to speak truth to power, to engage in the political battle for equality and justice in a meaningful way. It is a display of resistance, of an unwillingness to capitulate in the face of a massive political and social push in a regressive direction.
That will sound to some Americans — particularly those who voted for Trump or Clinton — like the ramblings of the a college student who has entered his radical phase, a young black man not grounded in the kind of political pragmatism that sent others aware of the nation's history to the polls. But there is some historical basis for his position.
In the years after Reconstruction — a period in which freed slaves and freeborn black men and women bought land, built businesses, voted and won congressional seats — came a wave of thousands of lynchings and the establishment of Jim Crow laws. In the years after World War II when the GI Bill's education and housing finance benefits seem poised to give all Americans a strong foothold among the middle class, senators from Southern states demanded state control of related programs and did not allow black veterans to reap the same rewards as white ones
Still, it is inside the New York and Washington offices where full-time civil rights activists do their work where the election outcome has inspired less dejection and fear.
“Of course I feel the anger and pain,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of the civil right group Color Of Change. “But there are also a few things we should remember. A majority of Americans did not vote for Trump. That doesn't change the impact that the policies Trump has promised, the ideas that he has unleashed. They will have a real and deleterious effect on people's lives. But it does mean that those of us in this fight, those of us who plan to hold him accountable are neither small nor weak.”