“This is what democracy looks like!”
Groups of demonstrators, most of them young and many of them Hoyas, chanted in unison as they marched down the streets of Washington, D.C., ardent in their protest.
On election night, the first in a series of demonstrations changed the landscape of politics in the nation’s capital. As the expectation of triumph for Hillary Clinton slowly crumbled and gave way to President Donald Trump’s victory, students gathered in the Healey Family Student Center for an Institute of Politics and Public Service watch party and expressed contrasting emotions of anger and excitement.
“I’ve wanted to vote for Hillary Clinton since I was 10, and then this happened,” Claire Smith (COL ’19) said, huddled with friends by the HFSC fireplace as results from swing states began to tip the scales toward a Trump victory.
Even before news media officially projected Trump’s victory, Georgetown students flocked to the White House, joined by hundreds of D.C. college students, some gathering in protest and others in celebration.
“Stop targeting the undocumented community. Stop targeting my black brothers and sisters. Stop targeting my Muslim brothers and sisters. Stop targeting the LGBT community,” one protester shouted through a megaphone, a “Donald Trump is a Racist” banner serving as her backdrop.
Maggie Cirrulo (COL ’17) also headed to the White House, but with a different intention.
“Why we are here tonight is we are celebrating democracy and we are celebrating the Republican Party,” Cirrulo said. “We are very excited about tonight. People think that young people don’t vote for Trump. Well, we did.”
Protests continued that weekend. Georgetown University Law Center student Julie Rheinstrom (GRD ’17) organized an anti-Trump candlelight vigil outside the White House, an hour-long event that was attended by a crowd of over 2,000 people.
Rheinstrom said she was driven to take action by her dismay at Trump’s campaign rhetoric targeting Muslims and Mexicans. Invoking a quote popularized by Eleanor Roosevelt, she wrote in an email to The Hoya, “it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
Rheinstrom’s vigil would be the first in a series of demonstrations opposing Trump’s presidency.
Resistance continued with the same intensity in the months that followed. The newly formed group Students for Climate Security, organized by government professor Andrew Bennett and a group of students, marched from Red Square to L Street on Nov. 18, joined by about 200 members of the community, to fight the rumored nomination of climate change contrarian Myron Ebell to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
Trump’s cabinet nominations continued to draw ire.
In January, seven current and former Georgetown University Law Center faculty wrote an open letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee urging them to reject the nomination of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for the position of attorney general. In a matter of days, the letter was signed by more than 1,400 law school faculty from 180 institutions, and drew the attention of Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), who later opposed Sessions’ nomination.
The scale of anti-Trump protests reached new heights in late January, as the Women’s March on Washington — which occurred the day after Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration — drew more than 500,000 demonstrators into the streets of downtown D.C. The march was the largest of over 600 “sister marches” across the United States and the world, including notable marches in New York, Chicago, London, Paris and Sydney.
Demonstrators said the purpose and energy of the march was as much pro-women as it was anti-Trump. High-profile speakers at the march projected anger and defiance, but also empowerment.
“Today we are here to deliver a message. We will not take this lying down,” Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said from the protest’s stage. “You need to call your Senator and say we cannot go back. Together we are a movement and we are unstoppable.”
Concurrently, the city filled with support for Trump. A Trump supporter who flew in from California for the inauguration, Myram Croel, was one of numerous attendees who were older than 60, a contrast to many of the young women marching.
Croel said he did not understand the reason why women were marching, although he said he respected their right to do so.
“I actually don’t know what they’re marching about. We recognize women, and if they need to be more recognized, that’s fine, I don’t see where women are trod on or beaten down, or anything else. I think they’ve pretty well got equal rights now,” Croel said. “A lot of them used to be princesses, and now they’re our level.”
The historically large march ended with zero arrests, according to D.C. police, after a small number of protesters were arrested after the inauguration a day earlier for vandalism and destruction of property.
D.C. Councilmember Robert White (D-At large) was just one of the politicians and leaders who joined the march after refusing to attend Trump’s inauguration the day before. The snub of Trump by 10 of D.C.’s 13 local lawmakers at the inauguration epitomized the incoming president’s tense welcome to a diverse and overwhelmingly Democratic city.
On the first Thursday of the new administration, Greenpeace activists hung a banner reading “Resist” from the top of a crane just blocks from the White House. Five days later, after Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States, demonstrators converged on the White House to rally against the order.
In addition to the Women’s March, the District saw continued debate on abortion and women’s reproductive rights in 2017. The 44th Annual March for Life drew thousands of anti-abortion advocates in January, including Vice President Mike Pence in the first appearance of a vice president at the march.
Addressing the march’s attendants, Pence said Trump’s election marked a new wave of support for anti-abortion rights causes in the United States.
“It is no more evident in any way than in the historic election of a president who stands for a stronger America, a more prosperous America, and a president who I proudly say stands for the right to life,” Pence said as reported by CNN. “I believe a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable. The aged. The infirm. The disabled. And the unborn.”
Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway also addressed crowds at the march, stating that, under the Trump administration, the scientific and religious communities can join together for anti-abortion rights efforts.
“This is a new day, a new dawn for life,” Conway said. “This dismissive notion of out of sight, out of mind is over. Science and medicine have joined religion and morality in causing many Americans to rethink just how fragile and how triumphant human life truly is.”
Co-President of Georgetown University Right to Life Mylan Metzger (COL ’19) attended the March for Life for the third year in a row, and said this march had more energy than did past marches due to Trump’s recent inauguration. She also said she was encouraged to see children and young adults at the march, signaling a future for the “pro-life” movement.
“There were a lot of young people there, so for me that’s always a big encouragement, just knowing that in the next generation there is still very much a strong pro-life motivation,” Metzger said. “That was really great to see a strong motivation in the next generation.”
According to Metzger, Pence’s speech indicates growing support for future marches and “pro-life” activism over the next four years and in future generations.
“It was interesting to have Vice President Pence come and talk about issues related to abortion because this is the first time a president or vice president has ever addressed the March for Life, and I don’t think that has to do with party,” Metzger said. “Neither Democrats nor Republicans have ever really addressed it, so I think that was really interesting and encouraging. It suggests that there could be more pro-life legislation to pass under this administration.”
Throughout the past year, the District also saw support for pro-abortion rights efforts. At the Women’s March on Washington, thousands of attendants voiced their support for birth control services nationwide, with abortion rights serving as a major theme. Richards spoke at the event, encouraging attendants to contact their representatives about abortion rights and access to women’s health services.
“Women’s rights are human rights. You need to know that, starting this week, Congress is going to be moving quickly to try to pass restrictions on reproductive access and we cannot let them,” Richards said. “You need to call your member of Congress, call your senator and say ‘we will not go back.’ One of us can be dismissed, two of us can be ignored, but together we are a movement, and we are unstoppable.”
H*yas for Choice Co-President Emily Stephens (SFS ’17) said she was pleased to see reproductive rights represented at the march on signs and among the speeches during the rally preceding the march.
“I was really enthused by the variety of creative signs representing the whole spectrum of reproductive rights, including abortion, and the march’s organizers were extremely deliberate in including abortion rights advocates in the speaking lineup,” Stephens said. “Overall, I was quite pleased to see such an unabashedly pro-choice, pro-birth control, and pro-abortion rights stance at such a huge event.”
In the weeks following the election and inauguration, word of new protests spread across campus so often there seemed to be more weekends with protests than without them. But for longtime activists and organizers, there are concerns about if a moment like this can last. Sarah Clements (COL ’18), who advocates for gun control, said that a long period of sustained protest can “burn out” first-time or even long-term participants.
However, Clements said activist groups are increasingly finding innovative ways to keep protesters involved.
“There have been a lot of independent organizations or activists who have created new mechanisms to re-engage those people,” Clements said. “For example, I was home a few days ago and people I was friends with in high school who wouldn’t have called themselves activists a few months ago are using various tools to continue speaking out.”
Clements said social media groups and “textbots,” which alert activists of advocacy opportunities, have kept budding activists involved by informing them about rallies, legislative efforts or other opportunities to take action. These new modes of engagement, she added, may be the key to sustaining this culture of dissent.
“I think one cool thing that has happened, especially in D.C., is the creation of this larger culture of protest. You see a lot of cultural elements like music, artwork, street art, even phrases like ‘resist’ and ‘the resistance,’” Clements said. “Even if the protest culture isn’t as vibrant a year from now, I hope people continue to find innovative ways to resist.”
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