Amid national unrest following last Tuesday’s election of Donald Trump to the presidency, about 500 people descended on one of Fresno’s busiest intersections – Blackstone and Shaw avenues – Saturday to join protest efforts.
“We’re out here to stand in solidarity with folks that we know that are going to be negatively impacted by Donald Trump,” said Luis Ojeda, one of the event organizers. “We’re accepting these results, and we’re kind of in a mourning phase. After that, it’s all about organizing – being a united front against Donald Trump.”
As of Sunday, Hillary Clinton was still leading in the popular vote by more than 600,000 votes, but it doesn’t change the fact that Trump already passed the 270 electoral vote mark needed to win the election. We adhere to the Electoral College in the U.S., not the popular vote.
“Whether you like the candidates or hate them, it’s un-American that this is how the election should go. That it should be determined by a tiny number of people in some swing states, rather than by everybody,” said Dr. Christopher Pluhar, a Fresno State professor of geology. Pluhar was at the protest leading a chant of “Trump is not my president.”
“I have other opinions about the candidates, but those don’t matter as much as the fact that the system is not a fair system,” he said.
The crowd of angry and emotional people chanted messages of anti-discrimination, anti-sexism and anti-Trump – in both English and Spanish – at the “Fresno Rejects Hate” protest.
One woman adorned a white dress with the handwritten words “nasty woman” on her back. She was moving through the crowd and giving other women the opportunity to write something on her dress that they felt encapsulated how Trump regards women.
“I wanted women to be able to say what they need to say. Because we never really say it. I want them to write on my dress. I’m giving them consent. I want the idea of having consent out there,” said Alexa Lienau, a Fresno State graduate.
Lienau said people are really struggling with Trump’s win.
“This has just been incredibly difficult as a woman – and [as one] who has had things happen to her,” Lienau said. “I think everybody – people of color, gay – anybody who’s just not fitting in – feels like they’ve just had their hearts ripped out right now.”
Lienau said she was disheartened that so many women voted for Trump.
“Women have been raised for so long not to speak up – not to rock the boat … You think that that’s not still happening, but it is.”
Not everybody at the protest agreed with the message of the day.
“I’m so thankful he won over Hillary,” said Ben Bergquam, a Trump supporter who showed up to counter the protest. “Hillary was an evil witch. When you look at liberalism – it’s funny they talk about hate and about race and about racism, there’s more hate and racism on the liberal side then there ever is on the conservative.”
Ishaq Ali said the air of Trump’s campaign and impending presidency hits close to home as someone who has experienced discrimination.
“I’ve dealt with discrimination before. After 9/11, my family was directly affected by it,” Ali said. “I had flashbacks of when my dad and brother received death threats for speaking out against Islamophobia in The Fresno Bee. A lot of those memories – like walking through airports and being randomly selected when I’m 12 years old and being wiped down for bomb residue. These are flashbacks that are slowly coming back to me which I kind of brushed off back then.”
Ali, who is part Colombian and part Pakistani, said people who fear what will happen have a good reason to.
“There’s a legitimate fear that some people have,” Ali said. “There’s a lot of people that say, ‘Get over it,’ but they’ve never experienced that level of discrimination that others have.”
Ali is a Fresno State student and senator for the College of Social Science in Associated Students, Inc. He said he was at the protest because he believes in the First Amendment right to peacefully assemble – not to represent the student government.
“If there’s anything that I could say to the Fresno State community, it is don’t undermine people’s worries and fears right now. There are people that have been truly, truly affected this election – by the rhetoric,” Ali said. “That does not, in my opinion, reflect American values.”
The Fresno Police Department was at the protest to make sure people were not hurt, and officers kept people out of the street.
“It’s been a model demonstration. This is really, truly what America is about,” Deputy Police Chief Andrew Hall said. “It allows you to come out and voice your concerns in a public place. They did it lawfully. The organizers were very professional. This should be the model for the nation.”
Hall expects protests to continue.
“When an unpopular decision is made, I would imagine that we’ll see demonstrations. But if they’re like this, that’s fantastic,” Hall said.
This isn’t the first protest of Trump to spring up around the nation. Police in Portland, Oregon deemed one protest a riot after people started setting fire to trash cans and throwing bottles and other objects at officers.
Presidential protests aren’t uncommon. Similar protests occurred in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president, but some say this time it’s different.
“I’m 74 years old. I’ve never seen anything like this; I’ve never felt anything like this,” said Sharon Rold, who graduated from Fresno State in 1967. “I’m really frustrated with the fact that [Trump] hoodwinked people and really made them believe that he was going to do something for them.”
Rold said she’s shocked that Americans chose Trump.
“I’m nauseated. I can’t believe this country elected this misogynist racist – a totally dishonest person,” Rold said. “If 78 percent of what came out of your mouth during an election was a lie, it’s going to cost a lot of people.”
Rold doesn’t believe Trump will actually build a wall – or at least won’t be able to.
“If he tries to build a wall, I think you will see this [protest] multiplied a million times.”
Ali said that tensions are high right now, but to move forward and make progress, everyone will have to be levelheaded.
“Obviously I’m out here as part of this – it’s the reaction to the election; people who are upset that this is happening forget that people protested Obama eight years ago – four years ago,” Ali said. “Things are going to have to simmer down whether we like it or not. People are going to have to start paying attention to what government does very closely. I truly believe that there are a lot of civil liberties on the line. Women’s right to choose – people’s right to equal marriage – Muslims’ right to exist. People are going to have to make the effort to educate themselves.”
Another protest is scheduled for Saturday. The Rally and March Against Trump will be at Blackstone and Nees avenues at noon.