It’s been just 12 days since Donald Trump assumed the presidency, but already his brutal, daft policies have inspired near-daily eruptions of fear and outrage across the country, particularly in New York, where fierce protests have been waged on what’s starting to feel like a regular basis.
New York is also the home of Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader and ostensible head of the resistance party. But Schumer, who until this week, voted in favor of every one of Trump’s cabinet nominees, is not exactly the fearless savior his constituents demand. On Tuesday night, thousands squeezed into a narrow strip across from Schumer’s Prospect Park West apartment in Brooklyn to deliver a simple message: Obstruct Trump at every turn, or to prepare to pack your bags in November.
“He talks a big game on social media, but his votes have not been what I want them to be, so I hope he’s paying attention,” said Brooklyn resident Cambra Moniz-Edwards, referring to Schumer’s decision to confirm Trump’s picks for Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and the CIA. “Democrats in the Senate and the House have been not representing the will of the people, and we’re here to encourage them, and Chuck Schumer specifically, to listen to what we have to say and grow a pair.”
Schumer has, in effect, pledged to grow a pair. In a post on Facebook, he vowed to vote against Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State and Betsy DeVos for education secretary, in addition to a handful of other cabinet picks. He was also one of six Democrats to vote against Elaine Chao yesterday, who was otherwise handily confirmed as the country’s new transportation chief. Still, yesterday’s crowd wants Schumer to know he’s under close watch.
When the procession made the short march from Grand Army Plaza to Schumer’s apartment, the crowd had swelled to around 3,000. It was a docile group, and early chants of “We’re fired up, can’t take it no more” were delivered in low tones that seemed geared to accommodate the many children and dogs in attendance. Bored looking police separated into clumps around the park’s edge, lumbering to action only to urge errant protesters to keep out of the bike lane.
Still, by the time organizers handed over their message — paper cut-outs of barbells and boxing gloves, as well as a letter, deposited on the luxury apartment’s walkway for later delivery to the senator — the chants could be heard reverberating up and down PPW. “Isn’t this crazy?” a passing woman said to her friend, gesturing toward the noisy mass of protesters dominating the sidewalk all the way down to Carroll Street.
“Look at all these people. I love it,” murmured another to herself, smiling at the sight.
Residents only occasionally darkened their windows before disappearing, but police guarding the entrance told me that the building’s inhabitants were “fine” with the demonstration. One woman, who declined to giver her name as she sidled past the police barricades to access the marbled lobby, said she was more than just fine with it: “I’m quite pleased about it, actually,” she said.
Earlier this week, a Medium post by a Google engineer named Yonatan Zunger went viral, warning that Trump’s erratic, ham-handed directives weren’t erratic at all, but the intentional consolidation of power by an evil genius. Much of the article doesn’t square with reality, but one thing did resonate as possible: The idea of Trump sowing potential “resistance fatigue,” designed to exhaust protesters early on in hopes that they’ll be too worn out to fight the truly damaging policies still to come.
If that’s the plan, Trump has a tough row to hoe, since none of the protesters I spoke with are showing any visible signs of wear. Pamela Allen, who prior to Trump hadn’t attended a protest since the Iraq war, said she’s been to three protests in the last twelve days, and has no intention of stopping anytime soon.
“As a citizen, we depend on our representatives to make us feel safe and stable, and right now I feel the exact opposite of that,” she said.
Uma Parikh-Nielson arrived to the protest late — she had to put her daughter to sleep before she could make it out. As a working mother, she doesn’t have much of an activist history, but she’s managed to make it to three protests since Trump took office. I asked her if she thought she’d be able to keep the momentum going.
“I feel like I will, and all the people I know will,” she said. While Tuesday’s rally carried a specific message — to remind Schumer who he’s really working for — Parikh-Nielson said that maintaining an active role in demonstrations has helped her to cope with the reality of a Trump presidency.
“To be together and know that you’re not alone in your frustration and anger means a lot,” she said.
For others, the protest circuit is old hat. Longtime activist Elliot Crown, who appeared from under an enormous paper-mache Trump mask to speak with me, has been to five protests since Trump took office. Unlike the neophytes surrounding him, who in many cases relied on a sheet of paper printed with a prearranged list of chants, Crown sees protesting as a way of life.
“It’s routine,” he said. “You get up, you look at Facebook and find out where you’re supposed to go, and are amazed at how many thousands of people are going to be there.” He warns that these days, you have to show up early.
“It’s really hard to get up close now,” he said. “It’s the place to be.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 1, 2017