“We will hold this space for the next hour as a safe space,” a woman yelled from a makeshift stage in Columbus Circle on Wednesday afternoon, outside of the southwest entrance to Manhattan’s Central Park. “There may be civil disobedience later.”
Her request for a peaceful protest—a constitutional right—was further bolstered by an invitation for small children from the crowd to join her at the foot of the stage. It was an appeal that set the tone for the event, organized by #Our100, a group of 100 leaders who are women of color committed to fulfilling the American promise of liberty and justice for all. #Our100 members include women like Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Stacy Long Simmons of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Eveline Shen of Forward Together. The protesters who gathered to hear #Our100 representatives speak were alive with righteous anger, but engaged, orderly, and determined in their plans to take action against the misogyny, racism, and homophobia of president-elect Donald Trump.
The Columbus Circle event was one of many the group has planned for the 100 days after Election Day, but this location was particularly meaningful, held under the looming presence of the Trump International Hotel and Tower on Central Park West. As chants grew louder and the crowd swelled to hundreds, guests could be seen inside Trump Tower, approaching the windows to watch. None lingered there for very long.
There may be civil disobedience later.
Outside, the crowd was a mix of ages and races, although students made up a particularly large and vocal presence near the front of the stage. Many had come prepared with their own protest signs; organizers also provided poster boards and markers for those who arrived empty-handed. Slogans ranged from the familiar—“Black Lives Matter,” “Love Trumps Hate”—to some newer entries into the cannon. “You Can’t Comb Over Hate,” read one. Others said, succinctly, “Fuck Trump.” Chants rose up accompanied by a band: “Black lives matter!” “Trans lives matter!” and the particularly galvanizing, “Donald Trump, go away! Racist, sexist, anti-gay!”
To start, protesters were asked to take a pledge, which is available in full on the #Our100 website. It includes, among other promises, to swear to “stand with women of color leaders who are moving forward solutions,” “to take action to support a vision for Black lives,” and to put an “end to Islamophobia.”
All in attendance recited the pledge and were seemingly united under a core idea: Trump is not the leader we need to heal a divided nation. That leader, a series of speakers posited, is most definitely a woman—specifically, a woman of color.
Donald Trump, go away! Racist, sexist, anti-gay!
"We are experiencing history by being led by black women,” said Linda Sarsour of MyMuslimVote and MPower Change. “And if your movement is not being led by a black woman, then you’re with the wrong movement.” Sarsour introduced herself by noting that her community was devastated by the outcome of the election. “We have been let down,” she told the crowd. “But, I also stand before you today, more than ever before, unapologetically Muslim, unapologetically Palestinian-American, and unapologetically from Brooklyn, New York.” She implored everyone, particularly white people, to take action against prejudice, no matter the victim. “We don’t want to be the generation that says ‘never again,’ and then things happen on our watch. Let us be different,” she said.
if your movement is not being led by a black woman, then you’re with the wrong movement.
Heather McGhee of Demos Action was an early speaker to take the stage. She refrained from saying Trump’s name during her speech, explaining that it repeated is “exactly what he wants.” Instead, she proposed a call to action. “Are we going to make this our America of our dreams?” she asked. The crowd roared.
“That is what they saw,” McGhee said. “They are holding on to a tiny idea of ‘We the People.’ They are denying the beauty of what we have become. This is their last stand.” She said activists and everyday citizens alike are responsible for continuing the legacy of civil rights that started in places like Selma and Stonewall. “This is our moment to keep our eyes on the prize,” she shouted. “See it clear, my friends. Do not be distracted.”
Other speakers, some of whom did not introduce themselves, echoed the sentiments of McGhee and Sarsour. A pair of indigenous women identified Columbus Circle as Lenape ground and led the crowd in a rendition of a song about rising up, which they said came from the Women’s Liberation Movement. Another spoke of diversity and inclusion as the country’s strengths and noble goals. “We have more important issues than bathrooms,” she added, referencing the anti-trans bathroom bills that swept the country earlier this year.
Writer and filmmaker Agunda Okeyo offered especially affecting insight, taking hold of a megaphone as night set in and rain fell more heavily. Okeyo, who is from Kenya, said she has lived through dictatorships and likens the atmosphere in America right now to the start of a dictatorial regime. “You guys got bamboozled," she said, but her words were ultimately hopeful. She spoke of the need to empower black women to lead—because, she said, they are leaders. She also called for more discourse. “We must have difficult conversations,” she urged.
The gathering ended, right on cue, with another recitation of the #Our100 pledge. Most protesters planned to take their signs and their determination elsewhere in the city for the night. Others stayed and listened to the band play. The words of one speaker seemed to linger in the air as police stood by to watch the crowd. “We are walking into dark times,” she said. “But we will survive this.”