I rarely find it in myself to speak openly and passionately about politics. After all, people are harsh and often equally judgmental. We live in a nation polarized and brimming with ready-made chaos. I can hardly log onto my Facebook without being inundated with arguments and blatantly expressed opinions, often from people I care about but cannot help but disagree with. This division scares me, and the probable results of my speaking up — whether a snarky response from someone or a lecture from my more conservative parents — have always served as an excuse for my silence. I have spent most of my life quietly complaining and always wishing I could do something bigger than myself, yet never stepping up to the plate. In the wake of Donald Trump’s recent victory, however, I found it utterly impossible to stay complacent. As soon as I discovered on Facebook an event described as a protest against Trump, I took a leap of faith and decided to attend last weekend.
I showed up with my friend, Sarah, to Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, each of us carrying Trump yard signs that we had painted with bright hues to instead read “Love Trumps Hate” and other positive slogans and quotes. The crowd was bigger than I had anticipated, extending across the entire stretch of grass and parking lot, and even backing into the nearby apartment buildings and a busy road. A microphone had been set up on a small stage at the center of the crowd, a place to let our voices be heard and our stories be told.
I stood in awe as people my age, of all races, genders, sexual orientations and backgrounds took turns approaching the mic and speaking their fears. Their voices hit me in waves, strongly in certain instances that I still cling to. A Georgia Tech student detailed the story of her parents: illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. looking to live the American dream and spent years working to provide her with a good life. They were soon to be at the mercy of deportation forces. A black college student, meanwhile, felt betrayed by his fellow classmates who campaigned openly for a man who spouted hate and with rhetoric targeted him and all those he loved .
It was liberating to cry out with voices who shared my fears for the future and to join with others to express everything that had somehow bubbled up inside of me: anger, disappointment, shock, confusion. It all felt so real, hearing it from these different perspectives and yelling with others in the cold, November air, our voices surrounded in small clouds of heat and breath. To voice opinions and emotions I had held pent up inside for so long was the best feeling in the world, and I could tell I was not the only one having such an experience.
The walk itself began around 7 p.m.. Hoisting up our signs and compressing even closer together, we stepped out of the confines of the park and into the streets of midtown, already completely backed up with police officers and lines of traffic. We flooded the pavement, walking for three hours non-stop through Ponce, the Highlands, the highway and downtown. We chanted in unison, often to the beat of a percussionist who carried an enormous bongo set on his chest and a trumpet player who hung around giving backup notes.
We marched through crowded Atlanta nightlife and small, neighborhood streets, all the while encountering people who cheered us on and wished us the best for the long night ahead. A couple of older women outside of a restaurant blew us kisses from where they were standing, and others stepped outside of houses and restaurants to film our walking and give their support. Some people even reached out in support from their cars, sticking their head out of the windows to give us a hello or honking their horns in rhythmic sync with the banging of the drummer. It was magical and inspirational. Never had I ever seen such an outpouring of love and support from people so vastly different in appearance and background. It made me more proud than ever of my city and gave me faith in the power of the masses, in all those who refuse to back down.
The whole experience came full circle as we approached a bridge overlooking the highway, all of the cars lined up in back-to-back traffic, mere beams of light at such a distance, like tiny fluorescents hung in a row across the cityscape. Our chants and yells faded into silence, and all of us stood unmoving, facing the police officers who awaited us below. We soaked in every second of meaning and emotion we could find in this simple stillness. I made eye contact with one police officer and noticed another who was flashing us a subtle smile. I could hear only the noisy propellers of the local news helicopter above us, the shrill sound of distant sirens, and the breathing of those pressed up against the bridge with me. It was life-altering.
Though I am hurt and disappointed by the decision our country has made in its president-elect, I’ve decided I must use these dark times as a catalyst. I genuinely believe that I, and all those of my generation, have the capability to create change in the coming four years. We have the power, as a movement, to voice what those in our government cannot, and I feel certain that our fight will have no premature end nor a loss of intention along the way. As scary as things seem right now and as much is at stake, we must accept the challenges at hand as a way to project progress — through protests, demonstrations, movements and more. I have so much faith in us as a nation, to make it through this time and all that it will encompass.
This protest was the first step in a fight urging all people to be heard and for those in power to listen.
Photos by Holyn Thigpen.
Holyn, 16, is a junior at DeKalb School of the Arts and a lover of books, tea and social justice!
Join VOX’s teen-led dialogue about race, Dec. 10, 2-4 p.m.
Register online here and add your voice to the conversation at The Center For Civil & Human Rights in downtown Atlanta. We’ll have free food and safe space for self expression!