I could feel a deep anxiety in my chest as I drove over the Courtney Campbell Causeway into St. Pete. ‘Not My President’ rallies like the one I was about to be attending were sprouting up all over the country, much of it involving flag burning, burning images of Trump, and other instances of fire related shenanigans. But why?
Just by walking into Demens Landing Park, I could feel the whole quiet and picturesque atmosphere of downtown St. Pete change entirely. A large crowd was assembled, sporting a multitude of picket signs while the leaders led chants through bull horns.
“Dump the Trump!”
“We reject the president elect!”
“Fuck Donald Trump!”
It was clear that tension was in the air. These people were upset; upset with injustice, upset with the political system itself and upset with the voting decisions of their fellow Americans. After a hearty round of chants in the park, the crowd began to march toward the heart of downtown, banners and bullhorns in front.
Walking past the still vibrant downtown scene of St. Pete was a bit awkward. Though I expected some sort of resistance from someone, much of the crowd in downtown cheered for the marchers, some of them even high-fiving protesters as they passed on the sidewalk.
We made it to the amphitheater at Williams Park before finally sitting and congregating around a central stage. Protesters sat in the grass and continued chant as the organizers in the front lead anti-Trump cheers. Many movements and special interests were represented in this gathering, all of them furious at Trump’s upset victory, which they worry will bring on an era of racism, sexism and environmental degradation. After another round of chants, some more musical than others, we headed back.
Five to six chants would be going at once, each at a different section of the crowd and none of them on time with the beating bass drum that played in the back. Protesters flashed peace signs with one hand and held protest signs with the other. The most common sign was “Love Trumps Hate.” Though we have this hateful man in power, they were saying, we refuse to go back on the social progress we have worked so hard to achieve.
We reconvened at Demens, this time by the picnic tables near the water. The organizers all climbed atop a concrete picnic table like goats on a tree and took turns at the forefront of the tabletop to give their speeches through a bullhorn.
The first few speakers seemed to get the crowd going, but offered little in terms of concrete options for fending off what they think will be a plundering of civil rights and the natural environment. By the second half of the speakers, it was clear that, however angry and ready for action, the “movement” was not very well unified or directed.
Things really got tense when a speaker for the Tampa Anti-War Committee got up and began bashing Israel and chanting “Free Palestine!” An issue that divides Democrats, the speaker's comments on Israel/Palestine sparked some verbal backlash from the crowd, with a number of protesters actually turning around and leaving the event.
The next speaker, from the Tampa Party for Socialism and Liberation, suggested all liberals abandon the Democratic Party for recognizing the legitimacy of Trump’s election. Given that Trump technically won the Electoral College (though not the popular vote) and there's really no way around it, this garnered a multitude of boos and jeers, prompting more of the now uneasy crowd to leave.
At one point, the floor opened and anyone was allowed to talk, and it was clear that while attendees were angry, their views were incredibly divergent.
And that is exactly where the problem lies. Some came to protest an unchangeable event, which added an air of futility to the evening. Trump won. The Electoral College, while flawed, is the law of the land.
And it was tough for some demonstrators to articulate much beyond their frustration over the outcome; it's hard to talk solutions when the threats to minorities and the environment a Trump administration will pose have not yet come into view.
The rally and march unfolded in an incredibly friendly venue; even some of the police officers marching alongside us to keep peace were chanting “Fuck Trump” at the same volume we were.
The only semblance of backlash here was a man sitting in a nearby parking lot during the speeches blaring Tim McGraw to drown out the speakers. Besides that one asshole, there were no minds to change.