First there was shock... and regret. And then the city of San Francisco – a place where so many one-time outsiders have found a home that welcomes them – rose up and marched. It was a moment where hope began again. But the road ahead will not be easy...
I read once that each person gets five “Where were you when...?” moments in their lifetime. “Where you when 9/11 happened?” is now a universal for anyone millennial-age or older. “Where you when the marriage equality referendum passed?” is a recent addiction for Irish people. (“Where were you when the Eighth was repealed?” will hopefully be another.)
“Where were you when Trump was elected?” is now one of those questions.
Or just “Where were you when you lost your sense of hope?”
I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I was in a room in a house filled with men I didn’t know. It was my flatmate’s boyfriend’s house, and his friends had been drinking and watching the election results unfold before I arrived.
I got there late. Late and largely apathetic about being there at all. Because I didn’t care. Sure, Hillary’s win was in the bag, I thought. I could roll up late, have a celebratory drink, hug a few randomers and be in bed by midnight, watching a much more exciting Leslie Knope campaign unfold on Netflix.
But when I arrived, ready to dispense wisecracks and fun-size chocolate bars left over from Halloween, the atmosphere in the room was sombre. Bristling. My flatmate, the one woman of colour in a room full of white men, looked at me, eyes wide.
“He’s winning. By a lot. I don’t think she can make it up.”
That’s the moment I’ll never forget. The moment of realization that we had all been terribly, terribly wrong.
The blame came first...
–It was Hillary’s fault, she had been too arrogant.
–More arrogant than Trump?
–Arrogant about beating Trump.
–We had ALL been arrogant about beating Trump!
Then the regret...
–I should have campaigned more for Hillary.
–But you voted Third Party.
–YOU VOTED THIRD PARTY?
–We live in California, it doesn’t matter, with the electoral collage, the state was always going to go to Hillary! But for the other states… I should have campaigned for her.
–We should have campaigned against the electoral collage.
–We say that every election, and we never do, why didn’t we do that?
–Why didn’t we do SOMETHING?
Then the realisations...
–We had just treated him like a joke, but he was gaining voters the whole time.
–And those voters didn’t tell pollsters they were Trump supporters, because they’re those “racist behind closed doors” types.
–All those trolls online talking about “libtards.”
–My crazy relatives who I muted on Facebook for saying “All Lives Matter.”
–My Dad said he was going to vote Trump, but he was joking. Right?
–We just ignored them. Didn’t try talk to them about it.
–Because they’re ridiculous.
–Just like he was supposed to be.
–He wasn’t supposed to WIN. He was never going to WIN.
My flatmates are women of colour. My professors run the Sexuality Studies and Ethnic Studies departments in one of the most underfunded colleges in a city with 26 billionaires. My classmates include men and women of colour, queer men and women and trans folks. My friends are feminists, activists, poets, writers, rape survivors, people with HIV, children of immigrants.
Many of them moved to San Francisco years ago, knowing that it has a history of embracing and supporting those who are oppressed elsewhere. LGBTQ people, kinky people, artsy people, homeless people, weird people and wonderful people all came to the city, where rent was cheap or the streets were safe, and hearts and minds were open.
That was before the latest tech bubble hit; before Twitter buildings and Google buses and start-ups filled the city with white male millionaires. Before rents skyrocketed and people were evicted and displaced, so that there’s now 7,000 homeless people in San Francisco. Before the drag bars and progressive bookstores and dingy diners that had been there for decades were replaced by Air BnBs and designer clothes stores.
On Tuesday, in what was once the most radical city in the world, ten percent of people living in San Francisco voted for Trump. The Twitter building hosted a Young Republicans party on election night, while a motion passed to ban the city’s homeless population from pitching tents on the sidewalks.
Within a day, the atmosphere of the entire city changed. The change that had been creeping over the city was no longer just a talking point, no longer just an annoyance, no longer just gentrification, no longer “just” anything. It was a real and present danger towards people of colour, LGBTQ people, women, people with disabilities, people who are already oppressed. It was a national mandate against them. It was a threat against all but the 1%.
It was Trump, a country full of people who supported him, and one person in ten in our glorious city who thinks that we are second-class citizens.
I say “we.” I can leave, of course. I know that I’m lucky.
In one night, Trump transformed a city that people turn to for sanctuary into a place they want to escape from.
Then came were the rallying cries...
–“Who is Donald Trump?” “Not My President!”
–“Misogynistic, racist, anti-gay!” “Donald Trump, Go Away!”
–“Black Lives Matter!”
–“Trans Lives Matter!”
–“Pussies Grab Back!”
– “Love Trumps Hate!”
I’ve never been to a Trump rally, but I can’t imagine they have placards with lovehearts on them. Or gay couples kissing lovingly. Or excited toddlers waving at rainbow flags. Or chants that evolve and transform so that everyone present feels accounted for, and supported, and loved. I can’t imagine that if people at a Trump rally get heckled, they shout back “We’ll still fight for you!”
That all happened on Wednesday night, not even 24 hours after the election, when thousands of people in San Francisco walked together, in protest and solidarity, peacefully letting it be known that Trump was not welcome, that he would not silence those who had fought so hard for a voice, that he would not strip rights away from people without a fight, that his divisive politics would promote unity amongst the people he hates the most.
His election had led us into shock, then grief. But now it was time for action, and spirit, and we had both in abundance.
We also had more humour, and empathy, and reason.
During Trump’s acceptance speech, someone yelled “Kill Obama!” and the crowd cheered. During San Francisco’s march against Trump, someone yelled “Fuck Trump!” and the crowd yelled “No Thank You!”
The march led thousands of protesters from Market Street to Mission, walking right through Castro.
The Castro is San Francisco’s gay neighourhood. Harvey Milk owned a store there, held rallies and marches there, fought for his rights and the rights of those who were oppressed, targeted, under attack. In 1978, Milk delivered a speech addressing the most vulnerable people in society, and the need for empathetic, representative leaders. He said to the crowd of people who had marched with him and for him, “you have to give them hope.”
That’s right, hope...
“Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us'es, the us'es will give up. And if you help elect to the central committee and other offices, more gay people, that gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward. It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone. So if there is a message I have to give, it is that I've found one overriding thing about my personal election, it's the fact that if a gay person can be elected, it's a green light. And you and you and you, you have to give people hope. Thank you very much.”
It’s going to be hard to hold onto hope while Trump is president. Sometimes, like election night, it will be out of sight. Sometimes, like Wednesday night, it will be pulled back by the people and shine. It won’t always stay close.
But San Francisco is a city built by, and for, those who travel, those who fight, and those who survive. We’ll find the hope eventually. We always have. We always will.
And we’ll always remember where we were when we did.
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