They’re angry. They’re afraid. They’re upset that Donald Trump is going to be their next president.
But many of the protesters who took to the streets in cities across the country over the past week didn’t cast a ballot for the candidate who could have beaten him.
Instead of voting for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, dozens of protesters in cities from Philadelphia to Portland said in interviews this week that they had cast ballots for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, wrote in Sen. Bernie Sanders or, in some cases, failed to vote at all. The NBC affiliate in Portland found that of more than 100 protesters arrested there last week, more than half did not vote in the state. (Clinton still won Oregon, along with most of the other states where the biggest protests have erupted.)
So rather than protesting Clinton’s loss, people from Portland to Atlanta have cited more varied reasons for joining the protests. In addition to voicing opposition to Trump, they say they are expressing anger with the entire political system and their desire to force dramatic change on a host of social and economic fronts.
“The protesting Trump has to do with the emotion that we’re all feeling,” said Ashley Ember, 27, who said she wrote Sanders on her ballot in Philadelphia. If Clinton had won, Ember said, she would have protested that, too.
A roiling movement across the country
Since Election Day, thousands of people have taken to the streets nationwide. Demonstrations surged in the days after Trump’s election, though they seem now to be ebbing. Police say the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, though there have been outbursts of violence in Portland, Indianapolis and Oakland, California.
The protesters have earned the ire of Trump and his surrogates, who have insulted them on television and social media, calling them paid professionals “incited by the media,” jobless “crybabies,” people with mental disorders and “goons.”
But a week after Trump’s unexpected victory, protests that appeared at first as a denunciation of the president-elect have largely given way to more diffuse expressions of frustration among America’s left.
A new group calling itself Portland’s Resistance published 22 demands ranging from “clean air and water” and “safe streets” to halting the construction of a local Nestle factory. In Philadelphia, a group called the Socialist Alternative convened more than 100 people for a Monday night meeting on the perils of capitalism and climate change. And in Atlanta and several other cities, anti-Trump marches shifted gears this week into protests focused on the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
“People are there for all different reasons – (there are) signs saying, ‘Not my president,’ but also ‘Viva La Raza,’ ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘hella queer folks,’” said Debbie Southern, a Chicago activist who joined an anti-Trump protest on a whim, and wouldn’t say who she voted for.
“It’s really encouraging,” said Southern, 27. “Like, Whoa, we all see each other right now. We see our different struggles are linked up and connected.”
Most of the protesters interviewed were in their 20s and appeared to gravitate toward far left politics. In Portland, roughly half of those arrested were 25 or younger. Here are some of their stories:
Gary Thomas, 24, Philadelphia
Gary Thomas recently lost his job as a janitor in Philadelphia. On Election Day, he said he cast his vote for Stein, though the Green Party candidate was polling in the single digits and was given little chance of victory.
Thomas, who is gay and African-American, said he could not bring himself to vote for Clinton. “She didn’t represent me as a person,” he said. “She didn’t connect with me. Bernie Sanders did. I felt like he was speaking from his heart, and for the first time, I felt connected to politics.”
The day after Trump’s victory, Thomas took to the streets with a sign reading, “F— Trump.” And on Monday night, he listened as Philadelphia area socialists talked about the need for a vibrant American third party, and an upcoming march to demand a higher minimum wage.
Lamon Reccord, 17, Chicago
Lamon Reccord was too young to vote in this year’s election, but that didn’t stop him from protesting.
Reccord, who is black and grew up on Chicago’s South Side, has been involved in voter registration drives and political activism since he was in middle school. If he could have voted, he said he probably would have chosen Stein, who he said he’s “more sold on.” But Reccord said he would still rather see Clinton in office than Trump, a man who, Reccord said, “promotes racism.”
Last Friday, Reccord rallied his friends on Facebook, calling on them to meet outside Chicago’s Trump Tower. He did the same on Monday.
“The end goal is to get Donald Trump out of office. To make sure he officially doesn’t become the president of the United States of America,” Reccord said. “We do not need a president who promotes racism, who inappropriately touches women. And trying to send 3 million illegal immigrants back home, I also consider racist.”
Reccord said he expects Trump to push forward with the radical policy shifts he promised on the campaign trail. “Trump unleashing more racism will impact me as an activist and an organizer, but it is only going to make me more motivated to fight,” he said.
Dianne Mathowetz, 70, Atlanta
Dianne Mathowetz, a retired autoworker in Atlanta, also voted for Stein. She joined an anti-Trump protest in New York last week, but felt more energized at a demonstration Monday back home in Atlanta, where about 50 people had gathered to protest the Dakota Access pipeline, a cause that Mathowetz is passionate about.
“I think the Trump election and (Native American-led protests against the pipeline at) Standing Rock has just galvanized people who are in different kinds of very important issues to come together,” she said.
The crowd beside her included organizers for higher wages, Palestine solidarity activists, immigration reform advocates, antiwar activists, and protesters of the death penalty.
Mitchell Davis, 28, Dallas
Mitchell Davis, a collections agent for Wells Fargo, was among the many protesters who said they did vote for Clinton. Davis said he generally identifies as a Republican, but that he voted for Clinton because he strongly opposes Trump.
Speaking at a protest Monday, Davis said he viewed the demonstrations as part of a larger, nationwide response to a historically unpopular new leader. He could imagine a “tipping point,” he said, in which the protests might lead to Trump’s impeachment or resignation. Davis said he is already making plans to travel to Washington D.C. to protest on Inauguration Day.
Rick Hofsheier, 43, Portland
Rick Hofsheier, an independent voter, also cast a ballot for Clinton, though he said he wished that Sanders had been on the ballot instead.
The stay-at-home dad was among 71 people arrested during protests in Portland Saturday night; laughing, Hofsheier said, he thinks he was arrested because he got too close to the riot police.
Hofsheier had only been at the protest for about half an hour, he said, taking time out from his child care duties. His participation was important, he said, because he believes the nation must send a message to Trump that there’s “a good deal of America who doesn’t support (his) racist, misogynist (statements).”
“There’s just a vast group of people that not only oppose it, but vehemently oppose it,” Hofsheier said, adding that he, too plans to protest on Inauguration Day.
James Mattox, 27, Portland
James Mattox was also arrested in Portland last week. He said he cast his vote for Stein, and would have been equally angry if Clinton won.
“No matter who won, I was going to do something,” said Mattox, a community college student with a dyed red Mohawk. “I’ve been out protesting all summer about many different things, honestly.”
Mattox said he did not believe the protests would somehow prevent Trump from taking office. “But I think it’s important for people to voice their opinions about him being president because he’s said some really terrible things and people are afraid.”
Madrid St. Angelo, 51, Chicago
Madrid St. Angelo was among a different group of protesters, people who said they headed out simply to be with others who shared their despair.
“I could stay home and become depressed and feel hopeless,” said St. Angelo, an actor and HIV activist who lives in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. Instead, he attended multiple protest events over the weekend.
“I honestly don’t know what else to do other than be a voice and a presence and look for ways to get involved.”
Susan Ranft, 57, Chicago
Susan Ranft, a high school Spanish teacher in suburban Chicago, said her protest wasn’t about trying to “overthrow the government.”
“I understand he is our president,” Ranft said. “I am trying to show people there are some really valid concerns. We have to stay on top of him because there is nothing reining him in now.”
Ranft said only two things could compel her to stop protesting. First, she said, she wants to see Trump rescind his appointment of former Breitbart News chief Stephen Bannon, who called his site the voice of the alt-right, to a top White House position.
The other thing? If Trump “accepted climate change as reality.”
What comes next
Even as the larger protests appeared to fizzle Wednesday, activists said they would be back in force on Inauguration Day in January. Already, some groups have begun planning marches and rallies in Washington, along with calls to occupy the Mall.
“We want the government to know that they can no longer ignore us,” said Thomas, the demonstrator in Philadelphia. Under a Trump presidency, he said, “this is just a taste of things to come.”
Local journalism is essential.
The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.