Berkeley—As Berkeley High School students began to gather on the brick cobble outside of Sproul Plaza, a young man took up the megaphone. “I am Mexican,” he said. “But I am not a rapist! I have never touched a girl in my life!”
He is one of several hundred very young people who gathered, many with their parents, and marched to Oakland last night for what one marcher called “the beginning of our new radicalization.”
The crowd, a mix of the too-young-to-vote set, very young children with Gen-X parents, and University of California, Berkeley, students who just voted for president for the first time, clapped and shouted. Two black children wearing “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts that reached their knees grew especially loud at the mention of racism.
The rally, organized by activist group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), focused on the plight of young Hispanics, many of whose families could be split apart if President-elect Donald Trump’s immigration promises go forward next year. Under a half-full moon—or was it half-empty?—many of these students practiced a public act of protest for the first time.
Before they began the long walk down Telegraph Avenue to Oakland, students took turns speaking. Their speeches had an air of spontaneity and lack of practice. Jerry, a student who described himself as Filipinx, said, his voice cracking, “Trump doesn’t even understand the lives of any of my sisters!”
A white male teen took the megaphone and just said “Fuck Trump!” to giggles and smirks from his friends in the crowd, whose parents may have never let them say that profanity in public before, let alone about a president-elect.
A girl wearing a black tattoo choker and Converse high tops held up a sign that said, “RIP my rights.”
When an organizer yelled to the crowd, “Are you mad?!”, the crowd yelled “YEAH!” but not in an angry, riotous way. The answer was a bit too high-pitched and energized, as if taking on a cheer at a sports game.
The students’ huddled discussions seemed to reflect their confusion about what Tuesday’s election might mean. A young brown woman leaned over to her friend to ask what “deportations” meant. Another group discussed how “a lot of people are going to suffer—he’s going to bomb innocent women and children!” Another asked, “Like, people just defeated Hillary for no reason?”
At their age, many millennials had found themselves in the streets at night lighting candles on 9/11/2001, marching in Washington to protest the Iraq war, or screaming joyfully in another November, when Barack Obama was elected president. Their parents may have been too young to march against Vietnam or for women’s rights.
As the group prepared to march, some graduate students in the crowd discussed whether to head over to a bigger rally already taking place in Oakland. Thousands of millennials were on the streets of Oakland last night, but at a separate rally that reportedly turned violent, with one police officer injured.
One white man who was filming the crowd with his cell phone took advantage of a momentary lull in the discussion to proclaim that people should reject Trump and accept Jesus, to mild booing.
Then a small group of students began chanting,
Racist, sexist, anti-gay
Donald Trump—go away!
And the crowd took up the charge, mothers who had been stroking their daughters’ crimped or glossy dark hair standing up and raising their fists; teens tossing aside their frozen yogurt and bubble tea, pocketing their phones, and mobilizing. As they reached the curb and began to step into the street, many looked around hesitantly, not sure what they were supposed to do. Two policemen on bicycles blew whistles, the cars stopped, and they began their five-mile march.
As they walked past Amoeba Music and Moe’s Books, a student instructor saw one of her undergraduates. He approached nervously, saying “Sorry I didn’t make it to section today.” She laughed, telling him she barely made it herself. A man with short grey hair marched next to them, his middle schooler son marching alongside in rubber boots.
As they crossed into Oakland, someone lighted a joint and passed it to a friend. They marched passed condos where parents arm-in-arm with their children opened windows to wave. They marched passed a Burmese restaurant, where two middle-aged white women stepped out and started chanting along with “Love trumps hate!” One of the women broke down and started to cry. They marched passed a motel, where Hispanic women with wide arms stood solemnly in their doorways with toddlers in their arms. They marched past a Jack-in-the-Box, where the workers had left their registers to applaud them.
The chants were often started by a group of middle-school Hispanic girls wearing black pants and “Dump Trump” shirts cut off midriff. One of them, jubilant, began to twirl down Telegraph, her long black ponytail whipping around her face.
As some black high-school boys continued to yell “Fuck Trump!,” throwing up their arms, striking poses, and laughing, my marching partner grumbled that “it’s not going to be funny in a few years when they are repressed.” Never in history have so many minorities been allowed to be this open, and now with the threat of that openness going away. And yet the youth were marching, not yet afraid.
In downtown Oakland, after they had marched past the mortuaries, churches, Korean restaurants, and upscale bars, they turned a corner to head off of Telegraph toward the Federal Building, past a black man rapping into a microphone about “crisis on the throne.”
A few blocks away, the grown-up rally was taking place. There were signs on fire. The people were dirtier, with more piercings and tattoos. The smoke was thicker. The tension and menace was high, but when you bumped into someone, they turned around to apologize. More faces were behind bandanas and sweaters. People were hugging, looking hurt.
I ran into a friend here, as young as many of the people at the other rally a few blocks away. An Egyptian Muslim, she was looking pale, her face tighter than I’d seen before. She told me she’d been tear-gassed tonight. Her sister lives in Oakland too, with two young children. Both she and her sister have dual citizenship. But what is their future?
Back at the high schoolers rally, someone yelled into the megaphone about preventing Trump from taking office. At the grown-up rally, there were no such illusions of stopping the inevitable. Instead, they planned a march on Washington the day after the inauguration. But the young people at their rally were insistent. “We are Americans, we are the future of this country,” one said. That rally ended peacefully, people dispersing to their public transit in the night.