“I’m just so tired of having to do this,” I told Kaeli. We were marching up Market Street, toward the Castro, with a crowd of 4,000 other people. “How many times have we done this? I mean, even this year, we’ve been out in the streets a dozen times.”
It was the evening after Donald Trump was elected the next president of the United States, and both Kaeli and I were exhausted. Mentally, physically, emotionally, we were suspended in a state of weary disbelieve.
“But this time …” Kaeli responded, “I can’t believe what we are protesting. It’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that he won.”
Walking up Market that night, amongst the chanting and the yelling and the crying and the singing, it felt like all the things we’d been fighting for over the past years had suddenly fallen apart. We’d marched against police violence, against homelessness, against oil pipelines, against evictions. We’d shouted that black lives did, in fact, matter. As did trans ones. And that no humans were illegal. We’d held candles on our slow stride to City Hall when our queer brothers and sisters were murdered in a nightclub in Orlando. And that night, as we tried to find the energy to keep shouting “Fuck Trump,” it was like we were marching for all of those things at once. The weight of it was almost unbearable.
But it still didn’t stop us. Even though we were tired and grieving and heartbroken, the people on the receiving end of Trump’s hate speech — and on the receiving end of hate crimes perpetrated by his emboldened supporters — don’t have the luxury of stopping. People of color, queer people, immigrants, Muslims, they don’t get to check out from being marginalized when they are tired. So there we were, people of all ethnicities, religions, genders, ages, abilities and income levels, marching up Market Street as allies and co-conspirators.
That was why so many of us were in the streets and why we continue to be. We do so not just to protest what has already happened, but also to stand against what has yet to occur. We march as a statement that says, “This man who espouses homophobia, racism, sexism and xenophobia does not represent me.” We march because of the rising occurrence of hate crimes, and because we must defend one another, and because we can’t allow this ugliness to become normalized.
That night, we marched because we didn’t know what else to do.
For so many people, Trump winning was more than demoralizing; it was the absolute unraveling of reality. Suddenly, our neighbors, friends and family members were not the people we thought them to be. The ideals that we knew our country stood for proved to be empty, valueless lies. Hate had unfathomably triumphed over love and destroyed our notions of who we were. For more than 60 million people, the definition of what it meant to be an American changed in the blink of an eye.
Or at least it did for many “good” white folks, including myself. People who are used to being kicked know what a boot looks like, so those who’ve been treated as second-class citizens by this country for years, decades, centuries … well, those people knew the score. While they might have been feeling grief and heartbreak, what they weren’t feeling was surprise. They woke up Wednesday morning to the same America they’d gone to sleep to every single night they’d laid their head down in this country.
For many white people, though, it was the first time they realized they were complicit in all this oppression, simply because they benefitted from it. Just being one of the “good” white people wasn’t enough. The entire goddamn system, from schooling to lawmaking to policing to city planning, was set up to keep them benefiting from their whiteness. It was rotten and decaying from the inside and, suddenly, for the first time in their lives, they could smell it, too.
As we neared the Castro that Wednesday night, I looked around and took in the crowd. I saw many of the same allies I’d protested with for years. But there were also new ones, younger ones, many of whom were in high school. Seeing the sheer number of them and witnessing their burning indignation gave me hope.
This is exactly why we march in the streets: Times are dark right now, but if the future is anything like those young people who are protesting all over the nation, a change might really finally actually come.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.