The night began with a stranger giving us directions on the subway. We hadn't even asked her. Five sweating bodies stood between us and our savior, each equally annoyed as overheated- winter parkas unsuited for the unbearable closeness a 7 o’clock subway car demanded.
A suburbanite born and bred, I mistook my proximity to the blondes on my right as friendliness and tapped a shoulder that was already dangerously close to my nose.
“Hi, could you tell us where to get off for Washington Square Park?” I asked in my best ‘sorry but I’m just a clueless tourist’ voice, and waited for the twenty something blonde to stop laughing with her friend.
“Umm, NYU, 8th street,” she responded with the wave of a well manicured hand, followed by a well practiced eye roll. I looked back up to the blinking subway map and frowned as my fellow suburbanite confirmed, “Dude- there’s no 8th street stop.”
“You guys going to Washington Square?” a voice beyond the mass of bodies rose up just as the subway doors began rattle open. “You need to get off here and transfer to the local, get off at Astor Place and then walk a few blocks East.” The savior had risen.
. . .
That stranger saved us a 30 minute walk in the wrong part of the city on a very cold night. She didn't know us, and she didn't have to help the white kids from Connecticut, but she did. That unrequited kindness is what the Love Rally on November 11th attempted to emulate, offering a place of peaceful protest against the hate rhetoric used by President Donald Trump, whose unexpected victory owed much of its success to the renunciation of minorities in exchange for the vote of an unspoken majority.
Sydney Miller, the NYU student who organized the Love Rally, explained on the event’s Facebook page that the rally would “serve to tell those who he (Trump) has targeted in his speech that they are welcome in this country. As such, we're rallying in support of those demographics, not to protest a Trump presidency. We're against hate speech, not explicitly against Trump.”
The spontaneous call for unity resulted in thousands of people flooding Washington Square park, holding up hearts and signs of acceptance- each cheering for love to win.
Once we got to the park, we hesitantly followed the sound of cheering. It didn't sound like the angry screams of a rally, the clapping and "yeaaahhh!!!'s sounding more suitable for a concert-- incongruous among the shifting shadows and otherwise quiet eeriness of a New York City park at night. We ran and smiled and hugged our frozen bodies, eager to finally reach our very first protest, to break through the walls of our suburban bubble, to finally feel the change humming.
“It feels so good to be up here and see all of your faces, and it does feel good, it feels really good,” a boy with long hair and glasses yelled to the crowd through a barely working megaphone.
“But I’m not here because of me, I’m not here because I want to feel good. I’m here because my great-grandfather was an immigrant, and he came to America from Sicily. When he moved here he opened an Italian restaraunt, and that restaraunt got burned down by the KKK because he was Catholic. And I don’t want a president that is endorsed by the same group that hated my great grandfather so much that they burnt down all of his hopes and dreams.”
He paused, and looked out across the mass of people huddled around him, each person welcoming the very bearable closeness an 8 o’clock rally demands, making room for one another, exchanging names, laughing and crying and cheering and clapping together, because they realized they weren’t alone.
“I’m here because I have two sisters who I love more than anything in the world and I don’t want them to be afraid when they walk down the street because of what other people see them like, because of what other people think it’s okay to see them like. Because of what their President sees them like. I need to be up here to fight for them, because we need protests and rallies, we need poets and artists, and we need love more than anything else right now. So love each other, choose love above anything else.”
The stone stage quieted for a moment as the crowd watched a man wrapped in a blanket struggle to the top of the stone stage, megaphone clenched within his gloveless fingers.
“My name is Tucker Moin, alright. I’m from Maine originally, alright. I’ve been down here for 11, 12 years now. I’ve been out of work for the last 8, 9 years…” A few people next to me nodded knowingly. I stared at Tucker’s breath hanging in the air besides him. He continued.
“I think Trump would be a good President for us, I’m sorry, I apologize. I hate his rhetoric. I hate his fucking rhetoric. I hate his fricking racist bullshit, I hate his bullshit sometimes. But guess what. In the same sense, he might actually fricking turn something around for this country.”
The crowd mumbled, a few yelled out. Sydney reminded us to listen to everyone, to let him explain.
“I didn’t vote for Trump, I didn’t vote period. But in the same sense I would vote Trump because you know what though? I think he has some change for this country. Regardless of what you guys think exactly, and I love what you guys think, I love that you guys are here… but guess what, he might be a fucking racist asshole piece of shit, but guess what, I really don’t think he is. I really don’t think he is.”
Most of the people laughed at this, and I looked up at Tucker Moin. Wondered what it would be like to be out of a job for 9 years. Then a man yelled out from the edge of the crowd, standing alone, hands in pockets, head down.
“But how can you separate Trump, from the racist, sexist things? It’s been almost two years he’s been talking this stuff.”
Tucker looked out, couldn’t find the face that the voice belonged to, and answered aimlessly, “I don’t believe any of it.”
The man picked his head up, mouth closed in a tight line.
“You got a daughter?”
“I don’t believe any of the shit he says,” Tucker grumbled.
“You got a mother?”
The whole city seemed to silence for just a moment then. Maybe the crowd was realizing that everyone there had a mother, or that every woman there was a daughter, that the man waiting for Tucker to respond, was a dad. Maybe the city was silent out of fear, or out of thought, or out of patience, but the man’s question hung in the air for that moment, right next to Tucker’s frozen breathe.
“Let’s go,” my fellow suburbanites tugged at my jacket sleeve.
“I heard there’s a good Korean burger place down the street.”