The Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons was the site of disbelief, frustration and sorrow Wednesday night as hundreds of Ithacans and students gathered at an anti-Trump demonstration organized by the city’s Black Lives Matter chapter.
Ithaca residents were joined by students and faculty from Cornell and Ithaca College, many of whom brought candles and signs reading “Love Trumps Hate.”
“This is not a time for mourning — this is a time for organizing,” said Prof. Russell Rickford, history, and a member of the Black Lives Matter Ithaca chapter.
A grueling and often ugly presidential campaign culminated Tuesday night in a victory for Trump, which Rickford called a victory for racism, xenophobia and misogyny.
“Today, we’re facing an intensified form of white supremacy — we call it ‘Trumpism,’” he said.
The election unearthed undercurrents of bigotry in American society whose existence Americans can no longer deny, Rickford said.
“The basic elements of ‘Trumpism’ have been here all along,” he said.
Rickford said de-unionization and “right-to-work” laws, coupled with the loss of social safety nets, allowed Trump’s exclusionist strain of populism to take root. During his campaign, Trump characterized Mexican immigrants as rapists and called for a ban on immigration from Muslim countries.
While Trump’s election jeopardizes the progress made under the Obama administration for people of color, Rickford said Trump’s victory has the potential to be America’s “great awakening,” a wake-up call for white Americans who thought of their country as progressive.
“Last night, we got a rude awakening,” he said. “And once you’re awake, you can’t go back to sleep. You can’t pretend. You can’t accept the same lies.”
Rickford called for a general strike of black professionals, artists and academics — a grassroots uprising to counter the one Trump rode to the White House. He voiced his skepticism that political elites would be the ones to effect change — a skepticism that extended to Hillary Clinton.
“A black face in a high place didn’t save us, and a woman in a high place wouldn’t have either,” he said.
Rickford explained that the grassroots movement would begin on the local level, calling for a minimum wage increase in Tompkins County, increased funding for local schools and demilitarization of Ithaca’s police force, including the removal of Ithaca’s SWAT truck.
Carlos Gutierrez, a Chilean man who spent three years in one of Augusto Pinochet’s prisons, echoed Rickford’s misgivings about a heavily armed police force. Gutierrez pointed to Ithaca’s SWAT truck as evidence of a growing “us versus them” mentality among members of law enforcement.
“The military police is not armed for invaders — it’s to fight us,” he said.
Gutierrez said there are clear parallels between Trump’s ascent and the rise of Pinochet in Chile, which he saw firsthand. He urged the crowd to counter the election’s vitriol with solidarity.
“The closer you are to each other, the stronger you are,” he said.
Cornell and Ithaca College students stood for hours listening to their peers’ misgivings and voicing some of their own. Thea Kozakis grad said she attended the demonstration because of her frustration with her parents, who support Trump.
“It’s been really hard,” she said. “[Trump] doesn’t believe in climate change, and I’m a scientist who studies the atmospheres of planets.”
Kozakis added that her father became much more xenophobic during Trump’s campaign.
“Now I’m hearing my dad saying these horrible things about Muslims,” she said. “I just mentioned I knew some Muslims here at Cornell, and he’s like, ’They’re academic Muslims, and academic Muslims are more likely to be terrorists.’”
Kozakis said she has not spoken to her parents since Trump’s victory was announced, except to ask about her grandparents’ nationality.
“I texted my mom asking if my grandparents were born in Italy, because I’m trying to get Italian citizenship now,” she said.
Abhinav Jindal grad from Mumbai, India said he had long considered the United States a model of tolerance, making Trump’s victory “really shocking.”
“As a foreigner, we see the United States as a very multicultural environment where people from all different countries living together in peace and harmony, so during this campaign it was a little shocking to hear someone with such strong views against people of color contending for the position of president,” he said
Delmar Fears ’19 described waking up to news of a Trump presidency — a reality that once seemed a distant possibility given his comments about Muslims, Mexicans and women.
“This morning, my bubble was burst,” she said. “The silent majority has spoken, and you know what it told me? That America is not a loving country.”
Fears called Trump’s victory a setback for America, a reminder that progress is not self-propelled.
“America is not inevitably marching towards equality,” she said. “We have to fight for our rights — bitterly, consciously, tenaciously.”