Tears line their cheeks, anger molds their faces and conviction holds them together. Since Nov. 9, hordes of New Yorkers have wielded signs and blocked the streets of Manhattan, yelling chants such as “not my president!” and “hands too small, can’t build wall!” in response to Donald Trump becoming the president-elect.
Photographer Cindy Trinh shoots these protests and rallies for her documentary photo series, Activists of New York, and she said the city has not seen such vigorous activism since Occupy Wall Street.
“I think the energy from what I’ve seen in the streets has been very strong and positive and just fresh for a long fight,” said Trinh, whose photo project documents activism and social protest in the city. “I know people that have been activists for a long time and have been involved in this for a long time, and I can see in their eyes that they feel it is an exhausting fight. But they’re ready.”
She said people held a lot of resentment, frustration and shock. But she’s also discerned a huge outpouring of support, especially from people of color and from those who could most be affected by Trump’s conservatism.
New York University junior Hannah Fullerton has been involved with political activism since her freshman year, and led a schoolwide walk out Nov. 16 in support of undocumented immigrants. She said that none of her other rallies or protests garnered so much participation and that people outside the traditional activist and advocacy communities are getting involved.
Fullerton thinks this reinvigorated anger and passion stems from people who identify with the left who are barely able to consider the possibility of a Trump administration.
“We had this sort of Obama-privilege that we didn’t necessarily need to organize against the foundations of our government and that we could focus on protesting certain institutions or certain policies — this is definitely a very different ballgame,” Fullerton said. “I don’t think there was as much urgency, and I don’t think we knew what we would have to be preparing for.”
After Trump’s win, she said, organizers did not even know how to proceed, since few were prepared for that outcome. But after the initial surprise, Fullerton said a sense of urgency arose among the coalesced Trump opponents.
Stanley Fritz, of Citizen Action of New York, said that in the weeks leading up to the election, conversations within activist groups focused on what to address under a Clinton administration and how Hillary Clinton’s presidency would affect their causes.
“There are now literally protests planned until all the way until next year, and it’s happening every single day,” Fritz said. “Whenever a tragedy happens, you always get an influx of people who want to get involved.”
However, he said that even though many people are still contacting him to see how to get involved, activism could ebb over time. Fritz said it is up to organizers like himself to ensure people stay engaged.
“If Trump decides to get rid of Obamacare, 10 million people are going to lose their health insurance, and you’re going to see a lot of spite and people are going to want to get engaged,” Fritz said. “What needs to be there is we have to be ready, and the only way we can be ready is if we stay ready, so that needs to be available for people to plug in and stay active.”
He said it was critical to keep people engaged with real work, such as by making phone calls and otherwise communicating with people. But with the holiday season and corresponding family obligations approaching could translate into less availability for both veteran and new activists.
But Trinh said that this cannot be the case. While photographing the recent activism upsurge, she also saw many Trump supporters at these rallies and said that they tend to fall into two categories: aggressive Trump backers and quieter supporters. But unlike the usual ebb and flow of activism from people on the left, she thinks marginalizing rhetoric from the conservative right will continue.
“How we need to respond to that is to come out just as aggressively but with record numbers — that we just completely overtake them,” Trinh said. “Our movement needs to be stronger than theirs, and they’re going to be very strong, so we’re up against a big beast.”