After the March: What Do We Do Now?

Last week, millions of people — women, men, and children of all genders, races, and creeds—around the country and the world took to the streets of national capitals to not only rally for women’s rights but to send a clear signal to the new leader of the free world, as the office of the presidency used to exude, that he must “respect existence or expect resistance,” as one of innumerable signs read. Another memorable one was “No Mandate.”

It has been a long seven days since, putting to rest any possible doubt that everything he said during the five-year-long campaign season was for real: a “fucking wall” (as former Mexican president Vincente Fox repeatedly calls it), a federal deportation force, ending all support for sanctuary cities such as New York and San Francisco, announcing the reinstatement of torture as a means of gathering intelligence, and, just yesterday, indefinitely terminating migration and refugee resettlement from majority-Muslim nations.

Usually, it’s a good thing when politicians make good on their promises. There is, however, nothing usual about any of this. For one thing, the new president of the United States, unlike any preceding him in the history of the Republic, has never served the public interest, either in the political orbit or in the military. Saying that we are entering “uncharted territory” is by now a familiar invocation, but it’s worth repeating: No one actually knows how this is going to play out. We’ve never been here before. “This Is Not Normal.”

At a massive rally at Washington Square on Jan. 25, city councilmen and councilwomen, activists, and interfaith leaders addressed the thousands of people who gathered there with a unifying message: since all the issues at stake are connected, what is called “intersectionality” is the only way to not only resist what has begun to happen but to advance the struggle for rights and justice.

The scene at Washington Square on Wednesday, January 25.

Under the din of four police helicopters hovering overhead, Councilman Corey Johnson declared, “Any of us who are not Native American are immigrants in the United States,” and the crowd whooped and cheered. The new president is “a pathological liar with no impulse control, and the facts don’t matter to him,” Johnson thundered to applause. “You are a racist, you are a demagogue, you are xenophobic, you are homophobic, you are pitting Americans against Americans!” For a brief moment, someone cried. He went on, “Americans are not going to stand by passively and let you pit us against one another! … We are going to be the face of resistance,” adding that nearly 40 percent of New Yorkers are foreign-born.

“Why are we the greatest city in the world?” Johnson asked rhetorically. “Immigrants!” someone shouted. The councilman continued, “Whether it be anti-immigrant rhetoric, whether it be a Supreme Court battle that’s gonna come up, whether it be defunding sanctuary cities, whether it be reproductive rights, or LGBT rights, whether it be building a stupid wall — all of this,” as cheers broke out, “is gonna require us to get in the streets.”

Rama Issa-Ibrahim, a lead advisor to the NYC Commission on Human Rights, took the stage. “I am a Syrian,” Issa-Ibrahim began, to the eruption of massive cheering. “And I am an American!” she hollered, to even louder applause. “I came to this country when I was 15 years old. This issue is deeply personal to me. My father still lives in Syria and I have family and friends who are refugees all over parts of Europe today. This issue is deeply personal to me,” Issa-Ibrahim repeated. “My brother-in-law is a Libyan immigrant. This issue is deeply personal to me. I’m also a New Yorker!” she exclaimed. The crowd whooped. “Our values of inclusivity, diversity in religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, color, immigration status, and national origin,” makes “our country stronger because we draw strength from our differences.” A spokeswoman for Mayor De Blasio’s Office of Immigrant Affairs—referring to the executive orders issued in the first days of the Trump regime—declaimed that “a stroke of a pen does not change who we are or how we govern.”

Linda Sarsour, a co-organizer of last week’s Women’s March on Washington, spoke at Washington Square this week. Sarsour denounced the rising tide of bigotry and hatred in the land. To deafening cheers and applause, she stood up and asked, “When Muslims are under attack, what do we do?” The crowd chanted, “Stand up, fight back!” Sarsour called out, “When immigrants are under attack, what do we do?”

The response came in as a wave: “Stand up, fight back!”

Sarsour called, “When our black sisters and brothers are under attack, what do we do?” Thousands of people shouted out as one, again, “Stand up, fight back!” She called out again, “When our native sisters and brothers are under attack, what do we do? … When women are under attack, what do we do?” For each, in one resounding roar after another, came the response: “Stand up, fight back!”