KALAMAZOO, MI – The idea of pushing past the Nov. 8 presidential election in peace and unity was popular enough to attract more than 500 people to Bronson Park on Tuesday evening.
But one week after the general election, the opportunity to rail against the election of Donald Trump and divisive feelings that many say have come with his campaign, was not to be missed by those who spoke.
“I’ve been struggling to find words to say that could inspire or offer support,” said Jay Maddock, executive director of the Kalamazoo Gay Lesbian Resource Center. “The truth be told, I have no words of comfort to offer you. Let me get real with you. Early Wednesday morning when it became apparent that the candidate that ran a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic campaign was going to be our president-elect, I sat on my couch completely numb.”
He described Trump’s presidency as “a further assault on LGBTQ people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer), people of color, women, Muslim people and already marginalized groups.”
“I had one of my student volunteers give me a big hug,” Matthew Derrick, said of learning about the results of the presidential election last week.
“She hugged me and asked, ‘What’s next?'” said Derrick, who is a Western Michigan University student and Democratic party organizer who helped with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
“And she asked if I’m safe,” said Derick, who is gay.
Acting as emcee of what was dubbed “Kalamazoo Against Hate,” Derrick said racism and discrimination he saw during Trump’s campaign “has been happening well before Trump.”
What to do about it?
Amid chants of “This is what democracy looks like” and “Hey,hey, ho, ho Trump and Pence have got to go,” he and others stressed unity.
Speakers asked people to be vigilant for and stand united against any efforts by the new administration to roll back progress that has been made to claim rights for gays, minorities, women and others.
“I want to continue to make sure that people who come to this community, to this campus, to this area, … know they’re not alone,” Derrick said. “I want to make sure they know that there are people in this community with open arms who are ready to take you in and say, ‘You know what, be proud of who you are.'”
Kendall Campbell, a community organization for Michigan United, asked people to be more aware of what’s going on and to take a bigger part in the civic process. Michigan United is a statewide organization that advocates against injustice and pushes for social and economic empowerment.
“Just be aware of what’s happening,” Campbell said, “because I think if we remain stagnant and not do anything about it, we’re just going to accept anything that they give to us. We have to be aware of what’s going on around us.”
Asked what there is to do with people’s opportunity to make themselves heard — the election — just over, the Kalamazoo resident said, “Learn from it.”
Campbell suggested that people who are not pleased with the outcome of the election should start preparing for the 2020 election.
“There’s not a lot that we can actually expect from this presidency,” he said. “But I think that if we’re aware of what’s happening, in the next one we’ll be more aware that we have a right to vote and what we can actually do with it.”
Christine Lewis, also of Michigan United, said her goal Tuesday as a white woman was to inspire other whites to speak to their families, friends and neighbors who have bigoted views – or who have misconceptions about issues. She said she grew up ignoring things her family members or friends said, and distancing herself for those with racist beliefs.
But she said Tuesday, “Our job now more than ever is to lean in to one another and to call in our friends and our families and our neighbors who may be thinking differently than us. And that’s really hard.”
She said, “I’m suggesting that we, instead of alienating one another, actually turn in to folks who may not be thinking like us and have real conversations with them. Listen to them. Hear where they’re coming from. Acknowledge the pain. And invite them to join us.”
Ed Genesis, a native of Gary, Ind., who now lives in Kalamazoo, spoke about the need to break a cycle that systematically leads more blacks and poor people into prison than into college. He said he is a convicted felon who has benefited from opportunities to turn his life around. But he fears that the new presidential administration will perpetuate a socioeconomic cycle that has seen the number of people sentenced to prison quadruple since the 1980s, while the crime rate soars.
“I want people to come away with knowing that we’re not defeated,” Genesis said. “And as long as we fight together, we can continue to win the fight. It’s a never-ending fight that we all have to fight together.”
As an alternative to locking people up, he suggested that people look for different programs and ideas that will help people reach their goals and allow them to become successful.
“I want people to know that we are not going anywhere, immigrants are not going anywhere, especially my undocumented immigrants,” said Nelly Fuentes, who works on immigration issues for Michigan United.
She balks at Trump’s promise to deport all illegal aliens, which would involve millions of people living in the U.S.
Fuentes said she knows the rule of the land is against them, but she will fight for undocumented immigrants who are leading productive lives here to continue to live here peacefully.
Maddox said he wanted those who attended Tuesday’s gathering to understand “that the results of the election don’t determine the end results in our community. And that the community needs to join together to fight on behalf of one another to ensure that marginalized groups can reach their fullest potential in our society and be allowed to participate in their daily lives free of fear.”