Baptism of political activism

“Meet at 8 p.m. and we will go from there.” At the steps of L.A. City Hall, a pig effigy is raised above the crowd. Two men climb a stoplight and release a Mexican flag to ripple in the wind. “Sí se puede,” the congregation yells up to it. A middle-aged man holds up a…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/zeitgeist99/" target="_self">Rayna Berggren</a>

Rayna Berggren

November 23, 2016

The protest at Los Angeles City Hall, organized through a Facebook event

“Meet at 8 p.m. and we will go from there.”

At the steps of L.A. City Hall, a pig effigy is raised above the crowd. Two men climb a stoplight and release a Mexican flag to ripple in the wind. “Sí se puede,” the congregation yells up to it. A middle-aged man holds up a sign that reads, “You can’t drink oil.” A different megaphone-projected voice enters each ear. It is Wednesday, Nov. 9 and yesterday America elected a new president.

This is the first protest I’ve gone to. My election night, an all-consuming dread and disbelief is making way for an excitement to be participating, to be compelled from quietism into political action, to bond with all these people who are angry about the same thing I am. This is my first experience of mass political angst, and I excitedly recall movies and history textbooks that make me feel like it’s the 1970’s with people yelling, “Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” But now we are concerned with Donald Trump. What basic rights will you threaten? Who will you insult, how will you torture our planet, what human being will you label “illegal” today?

Over 4,000 people checked “going” to this event, L.A. Emergency Rally Down With Trump. And unlike the anti-war protests of the 1970’s, we are not protesting horrific American actions in other countries, we are protesting horrific American actions towards Americans. This is why a Facebook event brought out masses of the young, their parents texting, “Duck if you hear gunshots.”

It brought out crowds of the openly oppressed, their limbs, shivering, attached to bodies they no longer feel belong to them. It brought out the professional and finely dressed, the teenagers in berets and smudged lipstick, the workers still in uniform, because the election of a curiously inarticulate carnival barker is everyone’s tragedy.

The protest becomes mobile. We extend into the wide, tarred streets, and downtown Los Angeles appears to sweat like the hand I’m holding. A look of crazed desperation reflects from everyone’s eyes, fueled by the post-Santa Ana stillness. Heat rises from the ground up. I look around to the people whose elbows link with mine, who walk ahead of me holding signs, who honk their horns in support, who lean out of windowsills and raise their fists. This diversity is defiance, this diversity is what makes me so privileged to be an Angeleno, this diversity is the opposite of everything the president-elect stands for. We are a range of beings but have a unity of beliefs; this is what America must hold on to.

We pause outside the federal prison, and there’s a rallying wave of cries as the prisoners illuminate their strips of windows by flicking lights on and off, flashing like animated stars or what lightning bugs probably look like. The jailed bang their hands on the clear glass, sending us their prohibited anger, allowing us to give them voices and we chant, like a prayer to an altar, “The people united, will never be divided.”

With every step into Little Tokyo, I walk deeper into an alternative universe. The forces at work here are unfathomable, left untackled by even Neil Degrasse Tyson. But I am walking with a flushed-cheeked pack of humans, spreading our protest through what seems to be all of downtown Los Angeles. This group removes me from the lonely center of my solipsistic universe and reminds me that I’m not walking into a four-year-long doomsday alone. The boy who hugged me at a party once. The girl who got the MOCA teen internship last year. My production teacher from film camp. The boy skateboarding along the edge of the crowd who thinks to himself, “The next time I mosh, I will do it with a whole new enthusiasm.” The Austrian exchange student who told her host family Tuesday night, “Please don’t let the shredded cheeto win.” They are walking into this alternative universe with me.

We make it to skid row with its hem of tents and sleeping bags. Some protesters begin to peel off, calling ubers or squinting at parking lot pins on Google Maps. Boys in their late teens or men in their early adulthood wear bandanas and spray paint on boarded up windows. Half of America will never call him “My President,” only “The President.” Enemy-zoned by a “the.” This is why they scream. This is what they write in dripping paint. This is what they want America to hear.

“My body, my choice.”

“Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here.”

“No Trump, no KKK, no racist USA.”

“Not my president.”

Streets are clogged and red lights ignored. Someone yells, “Back to city hall!” and people laugh, their blisters and sweaty foreheads in agreement. A car trapped by human bodies shows his support by playing “FDT” (F–k Donald Trump). People clap and dance and sing, their moving bodies lit up by the red of his tail lights. It’s a moment of elation in a night of sorrow and the red faces with big smiles remind me that life goes on. I will eat granola tomorrow. There are still things to laugh about.

Yes, there is still Netflix and ice cream in this parallel universe, but that doesn’t change the fact that the world is irrevocably changed. This is the largest perspective shift that I’ve ever experienced. It seems like my eyes have been moved two inches apart or that there’s a sheen of discomfort over even inanimate objects.

The world paused to console itself on Nov. 9. Parents looked at their children with same guilt and anguish they experienced when they had to explain 9/11 to their 2 year olds. Little kids, comprehending, asked if Trump was going to take their friends away; teenagers, shocked, cried during every period at school; tired grandparents sighed.

We are so angry, we are so scared, we are so lonely. People are walking tonight because they rebel against powerlessness. People are marching tonight in order to breathe in the air because it feels like even air doesn’t belong to them anymore. I look at the girl next to me and ahead of me and behind me. They proclaim, “My p—y bites back,” to a white marble building that holds no one inside. They cried in every period at school because the bodies of minorities are being told they aren’t valued, the bodies of women are objectified, and the most qualified person, woman or man, to ever run for president had to tell us, “To all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.” Women are half of the world, and New America, you hold their bodies in chains and push their heads down as they kneel at your feet, forcing them unto gods they don’t believe in.

After I left, the protest extended onto the 101 freeway. Police threw tear gas and commuters got home 40 minutes later than they expected. But the news helicopters overhead took footage and vloggers documented and Los Angeles remembered that a Trump presidency is not something that should ever be normalized.

On America’s “The Day After,” the world stopped to question reality. The world became a philosophy student struggling with the Trolley problem, a movie buff analyzing “Memento,” an experimenting teenager paranoid that everyone know’s he’s high.

We can’t still hope to “wake up from this nightmare.” We’re not going to. If anything, Trump’s election was the waking up. On Nov. 9, the world washed in despair and then it pulled the plug from its warm bath of complacency. Finally, we are mobilized. It is no longer acceptable to dismiss politics for it’s ability to stagnate, as an annoying game for egoists to be paid to play. Everything I believe in is being represented by its malevolent opposite, by the government of the country to which I was born.

We must open our spheres to include others until there’s a gravity of togetherness from which no rights can be extracted. We must expand our empathy imaginations to understand the rest of these people who call themselves, as we do, Americans. But at the same time, respecting someone’s opinion is for “I hate coffee ice-cream,” not, “I hate Muslims.”

Tuesday night, after the outcome was undeniable and the nausea had set in, my friends and I went to Tower 26 and ran into the freezing November ocean. Neck deep, the water shocking our bodies and something else shocking our brains, we screamed towards the dark unknown parts of the world. The water, like oil, dripped from my scalp to my eyebrows to my eyes and I watched moonlight reflect from a friend’s teeth. We emerged clean, our voices still ringing.

I know optimism is too much to ask. I know our hearts beat weak. But on this Wednesday, I can feel the heart in the warm body next to me. And next to them. We are a chain of hearts, broken, that cannot beat without each other. Our belief, our hope, they will come inching back, tentative and delicate. They will worm inside us with every protest we attend or article we write, and animate the anger in our guts, the strength in our voices, and the resistance in our eyes. In this, there is power. Heat rises from the ground up.


Skylar Hauge and Rara Gumbel, seniors at Santa Monica High School


The author and Anya Pertel watch two men climb a stoplight to wave a Mexican flag


Protestors turn towards the street, and prepare to march

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