Pussyhats, “radical cheerleaders”, and creative resistance
Last week saw what may be the biggest one-day protest in US history. One day after the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, over 3 million people of all ages, genders, and races took to the streets across America. Though the protest is called the “Women’s March”, its organisers had set out in their mission statement to hold a big-tent rally for anyone “who believes women’s rights are human rights”. It gathered people supporting all kinds of causes— from #BlackLivesMatter to climate change; from science and technology down to the core American values of freedom and equality. But they all had one unifying goal — to resist against the Trump administration.
The turnout of the main rally in Washington D.C. and the support from sister marches all over the States—not to mention the ones held overseas—came as a surprise to many, and I shared a similar sentiment when I was attending the Mid-Missouri Solidarity March held in Columbia, Missouri, a midwestern college town where I am currently on exchange. While Trump won the state of Missouri in the election, Boone County, in which Columbia is the largest city, is one of state’s four counties where the majority had voted for Hillary Clinton.
Coming from what some may refer to as “the city of complaints”, i.e. Hong Kong, protests are definitely not new to me. But what I did not expect to experience was an outpour of creativity, hope, and optimism that I haven’t felt in public activism since the 2014 Occupy protests back home. It was a weird yet familiar feeling to have as an outsider who has barely been in the States for three weeks.
The sister march I went to was actually preceded by a rally held on campus the day before. Organisers and members of the community shared their views on the new administration: a student urged her peers to voice out and resist; a Muslim teacher gave a moving account of her experiences with discrimination and the fears that her young child has under the new presidency. Occasionally, there would be students who are Trump supporters shouting “Make America Great Again” as they walked past the crowd.
Pre-rally at the University of Missouri on Inauguration Day
On the day of the march, as I was heading to the gathering point located downtown, a sea of people, dotted with pink hats with cat ears, was already filling up the plaza and its adjacent streets. The pink knitted hats, named “pussyhats”, are part of a larger movement tied to the DC rally, and have become a symbol of feminism nationwide. Local news had reported a few days ago that yarn in almost every shade of pink was sold out ahead of the march.
People from all corners of society gather at Boone County Courthouse Plaza before the Mid-Missouri Solidarity March
But the people, some of whom have driven 2 hours from their hometown to participate in the rally, didn’t march just yet. As more and more protesters were piling in the plaza’s sitting area, organisers danced and played on their drums and tambourines, generally putting people in an energetic mood while they were waiting.
The rally finally kicked off with introductions from spokespersons of the event’s partner organisations, all of which were greeted with enthusiastic cheers from the crowds. Then the organisers announced that they were going to invite their “radical cheerleaders” onto the stage to lead the cheers.
Some “radical” chants, rhythmic and filled with insults, were directed at Trump:
After going through the cheers, it was obvious that people couldn’t wait any longer to get on with the march. I also took the time to look at the attendees’ signs, which had some thoughtful sayings directed at Trump, such as “I’ve seen smarter cabinets at Ikea”, or “You have radicalized a whole generation”.
The march slowly picked up its pace and the crowd proceeded down the sidewalk, passing coffee shops and bars they frequented. A group of young girls with glittery signs led the chant: “Show me what democracy looks like?” The group in front would reply “This is what democracy looks like!” Cars honked and drivers waved in solidarity, and in return the cheers of the people filled the streets of downtown Columbia.
At times, I felt like I was part of a parade—it felt too good to be true. People were smiling and waving and asking if it was okay to take photos with their creative signs or stellar outfit. When the crowd gradually made its way back to the gathering point, people offered hugs and words of encouragement to each other and headed towards the sitting area for an afternoon of speeches and music.
Having witnessed increasingly violent protests in Hong Kong, a city where it is a norm to call its leader by his nickname “the wolf” or those who are politically ignorant as “pigs”, I was taken aback when the word “radical” was used to describe the cheers — it felt like a gross overstatement. If it were anything to me, it was “progressive”. However, putting myself into the shoes of the protesters, I knew this isn’t a fair comparison to make. To many in the audience, this march was an accomplishment that appealed to the mainstream masses. Moderate and wealthy liberals who didn’t feel compelled to join the Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street protests now feel threatened by the uncertainty under the new President, many taking a stand against the administration and voicing out their concerns in public for the first time. With Trump’s executive refugee and immigration ban, and news of scientists planning a rally in DC, this certainly won’t be their last.
Natalie Lung is a third-year Journalism and Computer Science student at the University of Hong Kong passionate about the intersection of media and technology. She is all in for exploring the quirkiest parts of the world and has been to North and South Korea, Myanmar, India, and historical war sites in Germany, Austria, Bosnia, and Croatia. Currently, you can find her in the middle of America, in a small college town doing her exchange semester at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.