By Dustin Slaughter
The mantra “Love, Peace, and Joy” floated over the Parkway accompanied by a merciless percussion line, as over 50,000 people marched and rallied on Saturday in a mass rebuke to President Donald J. Trump’s presidency.
According to Sherrie Cohen, an attorney at the Tenant Union Representative Network and a member of the Liberty City Democrats, 673 similar rallies were held across the world this weekend in opposition to a president who has launched incendiary comments against Muslims, Mexicans, the disabled, and has boasted of sexually assaulting women, among other offenses.
Salima Suswell, the diversity director for the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals, and a Philadelphia native, spoke of the Trump administration’s promise to revive a Muslim registry. She proclaimed to the massive crowd:
“I am an unapologetically proud African American woman and Muslim.”
Suswell spoke of the over 250,000 Muslim Americans – “doctors, cab drivers, restaurant workers, police, neighbors, and friends” who call Philadelphia their home.
“We have a tough road ahead, and not just African Americans, [but] women, Muslims, and all Americans.”
A Trump campaign advisor in November accidentally let slip details about what the current administration may implement in order to deport undocumented immigrants and restrict swaths of Muslims from remaining in and entering the country.
Trump in his inaugural address proclaimed that for the next four years, the country would now be on an “America First” footing, rhetoric that paralleled the political worldview of noted aviator, white nationalist and 1930s American isolationist Charles Lindbergh.
“We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries,” Trump said on Friday.
Suswell called on everyone to “stand against social injustice and hate speech.” She also implored the crowd to “not lose hope.”
Mayor Jim Kenney also spoke briefly, opening with: “I’d like to thank the president for bringing us together today,” a line that elicited cheers and laughter up and down the Parkway.
The mayor spoke of the need to continue pushing for workplace equality and pay, access to health care, as well as gender, racial, and LGBTQ equality.
Kenney touted a pay equity bill on Saturday that was unanimously passed by City Council and one he intends to sign, in spite of corporate heavyweights like Comcast and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce threatening lawsuits on First Amendment grounds.
Beneath the rally’s high energy and stubborn optimism, however, ran an undercurrent of uncertainty, outrage, and fear.
Doris Williams, a middle-aged African American, told The Declaration that Trump’s cabinet picks and his often barbed and divisive tweets are “not representative of the entire country.” She was also dismayed by his inauguration speech. She had held out a sliver of hope that his address would strike a tone of inclusiveness and civility, but ultimately did not think it sounded “democratic”.
Williams, who has made a career in the medical profession and who specializes in medical home care, fears the new administration will make things much more difficult for patients who rely on Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, and Social Security.
“I’m concerned about anyone that’s not in a position to afford” medical treatment, she said.
As one of his first acts as president, Trump on Friday signed an executive order that “gives agencies authority to grant waivers, exemptions and delays of provisions in the Affordable Care Act,” PBS reported yesterday.
Williams, a participant in Philadelphia’s first ‘Million Women March’ 25 years ago, said of Saturday:
“I had to be here.”
Inna L.K, who attended the rally with a placard that read “My family came here to escape kleptocracy,” sees similarities between Russian president Vladamir Putin’s autocratic ruling style and rhetoric exhibited by Trump during the 2016 election. She fled the former Soviet Union in 1990.
“Denial of basic facts and xenophobia” were two similarities that immediately came to her mind. L.K., an animator of science videos for children, is disturbed by the anti-science rhetoric exhibited by Trump (who has blamed China for creating the climate change “hoax”) and key administration officials. She fears that public education, the environment, and freedom of the press are all targets of the new administration.
She sees Trump’s promises to “Make America Great Again” and “drain the swamp” as disturbingly familiar to rhetoric from Putin, who campaigned as a reformer with a pledge to clean up the rampant corruption of Boris Yeltsin’s kleptocratic regime with the slogan “Help Russia get up from its knees.”
Despite the great uncertainty that the next four years presents, Doris Williams, the home healthcare worker, summed up the mood on the Parkway when asked how she intends to deal with the country’s seemingly abnormal political future.
“I have to remain hopeful.”