Hundreds of New Yorkers demonstrated Thursday evening outside a Manhattan hotel that was hosting a gala Republican Party dinner featuring speeches by all three Republican presidential candidates, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich. Protest organizations representing Muslims, the gay and lesbian community, immigrants and others spent weeks in advance preparing for the protests, as did the New York City police department, which blocked off lanes of traffic in an effort to prevent violence and traffic disruptions.
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“We want to show that Trump is not welcome in New York,” said a young man by the name of Eric, who had come to the demonstration as a member of a young people’s orchestra that played there. “He’s bringing people together, but it’s always about hate, not really about solutions.”
“Trump is not representing anyone except white males who are racists,” said Sara Waldbott, who came to the rally with a group of other Jews opposing the Republican presidential candidate and held aloft a sign that read “Trump is treif,” a reference to non-kosher food.
“If we are silent, we would be condoning what he says America stands for. I don’t think we should be idly standing by and allowing hate speech to happen, and influence other people,” said a 20-year-old art student who asked not to be identified.
The demonstration against Trump brought together various groups of activists who marched from several meeting points in the city to the luxury hotel, where the Republican candidates spoke to guests who contributed $1,000 a plate to attend. One group of protesters called for an increase to $15 an hour as the minimum wage for fast-food restaurant workers.
The demonstrators – most of them young African-Americans but also a prominent group of elderly Hispanics, many of whom used canes or walkers – were cheered on by passersby as they crossed busy streets in the heart of Manhattan. Many enthusiastically took pictures of the marching band and young dancers at the head of the procession.
Members of the group Black Lives Matter were prominent at the main protest rally in front of the hotel. Representatives of the group, which included people whose relatives had been killed by police, delivered speeches from an improvised stage. The protesters shouted slogans against Trump, whom they labeled racist, sexist and anti-gay.
Later in the evening a Trump supporter managed to make his way into the crowd and hit a protester in the face. Despite concerns that other Trump supporters might also enter the area where the protesters were gathered, no other similar incidents were reported. Ultimately about a dozen anti-Trump protesters managed to get into the hotel with signs denouncing the candidate, and a number of arrests were made.
In addition to demonstrators protesting what they viewed as Islamophobic and racist remarks made by Trump, there was also a group from the gay and lesbian community who said Trump’s comments about other minority groups also contribute to homophobia. A demonstrator named Jocelyn, one of the organizers of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender protest, said: “[Trump] hasn’t mentioned LGBT issues at all. He’s probably worried about alienating rich people. But at the end of the day, he’s a bigot, and he represents bigotry. But what I think is more scary than Trump is the people who support him, people who are explicitly white supremacist, explicitly anti-women, really right-wing. He has captured some kind of energy, a scary energy. Trump will come and go, and there will be others. It’s about building a force that can fight against white supremacy.”
A handful of Trump supporters on an adjoining street told reporters they didn’t understand why the demonstrators didn’t make do with expressing their protest at the ballot box, but many of the young anti-Trump demonstrators said expressing themselves publicly was more important than voting. Some even said that they were so disappointed in the system that they will not turn out to vote either in the New York primaries on Tuesday or the general election in November.
“Being here, at this moment is more important than voting. Someone is going to be influenced by it, whether it’s Trump, or that ****ing cop there, or that girl over there,” said a female college student named Reagan who came to the rally with a group of friends.
Some of the anti-Trump protesters who said they don’t intend to vote mentioned the police violence against Blacks that sparked the formation of the group Black Lives Matter as a source of their disappointment with the American system of government. Others cited police violence against transgender individuals or the high-profile case of long-term pollution in the water supply of the city of Flint, Michigan as an indication that only civic activism can put issues of importance to weaker segments of society on the political agenda, thereby influencing the political establishment.
Their comments reflect a trend that could be problematic for Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who has been hoping to attract support from local grass-roots social movements who are disappointed with the establishment. In an interview with The Young Turks alternative media website two weeks ago, Sanders said he doesn’t view himself as a political leader but rather as another representative of various community protest movements working together to achieve a common goal.
While some of those present said they would vote for Sanders, others confirmed that they had lost all faith in the political system. “I myself voted for Obama and even campaigned for John Kerry before. Today I think grass-roots activism, community power and power in the streets is much more powerful than bourgeois democracy,” said Eve Mitchell, 31, of Brooklyn. And in reference to two United States cities where police violence against Blacks has been in the spotlight, she added: “Building community power like in Ferguson and Baltimore, these are the things politicians listen to, not canvassing or voting.”