UNM students, led by the Young Progressives Demanding Action, staged a walkout protesting the inauguration of Donald Trump on Friday.
A group of over 100 students gathered at Cornell Mall before a podium that displayed the caricature of Trump and the words “Chale Con Trump.”
“This is a rally to empower others to go against Trumpism and fight for the rights of individuals that he has so constantly ignored during his campaign,” said Nathan Siegel, president of UNM YPDA. “We hope, by the end of this, that we will do just that.”
Siegel said the rally is one of encouragement, so participants can feel empowered in protecting human rights.
“I think students have tremendous power. We’ve seen this throughout (the) history of students marching and fighting for what they believe is right,” he said. “We are the biggest voting block right now to change history and set a precedent for future political things to come.”
Many other groups were in attendance alongside YPDA, including Black Student Union, MEChA, Student Alliance for Reproductive Justice and KIVA Club, among others.
Joshua Heckman, co-chair of UNM MEChA, addressed the crowd about combating the possible increase of violence against minorities and the growth of fascist rhetoric.
“As I look in this crowd I see my brothers and sisters in arms, who are willing to fight with us,” Heckman said. “A coalition of intersectional voices, and this thing which we are combating is going to be long and difficult, but at the end of the day we are going to win. Because at the end of the day history will absolve us.”
Dean of Students Nasha Torrez said she, along with the University, “absolutely” support students’ rights to free speech.
“If students want to gather peacefully and speak out about things that they see as being wrong, I think it’s a good thing,” Torrez said. “The fact that students are organizing and using their voice in a peaceful way to hopefully make a difference, that’s awesome.”
Protesters held varying homemade signs, from “Resist Trump” and “We are not powerless” to “The system elected Trump, not the people” and simply “I’m scared.”
At one point, a crowd outside the rally yelled “Build that f***in’ wall” and were met with boos and jeers from protesters, but before tensions could rise, a protester calmed the crowd with messages of unity.
“Hey, peace and love,” he said. “I just want to say, you all have a blessed day, and no matter how petty and stupid you are, we love you.”
As the rally progressed, several groups of protesters and Trump supporters discussed immigration and health care nearby.
“You voted for Trump, so as a Mexican American, don’t tell me what disrespect is — he calls my people rapists and criminals, he can go f*** himself,” one protester could be heard saying to a man donning a “Make America Great Again” hat. The man replied, “That’s not true, he didn’t call people rapists, the media lied about it — look up the quote.”
Although there was the occasional — and perhaps inevitable — outpouring of emotion, the event never escalated into violence. The atmosphere overall provided a stark contrast to other protests across the nation on Friday morning, including the nation’s capital, where businesses were vandalized and hundreds arrested.
Lorenzo Anzalone, a protester, said demonstrating against Trump is a very healthy thing and allows people to express themselves, but all the focus on the new president can make people ignore some larger issues in government.
“The corporations, that’s the real problem. I hope that in the next four — hopefully not eight — years of Trump we aren’t going to focus on just him,” Anzalone said. “Because he is just a face of what’s behind, which (is) all the corporate power that is dominating not just the United States, but the world.”
Austin Isenhart, a Trump supporter, stopped by the protest on his way to class. He said he likes to hear other people’s points of view.
Isenhart said, no matter who won the election, he would not be protesting.
“Whoever the president is, I would be supporting them and wanting them to do the best for our country,” he said. “I think the biggest problem with our country right now is people acting divided.”
Isenhart said if everyone wants to be treated equal with equal opportunities, they need to “act like it” and not divide the country with groups that “act on violence.”
“It was a peaceful movement and then it turned violent,” he said, citing police shootings like the one that happened in Dallas last year.
Isenhart appreciates the fact that these protests brings people together and think similarly, he said, which is every American’s right. The line for him, he says, is the burning and stepping on of the American flag that often occurs at political demonstrations.
“I know people that have died for our country and they died to respect the flag,” he said. “It’s their free right — if you’re going to step on our flag, then in my opinion go somewhere else.”
Protester Anthony Jackson said that it is unfortunate that the country has a “safety net” in the Electoral College, instilled by the Founding Fathers, that has “backfired” on this occasion. He said he believes the people need to “rise and take charge” to instill a system that is “for the people, by the people.”
“I feel he (Trump) has not adequately won over the hearts and minds of the people since we go by the Electoral College and not the popular vote,” Jackson said. “It’s important for us to take back our political system and make a change.”
Protests like the one at Cornell Mall offer people a chance to be heard, as some people were marginalized, especially during the campaign, he said.
“You have a population that feels kind of betrayed, in the eyes of justice and democracy. It’s very important for us, in the next couple years to not suffer political atrophy and to take action, get organized and try and make a real change,” Jackson said. “We can do it. We have the power, we have the enthusiasm and we have the energy. I think we can make it.”
Matthew Reisen is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MReisen88.