Monday 26 June 2017

Utter silence followed this American horror story... but we soon started to make noise

Residents took to the streets to support one another as reality sank in, writes Roe McDermott in San Francisco

Protest: Bringing their views to the street in San Francisco after the election
Protest: Bringing their views to the street in San Francisco after the election

Just before I moved to San Francisco in 2014, one of my friends remarked to me that I would be in the States during Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Hillary's actual victory wasn't mentioned - not because we didn't think she'd win. Even in 2014, we knew she'd win. I just wouldn't be in the States for the election; I was meant to come back home after two years, months before the vote.

Two-and-a-half years on, I'm still in San Francisco. The election was this week. Hillary lost. To Donald Trump. Nothing is the way it's supposed to be.

For 18 hours after Trump was declared victorious, San Francisco was eerily quiet.

It had actually been quiet for about two hours beforehand, too, when it started to hit us that the impossible could be happening; that he actually could win. I was watching the results in a house filled with people I didn't know. My flatmate Ileana's boyfriend and his friends were having a "watching party". It wasn't much of a party.

When I arrived, Ileana was already on the verge of tears and the men who I didn't know were getting belligerent, their anxiety turning aggressive.

This was Hillary's fault, they argued. The Democrats' fault, the media's fault, no, definitely Hillary's fault.

It was the sound of panic rising, but it soon gave way to sighs. To gasps. To brief barks of mirthless, incredulous laughter. To silence. This was happening. And we could only watch.

When Trump hit 276 electoral votes, winning the election, I left the room, then the house. I sat on the steps outside. Cried. I could see three people across the road doing the same thing. No one said a word.

When I came back inside, Ileana had disappeared into her boyfriend's room. I left, alone. I didn't say goodbye to the men I didn't know.

Walking home down 24th Street in the Mission District, the six restaurants and four bars I passed by were quiet. Full, but quiet. People sitting and shaking their heads, people watching television screens, people staring into space.

Normally, people in the Mission nod to each other as we cross paths at night, smiling or murmuring a gentle "How are you?" It's a community thing, a sign of peace and safety. The neighbourhood is rapidly becoming more gentrified, and the Mexican people who have lived there for decades are getting evicted from their houses by landlords looking to get around rent control laws.

Being a white person who lives in the Mission, it's important to greet the people who have lived there forever, to shop in the local stores, to buy homemade lemonade from the adorable kids who set up stands. It demonstrates that you respect the history and community of the area, and want to support it. That you're not another white person looking to ignore the Mexican people who live here, nor erase their history.

The night Trump was elected, no one asked each other how they were as we passed on the street.

We already knew.

An entire country had just voted for a man who called Mexican people rapists and drug dealers, who threatened to deport them and their children, to build a wall keeping them out of a country they helped build. In the face of that hatred, a nod felt so embarrassingly lacking; asking how they were doing would have rang so horribly hollow.

Of course they're not fine. There's nothing to ask, nothing to say.

The day after the election, I spent the afternoon at home. Crying, writing, staring numbly into space. Later, I travelled to San Francisco State University to attend a panel on Asian American Sexualities. A group of students waited outside an empty conference hall. The speakers were late. We waited in silence. Five minutes. 10. 20. Finally, someone arrived, telling us that the panel had been cancelled; the speakers had not felt comfortable discussing the topic so soon after misogyny, homophobia and racism had been condoned by a nation. Our waiting group nodded without complaint. That seemed right. Silence seemed right.

The bus headed back home was full of students, though the usual soundtrack of laughter and gossip was on mute. A girl in front of me was drawing intensely.

After a few minutes, she silently held a placard above her head.

In beautiful lettering, it said "American Horror Story: Donald Trump."

I had to ask.

"Is there a protest?"

"Yeah," she replied.

"I didn't know. Where?"

"Market Street," she told me. "You can come with me, if you want."

There were only about 30 people on Market Street when we arrived. I thought we must have missed the march.

But the group started walking together, some small home-made signs waving quietly. And then.

"Who's Donald Trump?" yelled a woman.

"Not my president!" yelled back our tiny group.

As we yelled, people on the street turned to look. Offered high-fives. Started marching with us.

We merged with another group who had started on a different street. And another. And another. We grew louder. Car horns starting honking appreciatively as we marched by.

I texted Ileana to join us, and my phone immediately died.

As more people joined, the more chants echoed.

"Black Lives Matter!" we cried. "Trans Lives Matter!" we yelled. "Pussies Grab Back!" we howled.

"Take The Streets!" we promised.

There were thousands of us, laughing in delight as children waved from windows. Cheering as young gay couples kissed. Singing Spanish songs when we entered the Mission. Stopped, finally, for speeches full of determination and strength and assertions that we would all organise, we would all speak out, we would all support each other, and survive.

As we cheered, I suddenly felt myself being hugged. It was Ileana. We'd found each other, right at the end, right in our neighbourhood.

It was full of hopeful noise.

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