Editorial: Protests inspiring, jarring and important

  • Amherst College students on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016, protest against the immigration policies proposed by President-elect Donald Trump. CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 11/16/2016 8:09:09 PM

No sooner had the results been tallied than the protests began. In midnight rants before the TV screen, on Facebook and Twitter feeds, across school campuses and city streets, people alarmed at the election of Donald Trump have been joining to vent their anger, frustration and fear.

The protests are inspiring, jarring and important. The way in which they unfold could well determine whether the next four years in America will be marked by rancor and division, or by a collective effort to heal the wounds opened — or simply aggravated — by the bitter 2016 presidential race.

As is often the case, the marches began first on college campuses, which have led the way toward inclusion of the very people whom Trump scorned during his campaign. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke and Amherst, students have marched to declare their opposition to any erosion of rights for immigrants and people of different races, faith traditions, gender identification, sexual orientation and physical ability.

For the most part, the protests have been constructive, carrying the refrain, “Love trumps hate.” At Hampshire College, a group of students declared the American flag a symbol of “racism and oppression” after the election and demanded that it be taken down. Hampshire administrators responded thoughtfully, flying the flag at half-staff in an attempt to honor its positive symbolism as well as the students’ frustration. So far, so good. But then one or more persons burned the flag on the night before Veterans Day — a needless insult. 

Also constructive was the way administrators at Amherst-Pelham Regional High School reacted to a walkout by 250 students who wanted to express their solidarity with groups of people marginalized by Trump and at least some of his supporters during the campaign. Rather than trying to squelch the protest, Principal Mark Jackson looped parents in beforehand and gave them the option of writing a note permitting their child’s absence — or not.

And, of course, social media sites have burned. Some wags have decried such “Facebook activism,” urging people to get over the election and focus on happier things. But Naomi Shulman, a Northampton writer, delivered a powerful rebuttal in a one-paragraph post that has been shared, liked and quoted thousands of times on Twitter and Facebook.

“Nice people made the best Nazis. My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than ‘politics,’” wrote Shulman, whose mother Elizabeth was born in Munich in 1934 and grew up in Nazi Germany. “They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.”

Shulman’s mother died just over a year ago and her daughter’s message honors her memory. She reminds us that the stakes couldn’t be higher as we move from the hate-mongering of Trump’s campaign to what must be a more reasoned and compassionate Trump White House.

Trump will take his oath as the nation’s 45th president on Jan. 20 in Washington, D.C., following such leaders as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. While many — including this editorial page — had earlier declared Trump unfit for the office, American voters have given him the opportunity to hold it and to prove himself worthy.

On the day after his inauguration, women and feminists (including some from the Pioneer Valley) will converge on Washington for what’s been dubbed the Million Women March. On that day, and on many days between now and then, protesters will send an important message not only to their fellow citizens but also to the president-elect.

We hope they will find a way to express not only anger and fear but also a hopeful path forward in words and action. One example came from the Valley residents who, alarmed by news that racist and anti-Semitic graffiti had once again tarnished Mount Tom, last week lugged brushes and heavy jugs of cleaning solution up the slopes to scrub away the hateful words.

It won’t be so easy to scrub away the hatred and distrust now roiling the nation. But we hope that everyone — from Trump and his advisers down to the citizens who are taking to the screens, streets and mountainsides — can find a way to hear one another. And to heal.

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