Under a ridiculously radiant sun that practically burned a hole through the January gray, they kept pouring into Thomas Paine Plaza across from City Hall until they packed every inch of concrete – defiantly pouring past the statue of Philly’s own law-and-order strongman Frank Rizzo, his cast-iron “stop” gesture having zero impact on the resisters.
They carried a cacophony of hundreds of signs – “Science Matters” and “Your Ego Is Hindering America and, simply, “Nope.” Some scrambled for a view of a save-Obamacare rally by climbing the base of sculptor Jacques Lipchitz’ 1976 work “Government of the People,” which, almost too fittingly, according to one account, “suggests a process of continual struggle, mutual support and dedication, and eventual triumph.”
“This Is Not Normal,” proclaimed another sign – an American mantra for millions since the election last November of a president who promotes false theories about everything from his inaugural crowd size to massive (and non-existent) voter fraud, who signs sweeping and possibly unconstitutional executive orders by day and then watches Fox News and sends out inflammatory tweets about it all night.
Except that slogan is not exactly operative anymore. Actually, less than a week into the terrifyingly frenetic 45th presidency of Donald Trump, today’s wild scene on the streets of Philadelphia of several thousand people marching, chanting and protesting Trump’s speech at the Loews Hotel to congressional Republicans has already become practically routine.
It’s the New Normal, and yet – except maybe for that awful thing that happened back in 1861 – America has never seen anything quite like this, with so many regular folks so eager to demonstrate their disapproval of a new president by any means they can think up.
Strolling the clogged streets between City Hall and the trash-truck blockade keeping demonstrators a good two blocks away from Trump and his elite audience, one was struck by the nature of the throng – feisty but peaceful, again heavily comprised of women who’d never protested anything before in their lives but have now taken it to the streets twice in five days, starting with the Women’s March last Saturday that turned out more than 3 million people from coast-to-coast.
“I don’t like watching our country go down a path that creates hate and damage to the people – that’s not what government is supposed to,” said Jill Bronner, a 40-year-old lawyer who’s raising her two sons in Gladwyne, who said Saturday’s march was her first ever. She held aloft a small sign that said, simply, “Resist,” and said Trump “has said some incredibly vulgar things that no man with any respect for women would say, and if they did say it, upon being caught they would apologize and recognize how wrong it is.”
If anything, some protesters said they felt a greater sense of urgency today than since Trump became president last weekend, because his obsessions about the size of his inaugural crowd and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about voter fraud are increasingly making it appear that the man tweeting from the Lincoln Bedroom is dangerously unhinged.
“He’s turned out to be a pathological narcissist,” said Danie Martin of Bryn Mawr, 57, a former Army officer in a nuclear unit who’s now a librarian at Swarthmore College. “He’s unstable. His sense of reality is whatever fulfills his sense of greatness. If it doesn’t match his sense of greatness, it’s not real – and that is incredibly dangerous. This is the biggest responsibility in the world, and he’s detached from reality.”
Still, Martin – wearing her pink “pussy hat” -- seemed determine to poke Trump’s damaged ego further with a sign contrasting the empty bleachers at the inaugural parade and the throng at Saturdays’ D.C. march, which she attended; it read. “Trump is a LOSER!” She said she’ll be back to protest Trump’s non-disclosure of his taxes on April 15 and will likely march again and again because she feels threatened by the new president in so many ways. “I’m female,” she said, “I’m a lesbian, I’m intersex, I’m transgender, and I’m a disabled veteran.”
Indeed, the protesters chanted for so many causes today – from welcoming refugees to blocking the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines – that it again raises the inevitable questions about what The Resistance can truly accomplish. On the other side of the garbage trucks, Republicans with solid majorities in Congress were racing, unmoved, toward cutting taxes on the rich and gutting health insurance for the working class. And inside the protected bubble of the Loews, Trump managed to keep lying and to insult Philadelphia at the same time, saying the city’s murder rate is “terribly increasing” when it’s dropped more than 40 percent since 1990.
Yet in terms of numbers, the anti-Trump movement has in mere weeks surpassed a scale that it took the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s years to reach, and protesters are certain that -- somehow -- good results will follow. For many, the important thing right now is simply a sense of catharsis in screaming about all this, after the emotional gray gloaming of last November 8. For one afternoon, that sense of renewed empowerment felt exactly like sunshine in January.