It was a day of high fives and a blending of old and young. The spirit was alive and electric. In a scene reminiscent of the civil rights movements of the 1960s, everywhere you looked at the streets surrounding River Park stood hundreds of people with signs and banners making known their demands.
Taken as a whole, the Jan. 21 rally might be seen as a push back to the Trump administration, sworn in the day before. Shouts of “women’s rights!” could be heard.
But a block away were the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.” Another Muslim woman stated the words of Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, “I want every girl in the world to know her voice can change the world.” Some older women carried banners: “Feminism: back by popular demand.”
Other signs read, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” Some sang, “We shall overcome.” A few said “No Trump, no Fascist USA!” or “Trump is not my president.” A young man told a cameraman, “I support the struggle for human rights. I support the struggle for Palestine. I support the struggle here for Fresno residents as well.” Another proclaimed “United Against Racism and Hate!”
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Despite the diverse composition, the mood of the crowd was positive, uplifting and peaceful. When Trump supporters drove by with a “thumbs down” gesture, people on the sidewalk responded with a smile and a wave. Peace Fresno’s Dan Yaseen told reporters, “We’re just exercising our First Amendment right to peacefully assemble.”
Where a year ago policy debates were for many drab and unimportant, a new vitality brought marchers out into the streets. No longer did issues appear abstract, but rather they have become personified with an impact close to home.
These groups understand there is safety and strength in numbers. Held in conjunction with the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., and with hundreds of rallies across America’s cities and towns, the organizers of the rally at Blackstone and Nees avenues understood that the only way to be effective is if people working for issues of peace and justice work together.
By working together, they know their discontent with the Trump administration’s proposals may be heard. Amid proposed massive cuts in social programs and restrictions on policy not seen in decades, a resurgent activism filled the national stage measuring the voices of social justice.
While a seeming discordant list of groups and issues attended the rally, people came out of their homes to answer a larger call for human rights. In that over 37 diverse activist groups participated, this local demonstration and the accompanying chorus of protests held across the nation suggests a new democratic unity. That such an energy and anger could have brought so many people to the streets forecasts a continuing presence in the social landscape of the nation.
Why do we fight? A moral imperative drives the call for the acceptance of their message in the policies of this nation: To achieve justice, equal rights and an essential dignity for all.
Stephen D. Malm of Fresno is an attorney and member of Central Valley Progressive PAC.