Several hundred high school students walked out of classes, protested outside Trump Tower, and marched down Fifth Avenue in driving rain this morning in a show of outrage against President-elect Donald Trump. The students came from what an organizer estimated was about 15 private and public schools, including LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, and the Dalton School. They first gathered around 10:30 a.m. in a block-long protest pen on Fifth Avenue, across 56th Street from Trump Tower, which has been heavily fortified by the NYPD since shortly before the reality TV personality's upset election win last week.
Grace Isaacman, a junior at Dalton, clambered over a barricade with two friends at around 11:30 as the crowd chanted "Black lives matter!" and "We reject the President-elect!" She had skipped her biology and Spanish classes to attend the protest, but she was leaving now—she had a test to catch.
"I'm here for all the people of my generation," Isaacman said, adding that her mother's side of the family is Mexican. She said she was outraged but not totally surprised by Trump's candidacy and general election win. "I knew this country was racist, sexist and homophobic, but I think this has been a wakeup call for a lot of people," she said
The walkout came about after a handful of students' call to action spread rapidly on Facebook, according to attendees. Minutes after Isaacman left the rally, the legions of teens began bolting out into the street and marching down Fifth Avenue, their enthusiasm undiminished by the 50-degree downpour. Their march took up the length of two blocks, and hundreds of students, sprinting at times, traveled the 50 blocks from Trump Tower to Washington Square Park.
The youth in attendance seemed to represent a diverse cross-section of the city's private and public schools, though attendance among public schoolers seemed to skew on the side of schools with selective admissions and specialty curricula. The chants spanned an array of sentiments as well, including the militant, "No justice, no peace!" the touchy-feely "love not hate makes America great!", the earnest "Next time we're voting" and a call and response, with young women chanting "My body, my choice!" and their male classmates responding "Your body, your choice!"
Trump told 60 Minutes over the weekend that gay marriage has been "settled" as an issue by the Supreme Court, but despite the court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, he plans to appoint "pro-life" judges, and expects the right to abortion to be overturned, meaning some states would outlaw abortions.
Reactions to the traffic-clogging protest were mixed as well. A man who appeared to be a doorman pumped his fist and shouted "Yeah!" in support in the doorway of one building, as another man muttered, "Get a job" and turned to go inside the same building. Outside a souvenir store with a GOING OUT OF BUSINESS banner over the door, a man hailed the marchers with twin victory signs, Nixon-style.
The NYPD, often an in-your-face presence at demonstrations, particularly where marchers take the street, was all but invisible during the trip downtown. Two unmarked police cars took up the rear, and one NYPD Interceptor zipped through the crowd at around 42nd Street. Five officers were waiting at Washington Square Park, but no arrests were made, nor did this reporter hear any cop tell the demonstrators to get on the sidewalk or disperse. At one point along the way, the marchers paused to let two firetrucks pass on a cross-street.
At Washington Square Park, bullhorn speechifying in the fountain dramatized an apparent schism between those who see getting more involved in electoral politics as the solution versus those who think a more radical change is in order. "We had to choose between Hillary and Trump, and both would have negatively affected gay people, and people of color, and every other marginalized community," one young woman said, as a handful of others chanted, "Burn it down!"
LaGuardia sophomore and organizer Cate Whitman said that she and five or six others first proposed the walkout. She said she informed her school's administration shortly before the exodus, and a dean made each student who attended get their parents' permission over the phone before leaving (LaGuardia didn't immediately confirm this). She is uncertain if participants will face punishment from the school, but said she is willing to take all the blame. Her parents, she said, were concerned but supportive.
Contrary to some of her peers, Whitman saw the protest as an exercise in empathy.
"We saw so many rallies happening but none were just for high schoolers and people who couldn't vote," she explained in an interview at the fountain. "And a lot of them seemed to be against Trump. Ours isn't necessarily against Trump. Our message that we want to send is that while our president may not be kind, educated, and empathetic, we can be as people, and it's our duty to be. And we need to educate ourselves and each other on what's right and who to vote for, and get out and vote."
"Trump supporters aren't necessarily any less nice or empathetic than we are," she said. "They're just operating from a different set of information."
The rally had wound down at that point, and some students wandered off, while others caught up with friends. Ten feet from where Whitman was standing a group took up an impromptu chant with a dramatically different tone: "Fuck Trump! Fuck Clinton! Fuck the state, and fuck the system!"