A crowd of two dozen Handmaids led a demonstration against Vice President Mike Pence in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday, where he joined Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for the Department of Homeland Security's National Cybersecurity Summit. Costumed in red cloaks and white bonnets, the protesters evoked characters in Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale—and a reminder, organizers told Gothamist, that fascism can happen anywhere.
Participants gathered around 12:30 p.m. in the Financial District, where coordinators with the group Refuse Fascism distributed costumes sewn by one of the organization's Philadelphia members. They also distributed children's shoes, clothes, and toys to symbolize the children whom the administration separated from their families at the U.S. border. Lining up two by two, the Handmaids snaked through the crowd assembled outside the U.S. Custom House and gathered at the base of the steps.
Although the organizers came equipped with 100 robes, they only ended up needing 24. Still, their message came through loud and clear: Demonstrators came prepared with signs and banners reading "Give back the children you stole" and "No! Trump-Pence must go."
After a few minutes of Gilead-esque silence, Emma Kaplan—a co-organizer with Refuse Fascism—rallied participants in a call-and-response chant.
"We pledge that we will not stand aside while there is still a chance to stop a regime that imperils humanity," the group shouted. "Let's stand together with conviction and courage, overcoming fear and uncertainty to struggle with all we've got, to demand this nightmare must end."
Protesters throw away their red cloaks and white bonnets inspired from the Handmaid’s Tale to indicate that they reject fascism and white supremacy, while protesting Mike Pence, who is scheduled to speak at a @DHSgov Cybersecurity summit at the Alexander Hamilton Custom House pic.twitter.com/uQ4mwCFAvh
— Rajvi Desai (@rajviedesai) July 31, 2018
Since Donald Trump's inauguration, protesters dressed as Handmaids have haunted administration events. They've popped up in state capitals across the country, silently protesting abortion-restrictive legislation. They've even taken the subway. While not coordinated, these events highlight a central point: "We don't want to live in your Handmaid's Tale ... and we are getting organized to drive you out of power," as Kaplan put it to Gothamist.
Speakers at the rally touched on Pence's personal commitment to outlawing abortion; his rumored support for gay conversion therapy; the White House's targeting of the Islamic faith; its decision to take children away from their asylum-seeking parents. Although Tuesday's conference offered an occasion for protesters to make a public statement, many Handmaids considered their purpose bigger than the Trump and Pence.
"I really have nothing to say to them," Sunsara Taylor—a political activist and writer for Revolution newspaper, told Gothamist, calling Pence a "dark ages Biblical theocrat" and characterizing Trump as a "disgusting white supremacist pig."
"All the people who know this is a nightmare, who know this is horrendous, who are learning just as the characters in The Handmaid's [Tale] did to look the other way, to say, 'Oh, it'll never happen here,'" Taylor continued. "Those people I have a big message for: This is the land founded in slavery and genocide, goddamn right this can happen here. And Trump is reaching back to that, Pence is reaching back to that, [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions is reaching back to that."
Therese Patricia Okoumou, the immigration rights activist who scaled the Statue of Liberty on the 4th of July, also donned a red robe Tuesday. Her message for Pence was unambiguous: "Get the hell out of our White House. You do not know what you’re doing. We did not elect you, the Russians did. Stop being an accomplice. We see what you’re doing. You are building a criminal enterprise with our taxpayer dollars. It’s embarrassing, it’s unacceptable, shame on you."