For the first time in months, Hawaiʻi felt different. There was a charge in the air as hundreds marched down streets wielding signs that bore phrases like “Not my president!” and “Impeach Trump!” Somewhere, Edwin Starr’s “War” played, the unofficial theme song of protests against the Vietnam War and many protests since then. With 62.3 percent of its votes going to Hillary Clinton, Hawaiʻi was one of 19 states that voted against President Trump. For the historically Democrat state, this election was a heartbreaking defeat. And so, Hawaiʻi’s political apathy was replaced by unapologetic dissent. Surrounded by the masses shouting defiance in the face of the presidency, one felt as if standing at the epicenter of something powerful—a feeling that a baby boomer later compared to that at iconic protests of the ’60s.
Over inauguration weekend, in Hawai‘i and around the world, demonstrators took to the streets to voice their opinions about an uncertain political climate. On Friday, after President Trump was inaugurated, Hawaiʻi J20, a coalition of students and faculty members from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa marched down Kalakaua Avenue toward Trump Tower, joined by community members. These are excerpts, condensed and edited, from conversations with several of those who took part:
‘The poster child’
The last protest I did was the Trump protest at Ala Moana beach park. I felt that Trump’s candidacy and his election normalized overt racism. After I found out that Trump was elected, I cried. I was in an emotional hole for a while—just pissed. We all knew that racism and xenophobia have been around, but it’s been brought to the forefront during the election. Him becoming the poster child for that gives people the right to be racist and hateful and harmful. As a woman of color, I’m concerned for my health, my well-being and my immediate future as far as reproductive health is concerned. I also come from an immigrant family so all of the issues make me feel that I or my friends might not be protected.
– Juvana Soliven, 28, art history lecturer at UH Mānoa
‘It’s my responsibility as a woman of this religion’
I’ve lost track of how many talks I’ve given, but the first time I got involved with activism was in 2014 after taking a civic engagement class at UH Mānoa. At the time we were protesting Gaza and what was happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During the election, I thought it was funny up until he won. I thought, “Who’s really going to vote for this man?” And then he started winning all of the delegates. I was in shock, but I quickly accepted it. I thought fine. If he’s going to be the president, then be the president, but then what am I going to do about it? Protesting is your right as an American. You should use all of your rights otherwise it’s just sitting there getting dusty. If you have something to say, you should get out there and protest. Since I’m a Muslim and a woman, it makes it more powerful when I speak. It’s my responsibility as a woman of this religion.
– Esma Arslan, 21, pre-medicine B.S. graduate & an endocrinology intern for Queen’s Medical Center
‘We’re not just going to lay down and die’
I was at the anti-APEC protest in 2011. I’ve always been engaged in the political process, but this is the first time since then that I’ve protested. I felt compelled to protest after Trump was elected because everything that I care about is under threat. We want to send a very strong signal that the American people are very concerned about the hateful rhetoric from Trump and his nominees. We are inaugurating resistance. We’re not going to stop to resist all the hateful things that he is going to do. We’re not just going to lay down and die.
– Gaye Chan, 59, professor & UH Mānoa Arts Depart Chair
‘It’s not a good look for us’
I’ve been protesting since the election in November. This is the first issue that I’ve become active in protesting since the Iraq war—that was the last time that I became motivated to make some noise. The election was a wake up call to stop being complacent. I felt like darkness fell. I was just angry for days and weeks afterwards. For me, it’s not a partisan thing where I’m sad that the democratic candidate lost. It’s fundamentally about how the American nationalistic ideal that Trump has been spouting is rooted in fascism. It’s really dangerous for democracy. We don’t want what Trump is saying to define America—it’s not a good look for us.
– Jan Dickey, 29, graduate student at UH Mānoa & curator for GRRIC contemporary
‘Our hearts bleed for them’
I was part of the Vietnam and environmental protests in Canada. Trump is a huge issue in Canada—totally different from here. Canadians are watching the American news everyday. We see it as the rise of fascism and see this as early-’30s Hitler being repeated. We have amazing healthcare so when we hear that 20 million Americans are losing their medical care, Canadians are very, very concerned. Canadians are heart broken—not just for those 20 million losing their medical care, but also for the disenfranchised. Our hearts bleed for them. After hearing about the racism, sabotaging the environment, not honoring the Paris agreement, we’ve become very afraid of the influence that Trump can have on Canada. Weʻre afraid that his presidency will bring out right wing politicians.
– Bonny Cooke, 64, retired high school teacher
‘Obama did that already!’
I’m a republican and this is the first time I’ve protested—ever. There’s some good things that Trump is doing—reasonable trade, building up our infrastructure, and limited terms on legislatures—but those are the only three things that are good. Obama’s fixed everything else up already. Make America great again? Obama did that already! So, it’s just don’t screw up America now that it’s great. Finish fixing the things that need to be fixed. He didn’t win the popular vote. That’s why I’m out here protesting. We need to make him realize that his agenda is not the agenda of the nation.