I'm a day late writing about the rally against Trump on the UA Mall Monday night, and four decades too old to be an age-appropriate witness to the student-organized, student-led and student-centered gathering, but that won't stop me from saying a few words about the event which, for me, ranged from positive to inspiring.
I arrived around 4:30pm when there were a few dozen people milling around on the grass and a handful of organizers setting up the stage. By the time the rally began at 5, the numbers had grown to a few hundred. I was near the front, so I couldn't get an accurate read on the size of the crowd, except that I saw the arc of bodies surrounding the front of the stage swelling as the event progressed. The Star, which isn't known for exaggerating numbers at events, wrote that there were thousands of people. I'd say that's about right.
The vast majority of the crowd was college-aged. There was nothing "professional" about the organizers or the crowd, contrary to the accusation from Trump that the people on the streets since he was elected have been "professional" protesters. Seven UA students planned the event and got all the necessary permissions from the university, and the crowd was dominated by young-adult faces with younger and older folks mixed in. I'm guessing many of the participants haven't attended a whole lot of protests before this rally.
The rally on the Mall lasted two hours before the crowd headed to Catalina Park. Mostly, people took turns talking onstage. That's a long time to listen to speaker after speaker, time enough for people to get bored and drift away. But the crowd stayed, and grew. I was surprised to feel its energy increase with each speaker.
The early speakers embodied the youthful idealism of Love, Peace and Righteous Pain and Anger. I enjoyed being in the midst of all that energy—it took me back to my college protest days—but I have to admit I'm too old and jaded to feel like I was a part of it. But as more people came to center stage and spoke, something gripped me which was more important and visceral than a condemnation of Trump and a celebration of the speakers' values. The people who came to center stage one by one or in twos and threes represented a rich tapestry of races, ethnic groups, religions and sexual orientations. If I remember correctly, most of them were female, with straight, white females in the minority. Many spoke of their fears. They felt targeted directly or indirectly by Trump and his followers. They felt unsafe. A country that seemed to be leaning in the direction of tolerance and acceptance over the past eight years was threatening to turn angry and vicious, with Trump and his allies who will soon run the country leading the way.
Many of the speakers were new at this. Most read prepared remarks from papers they held in their hands. They admitted they had stage fright. At times, their voices quavered. They revealed more about themselves, their lives and their fears in front of thousands of strangers than might be considered "safe." The crowd, to its great credit, was attentive, welcoming, supportive. When a speaker stumbled, the crowd applauded and cheered their efforts, urging them to keep going, and they did so with renewed strength. When someone spoke with courage and resolve, the crowd replied with a steady stream of applause and cheers. My sense is when the speakers left the stage, even if they left in tears, they felt a greater sense of belonging thanks to the crowd's embrace. They may have felt just as vulnerable, but I think they felt a little less alone.
I keep referring to the gathering as a rally, not a protest, because the center of the event wasn't so much a hatred of Trump and what he stands for as it was a sense that people can get through this together. People who criticize the "protests" as too early—"Wait until Trump does something before you protest!"—are missing an important aspect of the gatherings. They're as much for the participants as they are for the media and Donald Trump. People may be shouting "Dump Trump" and "He's not my president," but many are feeling, "I'm not alone. We've got each others' backs."