Seven days after the election that shook America to its core, about 50 Northwestern students packed into a small classroom to answer that question, concluding a week of protests, meetings and events on and around Northwestern’s campus.
The election of Donald J. Trump shocked many members of the Northwestern community. His extreme positions on a variety of topics are antithetical to many of the beliefs of students on campus. The emotional response exhibited by the student body included disbelief, fear, grief and uncertainty, among other sentiments.
Events began as soon as the election wrapped up last Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning. Students gathered at the Lakefill after the results had been finalized to provide support to one another and verbalize their emotions in a community setting, surrounded by the tears and hugs of their peers.
“The Lakefill vigil was definitely a rough place to be; people were in various stages of denial that something like this could happen, and there was just so much fear for the future,” said Medill freshman David Guirgis. “While the solidarity was wonderful, what was most prevalent for me was how lonely I felt anyway.”
Wednesday night, Northwestern students joined thousands of others on the streets of downtown Chicago to march and protest peacefully; this protest was one of many that erupted across the nation, from Berkeley to Manhattan.
Students each had their own individual reasons for traveling downtown, but many, such as Weinberg sophomore Joanna Wan, felt a need to make their voices heard and to show that they refused to be complacent.
“Don't disengage or become indifferent towards politics,” Wan said. “It is a hard time for the majority of Americans who voted for Clinton, but it is also a more important time to unite, to represent the minority communities of which we belong, and to fight for the values of which we believe.”
ASG held a post-election gathering Thursday night, targeted at students looking for an outlet to voice their opinions, emotions and fears in an open, accepting environment. ASG president Christina Cilento helped plan the event, and said she intended it as a tool to help students cope.
“I think there’s a very palpable emotionally unstable state that we wanted to be able to provide for,” Cilento said. “It was just meant as an open space for students to come together.”
Protests continued Saturday morning, with more students traveling downtown to march through the heart of the city with other students, activists, Chicagoans and concerned citizens. Many of the students who traveled downtown were members of StuCo, the Student Theatre Boards at Northwestern. One such student was Communications sophomore Gracie Brakeman.
“I think for a lot of people the motivation for going to the protest was that we won’t accept the normalization of the hurtful rhetoric that [Donald Trump] used,” said Brakeman. “I’m finding hope in the number of people that are speaking out against this and deciding not to accept it.”
Most recently on campus, on Tuesday night, Student Action NU, a group of student organizers focused on advancing justice as a part of Chicago Student Action, a student collective including students from colleges across Chicago, organized a meeting in Annenberg Hall for those looking to incite real change in the months and years to come.
Members of Student Action discussed past action and success, including the passing of a $13 an hour minimum wage in Cook County and a protest last month for free public higher education targeting Ken Griffin, a wealthy donor to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (R), outside the Art Institute of Chicago, where he is a trustee.
The members then distributed phone numbers of Illinois representatives who have not yet pledged support for a bill which would help undocumented students in Illinois receive financial aid for higher education following the election. Those in attendance were encouraged to call the representatives and leave a message asking for support for the bill.
Commitment cards were then passed around, asking students whether they would attend organizing meetings and rallies on campus and around Chicago, including Chicago-wide organizer meetings and a rally to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“With what the results of the election were, we needed to add to the messaging a little,” said Weinberg senior Jackson Paller, a member of Student Action NU. “People are rightfully afraid and scared for what the future might hold and are more anxious than ever to do something.”
A number of students in attendance had already participated in various events throughout the week, and came to the meeting out of a desire for action.
“I went to some of the protests, and I saw how powerful it can be when there are large groups of people working together to promote a common goal,” said Communications junior Rachel Stamler-Jonas. “I think that the best way to do that is if you’re informed and organized, and that’s what [Student Action NU] is.”
The meeting concluded with an evaluation of the mood in the room, and students were asked to give a short summary of their feelings. Responses ranged from “engaged” and “connected” to “worried but hopeful.”
The organizers of the meeting see a need for action in the future, and shared their visions for inciting change with the students, building onto the sense of urgency and eagerness many already felt. We can expect to see a lot more of this group and others in the weeks and months to come.
“We need to make clear the ways that we can do this kind of work to stop the kind of things someone like Donald Trump stands for,” Paller said.