Thousands of New Yorkers — as well as a healthy contingent of entertainment industry names including Julianne Moore, Robert DeNiro, Alec Baldwin and Sally Field — gathered on Manhattan’s Upper West Side Thursday night, turning up for a political protest organized by Michael Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Fisher Stevens on the eve of the inauguration of incoming president Donald Trump.
With organizers and speakers taking to a stage set up in front of the Trump International Hotel at Columbus Circle, crowds funneled onto Central Park West bearing signs that read “Hate Ain’t Great,” “Not My President” and “This Is Not Normal,” among other slogans. The gathering stretched some four blocks deep, with one estimate pegging the number of attendees at as much as 20,000. A big screen broadcast the speeches for people too far back to see. Baldwin broke out the Trump impression he’d honed on “Saturday Night Live,” riffing on Trump’s ties to Russia and on some of the seamier claims in the intelligence dossier that hit the press last week. Imagining Trump standing in the middle of the rally with no access to a bathroom, Baldwin-as-Trump told the crowd, “When I get to the Russian consulate after this, I’m gonna have a really, really long pee.”
Brooklyn native Rosie Perez kicked off the event — “The world is watching, and we want to let them know our voices matters,” she said — before she introduced Robert DeNiro, who made cracks about what Trump would tweet about him in the wake of the protest, including “DeNiro should give back his Oscar! The voting was rigged!”
Plenty of political names turned out for the rally as well, beginning with New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, who underscored the organizing principles of the rally: health care for all, protecting the earth and equal opportunity. “Tomorrow is not an end,” he said of inauguration day. “Tomorrow is a beginning.”
Organizer Moore warned attendees, “As bad we think it’s going to be, it’s going to be worse. But the good news is there’s more of us than there are of them.” He exhorted everyone at the rally to call their congressional representatives every day to make their views known, and also touted the power of comedy as the only thing that seemed to get under the incoming president’s skin.
In a call for progressive unity that would be echoed in the words of other speakers that night, he noted, “We’re all Muslim. We’re all Mexican. We’re all women. We’re all American. Yes, and we are all queer too.”
Ruffalo, Field, Moore, Cynthia Nixon, Shailene Woodley, Marisa Tomei and Cher were among those to speak, along with activists and politicians including Al Sharpton, Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges, NAACP president Cornell William Brooks and Linda Sarsour, the cofounder of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York and an organizer of the upcoming Women’s March on Washington.
The onstage presentation finished off some two hours after the event had begun with a song performed by Natalie Merchant. Just before that, Moore had invited everyone at the rally to walk with him a few blocks downtown to Trump Tower, the president-elect’s New York homebase, to continue the peaceful protest.
Janeil Engelstad, a protester who described herself as based in Seattle and Dallas, held a sign shaped like a giant fist with the word “resist” emblazoned on it. “I came to express that light and love is in itself is a form of resistance,” she said. “When someone is elected on a platform of fear and hatred, the best form of resistance really is to hold the opposite space.”
Just before the inauguration protest’s 6 p.m. start time, the New York theater community had mobilized as part of the Ghostlight Project, a national movement that organized vigils outside theaters and in hub areas in certain cities. In midtown Manhattan, hundreds of people had gathered in Times Square and held aloft phones, battery powered candles and glowing batons, intended to symbolize a pledge to protect inclusion, participation and compassion.