Olivia Emerald had been crying. As protesters swarmed the area and chanted, she sat alone on a curb outside the White House fence on Thursday, her arms and chin resting on a poster board.
On it, she had scrawled a message in black marker: “I respectfully decline Donald Trump as my POTUS.”
The 24-year-old waitress from Portland, Maine, rode an overnight bus to get to Washington, D.C. Over the 15-hour trip, she thought about what message she would write on her sign. It was going to be something outrageous. Something angry to express her displeasure about America electing a man she considers to be a proto-fascist demagogue.
“Then I realized, we need to approach this with grace,” she said, her voice still thick with grief. “This may be the worst decision America has ever made. Our hearts are broken, but we can’t let this country crumble because of hate. We can’t do that for the next generation.”
Beyond the fence at Pennsylvania Avenue, president-elect Trump was meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss a peaceful handover of power.
It was the beginning of diplomatic transition talks as Trump prepares to take on his new role as chief executive in January. But this week was also the start of a wave of social unrest as thousands across the country poured into streets of more than 10 U.S. cities to demonstrate against Tuesday’s stunning election of Trump as the next president.
In Oakland, police estimated a crowd of 6,000 anti-Trump activists on Wednesday night. In New York, nearly 10,000 people marched down Fifth Avenue and towards the Trump Tower. Nearly 2,000 activists took to the streets in Chicago.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton lost the election as a result of the vote breakdown in he electoral college, but she won the national popular vote.
Clinton won among millenials
She also won among millenial voters, capturing 55 per cent of the electorate aged 18 to 29 compared to 37 per cent for Trump, according to exit polling data from the National Election Pool.
In the anti-Trump protests sweeping the nation, many of the voices chanting were young — some of them too young to vote. This was not the direction for the country the next generation had hoped for, protesters at the White House said, and they were rallying to make that heard.
“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds,” read one Washington high-schooler’s sign, quoting a Mexican proverb.
In Washington, protesters massed on Pennsylvania Avenue and marched through downtown toward the Trump Hotel, fists raised and chanting, “Not my president.”
Hispanic teens from Washington’s Cardozo high school raised signs in Spanish and led calls of, “Latinos unidos jamas seran vencidos!” — Latinos united will never be defeated.
Georgetown Day School excused a group of about two dozen high schoolers who spent their lunch hour making protest signs before descending on Pennsylvania Avenue.
“My dad’s from Ecuador, my mom’s from Jordan and my grandparents are from Jordan,” said Isabela Fraga-Abaza, a 15-year-old freshman at GDS. “Every time Trump speaks, it’s like he’s insulting my family.”
She said she had never thought of herself as being politically active. Not until Trump became the Republican nominee did his candidacy become real for her.
“It opened my eyes,” she said.
Though they reject the candidate, few protesters felt that calling for impeachment would be productive. To 16-year-old Julian Dowell, these demonstrations are about pushing back against the perils of political complacency and the racist, homophobic and misogynistic forces he fears have crept to power in America.
“I believe we’re in the second era of the civil rights movement,” he said, adding that intolerance itself must not be tolerated in America.
Another group marched toward the capital’s new Trump Hotel chanting, “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Donald Trump — go away.”
In a blustery evening outside the building, Lacy MacAuley stood beside first-time protesters who told her the stunning election result had awakened something within them.
“You all are fantastic,” MacAuley said. “Let me shake your hand.”
While the protests rage on, Clinton supporter Travis Starkey, a 31-year-old working in North Carolina for Teach For America, is considering a different course. He, too, wants “a more equitable future,” but wonders if that might be better achieved if he plays a new role in his home state, a vital battleground in the election that ultimately went to Trump.
“If it’s elected office, then so be it,” Starkey said from Winterville, N.C. His State House seat was decided by just 202 votes on Tuesday night. The Democrat he favoured lost to “a sharp, business-interest Republican,” Starkey wrote in a Facebook post. He does not expect the Democrat to run again.
So Starkey has begun researching district elections rules and fundraising baselines. Based on historic turnout in midterm elections, he figures he would need to turn out 35,000 votes for one of the seats.
Starkey has considered running for office; he just wasn’t sure if it was the best way to contribute to his community. After Clinton’s loss, his mind was set. He tapped out a note to friends on Facebook about Eastern North Carolina’s need for a politician who can fairly represent “a more progressive future” for the state.
“Flipping this seat … could be an excellent way to do that,” he wrote. “If I run in 2018, will you support me?”
Starkey, a new father, received more than 450 likes and dozens of messages of support. His son, Wilson, is eight months old.
“I think about my son and the type of world I want him to grow up in,” he said. “I want to be able to say that we had a productive, values-based response” to a period of political turbulence.
It’s a start.
“That,” Starkey hopes, “is how you get to a better America.”