opinion

Why this Aussie living in New York is just as worried about Trump’s election as the locals.

When you gather 200,000 incredulous, passionate progressives in one place the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, you’re guaranteed to encounter enough protest chants to leave your throat red raw.

There are the earnest chants– “this is what a democracy looks like”; the funny variety– “can’t build a wall, hands too small”; and the surprising type– including my personal favourite, “we want a leader, not a creepy tweeter.”

But despite the variety of call-and-response chants I encountered at the Women’s March today, I did a double take when I heard a nasal voice behind me initiate a chant I haven’t heard since moving to the USA: “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!”

The nasal voice belonged to a tall bloke clutching his young daughter’s hand, I discovered as I twisted around to deliver the obligatory response: Oi, oi, oi!”

The father and daughter duo was just one small portion of the Australian contingent at the Women’s Marches in New York, Washington D.C., Chicago and other cities across America today, on Trump’s first full day in office. And as I discovered throughout the afternoon – when Australian after Australian complimented me on the “Aussies Against Trump” sign I carried– many of us feel just as desperately worried about Trump’s election as the locals.

America might not be our own country, but its successes and failures feel like our own. The second-generation migrants at the march today wearing “refugees welcome” badges are fighting the same battle against xenophobia as many of my mates at home. The two women marching to my left — and stopping every so often to kiss passionately in the middle of the crowd — fought the same fight for marriage equality that many Australians are still stridently fighting. And the women in the crowd who’d helped their small daughters hand-paint signs reading “girl power?” They share the same hopes for their kids as any Australian parent.

Image: Supplied/Ben Cerini.
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The real difference between America’s political landscape and our own – besides their obsessions with guns and religion -- is only that the USA has edged a few fumbling, frightening steps further down a populist, xenophobic political path we’ve been peering down in Australia for a few years now. And now, Americans in liberal-leaning cities like New York are left shocked, desperate and wondering how the hell things got this far.

To Australians who fear the spread of Trumpism, the mood in New York feels like a warning: To avoid complacency. To challenge casual bigotry. To teach our daughters and sons that activism and feminism are not dirty words. And to bother to turn up to political events and discussions, even when we feel like our individual contributions won’t make a difference.

There was a positive undercurrent to today’s march, too. The mini-scenes that played out around me as we shuffled from the United Nations headquarters up to Trump Tower were heartening. A nervous energy was palpable; but the will to fight back, unmistakeable.

I felt it when a serious-faced, tiny African-American girl marched by me, head up, holding a sign reading “BEAUTIFUL. STRONG. KIND” as her mother walked behind her.

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I saw it when men stood beside women to amplify their voices: When the women yelled “My body, my choice”, the men responded “her body, her choice!”

I saw it when two young, handsome dads clutched their toddler, who was pointing questioningly at a sign, and read it out to her: “That’s pussy power, darling. Pussy power.”

And I saw it when an ancient woman wearing a bright pink beanie rolled through the crowd on her wheelchair with her fist raised.

One thing that struck me on the subway home, as the other women marchers vied for a seat, then pulled out their smartphones and settled back into the regular New York routine of avoiding eye contact at all costs, was that two of them were holding signs reading “Day 1 of the fight.”

The first day of their fight should have come long before Donald Trump was voted in. That’s something for us, as Australians, to keep in mind.

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