Thousands of people linked hands around Lake Merritt Sunday afternoon, forming a human chain that stretched around the entire lake. The crowd danced, played drums, chanted slogans, carried signs and held hands for around two hours.
Event organizer Allison White said she was struck by the frustration and sadness she and others felt after Donald Trump won the presidential election last week. “I wanted a moment to be together, in community, without hate. There’s so much hate and so much violence right now,” she said.
Another organizer had calculated that it would take around 3,700 people to surround the lake, but the crowd exceeded that by several thousand, White said. In some parts of the gathering, attendees were too numerous to fit on the lake’s pathways and spilled over onto the grass. The human chain was broken in some places due to steep terrain and pathways ending, but the spillover crowd that didn’t fit in these parts of the chain more than made up for it.
Many demonstrators carried signs expressing opposition to what many view as hateful rhetoric from the president-elect. One woman carried a sign that read: “Oakland: Hate Free Zone,” and another had one that read: “I do not consent to any of this.”
Attendee Erin Yelda held a sign that said “I am the granddaughter of an Iraqi shopkeeper and a Midwestern beauty queen,” with the anti-Trump slogan “love trumps hate” written in cursive at the bottom. Yelda said though her Iraqi grandfather was Christian, she came to the lake to protest Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the country. She’s also concerned by a rise in racial violence since Trump’s candidacy began a year and a half ago.
“We’re in Oakland, which is the most diverse city in the US, so we’re pretty good at getting along here,” she said. “But just the amount of hate and racial violence we’ve seen in the days since the election, that’s why I’m here.”
Because of the election results, Yelda said, she’s decided to get an Intrauterine Device (IUD) to prevent pregnancy. “He’s threatening to repeal Roe v. Wade, so permanent birth control sounds like a real good idea right about now,” she said.
Most people learned of the event through the Facebook page White created titled “Peaceful Trump Response: Join Hands Around Lake Merritt.” There were 22 “stations” set up around the lake where volunteers held banners reading “#HANDSAROUNDLAKEMERRITT” and collected monetary donations to send winter supplies to Standing Rock, a Sioux reservation in North and South Dakota where protesters have erected a temporary camp blocking the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), an oil pipeline they fear will contaminate the reservation’s water.
Volunteer Terri Elliott said Trump stands to gain financially from the construction of the pipeline, which is being built on tribal land without the tribe’s permission in violation of a treaty signed in 1851 between the Sioux and the United States government. According to his campaign’s financial disclosure forms, Trump has invested between $15,001 and $50,000 in Energy Transfer Partners, the company constructing the pipeline.
“By supporting the Standing Rock [demonstrators], we are saying no to Trump and the pipeline at the same time. All these issues are actually connected, you just have to dig a little bit,” she said.
Event organizer White, who is part Cherokee, said she sees a symbolic connection between the water the demonstrators surrounded in Oakland and the Missouri River that the demonstrators at Standing Rock, who call themselves Water Protectors, are trying to defend. “I think that water is very important for us. We need to respect our indigenous traditions,” she said. “I think it’s all connected. We are all connected.”
White said she felt it was especially important to have a peaceful response to the election given the violence seen at demonstrations in Oakland last week. “With all that’s happened with the election and the negativity from the Trump campaign and followers, I had to do something, and I didn’t necessarily want to go out and cause trouble or burn things or destroy things,” she said. “I had to do something positive.”
Demonstrator Hanna Hurley, who married her wife three years ago, said she fears Trump will roll back the gains made in Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights over the past years. “We won’t go back to having our voices silenced,” she said. “We become a better world when all the voices are heard together instead of one voice.”
Victor Kane said he came to the event to show his opposition to Trump, who he called “an absolutely, absolutely disgusting idiot.” Kane, originally from Russia, said he is deeply troubled by Trump’s apparent admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Putin is not a leader, he is not a president. To me his is just a pure, pure, pure dictator,” Kane said. “And Trump knows that and Trump thinks that Putin and him are going to be best friends.”