Scene Here: The Rift in Holyoke

Reports of hate crimes have spiked across the nation in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential election victory, and dozens of people marched through Holyoke on the evening of Friday, Nov. 18, to protest the president elect’s campaign promises and policies that many say have fueled a spike in bigotry. Among the more colorful protesters is a person in a Spiderman costume, another in a Guy Faux mask, and a young man in a beret proudly waving an anarcho-communist flag.

“Losers!” spews a passer-by from the open window of a souped-up pickup. A handful of teenagers quietly wave a “Make America Great Again” flag from the back of their truck parked on the side of the road. They’re taking some noticeable delight in ruffling the feathers of the marchers, but things remain cordial, if tense. As soon as the protesters pass, the teens will fire up the truck, drive down the road and park alongside the march again. Perhaps it’s the ubiquitous police officers, sentinels in Dayglo jackets on every corner, that are helping to keep the peace. If any of the officers have strong political feelings, their faces don’t betray them.

“So are you a spook, or what?” comes a voice from behind me as I busily snap pictures. I turn around to an unshaven, sober-looking guy in his late 20s. “Yeah, I’m here to infiltrate the movement,” I laugh. But he glares suspiciously through his glasses. I soften a little and assure him that I’m a journalist, there only to observe, but he regards me warily.

As the march snakes along the four-plus mile route — from Kennedy Park, down Route 5, then up Beech Street — neighborhoods come to life. Many residents are drawn out by the passing commotion, waving and cheering from their balconies and porches. They clearly support the protests, but I have to wonder about the hundreds of expressionless citizens driving by in their vehicles, windows rolled up tight, eyes forward.

I chat with an young woman toward the back of the crowd. She’s 24 and she came out tonight to reassure those in the community that feel vulnerable that America still has their backs. Her father, she says, voted for Trump. He feels forgotten and Trump’s tough-guy persona and populist message spoke to him. She’s been dodging her father’s phone calls since the election, she says, uncertain how to balance her love for him and her desire for a future she believes in.

— Peter Vancini, pvancini@valleyadvocate.com

Author: Peter Vancini

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