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Hundreds rally against Trump in downtown Buffalo, spurred by social media

WBFO's Mike Desmond

Social media isn't always the best place for political conversations, but Sunday afternoon hundreds showed up at Niagara Square in unity because of it.

The morning after the election, Alaysa O'Brien saw the aftermath in several ways, but what she saw on social media was most alarming.

"Seeing posts online of people experiencing hate crimes," said O'Brien. "...and it was only day one? People were attaching the idea that Trump's rhetoric about women, minorities, gay, and transgendered groups... they took that as a platform to think that bigotry and discrimination was now acceptable."

It hit her on a personal note.

"It hurt me as a woman," said O'Brien. "There's no way that I could foresee a man with multiple sexual assault accusations stacked against him, in an America like that, the way rape culture has been perpetuated lately... there's no way it's ever gonna be better. It was really scary."

O'Brien was part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Her first reaction was to get everyone together and hear what they had to say. So Wednesday morning she made an event page. Right from her couch.

"I made the Facebook page just because I thought I would get the same 50 people I would always get."

Western New York Peace Center Executive Director Victoria Ross saw the event and immediately got to work.

"Somebody invited me and then I reached out to Alaysa with organizing it because we frequently organize rallies and other gatherings like that and it's certainly what we believe in," said Ross. "We used our website, social media, emailing to get people out... but it started on Facebook."

Credit Nick Lippa
Protestors were out and about peacefully Sunday afternoon

O'Brien was shocked to see the attention the event was getting. By the time the event started, Facebook showed 1,400 people attending with 2,600 interested. While those totals almost never match the actual turnout, Niagara Square still held a large crowd.

"It was really amazing to see the community turn out like that," said O'Brien. "I did not expect that. It was definitively more than 500."

Ross was less surprised.

"The WNY Peace Center has held a lot of rallies, but over the past year, participation has risen and we saw that today."

O'Brien said social media gives everybody a voice, for better or worse. The rally gave everyone an opportunity to be heard face to face.

Matthew Digati supervises a program that teaches social and emotional coping skills to kids in the Buffalo Public City Schools.

"There's a large amount of refugee and immigrant children that go to my school," said Digati. "They couldn't handle everything the day after the election. I had multiple kids come up to me ages 9, 10, 11... who are literally worried that they will be deported. That their families will be deported... It's tough to watch these kids so scared and not be able to understand... It's a terrifying time for a lot of people living here. There was a girl in my school. It was the first time she came to school without a hijab on. We should not make kids feel they need to hide their own identity. That is taking a massive step back. I just know that I have to be the best advocate that I can be."

Digati said there was a greater need now more than ever to become politically active.

"I don't expect to go to a rally and to have Trump step down as President," said Digati. "You are going out there to show your support and to feel unified with the members of our community who need it."

One of those members was Jamey Hampton, a member of the LGBTQ community.

"I'm taking comfort that I am not the only person who is scared," said Hampton. "When we get together, we can protect each other."

Hampton said they enjoyed the joyful atmosphere that included singing among the speakers and protestors.

Credit Nick Lippa

Several members at the rally brought up recent hate crimes at Canisius and Wellsville. While all were disgusted, several were not surprised.

Amber Dennis is an African-American woman who came out to fight against white supremacy.

"Now we all unfortunately have something very real to fear, and very, very real to fight against," said Dennis. "I think that's what brought us to the rally today. We're all gonna have to fight. There's no room for apathy anymore. It would just be compliance at that point."

Protestor Matthew Dearing fears for his health.

"I've been the recipient of what has become two death threats," said Dearing. "I'm an African-American. One individual told me that he would be calling a group of friends to bring a rope with my name on it to my house. Somebody else told me they would kill me and make sure it was on national television. Yeah, I'm scared."

These threats were received via social media.

"Social media is the engine that propelled Donald Trump," said Dearing. "Too many people are getting all their information from one source... They don't spread out and gain more knowledge. There are a lot of people who I think are voting based on lies because of this. I won't beat around the bush, I think the media has beaten around the bush a lot by not calling Donald Trump a liar when he has told complete untruths. Now, social media has created a safe space for people to bounce around conspiracy theories and nonsensical ideas."

With all the negativity surrounding the medium, it is still the main reason the rally reached its size. The communication potential is massive.

"Anybody can reply and do anything right away," said O'Brien. "Mistakes that you make, maybe forgetting to include a group can easily be fixed. As long as you're open minded and think critically when presented with new information... then you can say that's right or no that's not right."

While O'Brien considers the rally a great success, she doesn't think she would want to plan the rally again.

"I did this just to get the ball rolling," said O'Brien. "I didn't want to sit around and cry on Facebook anymore. I wanted to do something."

O'Brien refused to give herself a title of event leader or rally organizer. She didn't feel the title fit for what she did.

"It was easy for me. I joked at the rally I made the event page sitting on my couch. My message then became you can do this too. So there was 500 people there today? That's 500 chances for change. Every single one of those people can make something happen on their own."

The next step for some is reaching out towards Trump supporters with less cynicism.

"Part of the reason we have elected Donald Trump," said Dearing, "is because people like me, people on the left have refused to engage in substantive meaningful dialog with people who disagree with us. We are very quick to throw out terms of racist, homophobe, islamophobe, xenophobe, and many of these things are true. Many people hold nefarious views, but a lot of these people do not. A lot of people's minds can be changed but what keeps them dug in is calling them names. That morally debases them. We on the left cannot afford to do that anymore."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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