At least 300 protesters filled the streets of downtown Laramie on Monday afternoon as part of a peaceful walkout to demonstrate solidarity among women, racial minorities, immigrants, the LGBT community, and other minority groups in the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election.
Throughout the roughly hour-and-a-half duration of the march, protesters held up signs, including “Equality hurts no one,” “Love trumps hate” and “Nasty women unite” and posted photographs and updates on Twitter under the hashtag #SolidarityWyoming. Toward the front of the procession, two protesters jointly carried a bright red banner bearing the words “WE R LOVE,” with the “O” replaced with a heart containing the bison on the Wyoming flag.
The Solidarity Walk Out, which began at 12 p.m. on Simpson Plaza, was organized by University of Wyoming freshman Rihanna Kelver, a transgender woman and former candidate for the Albany County School District No. 1 Board of Education.
In an interview, Kelver said she was inspired to organize the event after spending time with friends and hearing about some of the other post-election protests going on nationally. She stressed the walkout was not created specifically to protest Donald Trump being elected as U.S. president, but rather to recognize the anxiety and fear minority groups had been feeling since the election and demonstrate solidarity.
“With all the rhetoric and speech that’s been used from Trump and his supporters, and the amount of reported hate crimes thus far after the election, a lot of us kind of went into this state that maybe we should just hide back, and you know, kind of shut down,” Kelver said. “And so, in a way to avoid that, we kind of went with this event as a way to show solidarity between all these different communities, and as a way to show our community of Laramie that we’re here, we have these concerns, and we’re not going to just go into the background and stay silent.”
Renée Laegreid, a UW history professor and the president of the UW Faculty Association, a chapter of the American Association of University Professors, gave a short speech to the crowd just before the walkout began.
“As a candidate, Trump unleashed — well, not exactly an arrow, but more like a shotgun, at all sorts of groups, racial groups, ethnic groups, LGBT groups, disabled people, women,” she said. “And when I saw … some of the internet posts the other day, right after the election, it was really stunning to me to see how quickly some of these people who felt empowered by the uncivil discourse that had been unleashed, were so willing to take advantage of it and intimidate other people.”
As they marched through the streets, members of the group participated in a number of chants, including “The people, united, will never be divided;” “Show us what democracy looks like; this is what democracy looks like” and “Donald Trump, go away — racist, sexist, anti-gay.”
Yair Sanchez, a UW junior, said he and other protesters were there to “stand together more than ever right now” and wanted everyone to feel as if they still belonged to a safe community.
“It makes us sad that even though we made it so far ... with this election, I feel like we took so many steps back,” he said. “And we really want to stand up for all the communities that are scared, that fear because of the election, and we’re here to really tell people that we are here, and we’re here to stay, and we’re going to fight with everything.”
Karlee Provenza, a Ph.D. student at UW, said she was concerned about the rights of the LGBT community, women and minorities, especially with a Republican-dominated House of Representatives and Senate.
“The people that have been appointed to the cabinet are people that have no interest in equality,” she said. “And if we lose another Supreme Court justice, I’m concerned that we’re going to lose that, so I’m here today to try to put pressure on my government, on my legislators, and to show solidarity to those that are in areas where maybe they don’t feel that they have a voice.”
After exiting Simpson Plaza, the group proceeded west down Grand Avenue, briefly stopping at the corner of First Street and Grand Avenue before heading north on Third Street, east on Clark Street and returning to the university campus for one last rally.
As the protest wound down, two UW students sporting red “Make America Great Again” caps stood outside the Wyoming Union and quietly watched the proceedings. Both students, Brandon Emery and Bailey Bonnet, said they identified as supporters of the president-elect but were not part of any counter-protest efforts.
“You know, America voted,” Bonnet said. “If you have any, any opposing views to the president-elect, I mean, you have the right to express those, but peacefully. And if you’re going to start to get hostile and burn the American flag, that’s not cool and that, that needs to be stopped. But I totally respect the peaceful protests, you know. As Americans, we do have the rights to our own opinions and to stand up for what we believe in.”
Albany County GOP Chair Karen Bienz said Monday since she wasn’t present at the walkout, it was difficult to comment specifically on the event.
“I’m hoping that the country can move forward,” she said. “I think that that’s the only statement that we want to offer.”