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10 November 2016updated 08 Sep 2021 3:08pm

“They will put us in camps“: The New Orleans voters who fear President Donald Trump

Residents of a blue city in a red state gathered to share their despair. 

By Colette Sensier

President-Elect Donald Trump was burned in effigy on Wednesday night in New Orleans. The night had started quietly, when a hundred people gathered at a monument to grieve. It ended loudly, with tourists and service workers cheering as protestors chanted “F*ck Donald Trump!”

New Orleans is a blue city in a red state, with a majority-black population, a thriving gay scene and nine universities. Teacher Erin, 23, told me, “It’s really frustrating because we live in a red state – 97 per cent of us [African-Americans] voted for Hillary, but our electoral votes went to fricking Trump.” 

The protest was just a Facebook event, created Wednesday morning by a single woman, Lita Farquar. But the crowd that turned up brought along props – a Trump effigy with a bullet hole to the chest, a wooden sign with calligraphy reading “Love Trumps Hate,” and a ripped sheet with “Pussy” in black marker. They sat on the monument steps, watching as anyone who felt moved to do so addressed the waiting TV cameras. Everything came up, from sex workers’ rights to the minimum wage.  

One black woman who chose to speak summed up the feeling of the night: “This is a backlash against everyone who’s started to feel safe in this country.”

Panic was very close to the surface. As a speaker described his experiences in underfunded psychiatric wards, a deep voice from the crowd shouted: “They will round you up and put you in camps.” Later, administrative assistant Kathleen Anderson, 34, told me: “I have a lot of immigrant friends and a lot of brown and black friends and they’re scared and I’m scared for them. People are literally talking about concentration camps.”

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One speaker was shouted down by a bandana-masked man yelling: “Nobody gives a f*ck about electoral politics! Are we going to take to the streets or sit here all day?” Later, five or six masked protestors disappeared. They would leave behind graffiti declaring “F*ck Donald Trump” and a smashed bank window.

Although Trump has been pilloried for his policies on climate change and foreign policy, the protestors did not talk much about that – they felt Republicans were a disaster in those areas anyway. The main issue for them was white male supremacy, and the reigning emotion was a deep, personal fear. 

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Casino worker Mary Drysdale “was not emotionally prepared” for Trump to be elected president. She told me: “After all the things he’s said, the racism, the xenophobia all of it, I don’t understand how half of this country that I live in could possibly support a man like that.”

“I was faced with the reality last night that a year from now I might not have the same rights I have now, and I’ve only had those rights for a year and a half,” said LGBT student Jacob. Another student, Candice, said, “He don’t have no respect for women, he just don’t have no respect period.” 

These people feel betrayed – sometimes by their own family. Teacher Aubrey, 23, who is of mixed race, said, “My own grandmother voted for Trump. We’ve been so concerned this election about the overt racism, overt xenophobia and sexism that we haven’t paid attention to all the people that are quietly nodding their heads and agreeing with him.”

Oil refinery engineer Mohamed, 27, told me that at work he was surrounded by colleagues with Trump stickers on their lockers. “They’re really concerned about the progress the LGBT community has made. And they want to put laws in place to change the demographics in this country, reverse it.”

For some, effigy burning was a step too far. Catherine, 22, said: “This scares me more. That’s all Trump has been doing, projecting hate and anger and fear.” The unwillingness to play along might explain why only a fraction of the protestors, 20 in all, joined the march into the historic French Quarter. Those who did chanted: ‘Not my president!’, ‘No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!’, and  “F*ck Donald Trump!” 

A handful of Trump supporters shouted back, and one threw a punch. But far, far more bouncers, street musicians, strippers and partiers on Bourbon Street joined in the chant, clapped or danced as the protestors passed. Elderly tourists in Antebellum-inspired restaurants stood up and applauded. Many joined for a street or two, and others leant out of their cars to punch the air in support. New Orleans people respond to performance. 

Right now, for better or worse, they are watching history being made. An 18-year-old African-American photographer, Christopher, was one of several people who came down to Lee Circle after seeing the protest on TV. He didn’t vote – a woman president was “never going to happen” – but he thought this could be the start of a civil war, and he was curious to see what might go down. 

Colette Sensier is a British poet and writer based in New Orleans.