Unease, anger and a desire to take action motivated more than 300 people to gather at the Ace Hotel in East Liberty late Wednesday, prompting small group meetings, impromptu speakers and a protest curtailed by smoke bombs through nearby Shadyside.
Protests and vigils sparked in Pittsburgh and more than a dozen cities across the country as people gathered to protest President-elect Donald Trump and mourn the loss of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Organized through Facebook, the initial two-hour planning meeting -- dubbed “Emergency Meeting: Let’s Unite To Stop President Trump” -- promised participants the chance to create a plan of action and promote civic and political engagement.
The Ace Hotel's large second-story ballroom was filled to capacity by 6:30 p.m. and overflowing first into the stairwell, then outside. The meeting’s fiery title belied the crowd’s mood. Conversations among small group circles filtered through the room as participants debated shared stories and expectations.
Software engineer Josh Yu, 23, of Wexford said he came to give himself some space and be with people trying to come together and heal.
“Part of me also knows that now is a time to really fight back against the bigotry, against the hate. I am hoping to get some direction from the crowd, get ideas on how I can contribute as an individual or participate more in my community,” he said.
Standing along the wall was Nginyu Ndimbie, 26, who lives in Garfield. He said he thinks people came out “for the retention of hope."
"As well as fear. They kind of go hand in hand," he said. "Even though I do think of this current situation as a possible woe, it also is causing a great amount of reaction and action for people who were formerly a little bit more passive. People realize they need to jump headlong into this.”
The meeting proceeded along a crisp agenda. Molly Nichols and Jordan Malloy facilitated, and read three proposals for consideration: build safe spaces, take direct action and build a political party.
Before people broke into small groups, Nichols set out the rules of engagement, ending with “Placing blame helps no one, taking responsibility helps everyone.” The room burst into applause.
The 2016 presidential election revealed a national divide between rural and urban voters that played out in miniature Wednesday night in Pennsylvania. As Pittsburgh’s meeting wound into its second hour, a Trump protest kicked off in Philadelphia near City Hall. Organizers led up to 1,000 marchers to Temple University, criticizing both the Democratic and Republican parties.
But in rural areas, there were no similar, widely publicized events.
That stark divide between rural and urban priorities is something Jessica Wolfe said she's seen a lot of. Wolfe, 36, is a social worker who travels throughout southwestern Pennsylvania seeing patients in their homes.
“There’s not a whole lot out there anymore; there’s not infrastructure and jobs and things like that," she said. "And so, I think the rural people feel abandoned.”
Wolfe said drug and crime problems also plague those areas -- problems Trump promised to fix.
Ron Idoko, 33, said Trump stoked whites’ fears of non-whites, and those fears drowned out all the other issues at stake.
"I felt like this was more of white America saying, ‘We need to make sure we stay white, remain white.’ There were a lot of folks that were just scared of other people."
Idoko teaches public policy at the University of Pittsburgh. He said people are fearful of one another because they don’t cross paths in daily life.
The protest began after 8 p.m. when the meeting adjourned and attendees moved outside to join those who hadn't been able to make it in. People lined up to speak, passing a megaphone between them.
When one speaker asked the crowd how many people had a family member who voted for Donald Trump, more than half of hands went up.
Later, Jonathan Fobear, 37, of Lawrenceville critiqued the armchair activism many people engage in on social media as “not persuasive.”
“We have to be mini marketing machines for this movement,” he said. “We have to be our own campaign. We are all running for office, and that office is to win over our friends and family to abandon this rage that has taken over them, and the misinformation they have swallowed whole.”
Fobear identified himself as a gay, liberal atheist, and said he voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary and canvassed for Hillary Clinton in the general election.
Some people spoke about the need for unity. Others confessed fears of what could happen to vulnerable populations, particularly undocumented immigrants and Muslims.
“I’m a little worried that we are underestimating what it means to have Trump as our president,” said Alison Springle, 28, of Point Breeze. “We cannot minimize this, because here’s the reality: fascism is on the rise, and they just elected a leader. History tells us what happens.”
Springle, a graduate student, suggested people protest his inauguration on January 20, 2017.
“He is not our leader, and we need to make that clear,” she said.
As hundreds marched through East Liberty and Shadyside an hour later, chants of “Not My President” rang out. The police followed, gradually increasing their presence and eventually blocking off streets in a way that would steer the march in a particular direction. Often, protestors disregarded their efforts, walking straight past police in riot gear and their vehicles.
Protestors also largely ignored multiple orders to disperse.
Tensions between police and protestors came to a head around 9:30 p.m., as the crowd thinned to about 100. Police set smoke bombs that sent most people running. Protesters were told to go home.
"Racist, fascist, anti-gay, Donald Trump go away." Marchers protest in the streets of East Liberty pic.twitter.com/M2VkszwzG4
— Katie Blackley (@kate_blackley) November 10, 2016
“We let you march around. You got your point across, now it’s time to call it a night,” said Commander of Special Deployment Lt. Clarence Trapp.
After a brief exchange, protesters agreed to march back to the Ace Hotel courtyard and disperse. A few more brief speeches wrapped up around 10 p.m.
Tatiana Farfan-Narcisse, 20, an artist from Troy Hill, implored fellow protestors: “Stay active, stay aware.”
A person in the crowd responded: “Stay organized!” The crowd cheered.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.