Hundreds of Palo Alto high school and college students walked out of classes, onto their campuses and in city streets Tuesday afternoon to promote messages of community, equality and unity, peacefully protesting a presidential election many described as divisive and alarming.
Traffic stopped while students from Palo Alto High, Gunn High, Castilleja School and other schools marched down the middle of University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto, cheering and chanting "love trumps hate" and "love breaks walls." Above their heads, students held signs that read "voice not violence," "I stand by immigrants," "my body my choice" and "stronger together."
Hours before, more than 800 Stanford University students and faculty snaked their way through campus, chanting similar messages, in both English and Spanish, in support of democracy, immigrants, minorities, LGBTQ people, women's rights and other groups and issues.
The protests were the latest in a wave of student demonstrations that have been taking place around the country since last Tuesday's election of Donald Trump as president. Last Thursday, Woodside High School students left class to air and share their views about the election results. Yesterday, more than 1,000 Menlo-Atherton High School students walked through Menlo Park, Atherton and Palo Alto to express their frustrations with the president elect.
A group of about 10 Paly students organized the downtown protest, pulling together students from other high schools in recent days through social media and connections. The students said they did not want the protest to be explicitly political, or specifically in opposition to the president elect, but rather an opportunity to stand in solidarity with all in the community and make young people's voices heard.
"I think that one of the most important things to us is to show that even though we might not be able to vote, we still have a voice," Paly junior Luisa Keyani, one of the organizers, said in an interview Monday.
"Our success today isn't in immediate change," student Hana Morita told Paly students gathering on the quad before marching downtown. "It's in standing up and being heard."
The Paly students marched as a group down El Camino Real and into downtown, ending at Lytton Plaza. Cars honked in support as they walked, cheering and chanting. Employees came out of downtown businesses to wave, watch and take photos on their phones.
One by one, students took a megaphone to urge love in the face of hate to a growing crowd of other teenagers, adults and even young children.
"We are all here together, and together we have a voice," Paly junior Tyler Marik told the crowd. "Our collective voice is critical to breaking our country's divide, for it is in these times that positive speech is the only way to bridge the gap between people."
A Hispanic student from East Palo Alto took the megaphone to respond to the president-elect directly, saying: "He said I am a racist and I am a criminal, and I came here to prove him wrong."
Another student, Robert, described the fear he felt after hearing about acts of violence against gay and transgender people. Another, Maya, recounted how her mother asked her grandmother, an Indian immigrant, not to wear her sari the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Joan Baez, the longtime singer and activist whose first act of civil disobedience came as a 17-year-old Paly student refusing to leave her classroom during an air-raid drill in the late 1950s, attended Tuesday's protest. She said it was "enormously heartening" to see young people organizing a non-violent demonstration.
"Action is the antidote to depression," she said in an interview with the Weekly.
Baez described Trump as an "empty vessel, and whoever is nearest to him dumps whatever in."
"We need to make our voices heard enough so that we dump a little bit in that vessel," she said.
Violet Glickman, an eighth-grader from Castilleja, said she and three of her friends felt compelled to attend the protest to show their support for others who might be feeling fearful or uncertain about their future under the new presidential administration.
"We can't just let what people believe is a superior religion or race or sexual orientation define us because we are all individuals and our differences are what make us special," she said. "I think we need to recognize that and work together."
While the protest was meant to be inclusive of all political views, one woman asked Paly sophomore Tucker Biorn, who was standing in the back of the demonstration wearing a Trump-Pence "Make America great again" T-shirt, to turn his shirt inside out. He said she told him that it was "making people upset."
He declined to do so, saying he understood but was there to support the demonstration.
"I don't feel like I should be told to turn my shirt inside out because it is my First Amendment right to show my political views," he told the Weekly.
Across town at Stanford, during what was dubbed "The People's Walkout" speakers urged each other to sustain their protest beyond just this moment.
"This is that moment that catalyzes what comes next," Dereca Blackmon, associate dean and director of Stanford's Diversity and First-Generation Office, told the crowd, which numbered in the hundreds. "There's an opportunity for us not to just be sad and angry, but to get organized."
Students also called on their university to "proactively support and protect the communities most directly affected by a Trump administration and a Trump-emboldened national population,” Stanford Asian American Activism Committee member Yeji Jung said in a news release for the walkout. A letter calling on Stanford to designate itself as a sanctuary campus for any undocumented students, staff and their family members has also circulated in recent days, gathering more than 1,000 signatures.
In a statement, the university noted it had long supported the federal DREAM Act, which allows undocumented students to attend Stanford and other universities, but that "we do not know and cannot speculate about what laws or policies may be adopted in the future, or what the impact at Stanford might be."
Pointing to "increased reports of people from a variety of backgrounds and across the political spectrum feeling targeted or silenced on our campus," Stanford also affirmed its commitment to "free expression, diversity and inclusion."
"As we engage in free expression, we must be mindful to do so in a way that does not intimidate or harass other members of our community, or that otherwise inhibits their own exercise of their right to speak," the university said.
Blackmon, for her part, encouraged students to donate to or join organizations focused on issues they're passionate about — and to "reach out to those who are our supposed enemies."
In downtown Palo Alto later that afternoon, Paly senior Laure Papleux told the crowd: "We can't walk here once and go home and pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves we did a good job. It's your duty to stand up and make change happen."
Watch a video of the downtown peace rally here.