Hundreds of artists, musicians, non-profit organizations, and concerned citizens gathered at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester on the eve of the Inauguration to inspire, console, and mobilize the neighborhood against the incoming Trump administration. The counter-inauguration event— billed as “Together We Rise”— started with a noisy but peaceful march from Mary Hannon Park on Dudley Street to the Strand Theater, where an art gallery show entitled “I Will Not Let History Repeat Itself,” a mobilization fair featuring 16 stalls from local non-profits, and a call-to-action concert, awaited.
“The goal is to provide counter narratives, counter stories, and counter energy,” said Jenn De Leon, an author and creative writing instructor at Emerson College who helped organize the event.
“I think a lot of people don’t know what’s happening in their own back yards, and that’s what I love about these non-profits — they’re local.”
“One danger is that there’s going to be so much negativity going on, that we’re likely to be distracted by the tweet-of-the-day,” said Mike Prokosch, referencing the new commander-in-chief’s compulsive use of social media.
Prokosch, a carpenter from Dorchester, was volunteering for the Boston Climate Action Network, which advocates for clean energy in Boston to offset climate change.
One organization present at “Together We Rise” was Boston’s Social Emergency Response Center (SERC). Ayako Maruyama, a Design Principal at the center’s Roxbury studio, equates political unrest to the effects of a hurricane or an earthquake. The organization responds to the needs of the neighborhood with political workshops, art classes, and community cooking.
SERC had designed fliers with the words “we are in a social emergency” superimposed in red, bold text on top of Donald Trump’s portrait.
Race — and racism— was a central theme of night among the artists, comedians, and activists assembled.
Comedian Bethany Van Delft lightened the mood by joking, “My husband’s white — I’m not bragging,” but acknowledged racial tensions when she said, tongue-in-cheek, “My daughter’s 3/4 white — so I’m a teensy bit afraid of her.”
Negative narratives about men of color were combatted by “Strong Men, Strong Leaders,” a group of high-school students from the Henderson Upper School in Dorchester who performed “spoken word.”
“I’m trying to take advantage of my situation/ get my education,” one member of the group said.
Islamophobia was addressed by Ayesha Kazmi, a writer for The Guardian US and a member of the Islamic Society of Boston. Kazmi spoke about being followed in retail stores, harassed on buses, and even shamed by classmates in the aftermath of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“This is what it looks like to be a targeted person,” she said.
However, beyond the fear that a lot of attendees had experienced, they also found many reasons to be hopeful for their community.
Larry Watson, an Ensemble Professor at Berklee College of Music led his band, Larry Watson & Workforce 2017, into songs such as Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” belting: “If you want to make the world a better place/ take a look at yourself and make a change.”
Watson later spoke about how black, gay, and transgender people have hidden in the past, due to the likes of our new president, that Watson called “this big, new, sheriff-bully in town.”
Tears streamed down a few faces in the theater while Watson performed a self-written song, “Secret,” about not wanting to hide anymore.
Another success story came from Dorchester native Daniqua Douglas, representing Artistic Noise. The program visits young people in detention centers and teaches artistic expression through projects and workshops. By helping them to turn their stories into art, Douglas said Artistic Noise helps students like herself from getting sidetracked.
An alumna of the program herself, Douglas was proud to say that, now, she’s the class president at her high school. Asked for her feelings on the new president, Douglas said that she can only hope for the best, although she noted his unpredictability.
Daniel Johnson, who organized “Together We Rise,” announced during the event that ticket sales had raised over $9,000.
“Carry the feeling in this room forward,” he said, crediting an atmosphere “which is very different from the president elect’s vision.”