In the current reality of the Trump presidency, the need for public space, as a place for protest and a space for the people, has never felt so vital. This past Saturday, February 18th, I went to a protest, “Mourning the Presidency: A Mock Funeral for Presidents’ Day,” appropriately located in Washington Square Park. The protest, organized by Rise and Resist and Gays Against Guns, is described on their Facebook page as a “New Orleans style funeral march to mourn the death of democracy.” The park takes its name from George Washington, who was inaugurated in New York City as the first President of the United Sates on April 30, 1789. The Mock Funeral was set up beneath the Washington Arch, which was erected in commemoration of the centennial of Washington’s inauguration.
Beneath the arch was a grouping of prominent funeral guests: Lady Justice, a somber Lady Liberty robed in black, Abraham Lincoln, and other veiled figures also dressed in black carrying matching black umbrellas. Behind them were posters of American Presidents turned upside down, and the American flag, also upside down — a symbol of distress. Like sediment accumulating around a bend in a river, passersby entering the square from either side of the arch, couldn’t help but join the funeral crowd.
Members of Rise and Resist and Gays Against Guns read speeches and led a group sing-along of popular songs, such as Over the Rainbow, substituted by alternate lyrics (“Somewhere there is no Cheeto Czar/ And all the fascist fucks/ Are far behind me!”). Afterwards the march, led by a New Orleans-style jazz band, led us away from the arch along the sidewalk bordering the park. I chose to watch the parade from inside the square, on the other side of the fence, where I had a better view of the somber funeral procession, accompanied by the festive carnival music. As one of the speakers put it best, we need “some laughter in deadly serious times.”
At the southwest corner of the park, the march cut back across the square and north through the arch. At the head of the procession, was a casket, on the side of which was written: “The American Presidency, April 30, 1789 to January 20, 2017.”
As the march progressed around the square, people sitting on benches, jogging through the park, chatting with friends, would slowly stop what they were doing to observe the parade go by. A woman walking her dog heard the jazz band approaching and turned; both she and her dog stopping to take in the spectacle.
We go to public spaces to take pause and people watch, but to also feel like we are a part of the city, and to join in something greater than yourself. After an afternoon in the square, I felt restored by humanity and my spirits lifted. Over the next four years, I plan to spend many more Saturdays this way.