We met on the stairs of the public library and sang parody Christmas carols about the greed of billionaire corporations taking tax breaks when we need the money to fix our subways, schools and housing.
We walked and sang our way over to the Amazon Bookstore, where we stood singing and handing out flyers to customers so that they could become aware of many of the abusive workplace policies and surveillance technology development that the corporation participates in.
It was pretty cold, so after a few hours and handing out a few hundred fliers, we decided to go home. After we officially ended, many of us stood outside and shared our stories with each other.
One man reached out and held my hand while he told me about how much he loves his community of Long Island City. He has lived there for 40 years, has deep relationships with his neighbors, is a homeowner with many renter friends who are on limited incomes, and participates in the art world.
As he held my hand he gripped it with emotion.
"I love my community, I love it so much, and I don't want to watch it bulldozed and my friends priced out," he said.
Then another man, who had a remarkably beautiful singing voice, joined us in conversation. He told us he was struggling with homelessness in Long Island City and lived off and on in shelters.
He also told us about the amateur operas he used to participate in, which made a lot of sense with his theatrical performance with our Christmas carols.
We stood there chatting as long as we could stand it. I hugged people goodbye and exchanged contact information with them. I went to get hot chocolate with two friends and promised to meet up with new friends in the future. And then I came to a realization.
Activism is is an expression of love and of hope. Sometimes activism looks like anger, but those who come out usually recognize the deep role and importance that a subject has had in their lives, and their protest is an attempt to profess that love and defend it.
On Friday, it was about the love of small business and neighborhoods that allow you to know your deli guy, to have relationships with bodega and restaurant owners, about the appreciation of a mixed-income community where people have agency.
And it was also about the assertion of that personal agency. Before I ever attended a protest, I would watch the news and feel small. I would look at the people making decisions about my community, my government and my life as giants, people who were untouchable and unstoppable, and I was just there to receive the fruits of their will, good or bad.
But then to show up, to stand outside and offer up support for an idea you care about, it felt incredible. The first time I met a senator, I was shocked to discover I was nearly as tall as them. My voice was just as loud.
We were the same, but I had given them power. When we give people power, we deserve to be able to give feedback on how they use it.
Activism is an act of love and an act of self-assertion. It means that you believe your opinion matters, and you want to find community with others who believe the same.
Holding the hand of the man in pain, bearing witness to the man who has struggled while also seeing the great beauty in his voice and his abilities and talents, that is a meaningful human act.
A protest can feel like a big act, but it is really a thousand small acts of community, recognition, support, and love. And that community is so needed right now.