Letter from a “professional protester”

Alan R. Lifson

“Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!” — Donald Trump on Twitter, Nov. 10.

Donald Trump is right. Some of the protesters at the Minneapolis march on Thursday night were professionals, and I was one: Not a professional protester, but a professor of public health at the University of Minnesota and a physician. I marched from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs through the Seward neighborhood with thousands of others, and I didn’t need the media to incite me.

Like so many others, I watched with dismay as the country I thought I loved turned into a divisive and spiteful one.

I’ve worked throughout East Africa on projects to help AIDS patients, and I find that if my friends and colleagues there moved into my own city, they would be the target of some truly nasty attitudes and behavior. To be clear, it is not just Donald Trump. It is the racist, sexist and xenophobic speech that has become an all too acceptable part of the American conversation. Sadly, if you want to know if evil exists in the world, you don’t need to go to the latest Marvel comic or Lord of the Rings movie. The darkness has come to our shores.

As a professor, I worry about the future of public health, with a mission to advance the well-being of all in society, including the most disadvantaged among us. As a physician, I worry about what will happen to the health of people who don’t have enough money to pay for care that could save the lives of their families.

As a citizen of the world, I worry about what happens when we draw up the drawbridges and put up a sign that says we don’t care anymore. As a father of two, I worry about the future of a world that will leave them with a deteriorating environment and system of support. This week will be my 66th birthday, and I worry about what sort of legacy we are creating for the next generation and beyond, including my students.

In the face of such despair, what can a person do? In last week’s march, I saw Somali women in their hijabs and people holding Mexican flags. I talked to people with accents from around the world. I saw thousands of men and women of all ages, orientations, , religions and races come together to say that “Love Trumps Hate.” I even saw lots of older, white men like myself with signs that said Donald Trump — and those like him — don’t represent our values.

I saw people on the streets of the Seward neighborhood with smiles and waves, and I saw people who said they were “welcome here” as the crowd chanted.

So I didn’t need to be “incited” to march. I did it for myself and the hope it gave me.

Coming together as a growing movement based on acceptance and tolerance, we can still have a future in this country that we can be proud of. I did it to believe that this is not the end, but a new beginning.

Alan R. Lifson, MD, MPH

Professor in the School of Public Health, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health

Editor’s Note: This letter has been edited for clarity and style conventions.