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For the next four years: watch, protest, and heal 

Well, it has begun.

Donald Trump is now president, the leader of the United States and the face we present to the rest of the world. At the moment, he is leading a deeply divided country. And the face he is presenting – to us and to the world – is one of anger, hostility, narcissism, arrogance, and divisiveness.

That face was on full display in his inaugural address on Friday. And it was on display again on Saturday, when he spoke at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

Meanwhile, protests against him – many of them massive – were taking place around the world, filling streets and parks and plazas not only in Washington, the initial focus of the Women’s March, but also in Rochester, in San Francisco, in Chicago, in Seattle, in Atlanta, in Memphis, in Paris, in Prague, in Amsterdam, in Bangkok, in Dublin, in Tel Aviv, in Nairobi, in Rome, in Athens, in Cape Town, in Stockholm, in London.

The New York Times compiled photos from some of those protests here. And you can see CITY’s photos of Rochester’s Solidarity Rally here.

(A sign in Florence, Italy: “Make America Think Again.” A little girl’s message in Barcelona, Spain: “Make America Kind Again.”)

We’re in a strange moment right now, still suspended between the old administration and the dramatically different, volatile new one, as Trump and Republican leaders settle into their new responsibilities, Trump’s supporters wind down their celebration, and the rest of us work through our fears and our anguish.

“Working through” won’t be easy, given the stupefying nature of some of what we’re witnessing. (What are we to think when a key presidential adviser defends the White House press secretary’s clearly erroneous statements by saying the press secretary “gave alternative facts”?)

This moment of suspension will pass, though. Whether we’ve been celebrating or mourning Trump’s move into the White House, our thoughts about the inauguration will get pushed back in memory as the business of our own personal lives takes over. But as that happens, those of us concerned about where the country is headed need to pledge to do three things: remain watchful, protest when protests are needed, and find ways to help the country heal.

Saturday’s marches cannot be a one-time event. Protests – many of them resulting in physical harm to the participants – have brought human-rights progress, in the United States, in South Africa, in India. And as civil rights leaders have continued to remind us, we can’t wait for another Martin Luther King Jr., another Nelson Mandela, another Mahatma Gandhi to bring about change. Each of us has to take responsibility for change. Saturday’s marches have to be the beginning, not the end.

And we have to start healing. That will be hard, and any hope that Donald Trump would lead in the healing vanished in his inaugural speech. We will all have to help pull the nation together.

Given our growing diversity and the depth of our divisions, I suspect that we will never be really whole. Some of those divisions may be insurmountable. But this country has gone through periods of raw, open division before. And we have survived.

We’ve got to be better than this. The health of the country and our standing in the world depend on it.
Two years before he became president of a fiercely divided nation, Abraham Lincoln worried about the dangers of our division. In a speech launching his campaign for a US Senate seat – a campaign he lost – he warned that “a house divided against itself can not stand.”

Lincoln’s warning is relevant today. And as Barack Obama’s election in 2008, his re-election in 2012, and his popularity now show, regardless of our divisions, we can find our better nature.

We’ll need spokespeople and leaders for our healing, to be sure, but as with the protests, we can’t wait for the next King or Mandela or Gandhi. Saturday’s protests provided proof that the will to change exists. Now the hard work has to begin.

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