On Wednesday afternoon, one day after Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States, a group of Richmond High School seniors walked out of school in protest, marching to City Hall and briefly stalling traffic on the I-80.
The high school was one of several in Richmond and across the East Bay where students led walkouts on Wednesday to express outrage at Trump’s victory.
“I’m out here because I do not support Trump,” said Isabel Saechar, a student at Richmond High. “We’re protesting now to make a point.”
Many students were at lunch when the Richmond High protest began; some said they didn’t immediately know what the walkout was about, but they joined in anyway.
“I was eating lunch with a couple of my buddies, and I see a mob walking,” said William Sithideth, a sophomore at Richmond High. “So I walked out with them, then after that, the whole school left—it was so crazy.”
Seniors led the walkout and other students followed—as did some teachers who joined the students once they reached City Hall.
“A lot of my students are undocumented or their families are undocumented,” said Leadership Public School teacher Gabriela Wyatt-Llort. “It feels really important to fight for who they are as students and as human beings in this country.”
The march out of Richmond High began around 12:30pm, with protesters heading to City Hall carrying hand-drawn signs and shouting, “F–k Trump.” They walked east on MacDonald Avenue and then south on San Pablo Avenue, before briefly stalling traffic where the I-80 East off-ramp meets Cutting Boulevard.
Richmond Police Detective Peter Martin said the department worked with the California Highway Patrol, several sheriff deputies from the County and officers from the city of San Pablo to block cars from exiting the freeway in order to ensure the students’ safety.
From the off-ramp, the students continued on to City Hall via S 37th Street and MacDonald Avenue, where they were joined by students from Kennedy High School, Leadership Public Schools and Lovonya DeJean Middle School.
El Cerrito students also walked out of class on Wednesday, marching 3.5 miles to meet protesters at Berkeley High School.
At Richmond City Hall, Gonzalo Rucobo, executive director and founder of Richmond-based Bay Area Peacekeepers, helped set up a sound stage for the students. A group of about 200 gathered in a circle and listened as classmates took turns sharing reactions to Tuesday’s election and thoughts on how they might be affected by a Trump presidency.
“This is someone who disrespects women, cultures and religions, ethnic groups,” said Kennedy High student Cornelius J. Burns. “How can you let someone like that be president?”
“I have minority written all over me,” said a female student. “Trump is not my president.”
Another student urged the group to pre-register to vote, even if they haven’t yet turned 18.
Rucobo facilitated the conversation. “We’re out here just supporting the kids,” he said. “We need our young people to speak up. They’re tired of what’s going on in our community and our country as a whole.”
Newly elected City Councilmember Melvin Willis also attended the walkout, along with several members of the RYSE Youth Center, who were at a meeting when they received word of the protest.
“I just joined in and marched with the youth,” Willis said.
Outside City Hall, Mayor Tom Butt’s director of policy and strategy, Alex Knox, thanked the students for speaking out and invited them to stay at City Hall for as long as they wanted.
“The city of Richmond is listening,” Knox said.
At the height of the protest, WCCUSD communications director Marcus Walton said the district was “monitoring the situation.”
“Obviously the safety of our students is of the utmost importance,” Walton said. New WCCUSD Superintendent Matt Duffy also attended the protest, joining the students after they had arrived at City Hall.
Detective Martin said the walkout was almost entirely without incident, apart from a report of batteries thrown at police officers on MacDonald Avenue and a separate report of possible vandalism at the ARCO gas station on S 37th Street.
The student’s willingness to collaborate with the department was “very helpful,” Martin said.
After escorting students on the march and at City Hall, officers patrolled nearby neighborhoods to ensure students returned home safe.
Rucobo said he wanted to “give a big shout out to RPD for always supporting the community in protest.”
The protesters dispersed around 2:40pm, after every student who wanted to had been given a chance to speak at the mic.
Most of the students left quietly, heeding Rucobo’s requests to keep to the sidewalks and to clean up after themselves.
But some students remained, sitting in small groups around Richmond’s Civic Center Plaza, talking about the day and what a Trump presidency will mean for their futures.