It’s impossible to ignore it—this is a weird, weird day in New York City. The Trump-fueled angst is palpable. Subway cars are eerily silent. Everyone is avoiding eye contact. Masses of people are moping around like their dog just died. But a few positive thinkers are channeling good vibes at an impromptu gathering that started this morning in Union Square.
Hours before the anti-Trump march scheduled to start at 6pm in Union Square and proceed up 5th Avenue to Trump Tower, Rob Aquino and Lauren Lacy stood solemnly near the southwest corner of the park holding signs conveying their anxieties about yesterday’s elections. “I am gay, I am in love, I am terrified,” Aquino’s sign read. “I’m a woman, I’m scared + I’m sad,” said the sign carried by Lacy.
A steady stream of well-wishers paused to hug Rob and Lauren as they passed by on 14th Street, offering a few words of encouragement or simply a knowing nod.
“I just woke up feeling helpless,” Aquino said, wondering aloud whether he and his Australian boyfriend have a future in the United States. “The progressive future that I thought was set is now up in the air.”
Aquino, 25, and Lacy, 30, said they’d been there for about two hours, and that the experience had improved their moods. “There’s a sense of community,” Lacy said. “I feel like if I was by myself at home right now I would be lost. This is hope. It makes me feel like there are other people here that care.”
The two said that there had only been a few negative responses shouted from afar. “It’s been overwhelmingly beautiful,” Lacy said. Soon after, a man in a Trump shirt heckled Aquino and Lacy as he walked by. “Calm down!” he shouted. “You guys are fucking hysterical!”
Nearby, a 24-year-old Brit named Isaac, who declined to give his last name, stood by himself holding a sign advertising “free hugs” and embracing passersby. He hadn’t planned to be hugging strangers today, he explained. “It’s not my sign. I got it off some guy who was giving out free hugs and he had to go. He left, I joined, and now I’m holding the sign. I think his name is Mike Bruffee,” he said, pointing to a social media handle, @MikeBruffee, printed in the corner of the sign. “Apparently he’s going to come back, but I’m not going to leave until I find someone to give the sign to.”
The scene took on a jovial tone as four women dressed in Rosie the Riveter outfits appeared, hugging everyone in sight. The group explained that they’re members of the Chifferobe Tropigals, a ne0-vaudeville act, and that they’d decided this morning to don their outfits all day and roam the city as a kind of mobile cheer brigade before performing tonight at the Slipper Room. “It sounds cheesy, but our job as a collective is to bring people happiness,” troupe member Kristen Minsky said.
Two more huggers, Don and Jasmine, were stationed a few paces away. They said this was a spur-of-the-moment thing for them, too.
“I was on the train and it felt like The Twilight Zone,” Jasmine said. “You could tell everybody wanted to say something, but nobody would. I just broke and said, ‘I wish somebody would smile.'” With the ice broken, previously stone-faced commuters were soon cracking smiles and even telling jokes, she said.
“It just takes those small acts. It’s like what Mike said: these are the front lines to build the morale back up.”
Wait, Mike? As in, @MikeBruffee?
Don and Jasmine nodded. They too had been recruited to the hugging cause by the same friendly stranger. This Mike Bruffee guy might be onto something.
Went to Union Square by myself with an idea. By the time 3 o’clock rolled around all these people had showed up to give out #freehugs. I’ve never been more touched by a simple idea: give strangers the chance for a hug, let all the suffering come out. 10 people walked up to me or left the hug in tears. I was crying too at several points. @jassees @don_the_great @isaachenrion Photo taken by @kitsusername