More than 100 people turned out Thursday night for a candlelight march dubbed a "solidarity walk" to condemn rhetoric by President-elect Donald J. Trump, which they decried as bigoted.
Carrying signs that read "Love trumps hate" and candles, the demonstrators, who included people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds, met at 905 S. Lombard Ave. in front of Buzz Café at 6:30 p.m. and made their way west down Harrison.
The event had a somber tone, a stark contrast from television images of protests that have taken place in cities across the country, some of which have become violent.
News accounts have estimated that thousands turned out for anti-Trump protests in downtown Chicago on Wednesday.
Oak Park resident Emma Arnold, 37, told demonstrators on Thursday night before the march that she has never seen people in her community so devastated, telling those who attended, "We will show love trumps hate."
The group mainly marched down Harrison Street, turned north on South Ridgeland Avenue, headed east on Van Buren Street, then back down South Lombard Avenue to the starting point, as passing vehicles honked their horns in solidarity.
Arnold said that she had never organized such an event before and did not consider herself a political activist. She originally planned to meet with a few neighbors to hold a candlelight procession through the art district, she said, but a flier posted on Facebook less than 24 hours prior to the event attracted between 100 and 200 people.
Arnold contacted the Oak Park Police Department and was given approval for the march. Several police officers were present during the march to direct traffic.
The purpose of the march, Arnold said, was to speak out against the misogynistic, bigoted and Islamophobic rhetoric from the Trump campaign. "We're saying we won't accept those ideas into our vision of America," she said. Emphasizing that she is not rejecting a peaceful transfer of power, Arnold worried that there are "dark days ahead of us."
Cameron McLauglin, 36, who helped organize the event with his wife, Nell McNamara, 35, spoke at the end of the procession, telling demonstrators, "As a white man born in America … I feel afraid. I can't imagine how people of a different race feel in this country."
He said the demonstration aimed to show that "we have love for each other."
McNamara said in a telephone interview that the event attracted enough interest to prompt creating a Facebook page titled, "OPRF It Takes a Village." She said the group aims to bring people together to "support each other and channel our energy into something that's politically productive."
"What's really important to remember is that we can't defeat hatred with hatred; we have to defeat it with love," she said, encouraging people on both sides to have an open dialogue. "I feel like we have to listen to everyone, including the people who voted for Trump; maybe that hateful rhetoric isn't what they believe in either. We have to listen to them and learn from it and hopefully come up with something better in the future."
Several people at the demonstration said they are frightened by the results of the election and reports across the nation of violence perpetrated against Muslims, those in the LGBTQ community, women and people of color.
Kelly Darin, 30, said she is not an activist and usually doesn't openly discuss politics, but "in this election I haven't been able to be quiet.
"I know many people in marginalized communities who feel attacked; it's important to support them no matter who is president," she said, adding, "It's important to let people know they are not alone."
Darin wore a safety pin on the collar of her dress and explained that wearing them was popularized in the United Kingdom, following the country's vote in June to withdraw from the European Union. News organizations have reported a spike in violence against Muslims and others following the vote that has become popularly known as Brexit.
The pins were aimed to be a signal of support and safety to those who might feel targeted for hate crimes. It also invites those who feel they are being intimidated or openly harassed to talk.
Thursday night's march was the first of two gatherings planned for Oak Park. The Suburban Unity Alliance [SUA], an organization established earlier this year, is holding a rally at noon this Saturday, Nov. 12 in Scoville Park.
"Let us come together and continue to set an example for surrounding communities that we are still united! That as Americans, we will heal and continue to work toward creating a society where we are all valued equally despite our differences!" reads a flier distributed by SUA.
Arnold said her group was not involved in organizing Saturday's event but she supports their efforts.
"We do not have any [future demonstrations] planned in the immediate future, but we're looking for opportunities to bring the community back together," she said.