Today marks the one-year anniversary of the election, and activists responding to the administration’s fascistic agenda are proving to be not just resilient but effective. Here’s why.
Though the election of Donald Trump has divided our country more starkly than ever before, it also inadvertently galvanized a resistance in its wake—millions of people who saw the dangers of a Trumpian apocalypse and immediately got to work. As Democrats’ victories in last night’s elections across the country showed (especially by Black, women, and trans candidates), ground game, fighting voter suppression, and messaging can make all the difference in the 2018 midterms.
Activists have come together online and on the streets and worked every day since November 9, 2016 to oppose Trump’s discriminatory and dangerous policies, his horrific cabinet choices, and his daily onslaughts against the many social and economic strides made under President Obama.
Because the resistance composes many voices, speaking out against many different agendas, from combatting white supremacy to staving off the rollback of women’s reproductive rights, it might not appear to some like a unified front. Yet, thanks to the swift efficiency of social media, the resistance is responsible for launching some 5,000 activist groups that have appeared like mushrooms in a radioactive landscape.
The resistance is poised to have a lot of staying power in part because it is covering so much ground, which is necessary when the common enemy is exacting daily, sometimes hourly attacks that “anger, upset or offend people,” says Karla Mastracchio, Ph.D., a professor of government specializing in political rhetoric and social movements at the University of South Florida. “What you’re resisting is constantly changing because the administration is unstable, so the target is always moving.”
One newly conceived effort by four women who worked on the digital and social media side of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, called Nasty Women Serve, is trying to flip the resistance script just a little bit and turn November 8 into a movement for good, rather than against evil. Co-founder, and former lead digital writer for the Hillary for American campaign, Kate Stayman-London of California says, “What can get exhausting about resistance efforts is that framing of always pushing back against these evil forces, which can be draining and exhausting.”
They’ve proclaimed November 8, 2017, the Hillary Rodham Clinton Day of Service “to put a little more good and kindness in the world.” They want to take the day away from Trump and re-center it around Hillary, the issues they focused on during the campaign such as the DREAM act, gun violence, and women’s reproductive health. They offer easy-to-do actions that can range from sending a donation, to organizing a house party. “People want to help, you just have to point them in the right direction,” she says.
They hope to make it an annual day of service.
DAME spoke to three other activist groups for a closer look at the hardworking people of the resistance holding the lines against Trumpism’s troubling creep.
Women’s health and reproductive rights
The non-partisan, non-profit organization NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League), originally founded in 1977, fights for reproductive freedom at the state and federal level through strategies aimed at preventing anti-choice legislation and candidates and supporting pro-choice efforts. The Trump administration has given them more than enough targets on which to focus their energy, and their members are rising to the challenges.
Just months after the election, NARAL’s volunteer activists “rose dramatically in ways that you don’t see after an election pretty much ever,” Sasha Bruce, VP for campaigns and strategies, tells DAME. “17,000 of our members said they wanted to volunteer.” She says they only started to see numbers level off some around the summer, which she calls “really notable given that it demonstrates that the outrage felt immediately after the election didn’t dip.”
Even more noteworthy, Bruce says, NARAL members are exhibiting a level of awareness that she calls “astounding,” about the issues. Members she’s spoken with are keenly aware of policy issues in detail, “because everyday Americans feel really discriminated against. They’re paying attention to things that are normally in the weeds. We’re not having to connect the dots for them to come; they’re already there—our job is to mobilize them to action,” she says.
In Nevada, for example, a state that passed proactive pro-choice legislation on the heels of the Trump election, where NARAL is participating in a recall election of an anti-choice Republican, Bruce says, “The engagement we have from our members and volunteer members is crazy. We’re doing house parties, phone banks from people’s homes like it was a general election year.”
Fighting “exorbitant numbers of anti-choice legislation” introduced by Republicans every year is nothing new to NARAL, Bruce says. Most of such legislation never makes it through Congress. The difference is that now, emboldened by an anti-choice President and Vice President, the House passed the 20-week abortion ban, despite that it is an often life-saving last resort for many women. They then let the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) lapse, putting 9 million children out of health care, and rolled back coverage for women to receive affordable birth control. This was all in the same week that the horrific massacre in Vegas stunned those whose hearts haven’t been replaced by NRA dollars.
The GOP’s response to Vegas was not tighter gun control, but taking harsher aim at women’s health as though preventing women from accessing abortion would magically make up for the loss of life.
And if all of this were not evidence enough of this administration’s disdain for the rights of women, let’s not forget that Trump’s first Supreme Court lifetime appointee, Neil Gorsuch, the end-result to Mitch McConnell’s outrageous blocking of Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, is stringently anti-choice.
Despite these odds, Bruce says she is “cautiously optimistic” that the abortion ban won’t make it through the Senate, and she hope is what keeps her going. “I’m grateful that we have numbers that exemplify that hope,” she says. “Even if you look only at who turned out in last year’s elections, the majority of them were unwaveringly on the side of women, of equality, of trying to do better by our kids. People are feeling their civic responsibility more than ever right now.”
She sees NARAL’s job to use their significant infrastructure to keep their activists engaged. “It’s a long road between now and election day, 2018, but it’s also been a long road since election day last year, and activism has maintained and it’s high.”
Gun violence and criminal justice reform
Trying to budge the Sisyphean issue of gun control is one of the most intractable areas for activists, as the two most recent mass shootings in Las Vegas in October, and Texas week reinforce yet again. Republicans continue to parrot empty phrases, chastising heartbroken and outraged citizens that “now is not the time” for “politicizing” an issue that takes more lives in the United States than anywhere else in the world. The NRA keeps its continual chokehold on members of Congress whose hefty donations to the organization make it nearly impossible to legislate even the most outrageous of weapons for an individual to own—automatic rifles. Not to mention the Trump administration has the audacity to proclaim mass shootings a mental health issue after rolling back a law that would keep these death-devices out of the hands of people with a history of mental illness.
Yet Amber Goodwin, Founding Director of the Community Justice Reform Coalition (CJRC) in D.C. is not deterred. CJRC is a national coalition working on policy reform centering communities of color at the intersection of criminal justice reform—aiming to bring change that “does no harm,” to these already marginalized communities. The organization will celebrate its one year anniversary on November 16th. Goodwin has 17 years of experience in this area, and was formerly National Advocacy Director for Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS) founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived being shot in the head (along with 18 others) by Jared Loughner in 2011.
CJRC takes a unique grassroots approach to the issue, drawing on data-backed solutions to put the best people into leadership roles, those often considered last and least—the people who have been directly and indirectly affected by gun violence. This includes the people left behind in communities, most commonly communities of color, people who survive mass shootings, whose family members die, or who survive domestic violence or suicide.
The numbers are stark: 12,000 people die by gun violence every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 93 people die every day. But the stories we hear about in the media are the most egregious—the tragic mass murders, which, she says only account for around two percent of all the shooting deaths each year. “In the same year that 26 people died in Sandy Hook [most of whom were children], 6000 black men were murdered,” she says. “But you probably didn’t hear about any of those.”
CJCR has been building a coalition that centers victims of gun violence, especially in communities of color, through intergenerational, empowering collaboration. Those who have been doing this work for decades work alongside people who are newly thrust into the fight. CJRC also helps these leaders build the resources they need, be they financial, organizational, or administrative. The key to doing all of this, Goodwin says, is asking victims of gun violence what they need, rather than making assumptions, and then empowering them to make a difference within their communities.
They also work tirelessly to appeal to other stakeholders, leading trainings and workshops to bring people who are not directly impacted by gun violence, but who want to make a difference, into the act. What can’t be done at the policy level, they attempt to tackle at the community level.
“Everybody has a part to play in reducing gun violence, and there are tangible ways that anybody who is able can find, online or off-line to help amplify solutions that are already happening,” she explains.
Climate change and environmental protections
Climate scientists have been ringing their alarm bells for decades about climate change, but never louder than in the past few years, as the research unequivocally reveals that if every country does not do its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we will pass the tipping point in global temperature causing regular, cataclysmic weather events we are unprepared to handle (as this year’s back-to-back hurricanes, floods and wildfires demonstrated). Yet the Trump administration continues to actively disregard this science in favor of the kinds of industry deregulations that made the EPA necessary in the first place in 1970, and pulling out of the multi-country, emissions-reducing Paris Agreement.
“There seems to be a real lack of respect for the institutions that we as a society created decades ago to protect our air, our water, and our livelihoods,” says Executive Director of the Earth Day Initiative, John Oppermann, based in New York.
The non-profit Earth Day Initiative was founded by a broad coalition of environmental groups in 1990 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day, which the website describes as “a catalyst for ongoing education, action and change” on behalf of the environment, but it is finding itself more crucial now than ever.
Earth Day Initiative “saw an uptick in interest in what we do in the past year,” he explains. He feels people are eager to do something to feel like they’re moving things in a positive direction, “when they’re so terrified about the direction the country is going in.”
Luckily, Earth Day Initiative has developed a campaign oriented around empowering people to act by focusing their activist energies. “If you give people a list of a thousand things, they won’t do any of them. But if you take away the dilemma of choice, people will be galvanized to act.” They narrowed their focus to the intersection between “impact and convenience” and are emphasizing helping people switch over to clean energy in whatever ways they can.
He feels his organization is doing their part to raise awareness about the “unbelievably irresponsible decisions and statements that have come out of [the Trump] administration since taking office,” and like many of the activists involved in this work, he has faith in the people if not the government.
“We have overcome great environmental obstacles together in the past and we are encouraging people to believe that we can do the same again when it comes to climate change and other pressing environmental challenges,” he says.
Though outrage and fear may have spurred the resistance into action, hope and optimism are keeping it going.
Mastracchio hopes the Trump administration is taking note of the resistance: “Somebody has to lead, and if it’s not going to come from the white house, other voices will fill the void.”
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