Feminist ‘Leaders of the Resistance’ Plot Anti-Trump Strategy
By Evan Lips | March 1, 2017, 6:39 EST
CAMBRIDGE — On the same night that a divided Congress saw a firebrand president draw raucous cheers from Republican lawmakers and stone-cold silence from their Democratic colleagues, a panel of five feminist activists held court at Harvard University’s Kennedy School to discuss strategies for progressive activism.
“I will give a very short answer about reaching out to the other side,” said Debra Cleaver, founder of Vote.org, addressing an audience member’s question about how to work with those with different political leanings. “Only 25 percent of registered voters are Republicans, and yet they have the White House, the Supreme Court, Congress, 60 out of 99 legislative chambers, 33 out of 50 governorships, and a veto-proof trifecta in 25 states.
“This means that the current electorate does not match the population, so I think that it is important, if you do partisan work, to not get bogged down in reaching out to a slim majority of people who have come to dominate the country.”
Such was the theme of Tuesday evening’s forum, billed as a speaking engagement for “leaders of the resistance.”
The five panelists, all leading members of major political activism organizations, spent about an hour batting around various strategies and perspectives, all aimed at attempting to figure out how progressives can reclaim some semblance of legislative power.
Cleaver blamed some of the GOP’s dominance on the party’s “changing of district boundaries, so that politicians pick their voters instead of voters picking their politicians,” a remark that drew applause from the crowd.
As for President Donald Trump’s unexpected defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton in November, Andrea Hailey, of the Civic Engagement Fund, looked back on the last election cycle and noted that the Democratic Party’s strategy included “putting a lot of money into TV dollars.”
“There were these polls that said just 22 percent of millennials get their information from TV,” Hailey added. “When you hear that the election changed [for Trump] based on the ‘protest vote,’ there’s been a lot of blame in that, and I think that the blame lies in our campaign culture.”
Amanda Litman of Run for Something, an organization aimed at encouraging young people to get involved in politics, said one hurdle she’s been made aware of “especially by women and people of color” is the refrain, “I’m unqualified, my resume is not good enough, who am I to ask for votes?”
“Excuse me, but, mediocre white men never ask themselves that question — they never do.”
Jess Morales Rocketto, who launched Occupy Airports primarily with the help of social media following Trump’s executive travel order, recalled her experience working for Clinton’s campaign.
“I was her number-one fan, I’ve wanted to work for her since I was nine years old, and I was on her campaign for almost two years,” Rocketto recalled. “I would call what I’m still feeling right now is grief, it feels like trauma, I gave everything I had and we lost.
Rocketto said she began searching for more ways to get involved following Clinton’s defeat. When news hit of Trump’s travel ban, she noticed people on social media inquiring about the situation at various international airports.
“I literally tweeted ‘protest, JFK [airport], go there now,’ and ‘get in the car and go to the airport,’ there was certainly no money, it was just people who wanted to go,” Rocketto said.
She and a friend launched a website and compiled a list of international airports.
“We helped organize hundreds of protests around the country,” Rocketto added. “You don’t need any special skills — there is nothing stopping you from marching on campus or attending a town hall, that is what is going to make a difference in the next four years.”
Litman later said she’s “come around” to getting more active during Democratic primaries. She recalled an earlier speaking appearance she made in Atlanta last weekend at an event dubbed “DNC Members Meet the New Frontier.”
“I said it to their face — one — if you are not actively recruiting people other than rich old white male lawyers, you’re doing the wrong thing, and we will call you out for it, hold you accountable and will run people against you,” she said. “I have come full circle on primaries, in 2015 my mantra was never ‘primary,’ it feels bad, I now think we should primary everyone.”
An audience member from Houston, Texas asked the panel about how progressives can make a difference “in a blood-red state,” and specifically whether or not a move back to the Lone Star State in order to run for elected office is feasible.
“I grew up in a working class neighborhood, people aren’t like me, they don’t agree with me, and sometimes you just have to move on,” Cleaver said. “I could spend the rest of my life trying to convince people that there aren’t paid protesters, or I could find the people who know they’re not paid protesters, and just get them to go to the polls.
“I would say that the math probably suggests that trying to persuade people who are fundamentally opposed to what you’re selling is not worth your time.”
As for Trump, Litman said while it may be a “war,” it’s “made up of lots of little battles.”
“There’s no ‘one way’ to resist Trump,” she said. “It’s many, many battles, and we have to be waging them on all fronts.”
Leah Greenberg of Indivisible, a political group that has mimicked the strategies of previous groups such as the Tea Party by encouraging progressives to overwhelm GOP lawmakers at their district town hall meetings, said one way to think about the resistance to Trump is to think of it “as an army.”
“The way that I’m fond of thinking about it is as a symphony of activism,” she said. “The idea that we are all contributing in different ways and those interactions together are creating something really important and significant.”