Moving Forward: Called to Action in Trump’s America

Are we ready to talk yet? (Illustration by Martin Musialczyk)

By Coral Nafziger

“Prior to Trump being elected, this country was already showing signs of dysfunction, and it’s just come to a head now,” says Dr. Ernest Johnson, who teaches in SCC’s equity and social justice department.

For many at SCC, Trump’s election following a bigoted campaign illuminates something they had neither seen nor admitted.

Greta Moss, president of SCC’s Feminists United club, says she thought the activism of previous generations had made a bigger difference, leaving her generation able to focus on “moving on to more subtle, more encompassing racism and sexism.

“But now,” she says, “It feels like I got knocked back on my ass.”

According to Johnson, with a Trump presidency, there is “a huge segment of our population who could reasonably ask, ‘Are my rights going to be protected, or are my rights going to be rolled back under this administration?’”

Many on campus find a silver lining in the fact that covert biases have now been made overt. Johnson says that this has the potential to be positive if it leads people to take action. He warns though, that some people will be inclined to deny or deflect rather than take responsibility for the actions of their group.

For many who feel called to action, what to do is not entirely clear. The following list is a synthesis of advice from members of the SCC community, including Johnson; Rezina Habtemariam, SCC’s director of student life; Rachel David, from the gender and women’s studies department; Terry Taylor, from the political science department, Jessica Gonzalez, the tutoring services program coordinator; and various SCC students.

Self-Care – David says it is important to start by taking care of ourselves. She advises not minimizing emotions, but understanding that they are reasonable. Multiple students voiced the need to take care of themselves by staying home, talking with people they trust, or limiting the amount of media and social media they consume.

Reflect – Consider the areas where we hold privilege, how we benefit from our privileges and what choices we are making to protect those privileges.

Stop blaming – Johnson says, “It’s a human tendency to want to blame … somebody or some group.” He warns against oversimplifying, saying that blaming is reductive and inefficient. The results of this election were determined by several factors, not just one, and it doesn’t make sense to place blame on one group. The reality, he says, is that Trump was elected president, which means that we need to take action, and that we don’t have time to spend on assigning blame.

Act locally – Many people feel helpless to effect change on a national level, but according to Johnson, this is possible by starting at the local level. We can observe what is happening in our spheres of influence. Many people acting locally can gain momentum, according to Johnson, and turn their cause into something that becomes more important for those in power to address rather than suppress.

One student noted that Trump is not the only one with scary beliefs — there are other elected officials closer to home with similar opinions.

Be politically active – A mayoral election will be held next year, and in two years there will be an election on state issues.

Taylor says that the election in two years will be important because the people we choose will be the ones deciding how district lines are drawn. According to Taylor, after Obama’s first election, Republican representatives decided to focus their efforts on state legislative races, which ultimately has allowed them to draw district lines that favor their party. For more information about this, Taylor recommends a book from his class, Rat F**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy by David Daley.

Taylor also suggests writing to our representatives. He says that email petitions are generally ignored because they are seen as very easy to do, and therefore not as indicative of how people feel as real letters.

Talk – Conversations about politics and prejudices are not always easy. Habtemariam says that learning to be OK with being uncomfortable is crucial now. Johnson calls this having “courageous conversations,” or “difficult dialogues.”

Study nonviolence – According to Johnson, “Nonviolent action is the most productive.” He describes the core aspects of nonviolent protest:
1. Make demands of the system that are reasonable but likely to be denied.
2. If the demands are denied, encourage their reconsideration.
3. Exert constant pressure on the system around demands.
4. When the system begins to react, continue pushing until it is forced to concede or resort to force.
5. If you think violence will be used against you, bring in the press.

Be an accomplice – Both Johnson and Habtemariam encourage people who have privilege to move from being allies, who are relatively passive, to being accomplices. An accomplice, Habtemariam says, leverages their privilege to benefit others.

Accomplices recognize unfair societal rules, and work within them to stand up for others. They see where they have safety and power, and watch out for people who do not.
A white student in a campus election debriefing mentioned that he and others with privilege must be cautious about calling on others to act. He said that he knows that his whiteness allows him some protections not afforded to people of color.

Come together – There are several clubs on campus for community building. Some clubs represent groups who may feel threatened by Trump’s impending policies, such as Feminists United, Project Pride, Muslim Student Association, Alliance of Latin-American Students, Black Student Union, Disability Awareness Society, and Mental Health Awareness Society.

According to Habtemariam, joining these groups can be a great way to form community. She does, however, caution that it is not the role of any of these groups to educate others. Gonzalez says joining protests is also a way to form a community.

For many, the results of this election feel like the country is taking steps backwards. According to Johnson,“It’s an emergency, and we’re in a time that is going to call for a lot of critical thinking, reflection and strategizing on how we can maintain unity.”

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