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Faces of the Resistance: Activism in the Trump Era

politics

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Fordham University

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Faces of the Resistance: Activism in the Trump Era

4.8.18

Read time: 5 min.
Written and Photographed by Justin Ragolia

On a wet Thursday night in Columbus Circle, a familiar scene unfolded.

“Would you like one?" asked an earnest-looking woman in her 50’s, thrusting her stack of paper into the path of a quick-moving passerby.

A man nearly collided with her small frame, but a smile spread across his face as he thumbed the postcard he’d been handed, which showed a graphic of The White House with the text “IMPEACH” positioned underneath.

“I’ll take two!” he laughed, reaching for a second.

She nodded as he walked away, tucking her postcards into her coat pocket before reaching for the poster-board that’d been resting between her knees. It bore the call-to-action “RISE AND RESIST.”
The woman then raised it high above her head and fell in with the group of about 30 marchers demonstrating outside the Broadway entrance to Trump International Hotel and Tower. Their team has gathered for a weekly “Impeach” protest every Thursday for the last three months.

Jeanne Baron

“It’s a real mix of people who have never organized ever before in their lives and people who are serious old salts,” said Jeanne Baron, a leader on the Rise and Resist facilitation team. “One of the really beautiful things about Rise and Resist is it doesn’t feel like [experience] matters. It just feels like people are sharing knowledge in a really generous way.”

Rise and Resist is one of the many direct action protest organizations formed as a response to the 2016 U.S. election. As their mission statement reads, their team of volunteers is dedicated to “opposing, disrupting, and defeating any government act that threatens democracy, equality, and civil liberties.” Many of the organization’s members, who are mostly between the ages of 35 and 70, have roots in ACT UP, the radical coalition that gained prominence in the 80’s and 90s for giving the AIDS crisis nationwide attention.

Members of Rise and Resist work to create positive change around a host of local and national issues, like corporate cultures of sexual misconduct, anti-immigrant policy in New York City businesses, and President Trump’s alleged emoluments violations. They draft petitions, organize protest events, hold vigils, and inundate state representatives’ inboxes with lists of grievances and proposed solutions. Their aim? To act against "the oppressive policies that define the current government regime."

For Jeanne, who lives in Brooklyn with her partner and her 18 year-old son, organized resistance isn’t just a political strategy, it’s a haven from what she considers to be a hostile and alienating political agenda.
“It was the only refuge I could think of, and an immediate one. For what to do with a feeling of despair and powerlessness over someone assuming the presidency who’s an anti-democratic nihilist,” she said.

Dann Ramirez

Members of Rise and Resist say that this sense of safety comes from the organization’s democratic nature and lack of hierarchy. “Anyone can come in and just start helping, that’s the beauty of it,” said Dann Ramirez, a member of the organization’s media team. “We work as a beehive.”

Despite their group identity and strong support system, Rise and Resist’s most devoted leaders spend much of their free time home alone on nights and weekends, chipping away at the myriad administrative tasks necessary to run such coordinated political action.

“It’s a huge part of my life. I spend many hours a week on this,” Jeanne said. “I’m careful not to burn out. I don’t do more than I want to, but I want to do a lot.”

Her family’s understanding and support has helped quite a bit as well. Jeanne’s partner is also an ardent member of Rise and Resist, and her son has confidence in the importance of her work.

“He trusts me that this needs to be done. He doesn’t wanna go to his mom’s meetings, but I think he’s kind of proud of me. He’s proud that we do this.”

Rise and Resist work takes up a big portion of Ramirez’s day-to-day routine, too. His background is in film production and writing, and in addition to his work creating content and live-streaming protest events for Rise and Resist, he runs an online retail business.

He was reluctant to share many details of his personal life, as members of the organization have received their fair share of backlash from Trump supporters.

He told the story of one Rise and Resist member who was thrown out of Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremony for blowing a whistle and disrupting the moment during which Trump was sworn into office. As Ramirez put it, “One of these alt-right guys,” tried to use the video she recorded of herself being escorted off the national mall to track her down and dox her.

Because of the members’ older average age and their commitment to nonviolence, Rise and Resist members don’t fear violent backlash from law enforcement.

“Generally, there’s an understanding there,” said Ramirez. “We let the police know our rights. We know where we’re allowed to be and what we’re allowed to do.”

“But we’ll still get arrested, for sure,” he chuckled, specifying that this was still a rare occasion.
Despite their bleak view of the current administration, the 100 some-odd members of Rise and Resist find hope in the positive change that groups like theirs have helped usher into society.

“We’re seeing more women, more trans women, more people of color, more disabled people being in positions of power,” Ramirez said. “So we’re seeing, on the other side, some amazing, beautiful things happen as well.”


Martin Quinn

“It helps me to be around people that care so much about injustice that they’re willing to spend a huge chunk of their free time fighting against this evil and greed, and spending even more time helping people that need it,” said Martin Quinn, a member of the media team who spearheads the Weekly Impeach Protest project.

Like her fellow activists, Jeanne trusts in the power of movement.

“For folks who are cynical, I would say all they’ve got to do is just open some history books,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean you can count on it. It’s uncertain, but it’s just the best shot we’ve got.”


*An earlier version of this article can be found here.