BY KOREN FRANKFORT
I drove to DC on Thursday January 19th. The roads were still, empty and eerie. The sky was clear.
When I arrived, I got out of my car and grabbed my patchwork overnight bag from the Civil Rights museum in Memphis and my laptop, adorned with pride stickers and pro-Arts Education stickers. I got to my friend’s apartment where I stayed on the couch; my host was a fellow Young Democrat.
My friend and I had a beer, talked about being broke, then went to bed.
Immediately in the morning, I went to check on my car to make sure it wasn’t apt to be towed. Helicopters were whirring above my head in a low rumble, the noise and pulsing of it made me nauseous – well — maybe it was the noise, maybe it was what was about to happen. My car was safe, so I headed back upstairs and sat my behind at my computer to send some invites out, as I do. I turned on the inauguration grudgingly to see what would unfold.
On the TV screen, the spectacle unfolded. Michelle’s face was radiant as always, but her expression said, “Trump is a tool, but which one? Certainly not a hammer.”
If I were to assign a tool, I would say he was a pair of electric scissors – a tool that basically makes it ok to be bad at virtually everything — that and you are more likely to not be able to cut in a straight line, but I digress…
Mike Pence was sworn in by Clarence Thomas. Poetic. Pence was sworn in by the Supreme Court Justice known for sexual harassment, drawing yet more attention to the unabashed and blatant lack of shame had by this incoming administration. *Note: Trump picked a woman (with zero experience) for schools and an African American (with zero experience) to run HUD – or low income housing. Nothing says inclusivity like stereotype driven, far reaching attempts to adhere to rights initiatives of old.
After the highly partisan, divisive and inflammatory speech in which Trump said he’s going to listen to us unlike every president before him — some seated on the stage with him (with “oh no he didn’t” smattered all over their faces). I headed to a party with other Young Dems. It was a pizza party dedicated to helping women.
I schmoozed and discussed rape and genocide, as one does in a light-hearted gathering where PBRs are served. There were, of course, other out of towners there for the meat and potatoes event of the weekend – The Women’s March the next day.
We talked about why we were there. Me, because I experienced gendered violence. Because my hate for intolerance and corruption is like a truck. Because, based on my familial experience of war, the crimes of war and the effects and experience of diaspora, poverty, racism and so on is so extensive that I feel like I have directly inherited the trauma of my father which obliges me to fight. Because I have former students who can’t get appointments at Planned Parenthood because Christie cut the funding. Because I have been researching millennial engagement and student loan debt for years now and it’s a huge hole in our base, our party, our process. Because I scrubbed floors and waited tables to help keep a roof over my Papa’s head while he was sick. Because insurance was lackluster at the time he was sick. Because I gave up music, art and everything I cared about in my childhood because I was sufficiently livid and felt I had to …. And, hey, you guessed it, because there are many others who experienced pain due to structurally imposed inequities and violence. … But I digress.
I chatted with a woman who works with a non-profit that focuses on serving abused women in the Hudson Valley region of New York. She touched upon issues that many of us care about – domestic violence and rape. She told me what her day-to-day was like. Employees of her non-profit go with women to court and hold their hands while they face a man who may have broken one of their bones, terrorized them, raped them, or brought them to the brink of death. Within the purview of their services, women are provided with hotel vouchers, toiletries, changes of clothes.
As stated, the women this nonprofit worker serves are abused so severely that they need to leave in such a way that they must leave empty handed for their personal safety. Many times, these women are intercepted from the hospitals that treated their bruises and snapped limbs and are then escorted to undisclosed locations. They must not be found by their abusers because severe violence, even death, is a possibility. These services are financed by federal funding under the Federal Violence Against Women Program – as of January 19, President Trump has stated that this funding is queued for the chopping block. This is why this non-profit worker marched. Not just that she could lose her (non-profit) job, a job that would never make her rich, but because lives are at risk.
I could have talked all night with this woman, but I wanted to protest the Trump policies even more desperately in light of this. I hopped in a car to the site of the location where the protests were happening. My driver was a man from Ethiopia in his late thirties. (Apparently, DC has the largest Ethiopian population outside of Ethiopia.) This gentleman left Ethiopia to go to Cuba to get an education where he lived for seven years. He finished his Bachelor’s in in Cuba, but was forced out of Cuba before he could complete his masters. He is an asylee here. I asked him, “How do you feel about what’s happening here?”
He hesitated. To reassure him, I said, “My father had to leave two continents because of war. I am just curious because I think your story matters too — You don’t have to answer. ‘No’ is a complete sentence as far as I am concerned.”
He paused. “I am scared.”
“Why?” I asked.
He explained that he is Muslim. He is peaceful. He has children here. He thinks that because he looks like an ‘other’ that he may be in harm’s way. He explained that he didn’t want to be forced out again.
“I understand, what do you think happened?”
He said people hate dark people. He said he endured a great deal of racism in Cuba. He said that now people feel more comfortable expressing hatred.
I thanked him for sharing with me. I explained that I am a writer, as I do, and found what he said moving. He wished me luck.
I got out of the car. DC was mobbed. I had to walk a while to get to another friend in DC. She works with people seeking Asylum in DC as a social worker. She went to highschool with me and she is brilliant. Unfortunately, it was really hard to find her.
I walked into a whirlwind of chaos. While a punk band played in the background, I walked into a scene of MOSTLY anti-Trump rioters. Windows were smashed at the Starbucks near 13th and I NW. There was a torched limo still smoking and a smashed garbage can just outside the Washington Post Building. It smelled like chemical based smoke, melted plastic, marijuana smoke. (These are the people whose ‘helping’ isn’t really helping).
Police were in full riot gear. There was a push and pull between the protesters and police, ebbs and flows. People were nursing their pepper sprayed eyes. And, in the usual anarchist sway, a well-aged man with very long hair had to get naked because nothing says ‘eff you’ like unwelcome nudity — no way was he getting cuffed by cops without at least one awkward encounter.
I paced around and found my friend eventually. The smell of burning tires made me wheeze. My friend told me about her day. I told her about mine, but we both fell upon the subject of our fear and how it related to what we do.
My friend helps immigrants get asylum. People who may have endured such extreme hardship, TRUE hardship in other countries. We had a bevvie, a snack and asked the red hat wearers if they ‘Made America Great Again.’ They said yes. We waited until we hopped in the lyft to disagree.
The next morning, I headed over to the march. There were three hours of speeches and programming — 10 to 1 pm. I couldn’t help but think, isn’t this why we lost? … But I digress, plus the speeches were energizing. Michael Moore and Ashley Judd were riling everyone up. Signs read: White Women, rise up; Free Melania; Black Lives Matter; ACA Saved My Life; Not my President. The pith and wit was extensive. The energy was intense. The shots at Trump for abusing Melania were not productive. There was a sea of women in pink pussy hats and I couldn’t help but think of the Madeleine Albright quote: There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other. If that is true, I was amidst angels.
Again and again, funding cuts were at the front of people’s thoughts.
Cuts to access to healthcare. Cuts to the arts. Cuts to safe spaces for women. Cuts to the Humanities. Cuts to Public Broadcasting. Cuts to Minority Business Development. Cuts to economic development. Cuts to the International Trade Administration. Cuts to the Civil Rights Administration. Cuts to all things sustainability focused. The list goes on and on.
Women, Immigrants and Minorities all suffered catastrophic blows all in the first day of Trump taking office. The environment proverbially had gasoline poured all over it with a lit match dangled just above.
We marched to the White House with Black Lives Matter protesters alongside us. We sang traditional spirituals. The streets were flooded with pissed off women. Women marched in Lab coats – women who are good at math and science. The anti-choice activists lined the streets holding signs of fake, waxy, dismembered body parts meant to guilt women and to scare us. Nonetheless, we surrounded them peacefully to yell out the mantra ‘My Body, My Choice!’
The march was long, passed the Washington monument slightly covered in fog. The women descended onto the white house like a pink tide rising slowly and then upon it. We had them surrounded.
I tried to find meaning in all of this. I asked why people came. I read their signs. And if I were to pull out the themes, the following would be they:
Trump didn’t win. I am Muslim and I didn’t hurt anyone. I don’t know why they hate us. I am Christian and Trump is violating my principles. I am Jewish and KKK people hate us too. I am afraid of what will happen if I don’t protest. I am pro-sustainability. I am a woman. I have daughters. I love my wife. I am Black and they are hurting us too. Solidarity. I am afraid of what will happen if I don’t protest. Pence is bad too. I am LGBTQ and they hate us too. I am a supporter of immigrants. My father is an immigrant. My mother is an immigrant. I am an immigrant. I was raped. She was raped. I was beaten. He was beaten. They were beaten. I am afraid of what will happen if I don’t protest.
I had to walk a few miles to even be ride-share accessible. I needed to decompress. To rest my feet. On my last ride to my DC lodging, I talked to one more driver. I asked her – like everyone – what she thought of what was happening. She said, “Well… I think this is what America really looks like.” I left it at that. Her answer was succinct enough for me.
The days to follow unveiled a vast array of echoes, echoes of Gonen’s book The Roots of Nazi Psychology, echoes of Leni Riefenstahl, and much of my graduate coursework on ethnic conflict and genocide. It was nearly impossible to keep up with executive order after executive order. Blow after Blow. But I tried.
My opinion, which is long overdue in this piece, is that the country is at a tipping point. For years, I have studied millennial behavior, brain drain, student loan debt and the factors that influence the engagement of my generation. Millennials are an active generation. Millennials opt NOT to go on vacation out of fear for our livelihoods. Millennials volunteer to better our communities and millennials have, historically, opted to be engaged in the nonprofit sector in lieu of civic engagement.
The women’s march was the turning point. However, we are a generation in survival mode and sustainable engagement must be put in place – that probably means listening to potential voters who may not have had the buy-in capability that was once so crucial in the political arena. As Michael Moore has correctly pointed out, millennials are needed desperately in the fight to keep our country safe for all our friends and neighbors, brothers and sisters. I saw a lot of everyone there, but that is not a statistically sound assessment which basically always annoys me.
In light of the international climate, historical precedent and the already researched precursors of world conflict, we must acknowledge fully that there is serious ethnic conflict in the countries who we were allied with in WWII. That the international economy is unhealthy. That scapegoating of ethnic groups, racial groups and gender is occurring now. That entire age groups are muted in politics because they are priced out of politics. That informational access is being minimized and steered. That the volume is turned way up in all of these concerns and these were all factors in both world wars which were set off by serious international incidents. We are at a precarious and dangerous precipice.
Our domestic issues and our international issues are peaking in the red. Berlin had protests when the Nazis took power. Without adherence to the truism that those who don’t acknowledge or know of history are doomed to repeat it. Sponsor a millennial in politics. That’s a start and remain in motion.
Remember, the physics of politics are real:
Things at rest will stay at rest unless affected by an outside force. Things in motion will stay in motion unless affected by an outside force.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Force equals mass times acceleration.
Trump was an outside force putting us in motion. He was the equal/opposite reaction to Obama and Clinton. We must increase our mass and accelerate to be the force we would like to be. We are in a unique position to pivot once again.
Koren Frankfort is a Koren is a policy analyst, political consultant, a self starter (and a concise writer) from Montclair.