A week after the United States elected Donald Trump as the new president, my friend Julia Robinson and I rolled up our sleeves and got back to work. Both with a background in activism and community engagement, we were eager to create a space where our friends and community could come together to encourage each other in actively supporting various issues and protecting our rights and the planet. We created the 617 Forum.
Reflecting on how November 8 unfolded, I found solace in the fact that I had experienced intense moments of dedication, passion, and love with the rest of the volunteers at the Hillary for America office in San Francisco. We called thousands of people from Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina; we spoke with Democrats and Republicans; ObamaCare beneficiaries and first time voters. The air in the room was enthusiastic; we felt sure we’d have our first Madame President. Like most democrats and like a lot of Republicans, we were blind to the reality of the situation.
That evening, the United States elected a president whose values could not lie farther from mine, whose voice has roared with hatred against all people, and whose mockery of the most qualified candidate we’ve had has made a fool of women, progress, and human rights. I am aware of the ways in which those who turned out for Donald Trump feel they have been cheated or left behind, and I can understand their struggle. But by standing with him, half of America stood for misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, racism, denial of climate change, health coverage uncertainty. We now face the risk of having invaluable rights taken away and we cannot normalize ignorance, incivility, or racism.
Like many Americans, Julia and I felt a sense of urgency and decided it was time to come together in stronger ways than ever to ensure that we protect our rights and that of our community, and the planet.
Both of us have a background in community engagement and activism. Julia, while at Columbia University, was a lead activist on campus, and now works for a non-profit organization that advices big business in how to be more socially and environmentally responsible. As for myself, I began my community involvement back in high school when I moved to the States, focusing on engaging the latino community in education initiatives. My work blossomed in college where I led an organization providing education and legal services to the immigrant community, and continues today in San Francisco as a lead volunteer at FWD.us. As I am not a citizen, I cannot vote, but believe that civic engagement is vital in the place one calls home.
On our first gathering which we now call 617 Forum, we welcomed friends who wanted to get more educated and involved following the election. We discussed how we can all — individually and collectively — contribute our time, expertise, and money to move this country forward for the benefit of all. Because we know that sustained action is necessary for positive change, we will host gatherings once a month.
The goals Julia and I defined for our gathering are as follows:
- Civic engagement: Building and participating in a community of engaged citizens that seek to be allies for marginalized people and the planet.
- Policy engagement: Protesting and stopping legislation and other policies over next 4 years that harm people and the planet or threaten democracy and our constitution.
- Political engagement: Taking back the House, Senate, and presidency in 2 and 4 years, and deepening our engagement in local and state politics.
- Popular engagement: Bridging the gap among family, friends, and others with opposite views to build greater understanding and empathy.
We’ll accomplish these goals by making tangible commitments to take an action on the issues we care about. And, most importantly, we’ll hold each other accountable for those.
Here are a few of the conversation Highlights:
- Ten of us met up Thursday night. We are teachers and lawyers and producers; we work in apparel, nonprofits, communications, startups.
- We came here to be peer pressured to be engaged, to find a community, to be among others who can confirm that we’re not living in an upside down universe. We’re here to make sure our friends, our neighbors, our students feel safe, and to fight for our rights and for the rights of those whom we love.
- Some of us had never done any kind of activism or political involvement before, others had volunteered on political campaigns, others had participated in college activism.
- Issues we care about: equality, racial justice, women’s health and reproductive rights, immigration, health and education reform, gay marriage, diversity and inclusion, truth and facts, science, environmental justice, climate change, the dignity of American ideals, our democracy.
Here are some of the commitments we made:
- Direct action: Call the House Oversight Committee and ask them to look into Trump’s conflicts of interest and financial history. 202–225–5074. They are exploring whether to hold hearings (many people committed to this).
- Direct action: Set up recurring donations to groups that work on issues affected by a Trump presidency (many people committed to this).
- Direct action: Make 5 phone calls to representatives; contact Senator Dianne Feinstein.
- Direct action: Buy a paid subscription to a local newspaper, the New York Times.
- Direct action: Sign up for Kamala Harris’ newsletter.
- Direct action: Sign important petitions.
- Direct action: Volunteer.
- Research and report: Understand which governorships are up for election in 2018, as this is important for redistricting and for leading from the state level.
- Research and report: How can we help with voter registration and engagement?
- Research and report: How can we be most effective in calling our representatives?
- Research and report: Research how to have a productive conversation with someone who has different views from you, and speak up when you hear someone say something from a place of privilege.
- Research and report: Understand Trump’s environmental appointments and what this means for the environment.
- Research and report: Identify nonprofits that need skilled support, connect with people who have those skills and are willing to provide them for a discount or pro bono.
- Community engagement: Work to have empathy for Trump voters and connect with them respectfully over Thanksgiving.
- Community engagement: Seek out how to get more straight, cis-gendered, white men involved as allies.
- Community engagement: Start a conversation with students about morality and role models, give them tools to question the status quo.
- Community engagement: Read websites from the other side, such as Drudge Report; build a Twitter list of right-wing accounts (so that people can follow along without giving them follows/having to see it in the news feed).
- Community engagement: Look strangers in the eye, and put down the phone. Try to be more loving/thoughtful to all humans, especially those impacted by Trump.
- Community engagement: Develop signals of ally-ship, such as wearing a safety pin, developing a digital safety pin.
- Community engagement: Research and set up ways to keep this community engaged and active, including the best communications tools.
We welcome familiar and unfamiliar faces into the community that is the 617 Forum and encourage everyone to make commitments and keep each other accountable to engage in positive and sustained action.