California: New grassroots activists lead Trump 'Resistance'

2017-11-03 19:14
Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)

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Los Angeles - Talia Osteen had never considered herself particularly political before the election of US President Donald Trump in 2016.

The 34-year-old musician from California was concerned by social issues and often volunteered to help the homeless.

But she found the cut-and-thrust of the Washington Beltway too divorced from her everyday life - until things got "personal".

"I'm a woman, as a woman I feel under attack", she explains as she goes door-to-door to register voters in Palmdale, a Los Angeles suburb.

"I'm married to another woman, our marriage is looked down upon by the majority in Congress, I'm Jewish and there are now people in our country rallying and chanting 'Jews will not replace us'... we're just taking a huge step backward as a country."

Like millions of others energised by the Republican president's assault on the legacy of his predecessor Barack Obama, and the emboldening of the American far-right, she decided to become more closely involved in what liberal activists have called the "Resistance".

And nowhere is this more pronounced than in California, an overwhelmingly Democratic state that has long been a bastion of progressive values.

"Every time there's a policy decision, California gets hit in the gut", says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, an analyst and professor in public policy at USC. "Without question we're looked at as the prime force in the resistance."

The "Golden State" is home to around a quarter of the 800 000 young immigrants brought as minors to the country illegally who face possible deportation following Trump's decision to rescind a programme that had allowed the so-called "Dreamers" to remain and work in America.

California has challenged the move as unconstitutional while its governor Jerry Brown has proclaimed the entire state a "sanctuary", meaning that local law enforcement is limiting its cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

He has also vowed to abide by the Paris climate change accord, leading a multi-state alliance that is seeking to uphold the United States' obligations, with or without Washington.

'Grassroots mobilisation remains strong'

Elsewhere, a federal appeals court in San Francisco – along with others in the states of Washington, Maryland and Hawaii – has played a key role in blocking Trump's much-maligned travel bans that have predominantly targeted Muslim-majority countries.

The day after Trump's inauguration, Los Angeles hosted the biggest "Women's March" to protest the election of the tycoon who had been caught boasting about groping women in a video revealed during the campaign.

Students at UC Berkeley meanwhile have risen up to prevent far-right speakers like Milo Yiannopoulos from spreading their message.

The temperature may have cooled slightly since the immediate aftermath of the election, but activists say grassroots mobilisation remains strong.

Mary-Virginia Watson, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America that closely aligns with Bernie Sanders, reports that the East Bay Chapter which she co-chairs "has grown from a small group 100 people to 800 people since the election, we keep growing".

Learning from the Tea Party

Many are newcomers, like singer-songwriter Osteen – who says she now spends most of her free time reading, tweeting and lobbying her local representatives.

"I became a lot more politically active and involved after Donald Trump was elected when I realised how fragile our democracy is and how much it requires us to become more active citizens", she says.

Opposition to Republican policies is not a new phenomenon. When George W Bush was president, many liberals rose up against the Iraq war "but that meant going to a rally or a protest", says Watson.

"In terms of canvassing for candidates I have not seen this kind of energy ever."

Jessica Craven, a 49-year-old saleswoman and singer, has volunteered for Democratic candidates since Al Gore stood for the 2000 election – but after the shock of Trump's victory, she decided to take her activism to the next level.

She now writes a daily newsletter with a list of actions to a legion of ever-growing followers.

"Hi, all, and happy Friday! Whooooo! I love Fridays... Let's do our calls with zeal and strength, knowing that tomorrow we get to put our feet up and eat bonbons", reads a typically jaunty release – this one asking for followers to mass email Scott Pruitt, the climate-change sceptic installed by Trump to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Progressives hope such grassroots activism will wrest back the advantage from the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement that has shaken US politics over the past eight or so years, yanking politics to the right and helping Republicans take control of the legislative and executive branches.

"We have to reach out... so we can regain the House and hopefully regain our country", says screenwriter Ari Posner, who, like Osteen, helps register voters.

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