One year ago today, I published my first blog post on 21 Cent Peace. At the time, the political news cycle was already dominated by Donald Trump. But I, and many others, hoped and believed we would be living under Hilary Clinton’s presidency by now. For the first time, the United States would be led from the highest office by a woman! Even before the “Trump Tapes” showed the future president bragging about sexually assaulting women, we had seen the misogyny in his rhetoric and knew that a Trump presidency, with a GOP-lead Congress, would try to turn back the clock on women’s rights and many other important gains our country has made in the past few decades.
On November 8th, Trump’s unexpected victory shocked us. The nation had to scramble to ready itself for the authoritarianism on display in Trump’s campaign. It would now be operating from the head of the federal government. With the GOP retaining the House and Senate, there was only one remaining check on Trump’s power: the people. Resistance movements quickly formed. And, as has been true through all social justice battles in our country’s history, women provided the bulk of the muscle and energy!
The right-wing agenda being advanced by Trump and his allies is destructive and unpopular. Policies that strip away healthcare and replace it with tax breaks for the rich, target specific ethnic or religious groups, attack women’s reproductive rights, abandon the commitment to workers and the environment, and defund public institutions like education, can’t survive in a healthy democracy. For that reason our system of democracy itself – fair elections, independent judiciary, and an independent press – has been the primary target of the GOP since Trump’s inauguration. But their agenda hasn’t gotten as far as I, and others, worried it would have. I had feared that the Republican realignment, combined with Trump’s authoritarian tactics, would cause federal employees to compromise their values, the press to become his mouth-piece, and the population to cower. In this dystopian nightmare, the opposition party would become enfeebled providing no alternative to the New Order.
That hasn’t happened. In fact, Trump’s presidential legacy at this point is massive, broad-based resistance to his rule! His executive orders have been tangled up in courts, his legislative agenda has been stalled, and the conduct of his administration is increasingly under question, with a Watergate-scale investigation into his campaign, as well as his own conduct.
To be sure, Trump, along with Republican-held legislatures at the national and state level, have done plenty of damage domestically and internationally. But the Republic survives because of organized opposition, with women leading the way! Hillary Clinton isn’t president, but in the era of Trump, one could make the strong case that the United States is woman-led. There are too many examples to include them all, but I present in this post some of the notable examples of women, in their work and in their lives, demonstrating the courage that is the oxygen in the lungs of our democracy.
Alison Grimes – Defending the right to vote
Last week the presidential advisory commission on election integrity, set up by Trump’s executive order, requested voter registration data from all of the states. The commission is chaired by Vice-President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Trump’s false claim that millions voted illegally and this resulting committee show that the GOP wants to make it more difficult for citizens to participate in elections. The authoritarian stances Trump takes and seems to admire in other leaders are critical to advancing their right-wing agenda since the Republican Party platform is so unpopular. They have to weaken democracy in order to keep funneling wealth to the wealthy.
One way that our democracy has already been weakened, is the Interstate Crosscheck program which has been used to purge voters from registration rolls in 27 states. The wide-scale voter suppression tactic was developed and promoted by Kobach, himself. Investigative reporter Greg Palast wrote about Interstate Crosscheck in his Rolling Stone article, “The GOP’s Stealth War Against Voters”. In a follow up article after the election, Palast wrote that the program removed over a million people from voter rolls prior to the November election.
In the US, states run elections and control most election laws. The information Kobach’s presidential advisory commission requested from the states could facilitate a nation-wide version of the Interstate Crosscheck program. In 2014 the New York Times wrote an article about Kobach’s repeated efforts to restrict voter access:
Mr. Kobach has been a major conservative voice on voter issues for years. He has helped states write strict laws requiring proof of citizenship, presided over the “Kansas project” — a national hunt for double registrations — and, most recently, tried to keep a Democratic candidate on the ballot with the potential to help Kansas’ endangered Republican senator, Pat Roberts.
If Kobach’s commission is able to collect that data, they could make it available for GOP-controlled states to purge their voter rolls of duplicates based on similar unreliable and heavily Democratic-leaning false positives as seen in the Interstate Crosscheck.
The data request has been met with resistance by election officials at the state level. At a time when people are concerned about hacking and online vulnerabilities, passing off personal data, including parts of social security numbers and voting history, isn’t a popular move for a Secretary of State to make.
Kentucky’s Secretary of State Alison Grimes, while not the first, may have been the strongest rejection of Kobach’s request. Grimes’s statement is notable as Kentucky went to Trump 62.5%. She has also followed up her official statement by blasting the data request in media appearances.
Grimes has fought the extreme right-wing agenda before. In 2014 she challenged Mitch McConnell for his Senate seat in a race that garnered huge outside attention and cash. Unfortunately, she lost. The voter data request is her first direct encounter with the Trump Administration and she has stood her ground, to no surprise. Grimes has been vocal about protecting democratic institutions in the era of Trump. She spoke at the Lexington, KY Women’s March on January 21st stating, “When democracy is broken for one of us, it is broken for all of us.”
The Women’s March – Asserting power in uncertain times
The Women’s March, January 21st, 2017 was a historic day. The massive resistance to Trump and the GOP agenda was unified and ignited through hundreds of marches across the country and around the world. Its energy has since flowed into the airport protests against the Muslim Ban, the town hall events against repealing Obamacare, and infused the Tax Day, March for Science, and People’s Climate March trio of street actions in April.
The unprecedented threat of a Trump presidency with a GOP-controlled House of Representatives and Senate was matched by the massive outpouring of people in the streets. Over 3,000,000 people took to the streets; the largest mass mobilization of our lifetimes! Fortune magazine named the co-chairs Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Bob Bland, among the “World’s Greatest Leaders”! Their work, along with many others, showed the world the resilience of the American people!
At the Women’s March on Washington, Gloria Steinem gave the keynote address emphasizing that power is ultimately with the people. But it takes work to defend democracy, including “putting our bodies where our beliefs are”.
The size of the Women’s March and its sister marches made certain that Trump’s agenda would face an energized opposition that was ready to fight in the streets, the airwaves, the courts, and the boardrooms.
Sally Yates – True patriotism
As expected, the new president moved quickly into authoritarianism by signing an executive order banning people from seven majority-Muslim countries, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Sudan, and Iraq, from entering the US. The move set off massive impromptu actions at airport across the country. In this moment, acting US Attorney General Sally Yates set the standard for courage. Her name became widely known when Trump fired her after she instructed the Department of Justice (DOJ) not to defend the executive order after it had quickly been blocked by an injunction.
Since her firing, it’s been revealed that Yates had previously warned Trump officials that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had lied about problematic connections to foreign governments and was now vulnerable to blackmail. The White House did nothing for 18 days, leaving our national security compromised. Eventually they fired Flynn, but he has continued to be the focus of an investigation that threatens to derail Trump’s presidency.
Linda Sarsour – Legal fight against the Muslim Ban (Sarsour v Trump)
Yates’s stance against the Muslim Ban from inside the executive branch was mirrored by Linda Sarsour’s outside challenge. Apart from being one of the co-chairs of the Women’s March, Sarsour was the lead plaintiff for the lawsuit brought against the Muslim ban by Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The case was known as “Sarsour v Trump”, but was never litigated as the White House decided to make a new Muslim Ban rather than defend the first one.
Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now! interviewed Sarsour about the lawsuit, which challenged the Muslim Ban on the grounds that it violated the Constitution by targeting a religious group and not upholding equal protection under the law. She explains that Yates’s stance against the executive order from within the DOJ gave her own challenge more standing.
Mobilizing for social justice causes is a part of Sarsour’s life. In 2011, the White House recognized her as a Champion of Change. Following the Women’s March and her legal challenge to the first Muslim Ban, she lead the New York City “A Day Without Women” action on International Women’s Day. As a Palestinian-American woman who proudly wears a hijab, her very existence challenges the Right’s Islamophobic, nationalist, and misogynist rhetoric. But her skill as organizer is the real threat to their agenda. It has earned her admiration from progressives and ire from the conservatives.
April Ryan – The power of professionalism
The reason Trump tweets out comments that destroy his credibility is because it’s far less damaging than making those comments in a room full of reporters. Trump and his team learned early on in his presidency that he can’t hold it together for a extended round of questioning. April Ryan is the one who taught that to them.
Ryan is the White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks. In a February press conference she asked Trump about his campaign pledges to revitalize cities. His rambling response exposed just how unprepared he was to even talk about, much less deal with issues affecting our country. The true tell of his unfitness came when Ryan asked a follow up question about the involvement of the Congressional Black Caucus. Trump completely fell apart. He excitedly asked the reporter if she would set up a meeting between him and the CBC. He suggested it four times before recovering a little and returning to rambling, this time about CBC chair Representative Elijah Cummings.
Ryan’s professionalism showed Trump and Company that they are out of their league. Empty answers get challenged; losing your composure exposes your failings further. Later she gave the same lesson to Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
The pressure of the press digging for answers has forced the administration into strange patterns, such as banning recording equipment from press briefings. The Trump Administration’s lies and theatrics don’t stand up to journalism done in a responsible, professional manner. As a result of reporters like Ryan, the White House press operation, which is usually an efficient messaging conduit for a President, has not been able to flood the country with disinformation the way it had hoped. They have been forced into a defensive position, avoiding the press, and trying to smear journalists.
Christine Pellegrino – Flipping seats
On May 23rd, Christine Pellegrino won New York’s Ninth District State Assembly seat 58% to 42%. The voters in that area favored Trump in the general election, 60 – 40. Trump’s ahistoric unpopularity, however, has changed the landscape since November. The 2017 special elections have forced the GOP to spend more to win seats that they’ve safely held for years. Pellegrino actually flipped a seat for the Democrats. The high profile House seats in Kansas, Montana, and Georgia, have a more direct line to Trump than a state legislator. But one lesson we’ve learned in the new right-wing alignment is that state capitols are critical.
Pellegrino’s campaign delivered on a message of lifting up working families. She took bold progressive positions and may have pointed the way to victory for Democrats in other up-coming elections.
ADAPT – Women with disabilities fighting to save healthcare
Secretaries of state, like Alison Grimes, took a stand against Trump’s voter commission last week. At the same time, an organized effort pushed back the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attempt to pass the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), the Senate version of the Obamacare replacement, before the July 4th recess. One headline-grabbing action was a group of protesters, mostly women and most with disabilities, who held a sit-in at the Denver office of Senator Cory Gardner demanding he commit to protecting Medicaid. Ten people were arrested, at least one pulled from her wheel chair. The group included Jordan Sibayan, Robin Stephens, Dawn Russell, Jacqueline Mitchell, Dawn Howard, and Carrie Ann Lucas.
The BCRA will decrease Medicaid spending by an estimated 26% by 2026 and 35% by 2036. There’s an estimated drop in enrollment as a result. Medicaid is intended to cover people with disabilities, among others. The protest in Gardner’s office was organized by ADAPT, a direct action advocacy organization for people with disabilities. Their work exemplifies Gloria Steinem’s call to “put our bodies where our beliefs are”.
The BCRA is still a threat to pass when the Senate reconvenes. The work of the ADAPT, along with other activists, has disrupted its passage for the time being. The passion and energy they’ve shown guarantees it will face a fierce opposition whenever the bill makes its way back.
Trump continues to make his own headlines through mean comments and tweets that he directs towards women who criticize him. At times it seems like there is no limit to his shamelessness. But the more important narrative is how women have stood up and fought back against his hateful, greedy agenda at every turn. That story is being written by the remarkable women I’ve included here, and the countless others doing great work we all see everyday. From them springs the well of hope!
Sources and Resources:
Featured image source: Wikimedia Commons
The Washington Post (Oct 8 2016) – “Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005”
The White House (May 11 2017) – “Presidential executive order on the establishment of Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity”
Rolling Stone (Aug 24 2016) – “The GOP’s stealth war against voters”
GregPalast.com (Nov 11 2016) – “The election was stolen – here’s how…”
New York Times (Oct 16 2017) – “Kris Kobach pushed Kansas to the right. Now Kansas is pushing back.”
Twitter.com/KYSecofState (Jun 29 2017) – “Alison L. Grimes: 7:48 29 Jun 2017”
Courier-Journal (Sept 26 2014) – “Grimes, McConnell: Paid for by outside donors”
Youtube (published by Jennifer Miller) (Jan 22 2017) – “Sec. of State Alison Lundergan Grimes at Women’s March on Washington Sister March–Lexington”
Fortune (Mar 24 2017) – “Why the Women’s March on Washington organizers are among the World’s Greatest Leaders”
Youtube (published by LesGrossman News) (Jan 21 2017) – “Gloria Steinem rips mentally unstable Donald Trump Women’s March Washington Dc full speech 1/21/17”
New York Times (Jan 30 2017) – “Trump fires acting attorney general who defied him”
Document Cloud (viewed July 1 2017) – “Letter from Sally Yates”
New York Times (May 8 2017) – “Sally Yates tells senators she warned Trump about Michael Flynn”
United States District Court Eastern District of Virginia (Jan 30 2017) – “Case No.1:17-cv-00120: Sarsour v Trump”
Democracy Now! (Jan 31 2017) – “Sarsour v. Trump: Palestinian-American activist sues the President to overturn Muslim Ban”
Obama White House Archives (viewed on July 4 2017) – “Champions of Change: Linda Sarsour”
New York Times (Mar 8 2017) – “‘Day Without a Woman’ protest tests a movement’s staying power”
YouTube (published by Tony 24/7 Eyes) (Feb 16 2017) – “Donald Trump April Ryan Congressional Black Caucus press conference”
Democracy Now! (June 23 2017) – “White House says ban on cameras in press briefing ‘not reportable'”
YouTube (published by Dose of Dissonance) (Mar 28 2017) – “Sean Spicer’s heated exchange with reporter April Ryan at White House press briefing”
Long Island Press (May 24 2017) – “Pellegrino beats Gargiulo in special election for NY Assembly”
Denver Post (June 29 2017) – “Disabled protesters arrested at Sen. Cory Gardner’s Denver office after 2-day sit-in”
Congressional Budget Office (June 29 2017) – “Longer-term effects of the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 on Medicaid spending”