San Jose, Calif. - We were about a hundred Americans on a rainy winter morning – teachers, engineers, lawyers, accountants, secretaries, entrepreneurs, lifelong activists – who had gathered in the community room of a public library in East San Jose to “Do Something to Push Back at Trump’s Agenda.”
Rebecca, one of the organizers, identified at the outset a website called ‘Indivisible Guide’ that contained practical steps we could take to change the status quo.
Breaking up into groups of about ten each, we focused on what we could do to defeat Trump’s dangerous and disastrous policies on immigration, media, environment, women’s rights, and more. The emphasis was on action based on sound ideas.
“This can’t go on,” declared Bracy, a retired teacher. “No one could imagine things would go this bad this quickly.”
“Agree,” said Stella, “but we have to get rid of fear if we are to make any progress. Too many Americans are unable to act because they are fearful.”
Maria, a Latina, observed that it was easy to say we should not be afraid but the reality was different. “I have friends and relatives who are afraid of being deported. They are afraid to attend meetings like this because they don’t know what will happen.” When told that websites such as https://dailyaction.org/ offer tips and hotlines that one can call to get help against aggressive and illegal activities by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, Maria replied that such options were not available to those most threatened by ICE. “These immigrants don’t have computers. They don’t know how to access the Internet. Most can’t talk in English. They are just afraid.”
Several participants promised to do something about it, starting with a vigorous voter registration and ‘Get to Know Your Rights’ drive in neglected zip codes. But we also became aware of the chasm between theory and practice, particularly for those under-served or not served at all by our society.
When a participant reflected on how lucky we were to be living in a progressive, liberal state like California, another member reminded the audience that in places like Modesto, Merced and other Central Valley cities, democratic candidates in the last election lost to Republican candidates. “It’s not as rosy as it sounds,” she said. “A recent report showed how hate groups have increased with Trump’s win. Guess which state has the highest number of hate groups in the U.S now? California, with 79!”
Nella, another retired teacher, emphasized the importance of contacting our representatives to let them know of where we stand. “We should not just criticize. If our congressman and senator have done something we approve of, we should call to thank them.” She also said it was necessary to engage in a civil discussion with Trump voters. “Maybe those sitting on the fence – not the die-hard supporters - will be persuaded if we clearly present the facts. Not fake news but facts that cannot be disputed.”
Gustavo encouraged us to do several things: Tweet Trump as responses to his vindictive tweets, sign petitions on the White House website, convince moderate republicans to join forces with us, and raise funds and support candidates in the 2018 mid-term elections who reject Trump’s fear-mongering and destructive agenda.
I spoke about the ban on Muslim immigration. “I am a Muslim. Our Islamic Center is just down the road. Statistics show that most Americans with negative views about Muslims have never met a Muslim. I invite you to our Center to hold one of these events so you will get to know us and we can work with you on issues that affect us all.”
The invitation was immediately accepted by all, to the immense gratification of about a dozen participating Muslim.
Allen, a beekeeper, asked us to look around the room and identify the one glaring problem that plagues our activism. “Most of us are like me, white. Where are people of other shades? Where’s the diversity that’s supposed to make San Jose such a special place? Unless we reach out to people who don’t look like me and most of you, we cannot bring about the change we want.”
Sharon, founder of a non-profit called ‘Second Chance’ that offers services to at-risk youth of all ages, and one of only two women of color in the event, spoke with bracing, almost uncomfortable, honesty. “I don’t fear this administration because I have lived it. I know what white supremacist ideology can do to us. We African-Americans have fought many battles that we continue to fight to this day that you will never be aware of. But I will say this about Trump: He has brought many of us together who would otherwise not have been together. And with white Americans in the forefront of this movement, the chance of success against Trump is much higher than if it were driven by people of color only.”
This event was one of thousands taking place around America, in cities big and small, organized by ordinary Americans with existential concerns about the country, and determined to stop the erosion of values and institutions before it was too late. We have much to learn that we can only learn along the way. We have to summon the stamina to sustain a long-term movement and accept the fact that we will have to sacrifice much before seeing the changes we seek. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” said Martin Luther King. What I saw today was that we will not be silent about things that matter.
Hasan Zillur Rahim is a professor of Mathematics at San Jose City College. He emigrated from Bangladesh to the U.S. four decades ago. Some additional websites to help others get involved in this fight against Trump’s tyranny include https://www.resistancecalendar.org/, https://swingleft.org/ and https://www.resistancerecess.com/event/resist-recess/.
Photo credit: Hasan Zillur Rahim