Your Female, Middle-Aged Neighbors Are Leading The Trump Resistance

Your Female, Middle-Aged Neighbors Are Leading The Trump Resistance

Ines Bellina

Here are their stories.

I didn’t sleep a wink on election night. Once it became clear that Donald Trump was to lead the United States into the ground, I felt an intense sense of despair. As a woman, an immigrant, a POC and a decent human being, his whole platform felt like an attack. His presidency had the power to make my nightmares come true. Friends and I sent panicked texts back and forth. My Facebook feed was one long cry for help. All I really wanted was my mom. My mom and a superhero who could sweep down, deus ex machina style, and set the world right.

It turns out the superhero I kept praying for might really be a mom, after all.

Since the inauguration, women have been at the forefront of the resistance to the Orange Menace. If protesting is so ubiquitous it’s considered the new brunch (feel free to gag on your mimosa over that), none have matched the Woman’s March in Washington in terms of attendance or news coverage. Both SurveyMonkey and The Washington Post have polls detailing the rise of political activity on the left, with WaPo’s saying that women in particular are energized right now. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: women are more likely to identify as Democrat or Democratic-leaning. But perhaps the most telling survey of all has been that of Daily Action, an app that sends daily texts prompting users to do one thing like call their congressmen: Their survey indicates that the most active opponents of the Trumpocracy are women older than 45.

The poll isn’t comprehensive. Yet evidence of its conclusion seems to be everywhere. Think back to the few moments of sanity that have emerged from the Mordor-like darkness of the new White House. Sally Yates refusing to defend the Muslim ban. Sally Yates shutting down Ted Cruz with the finesse of a horologist. Maxine Waters refusing to bow down to sexual offender Bill O’Reilly. Maxine Waters demanding the receipts of everyone involved in this administration. Elizabeth Warren being warned, given an explanation and nevertheless persisting. Even former Republican strategist Ana Navarro has been tweeting delightful rebukes, forever endearing me to her.

All women over 45.

I worship at the altar of these ladies. But I needed more women like this who were within my reach. Yates, Waters and the rest of them have a long history of public service. But what guidance can we find from those who, like many of us, were happy to coast along from one election to another — until now? Who were the women now ready to raise hell?

Instead of using Facebook to post angry face emojis, I sent out a call. I wanted to talk to middle-aged women who had become politically active after the election. Friends, friends of friends, moms of friends, grandmas of friends and strangers reached out. My inbox was full of emails describing their journey as engaged constituents. Their courage inspired me to do something I find deeply unsettling: talking on the phone.

Their life paths were different, but a few common threads emerged:

Number one: In true ladylike fashion, they’re thinking about others.

Some brought up Trump’s bragging about sexual assault as a turning point of his campaign. It’s hard to feel protected by a leader who’s uttered the words “grab them by the pussy.” Nadine, from California, summed up what many of the others felt: “I believe there is no one issue, but being a woman was the factor that pushed me.”

There were a few that decided to target a specific concern, mostly to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Karin, an actor from Chicago, was aware that Trump’s persona turned most things into poop. That’s why she had one big goal in mind. “How do you kill the multi-headed hydra? You go for the heart. So for me, it starts with impeachment.”

She may soon get her wish.

Actor and writer Karin McKie says that political activism is ‘all I’ve done, seven days a week.’ | Scott Montgomery

Nevertheless, most of the women I spoke to didn’t say that women-focused policy was their main concern for the future. They’re aware that the entire nation is in peril. As Karen from Florida put it, “Truth, dignity and fairness are all at stake.”

There were some worries that stood out to people. Inclusion was big on their agendas and there was an awareness that any privilege they possessed could be used for the better good. Ada, a performer and former professor, takes an almost intellectual approach to it. As an immigrant, she’s acutely aware of the way intersectional identities shape your experience in the US.

“We have to compare different groups’ experience so we know how the system works,” she told me over dinner. As a form of political activism, she explores topics of race, gender, nationality and immigration status in her one-woman show. Part of it is establishing conversations with audience members, who are usually from different backgrounds. She says the experience has been generally positive, with people opening up and learning about the struggles of others.

This desire to reach out beyond their own communities seemed to resonate with them. As Anuja from Michigan said, “I don’t think we can pin a desire to improve humanity on one issue.”

Number two: They see strength in numbers, not egos.

Many had turned to grassroots groups — or even started their own — to help keep them on task. “Indivisible” groups were a good resource for some of them, while others opted for the more formal structure of the Democratic Party.

Many were happy to do the grunt work, while a few had decided to take on bigger roles. Carol, from Chicago, was open about having voted for both Republicans and Democrats in the past. The racist and anti-woman undertones of the Trump campaign, though, horrified her to such an extent that she says she’s starting to fear the government. She was involved with a park in her gentrifying neighborhood and felt she could no longer stand by when a member of the board kept making racist comments about their community. She decided to run against him — and won.

Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Sameena, also from Chicago, has found a new vocation in these End of Days. “I started to feel like what I had done in the past wasn’t enough,” she said. She’s thrown herself into the political arena with the brainy zeal you wish every elected official had. Since November, she’s hosted a rally for Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) during his run as DNC Chair, and organized a symposium on how to elect more women and people of color. She’s canvassing with Reclaim Chicago and is reaching out to community organizations, candidates and staffers to learn what opportunities there are for her own run for office. Since Sameena understands the value of obtaining advice from experts, unlike some people who are currently in the highest positions of power, she is also heading to DC to train with an Asian-American group for those interested in running. Sameena felt a general sense needing to fight back.

“It’s time to take on this ‘whitelash,’ as Van Jones called it — and take it on directly,” she says.

It definitely makes you wonder if you could do more for the cause than get into fights with your racist uncle.

Sameena Mustafa at DNC Chair rally for Keith Ellison in January 2017. | Joe Tighe / Couple of Dudes Photo

Number three: There’s a sense of déjà vu, and not in the cool “past lives” kind of way.

For those who were comforted by the warm, fuzzy feelings of the Obama era (miss you, boo!) the rise of Trump might seem like a patriarchal monster from the Upside Down. Yet for many of the women I spoke to, it was reminiscent of a ghost that keeps haunting them. “We’ve done this before,” Karin said, before reminding me of the decades-long struggle for the Equal Rights Amendment to be ratified. Fun fact: the ERA was first introduced in 1923 and has yet to be ratified in all 50 states.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Others also mentioned the more commonplace aggressions that plague a woman’s daily life — like being paid less than our male counterparts or dealing with an elected leader who’s been accused of rape. As Sameena points out, “We never really felt like we were in a post-feminist world.”

Joanne, a retiree, finds her motivation in history. She spoke lovingly of her friend Lisa who, as a German Jew, fled to France and then Spain during the Nazi era. Lisa then devoted much of her time to helping other refugees sneak into Spain. “When Hitler was coming into power, Lisa didn’t just throw up her hands and climb into bed and cover her head and say ‘Oh this is terrible.’ She did something about it. I decided I had to do something about it.”

Others noted that age comes with certain benefits. You no longer give a fuck about what people may think of you or your bossy attitudes. As Blanca from Pennsylvania said, “we’ve had more than enough of being ignored or minimized — mostly by men.”

Number four: They were always there to begin with.

Though I was thrilled to hear about their enormous efforts to save us from Gilead, there was one detail that surprised me. I always began by asking how they would have described themselves politically — before the election. With few exceptions, they all claimed to be aware but not necessarily engaged. However, when I pressed on, their narrative contradicted this. Regardless of how they might view their previous experience, it was clear to me that these women had already been doing more than your Average Joe and probably whatever other Joe you happen to know. They had all voted in past elections, the vast majority in state and local ones too, keeping in line with studies that show women vote at higher rates than men. A few had campaigned or phone banked for candidates, most were involved in charity work or in community organizations, occasionally canvassed, signed petitions, volunteered around town and so on.

Ladies, ladies, ladies. This is actual political engagement.

I understand the reluctance to hype up their activities before Trump. I probably would have done the same thing. In part, I think, it’s because of the hurtful way women are socialized. We can be our own harshest critics, we’ve been told to not brag about our accomplishments and tend to shrink in the background.

On the other hand, part of it may be about how society lionizes political leaders. We yearn for a single savior that will show us the right path. Thanks to Hollywood and the way we teach history, we usually imagine that savior as a man. If we let go of the romance and look at the cold hard facts, we’ll see that radical change comes in the form of a collective. Martin Luther King Jr. could not have achieved his goals without the critical guidance of Diane Nash or Amelia Boynton. Dolores Huerta was known as the best negotiator in the farm workers movement and yet Cesar Chavez is the one we remember. Head to any fundraiser, community meeting, town hall or local campaign office: I guarantee women will outnumber men. Someone needs to take care of the unsexy side of politics: photocopying, answering calls, budgeting, handing out pins, editing policy plans, making the damn coffee. Sure, impassioned speeches give us soundbites and great tweets, but perhaps it’s time to stop idolizing the grandstanding.

I mean, look at what a boisterous show off has brought us.