Envisioning four years from now
Activists gather to map out a progressive future
“It's 2021, and our movement has won,” Ulli Barta told a group of people gathered in a muted East Village basement last week. Thursday's snowstorm, which had shut down public schools and closed businesses, had slowed to flurries as darkness fell. Inside Planeta, a community arts space on East Eighth Street near Avenue B, melted ice dripped down a pile of coats and scarves sitting atop a wooden table. “Close your eyes and imagine what that's like.”
Silence descended on the dimly lit room as Barta's raspy voice guided the meditation. “Who is president?” she asked. She also asked who they envisioned as Senate and House leaders four years from now, and which alliances attendees had joined and built. Most importantly, she asked, how do you feel about this new country?
The responses she received coalesced into a country that has rid Washington of corporate money, broken the two-party system, reinstated respect for facts and protected the environment. For the next hour, the group talked about how best to achieve that vision.
More than 30 people attended the Feb. 9 occasion. It was among dozens of so-called Next Up Huddles that took place in Manhattan in last few weeks, gatherings that formed part of the 10 Actions for the First 100 Days campaign, which launched following the Women's Marches that brought millions to the streets the day after President Donald Trump's inauguration.
“We're building a network of activists,” said Barta, one of the Planeta huddle's organizers. “We're creating a community to support each other and achieve political involvement.”
In the last few weeks, veteran and first-time progressive activists have met in community spaces, bars and even apartments all over the world to brainstorm ideas and actions to take in the first three months of Trump's presidency. Some of the huddles catered to specific groups, such as parents with young kids, or writers and bloggers.
As of Feb. 10, more than 4,000 huddles in over 30 countries had been planned, some guided by a step-by-step guide posted on the Women's March website.
In Chelsea on Sunday, 40 women and a few men gathered at the Hudson Guild on West 26th Street. With their eyes closed, they followed a similar ritual to that at Planeta: envisioning 2021 following success for a progressive agenda.
“Has anyone ever done anything like this before?” asked Katie Santo, who facilitated the Hudson Guild huddle. To a general shaking of heads, she added, “I've never done anything like this before in my life. We'll figure this out together.”
For many of the huddlers in Chelsea, this kind of community organizing was a first-time venture. Two budding activists, Caitlin Klein and Kenzi Locks, decided to host a group of friends for the first action of the 10 Actions in 100 Days movement — writing postcards to U.S. senators – at Locks' apartment on the Upper West Side. But when more than 100 people responded to their Facebook event, they paired up with Karissa Broderick-Beck, a career access coordinator at the Hudson Guild, to host the postcard writing event, and then the huddle meeting.
With the help of volunteer facilitators like Santo, the Chelsea huddle worked in two groups to come up with action items, focusing largely on local movements, such as attending town halls and community board meetings and joining rallies and protests, as well as just spreading word to friends and family members.
After Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained 40 people in the New York area last week, sanctuary also became a topic of discussion.
“As we speak our neighbors are being rounded up and they are being deported,” said Carla Fine, one of the Chelsea huddle attendees who works with the Judson Memorial Church's sanctuary movement for undocumented immigrants. “Get to know your neighbors, find out if they are undocumented and offer sanctuary.”
The Planeta huddle attracted a diverse group of activists, including French, British, Chinese and Brazilian immigrants. Most were women, but several men were present as well, including Power Malu, the events director at Overthrow Boxing who organizes a donation-based boxing class every Monday to support Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.
“We want to use our platform to empower the marginalized,” Malu said. “I'm also here learn how to make the movement grow even more.”
Typical of the East Village crowd, most of the attendees came from creative backgrounds: filmmaking, software engineering, fundraising, theater. All were eager to leverage their skills.
Some came to the huddle to reconnect with activism while others had specific issues they wanted to tackle.
“I'm grateful that I finally have time again to spend hours making phone calls,” said Amy, a semi-retired theater director who took part in the Civil Rights Movement and protests against the Vietnam War. “I have trouble sleeping at night — I have to do something,” she said. “That's why I'm here.”
Alex, a substance abuse counselor in Brooklyn, said that his biggest concern is mass incarceration.
“I deal with people who have been involved in the criminal justice system and I'm trying to make a change,” he said, adding that the most effective thing activists can do is to get out of the echo chamber. “Talking only to the same [like-minded] people will not create meaningful change.”
Some said a priority was to get Trump impeached and donating to legal campaigns like the ACLU and signing petitions could help move that effort forward. A more clear-cut strategy, some suggested, is to contact and boycott prominent businesses in cahoots with the Trump brand, Barta said.
But attendees' overarching hope, even expectation, is ensuring that Democrats regain control of the House and Senate in the 2018 midterm elections. Several people suggested reaching out to relatives or friends in Midwestern states who oppose Trump's agenda but are reluctant to speak out in redder states.
What resonated in the East Village and in Chelsea was a desire to keep the momentum of the Women's March moving forward. Gathering in a huddle was a statement, participants said, that new and older activists alike would not grow complacent under the new administration.
Trump's presidency is the result of “20 years of civic engagement karma wave,” Barta said. “We can't afford to slide into complacency again.”
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