Both new and experienced organizers have been maintaining a wave of protests since Inauguration Day. On Presidents’ Day the fight continued, as “Not My President’s Day” protests were held in nearly 30 cities across the country. The same day, a loosely organized network of performances opposing Donald Trump’s presidency called “Bad and Nasty” took place around the world. We talked to several organizers behind these events about what it took to make these protests happen.
Interviews have been condensed and edited.
MTV News: What was your intent behind organizing protests for Presidents’ Day?
Holly Hughes, 61, Ann Arbor, Michigan; initiated the Bad and Nasty movement: The character that Trump performs in public — and I do think it’s a character, built on his real identity but heightened for dramatic effect — is a distillation of everything toxic in whiteness and masculinity, with an extra shot of greed. I find it utterly repulsive and almost unbelievable. But the fact is that many people liked this performance. How could we — the left, the popular vote — use performance to talk back?
I made an idle threat on Facebook, as I do most mornings. I would gather the Bad Hombres and Nasty Women of Ann Arbor together at a dive bar for performance on NOT My President’s Day. And overnight more than a thousand people wanted in! This response was way beyond my means to organize it, but thankfully, others stepped in with skills!
Beth Cavagnolo, 41, New York, New York; organizer for NMPD: If not me, then who? The first month of this presidency has been fraught with lies, bigotry, and hate. I could no longer sit back hoping someone else would do something. So when Olga [Lexell, who organized the NMPD protests in LA] sent out a call for volunteers, I raised my hand. Little did I know I’d become a key organizer!
Lindsey Andersen, 26, Chicago, Illinois; organizer for NMPD: I’m a single mom to a 4-year-old little girl, am a future physicist, and was previously involved with Organizing for America. I know the power of civic engagement, and I think it’s imperative at this crossroad in history to give voice to the numerous ethical and legal issues currently facing our nation.
What were the key elements to organizing your community for these protests?
Olga Lexell, Los Angeles, California; organizer for NMPD: Social media, especially Facebook, was instrumental. Our movement spread pretty much entirely through word of mouth. The local organizers who stepped up in Chicago, NYC, Philly, SLC, and other cities were the only reason this could have been possible.
Heather Mason, Los Angeles, California; organizer for NMPD: We were completely grassroots. We started a Facebook event page and invited all of our friends. Then other cities began to reach out asking if there would be rallies in their areas. We connected people together via Facebook to start planning rallies in their communities. In Los Angeles, we have a rally or march once a week it seems, mostly spread through social media. So that was our primary means of organizing.
Andersen: Persistence. Patience. Pinot grigio.
People left inspired, which means we did our job.
What is driving people in your community to participate in these demonstrations?
Lexell: Our current president is unpredictable, which terrifies people. The idea of going backward on so many key issues is really scary, and a lot of these tweets and executive memos have come in the middle of the night, when we were not expecting them. To put it this way: I never had to be afraid that Obama was going to start a nuclear war with a foreign power while I was sleeping. Everyone I know feels like they have to do something to be part of resisting this administration just to stay sane.
Michele Minnick, Baltimore, Maryland; organizer for Bad and Nasty: [The Bad and Nasty art shows] were performance events, mostly, rather than straight-up demonstrations, protests, or rallies. And I think that was actually what was motivating people — to participate in something that was “against” Trump and his policies, but that was creative and fun and celebratory of our diversity, of the America we believe in and want to cultivate.
Artemis Freeman, 24, Chicago; organizer for NMPD: People are angry and need an outlet, of course, but it’s bigger than that. People are afraid for their lives, their families, and their communities. As a black woman, there’s a sense of validation that I’m not the only one who is afraid. The beauty of rallies is that people who are afraid get to experience firsthand the support that surrounds them. It’s a way of making sure everyone knows that they are seen, they are being heard, and that no one has to go through this alone.
Were the goals of these protests accomplished? Why or why not?
Lexell: The primary goal was to keep the momentum of resistance going, and I think we accomplished that. It seems like we got the administration’s attention. I have doubts that they’ll actually start hearing us out, or even acknowledge that these protests are legitimate and peaceful. Conservatives so far seem to think we’re all being paid by Hillary Clinton (I wish) and claiming we’re somehow violent.
Freeman: I would say we accomplished our goal. We wanted to give people the means to address the specific problems they had with 45’s administration, as well as create passionate energy that would carry on past the end of the rally. In my eyes, a common goal for every rally is to make sure that the passion and excitement that people feel when they participate is enough to propel them to call their representatives, or register to vote, or even organize a march of their own. People left inspired, which means we did our job.
Hughes: Our goals in one sense were small-scale. Do something, anything, in public on that night. Many groups raised money for the ACLU or Planned Parenthood. I heard how much people appreciated being able to laugh, to be together. … I think that lots of people, outside of the bigger cities where protests happen all the time, felt energized and recharged by the evenings. You felt, as with the Women’s March and the actions at airports, that you were not alone in your resistance.
Protests like Not My President’s Day and the Women’s March mark the first time many people have participated in civil disobedience. Every day there is another call to action, so how are you and your fellow activists preventing “protest fatigue”?
Mason: It is easy to get overwhelmed, but making a few phone calls or sending a postcard isn’t overwhelming. Those are small tasks that can be completed. We need to look at the bigger picture for sure, but focusing on small tasks day-to-day is key.
Laura Hartman, Chicago; organizer for NMPD: We are working very hard to inspire each other through words and actions. And yes, people get tired. But frankly, you know who’s tired? People who do not have the luxury of taking a break from these battles. People who are subject to discrimination and oppression, immigrants who have been waiting their whole lives to enter these United States, and those who have lived here their whole lives, but who never have been treated as equals. They don’t get a break — so we try very hard to keep these stories of real life, of our fellow human beings, at the forefront to inspire us to remain diligent and resilient. And we push on.
Sarah Lynne Holt, St. Louis, Missouri; organizer for Bad and Nasty: Most important to me is maintaining a balance. I still make time for my family, my friends, and my art. If we are not creating and experiencing the things that make life worth living, then all the rights we are fighting for are protecting nothing.
We try very hard to keep these stories of real life, of our fellow human beings, at the forefront to inspire us to remain diligent and resilient. And we push on.
If this was your first time organizing a protest, what have you learned from the experience? Or, as an experienced organizer, how have things changed since the election/Inauguration Day?
Minnick: As organizers of arts-based events, we were really more like producers, which I think is a bit different than being an organizer of a protest, though it probably has a number of things in common. … I learned that I can do it with strong partners, and around something that I, the artists I’m involving, and audiences are very passionate about.
Cavagnolo: This was my first time. I learned that just a few people can make a real difference for thousands. It’s daunting and not always easy to navigate all the issues with [New York City], but you’ll find supporters inside the government, too. People who want to help you exercise your First Amendment rights.
Freeman: I’ve organized rallies before, but nothing on this scale. The biggest takeaway for me is that people really do want to make a difference or get their voices heard. The problem is that most people just don’t know how. That’s the biggest lesson: Everyone wants to do something, and it’s your job as an organizer to make sure they have something they can do.
What’s the most valuable lesson you would pass on to others looking to mobilize acts of resistance in their communities?
Lexell: My best advice is to start following causes you believe in on Facebook and Twitter. I learn about a lot of Los Angeles protests and causes by checking the March and Rally Los Angeles Facebook page daily, and I meet so many new people at these events. … The best thing you can do is try to get to know the people in your community, especially outside of your social circles, and find your common ground.
Minnick: Just do it! Work with someone you can trust to follow through, because it takes imagination, persistence, flexibility, and stamina to produce an event like ours. You also do have to set limits — sometimes they are set for you — and let go of some of your ideas in favor of what is actually doable given the time and space available to you.
Andersen: Hold strong. Do not let the negativity deter you from your purpose. You will be exhausted in every way imaginable, but which is worse: exhaustion or a future riddled with incompetence and dehumanization?
Holt: Ask for help in spreading your message. Don’t assume that if people like what they see, they will spread your message without prompting.
Has there been communication with organizers from other protest movements (A Day Without Immigrants, Women’s March, Black Lives Matter, etc.)? If so, how did that inform your organizing? If not, do you feel such an interaction would have been useful to you? Why or why not?
Lexell: We had a lot of help from the Women’s March committee in NYC. They had a conference call with us to give us advice and donated supplies like volunteers’ vests and megaphones. A lot of us reached out to other organizations, not only to get speakers, but just to make sure they had a presence at our rallies. The resistance is intersectional and multifaceted, and the best way to make sure everyone’s voice is heard is to involve everyone directly. I even looked up the organizers for previous rallies I’d attended on Facebook and sent them messages to ask for guidance, what they would’ve done differently, and stuff like that. We’re all in it together, so one of the best things we can do is keep each other on the same page and help each other if one of us should be doing something differently.
Hughes: I think [Bad and Nasty] was so decentralized that some of the participants did work with other groups, which is of course great. But it was less coordinated, in part by design, to let it be led by the grassroots more than even those organizations, and we had a short turnaround. To build those relationships takes time. And we wanted to do something very fast. But all of the issues expressed in those movements were expressed in our event in Ann Arbor
What’s next for you and/or your organization?
Lexell: We’re not really a formal organization, but we’ve all talked about how much we learned in doing this round of rallies and we do feel like we need to put that energy to use again. … I know a lot of the other organizers are involved with the Tax March, the Science March, and other big marches coming up. I also just want to help reach out to more activists and inspire people to stage their own acts of civil disobedience.
Minnick: Recuperating from all the preparation of this event, first of all! We’ll need a little time to gather our thoughts and energies and decide the next direction we want to take. What does feel certain is that we have entered into the stream of something that we will want to keep investigating. I have never felt so strongly that art matters and that I want to use my skills and knowledge as an artist as a force for justice and good. As Chris Jay [an MC for the Baltimore Bad and Nasty Cabaret] said last night, once you are woke, you can’t go back.
Gabriella Linardi, Toledo, Ohio; organizer for NMPD: Next is 2018. We take back the Senate and Congress. Then 2020. We’ll vote him out.
Andersen: SCIENCE MARCH HERE I COME! #STEM4LIFE