You Know Who Rules? is Broadly's December interview series highlighting women and non-binary people who accomplished incredible things during the dumpster fire of a year that was 2017.
Immediately following the election of President Donald Trump, many offered the advice to "stay vigilant" and keep track of changes made by his administration.
Amy Siskind, president of nonpartisan women’s organization The New Agenda, decided to do just that by cataloging "specific news stories representing eroding norms under the current regime" in the form of a weekly list.
Since Trump's first week—when he was feuding with the beloved cast of the Broadway hit show Hamilton—things have only gotten worse. Now at week 57, Siskind says, "I don’t want to scare people, but if you look at the list, we really are losing so much of what had been our democracy. You see how fragile things are and how quickly they can be deconstructed and many of our rights and protections are being taken away."
Broadly spoke with Siskind about undertaking the Sisyphean task of tracking every move from the Trump administration.
BROADLY: Looking back on 2017, what’s been your biggest accomplishment?
AMY SISKIND: The tenacity of sticking with the list. I haven’t had a day off since November, 2016. It started off without any grand ambitions but once I started to see the list spread and started to see the importance of what was eroding so quickly, I think it’s most important that I stuck with it. People were reading the list and using it for their activism. People were depending on me and I didn’t want to let them down. I am still going, we’re at Week 57.
There is always something to be outraged about and you’ve been documenting that day after day. What has that been like for you?
There’s been a couple of weeks where I just find myself staring at the computer screen with tears rolling down my eyes. I’m a person with a lot of empathy and compassion, and there’s been some weeks where it just tears my heart apart to see what is happening in our country. For example, the week of Charlottesville. There are just some iconic weeks where it’s hard to take but I’ve tried to keep a balance of being dispassionate about recording the things that are not normal and maintaining my sense of outrage and empathy.
The project has grown significantly from the earlier weeks where it was 9 and 18 items. The last week, 56, was 133 items. So the amount of damage [Trump] is doing week-by-week as he installs his regime members, the federal agencies, and judges, it’s escalating each week.
Do you have habits or a routine to get through the days that are especially hard?
I made a commitment to myself to keep up things that I had done before I started the list. Every day, I make sure I get some nature. I take my dogs to the trail or go outside. I try to go to the gym every day to work out my stress. I realize how much we are internalizing the chaos every day. I really think this is a battle to save our country.
There are some mornings I wake up and it’s like, "Oh god, are we still doing this?" I’m looking at [Trump’s] Twitter account and start to think about the people I love whose lives are impacted in so many different ways. If you wake up in the morning and your life isn’t impacted, you’re living in a place of privilege and you should really start to think about the people who are going to work or school wondering if their parents are going to be there when they get home. Think about the people who are watching their rights taken away from them. Thinking about this shows the need to fight, it also shows why we need hope to think that our country is better than this.
Did the recent Democratic election victories spur hope for you?
Yes, that’s something else that has kept me going. My biggest fear when we started is that people would be complacent. We start to see with the Women’s March, and it certainly hasn’t faded. People are not complacent. Even in my personal circle, I have friends who are not particularly political but one of my friends at dinner said "our biggest donation is going to the ACLU, and I got a subscription to the Washington Post."
A lot of people are engaged and we need to take our victories, like what happened in election night in November, what happened last night in Alabama, and understand the impact that we have. We are winning, we just have to keep up the tenacity of it.
Are you elated about Doug Jones's win in Alabama?
Happy from so many angles. First of all, this is something I wrote about shortly after the election, and is something that is near and dear to my heart because I run a nonpartisan women’s organization, white women have some issues that we are going to need to work out. And continue to work out. I’m so disheartened about last night, I’m disheartened about the 2016 election, with how white women voted. I’m an advocate as a Democrat, that we need to support women of color to run. They are the voice that is saving our party and country. In the broader sense, the people who are resisting the hardest tend to be women but if you look at the first women, even within Congress, to step out and make noise it was Barbara Lee, it was Maxine Waters. It was women of color.
Last night, Alabama showed a thorough repudiation of Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. The Republican party is in a circular firing squad, which is kind of amazing to watch, but I also have a theory—and we will see what happens with time—that what is happening now in feminism and the women’s movement can actually be the thing that takes down Trump. It might be the Mueller probe but it could be the women. What also heartened me last night is that our country has shifted on this idea of normalizing sexual assault and it’s not going to be ok anymore. In terms of revisiting the allegations against Trump in 2016, and as we approach 2018, I think that could have real impact. The message from last night is that Americans are not willing to accept that.
Excitingly, it was announced today that The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump’s First Year by Amy Siskind, will be published by Bloomsbury in April 2018.
I really struggled with the book because first of all, I don’t have the hours of the day to focus on a book. I kept telling publishers wait. It was finally the publisher Bloomsbury that said we looked at it and the first 52 weeks are a 400 page book. Part of the concern people have had, and it’s becoming increasingly real, is that the list would get hacked and disappear. Now with net neutrality, people are writing to me and are very concerned about having access. The idea of having the list printed out really started to speak to me more and more. It’s just interesting to open up the book and see week one and see what we have normalized. What was not normal in November 2016 and in each week what has happened, especially those early weeks that we’ve already forgotten about. It’s very powerful to read.
If someone sits down and sees that in week one, Trump is attacking the cast of Hamilton. On week two, Melania and Barron aren’t moving to the White House and Trump, himself, wasn’t at the White House. These are things that we long ago forgot about but they were the creeping authoritarianism that in this chaos we have normalized. I think seeing what has happened in writing helps us capture what we have already lost and gives us a way to trace our way back.
I’m glad that the list will become a historical document.
Me, too. It is in the Library of Congress, too. In old days I would say people are being paranoid saying this but people have said Trump could wipe out the list from the library of Congress pretty easily. People are right, they are justifiably paranoid. The idea of having the list in writing just makes me feel better all around that it’s there.