The year that followed Donald Trump’s upset victory witnessed the Women’s March, record numbers of women running for office, the birth of new organizations dedicated to progressive social change as well as the bolstered support of long established activist groups. At the forefront of this resistance and change are women. VICE Impact was able to speak to organizers from the Women’s March, Sister District, and Planned Parenthood about progress they’ve made and their plans for 2018.
Women’s March organizer and Unity Principles author Winnie Wong said of the original event on January 21, 2017: “The Women’s March, as I think we all know, has earned its place in history as the largest single-day protest… more than 5.5 million people turned out around the world and 1.2 million in D.C. In the year [since then], we’ve seen the rise of women at large.”
“This past year the Trump and Pence Administration tried to come for us—they came for women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, and immigrants. And the people said, no,” Kelley Robinson, National Organizing Director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund told VICE Impact. “I’ve been organizing in progressive politics for over a decade and I’ve never seen anything like the activism, energy, and grassroots organizing that’s happened over the last year.”
"There was all of this energy and all these people that wanted to do something."
The Women’s March organization has evolved since last January to organize coalition building events and actions, including Women’s Convention in Detroit last fall. On January 21, their anniversary, the organization will host an event in Las Vegas, Power to the Polls. As Wong told VICE Impact, “This will be the kickoff event for what is going to be a national tour led by the national cohort of the Women’s March… to mobilize voters to the polls, meaning voter registration, voter engagement, and voter awareness.”
“We have to elect true progressives. And by that it doesn’t even meant that the [candidates] have to be women, it means that women have to be deciding who’s elected,” She said. Wong added that the Women’s March also expects to roll out an endorsement process for political candidates who adhere to their Unity Principles over the next few weeks.
“[The convention] won’t be dissimilar from the January 21 event last year. Only this year, it’s about power. Last year’s cry was ‘resist.’ This year’s rallying cry is ‘We’ve been resisting and now we’re taking the power back.’” Wong said.
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Wong also referenced the “thousands and thousands of… commemorative, one-year anniversary marches that are happening [this weekend] around the country and around the world. Those marches are being led by groups that are considered allies to us and that are also independent of us—so that’s very exciting in the sense that the movement is very decentralized.”
In terms of working with ally organizations, Wong said that both newer organizations that were born out of the 2016 election like Sister District as well as “political mainstays” like Planned Parenthood will continue to be at the same table.
Robinson affirmed this, noting, “Absolutely. Planned Parenthood affiliates are joining in dozens and dozens of Women's marches across the country this weekend. In Las Vegas, Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains is hosting a huge voter registration training, and PP Action Fund president Cecile Richards will be speaking at the national Women's March event [also] in Las Vegas.”
VICE Impact spoke with Lala Wu, a co-founder and director of engagement and partnerships for Sister District—new group working to flip elections in favor of progressive candidates by matching volunteers who live in Democratic strongholds with Democratic campaign teams in state-level elections.
“We were founded shortly after the election and really the gap we were trying to fill—and the need that we saw—was that there was all of this energy and all these people that wanted to do something, and many of them lived in these deep blue places,” Wu explained of Sister District’s conception. “We very quickly thought to ourselves, maybe we could just redistribute the resources a little bit as there are so many elections elsewhere that could really use the help.”
The organization now has over 25,000 volunteers across the country, who are organized “based on where they actually live—that’s the beauty of it. You can be involved in Sister District anywhere, you don’t have to be in a swing state,” Wu explained. “Last year, we raised over $350,000 in small dollar cash donations and that was mostly through house parties [thrown by our volunteers] … as well as made 85,000 phone calls, knocked on 30,000 doors, sent 40,000 postcards and 185,000 text messages.”
The sister city model has been successful thus far: last year, Sister District supported fifteen races—primarily in Virginia, as well as one in Washington state and one in Delaware. Fourteen were successful.
Sister District’s action plan for 2018 centers around supporting state senate races where 1) Democrats are only a few seats down and there is a real opportunity to flip the chamber, 2) Democrats have fragile majorities they will have to work to hold onto, and 3) heavily Republican chambers in “critical battleground states where can make good inroads,” Wu explained. They will kick off their second year with a summit, From Marches to Meetings, in Oakland this weekend.
Sister District is hardly the only electoral change organization born out of the 2016 election—along with groups like Swing Left and Flippable, Wu called them a cohort of sorts with great relationships. She explained how in the Virginia state races last year, there was a lot of coordination between all of the organizations: “The different groups were talking to one another, there were these round table calls that happened periodically—I think we did those monthly—really just to make sure that everyone was on the same page and knew what was up, and [provide] different opportunities to share resources.”
She continued, “We also have great relationships with people who have been around for a really long time, doing this work for a really long time, and we’re very grateful and try to practice a lot of humility in working with and seeking out their guidance and insights.”
One such long-established organization, Planned Parenthood, saw drastically bolstered support since the election with over 1.5 million new supporters and 250,000 new volunteers.
“What followed [the Women’s March] truly changed this country,” Robinson remarked. “Americans flooded the Congressional switchboard, swarmed town halls, and rallied outside politicians’ offices. And together we brought down Trumpcare, and this Administration’s attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. Not once, not twice, but three times. In that moment, we realized our power.”
In terms of Planned Parenthood’s own initiatives, Robinson said the organization will begin the year by hosting over 100 community organizing meetings in January and February “where our volunteers will create targeted action plans to both defend against local attacks, and also advance policies at the school board, city council, and state legislature level.”
She continued, “By the end of this year, we’re organizing and resourcing our best volunteer leaders to create over 600 volunteer action councils in every community with a health center. This will be 100 percent volunteer-led teams that will lead sustainable, holistic, and data-driven campaigns to advance policies in their communities.”
Legislatively, Robinson declared, “Our supporters, affiliates, and volunteers are going to push for policies to advance access to sexual and reproductive health care in all 50 states this year. We’ll be doing it in states like New Jersey and Washington where electoral victories have opened up opportunities to advance proactive bills, and in states like Florida that are pushing for increased access to birth control… We’re not just playing defense this year.”
“Americans flooded the Congressional switchboard, swarmed town halls, and rallied outside politicians’ offices. And together we brought down Trumpcare, and this Administration’s attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. Not once, not twice, but three times. In that moment, we realized our power.”
Wu expressed a similar sentiment. “What’s really happened in the last year, in addition to us going from marches to meeting to organizing in just one year is that we are really starting to shape a positive, progressive vision. And becoming not just a party of ‘no,’ but also a party of ‘yes,’ and forward thinking, and what can we do for our futures.”
Wong expressed how inclusivity at the heart of the Women’s March movement. “It’s so important to remember that at the national leadership table, the founder of the Bernie Sanders movement—that’s me— and the founder of Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza, we hang out… It’s resisterhood.”
Looking ahead, Wong believes a commitment to the intersectional feminism ingrained in the march’s principles has taken hold with millennial young women. “These newly minted activists who have been inspired [especially] over the past year by systems led by women, I think they’re the new wave of intersectional feminists. The women’s march container is so big, and so inclusive—it allows women all around the country to enter the movement where they are and say ‘What is structural patriarchy?’ and ‘What does [structural patriarchy] really mean for me if I work at Papa John’s?’ or ‘What does it mean for me if I’m the wealthier daughter of the town accountant who is going to an Ivy League school?’ The young women, they’re all starting to question it, which is so important because we really need that kind of critical self-evaluation in our culture now, more than ever. And that’s happening.”
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