Why despair in the age of Trump means we need to know more, not less

Here’s what surprised me the most during Donald Trump’s first month in office – a period I prefer to think of as my first month with the Shadow Cabinet.

During each of the past four weeks, I’ve interviewed one remarkable woman: an immigration lawyer in New Mexico, a public-education advocate in Alaska, a business owner who promotes activism through art in Pennsylvania, and a Washington, D.C. innovator who made congressional pressure as easy as sending a text.

Before each chat, I was nervous, and not just because these women are powerful and extraordinary. I was nervous because they know so much about the problems facing our country, and are so in tune with populations and institutions at risk. I expected to learn terrible truths and come away the way I generally come away from the news: depressed and feeling helpless.

Instead, every time, I hung up the phone and practically ran up the walls with excitement. Allegra, Alyse, Maryam and Laura replaced my despair with energy.

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‘Making calls is the gateway drug to political involvement’

Every woman I’ve spoken to for this series is busy by definition. But in the case of Laura Moser, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that I can hear the time pressure in her voice over the phone – understandable for a woman who is surely experiencing one of the busiest times in her life.

A woman who, in a matter of months, has become the person on whom hundreds of thousands of people depend to help them strike back at the Trump Administration’s most extreme positions.

A woman with a $30,000 phone bill.


How did Moser, 39, an accomplished writer and mother of two, come to preside over the phenomenon that is Daily Action, a service through which users can easily sign up – just text DAILY to the number 228466 – to receive a daily text tailored to their specific location with a key message to convey to their representatives? (The service then automatically connects the user to the elected official of the day, making a daily call a one-stop operation that can be done almost hands-free on the way to work.)

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‘Can we bridge this gap?’

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I’ll admit it. When I picture an activist, I tend to envision picket lines and marches and petitions; if I associate it with a profession or field, it’s probably the law or politics. Activism is all of those things, but as I browsed with amazement through the website of Philadelphia Printworks, I realized that a true activist can infuse any of her endeavors with that spirit – art, fashion, business, writing, or, in the case of Printworks founder Maryam Pugh, all of the above.

The local business, which Pugh, 35, created in 2010, sells clothes in thought-provoking collections such as School of Thought, whose collegiate designs bear the names, not of famed universities, but of iconic black thinkers and leaders such as Harriet Tubman or Audre Lord. Other collections include Cats Against Catcalling, Professional Black Girl and Cognitive Dissonance – basically, these are clothes that are guaranteed to start a conversation.

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‘This is grassroots: just authentic’

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If there’s one word I do not associate with the frantic struggle against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, it’s “fun.” But when I called a stranger more than 6500 miles away who’s in the thick of that fight, she reminded me that fun is a key component of activism, even when the stakes are dire.

(Courtesy of Alyse Surratt Galvin/Via Facebook)

Three years ago, Alyse Surratt Galvin, 51, attended a school board meeting to find out why funding cuts were threatening the job of her kids’ beloved art teacher; she went on to co-found Great Alaska Schools, a non-partisan advocacy group focused on quality public education statewide. The educational consultant and mother of three eventually stepped back from her consulting work to focus on the organization full-time.

Great Alaska Schools supporters made headlines across the country last week when they took on their first national education issue, flooding the offices of Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan to ask them to oppose DeVos. Murkowski then announced she would oppose the nomination, telling the Alaska Dispatch News that the estimated 30,000 calls her office had received were “overwhelming.”

As I scrolled through the story, a woman with a megaphone caught my eye. Who was she? How did she get there, and how were Alaskans creating such a vibrant movement?

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