This is the paradox progressives at all levels of politics must grapple with as they figure out what to do next: They see Trump—and by extension, his supporters—as violating basic principles of decency and morality.
And yet, this is what democracy wrought. Across all levels of government, America is about to be run by Republicans. They hold both chambers of 32 states’ legislatures, compared to 13 controlled by Democrats. They are the governors in 34 states. They dominate both houses of the United States Congress. No amount of protesting can change the fact that 60.5 million Americans voted for Trump. He will still be president, and many of those who elected him will still think in ways radically different from progressives. Protesters in Philadelphia and elsewhere seem to be mobilizing a political resurgence. But first, they’ll have to decide how much they’re willing to engage with Trump voters in a bid to win back their votes—even though many progressives think, as 21-year-old Mary Sarbaugh put it, “all of them are a little bit racist.”
At the protest in Philadelphia, one microcosm of the larger progressive backlash against Trump, many people seemed oriented toward taking action: “After we feel our feelings, we have work to do,” one of the organizers shouted through her bullhorn. A number of the protesters were new to the political scene.
“I regret not being more active in the Hillary Clinton campaign,” said Kathryn Graves, a 23-year-old from Virginia who identified as a queer woman of color. She felt comfortable under Obama’s presidency, she said, and “because of that, I was able to be complacent. … It gave me a false sense of security.”
Trump’s election changed that. “I do feel an element of personal responsibility in how little I was active before now,” Graves said. “My friends and I have resolved to attend every town hall we can find, local elections—basically anything where we can show up and get involved.” Many of the protesters talked about the importance of donating money to groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and organizing coat and food drives. “I’m going to protest every day I can,” said Assad Khafre, a 23-year-old from Philly.
Others echoed the need for engagement with local politics. Ted Bobik, 29, said he was going to start “paying attention to every election, from the biggest to the smallest—making sure that votes count in all election cycles.” The two-party structure of American politics caused this election’s outcome, he said. “I want to try and vote third-party in smaller elections and try and break up this two-party system that way.”
At the party level, Democrats are already turning toward 2018, when they might have a chance to win back some seats in the U.S. House and Senate. But they will be starting with a hurdle: Democratic voters generally don’t turn out in midterm elections. “I’m terrified that people’s anger now, they’re going to cover it because they can’t handle it, and not do anything,” said Katie Caulfield, a 27-year-old south Jersey native. “I’m planning to write myself about how angry I am. … It’s going to arrive at my house the day before midterms, just in case future me has decided to stop doing anything.”