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Columbia

Ahead of Trump's inauguration, Howard County Democrats rebound

Galvanized by the election of Donald Trump, who will take the oath of office as president on Friday, some Democrats in Howard County are ramping up grassroots efforts to prepare for the next four years.

The local Democratic Committee in Howard is busing nearly 400 people to the Women's March on Washington Jan. 21, joining thousands from around the country who are preparing to head to the nation's capital for a major demonstration following the inauguration. Around 200 people are on the Howard committee's wait list and six buses filled up in less than a week after the election.

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Abby Hendrix, chairwoman of the Howard Democratic Committee, said the purpose of the march has shifted from being an outlet for women to a rallying point for people of all races, religions and walks of life concerned about the Trump presidency.

"We may not have won but we certainly have a voice and we have a collective voice when we come together," Hendrix said. "It's not just about women feeling a sense of being oppressed over the next few years. It's about all of us and the kind of tone we want to set going forward."

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In Howard County, where Democrats heavily outnumber Republicans, local Democrats said the election has brought new life into grassroots activism and could amp up community engagement as local advocacy organizations spring up after the election.

At a standing-room-only event in late November, more than 300 people packed Kelsey's Restaurant in Ellicott City for "Do the Most Good," a community initiative launched by Dylan Goldberg, a local Democratic activist, and by former County Councilwoman Courtney Watson, who also led Hillary Clinton's Maryland for Hillary campaign.

"The election results have motivated people in Howard County who were never involved before to be involved now and that is not a bad thing," Watson said. "I think the key and most interesting point is that many of these people were not previously involved in activism."

"Do the Most Good" is a campaign with 300 volunteers that plans to complete community service projects and keep tabs on changes in federal policies and law. The campaign isn't driven by party and organizers don't ask for party affiliation, but most members lean toward the Democratic Party or are independents, Watson said.

Richard Fenton, a 64-year-old Ellicott City resident who voted for Hillary Clinton, is a newcomer to politics and said the election spurred him to get involved with "Do the Most Good." He retired nearly a decade ago from Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"I'm very concerned about the direction of the country," Fenton said. "I don't want to sit back and relax and see how things go. I've been on the phone calling politicians, voicing on my concerns and I will continue to do that. Everyone has a part to play, whether it's Republicans or Democrats."

The campaign's aims are wide-ranging. A food drive is planned for the spring and a multi-cultural event is also in the works. Members are currently monitoring the presidential appointment process and weighing in on appointments.

"People tend to be fairly uninvolved after an election. But now people see the need to stay involved in between election cycles and hold our representatives accountable," said Columbia resident Liz Carson, 67, who was involved in campaigning for Clinton.

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Following the election, another new club joined the ranks of other Democratic clubs in Howard County: the Democratic Women's Club of Howard County. Co-founders Jenna Salmon and Christiana Rigby, both 32-year-old Columbia residents, mulled the idea of the club before the election, hoping it would be an opportunity to build momentum after Clinton's win.

But Clinton's loss in November was an impetus for the expedited launch of the club. The group, which originally planned to launch in February, had its first meeting on Dec. 1 to determine its priorities and focus. More than 70 people attended the meeting, far more than the 20 attendees organizers expected.

"The feeling before the election was more of one of continued progress and unity. That is still there, but now a very large protective element exists now," Rigby said. "The election was a candle. The election results poured kerosene on it."

Salmon agreed. "Now is the time to act, while the momentum is still there and people are passionate," she said.

Before the election, Hendrix wasn't sure if another club was needed. The county already has several local clubs, including a club for young Democrats and another for Democrats in Ellicott City and the western portions of the county.

Hendrix calls the club a "no brainer."

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"We missed an opportunity to get a woman elected," Hendrix said. "You have to start at the local level and build capacity. That's what we're doing. We're building from the bottom up."


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