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Lessons from the Trump era: You have the power to resist

The divisive issue has been at the center of talks between Democrats and Republicans to avert a government shutdown this Friday.

Even the slowest of learners has had ample time in the last year to absorb the lessons of the Trump presidency.

The 45th president of the United States can be relied upon to exalt the most base instincts in people whose support he courts. He can also be relied upon to do that at the expense of poor people, children, women, people of color, workers, urban dwellers, the environment, public transportation, public education — and 700,000 immigrants who fall into a class heretofore protected.

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The so-called “Dreamers,” who have been protected from deportation under the Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, are young people who were brought into the country as children without proper documentation and have grown up as Americans — going to college, building careers, raising families. The wishy-washy president loves them on some days and, on others, in the heat of legislative battle, likens them to criminals out to ruin the country. A campaign ad he approved of accuses Democrats of “holding lawful citizens hostage over their demands for amnesty for illegal immigrants.” This president never lets truth get in the way of a good line to toss to his salivating minions.

Trump's re-election campaign released a provocative new ad accusing Democrats of being "complicit" in the slayings of officers by people in the U.S. illegally.

Mr. Trump had planned to celebrate this state of the union over the weekend at a $100,000 per couple soiree at his Florida mansion that taxpayers subsidize. Instead, with a policy standoff between Republicans and Democrats that led to a brief government shutdown, he was trapped in the White House, forced to look presidential even as he mucked up the negotiations process.

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“Negotiating with the White House is like negotiating with Jell-O. It is next to impossible,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader who more than once has thought he’d privately brokered a deal only to have the president publicly renege.

Some people are watching this Washington scene as they would a reality television show over which they have no control. But, fortunately, others, like the millions of people who took to the streets over the weekend in the Women’s March, have been galvanized into action.

Many women said they came to Baltimore’s rally to build on the momentum of last year’s historic Women’s March on Washington, when hundreds of thousands of people converged on the nation’s capital to condemn Trump’s fledgling presidency.

They have learned another lesson this past year: They have the power to resist. Marching is but one manifestation. The more lasting work is going on behind the scenes in old industrial buildings, in churches and synagogues, in living rooms, in classrooms. For some people, this is all about resistance to Mr. Trump. Those in this for the long haul, however, say that is not enough; one must be all in for social justice and committed to shifting power dynamics.

That Trump politics has been a catalyst is undeniable. But in Baltimore, that energy is being channeled into demanding answers to why some school buildings have become igloos with shivering children trying to learn, into community-based efforts to make a dent in the historic levels of homicide in the city and into influencing the legislative session now underway in Annapolis.

By comparison, schools and violence are easier to organize around than lobbying legislators. But that work, too, is underway in earnest. Baltimoreans are not twiddling their thumbs. I have attended several gatherings in recent weeks where participants are learning the ins and outs of the legislative process and the tactics that work best for particular lawmakers. They are sharing their immediate legislative priorities as well as their long-range goals. They are pooling resources for phone banks, chartered buses, volunteers.

This is what resistance looks like, even though it is easier to grouse among like-minded friends or even to shout through the virtual megaphone of social media.

So, how does one get started? Pick your cause and you’ll probably find an organization already addressing it. Groups like Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, No Boundaries Coalition, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) and Jews United for Justice take on a range of issues. Some target specific areas. Out for Justice is an advocate for ex-offenders. CASA champions immigrant rights. The primary goal of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition is development of the Red Line light rail transit project scuttled by Gov. Larry Hogan.

The point is this: There is no excuse for passivity. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told students years ago: “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: ershipp2017@gmail.com.

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