Trump victory sparks activism

President-elect Donald Trump's surprising victory has galvanized both those inspired and devastated by his win. (Video by Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun)

President-elect Donald Trump's surprising victory has galvanized both those inspired and those devastated by his win to ramp up their activism around the causes that divided Americans the most.

Organizations that work with immigrants, abortion rights, civil rights and scientific advocacy say they've seen a dramatic influx in interest, donations and volunteers since Election Day. Trump had made campaign promises that worried each of those reliably Democratic constituencies.


"With his words and deeds, he's helped organize people against him and more importantly, what he stands for," said Ralph Moore Jr., a longtime community organizer in Baltimore. "People are nervous and afraid, but they know they have to do something."

Republicans, long dwarfed by Democrats in Maryland, see an opportunity to increase their ranks and advance issues that have been marginalized. Gun rights activists hope Trump might move the needle in an otherwise stalled debate in the state. Groups advocating for a crackdown on illegal immigration have gone from hopeless to cautiously hopeful.


Trump's "phenomena is getting people who were never involved before, who felt they never had a voice," said Joe Sliwka, who co-chaired the Trump campaign in Maryland and said half of his volunteers were new to politics. "It's a good opportunity for the Republicans to capture some of these people and keep them in Maryland politics."

Tuesday's election has sparked protests against a Trump presidency in Baltimore and several major U.S. cities. Distraught progressives who said they wept on Wednesday morning resolved by Wednesday afternoon to join a cause.

"We've been activated by Trump's victory in a way that we weren't by the threat of his presidency," said Taylor Frey, a 21-year-old political science and American studies major at Washington College. Frey said he never believed that half the country would support Trump's rhetoric and "remains in a state of shock," like many of his millennial friends.

He said he has already shifted his post-college plans from finding a well-paying job that could reduce his student debt to looking for work at a nonprofit or a political job "where I could make a difference."


"This election has called into question a lot of the rights that my generation has taken for granted," he said. "Millennials are almost out for blood in terms of really getting active in the political process."

Trump, who got 35 percent of the vote in Maryland, also has changed the life trajectory of some supporters, such as Bel Air lawyer Luke Kaczmarek, 28. He long felt disenchanted by the political system but was inspired by Trump's promise to clean up corruption in Washington. Kaczmarek dove into promoting him.

"I found I had a taste for political organizing," he said. Now he's considering applying for a job in the Trump administration.

"What happens next — to use his phrase — is to drain the swamp," Kaczmarek said. "You have to get the corruption out of Washington, and you have to put in people who have integrity and honesty who don't just do the same thing."

While jubilant conservative activists in Maryland are newly invigorated, liberals are vowing to convert their angst into advocacy.

Joanna Diamond, vice president of external relations at Planned Parenthood of Maryland, said the organization normally gets eight new volunteers a week. On Thursday, they got 65.

"It has been incredible," she said. The election has been "empowering people to do something tangible."

Susan Goering, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said calls to her office have doubled this week, and more lawyers have volunteered to help litigate potential cases. On Wednesday, the ACLU's website began featuring a photo of Trump, alongside "SEE YOU IN COURT" and a button to donate to the organization.

"People are calling at this point with an instinctive sense the ACLU is the place to go when people fear that their rights might be in jeopardy," Goering said.

A week before the election, Daniel Pham, 29, a Johns Hopkins University doctoral graduate student studying neuroscience, sent out invitations to a science advocacy event and a few RSVPs trickled in. The morning after Trump's win, the guest count nearly doubled.

He worries about what it would mean for research if Trump appointed to oversee major science institutions someone such as Dr. Ben Carson, who once said the theory of evolution was "encouraged" by Satan.

Pham, who described himself as "a gay, Vietnamese refugee scientist," is worried about what the Trump presidency could do to several aspects of his life. He felt blindsided by Trump's win, and he doesn't want to be blindsided by a Trump policy decision.

"I want to be ready, so when it happens, that we don't go into the same state of shock," Pham said. "We're ready to fight, and we're mobilized."

Nonprofits of all stripes are hoping the election has inspired people to be more engaged with their communities. The Baltimore nonprofit Tool Bank, which lends tools to community groups, has seen a 300 percent increase in social media traffic since the election.

"We view that as kind of a trend that probably will increase volunteerism — and possibly donations — in the near future," ToolBank executive director Noah Smock said.

Trump has energized activists who had been close to giving up.

"You felt helpless in the process," said Brad Botwin, leader of the Help Save Maryland group that for a dozen years struggled to engage politicians about illegal immigration.

He's watched as Maryland issued driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, added programs for them in schools and allowed them to pay in-state college tuition rates. With Trump's election, Botwin thinks that maybe he might get a little more traction and enlist new volunteers.

"People can now speak up because someone at the federal level will be listening," Botwin said.

Trump made fighting illegal immigration a central feature of his campaign, promising to build a wall along the Mexican border, to deport undocumented immigrants and to limit refugees seeking to settle in the U.S. Those promises sparked widespread concern in Maryland's immigrant community.

Seven Baltimore schools asked the immigrant rights group Casa de Maryland for help counseling immigrant students frightened about what the future might hold. Later, the group held a community meeting at a Baltimore church.

More than 150 people showed up, including 20 people who had never before volunteered, said Liz Alex, a regional director for CASA.

"People were depressed, people were angry, people were not really seeing any hope. They were afraid for their children or their parents or themselves," Alex said. "After the grieving, we began to start to think about action."

Trump's election also worried activists for the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community.


A few years ago, Maryland's two major LGBT rights groups merged into FreeState Justice, in part because a decline in donations and volunteers after major policy goals had been achieved. Maryland had approved same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws for transgender people.


In a single hour on Thursday, more than a dozen new volunteers signed up, said Patrick Paschall, executive director of FreeState Justice, which provides legal help to LBGT people.

"We've had an influx of potential clients call us afraid that they're going to lose their rights," Paschall said, adding that he wished the extra help came under different circumstances. "There's no silver lining here."

Before the election, Matt Teitelbaum, 21, saw his future as a behind-the-scenes political organizer for Democrats. Now the Towson University student is considering running for office in 2018. If there's one thing he learned from this election, it's that anything is possible.

"If Donald Trump can be president, I can be a member of the House of Delegates or a member of the Central Committee," Teitelbaum said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.



Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story misstated Ralph Moore Jr.'s first name. The Sun regrets the error.