Jan. 18 2017 01:35 PM

Trump era brings protests both large scale and personal

Stephanie Banghart said she is marching in Washington to protest Donald Trump in order to teach her daughter that "you have to stand up for what you believe in."
Photo by McShane Photography

A morning phone call last week is still gnawing at Aubrey Marron’s conscience.

Marron, of East Lansing, is the local contact for the Jane Doe Fund, a private group that helps connect low-income women with abortion services. On the other end of the phone was a young mother of four. She was pregnant again and desperate to terminate. But she could not afford the $605 to pay for the procedure, and her medical care, provided by the state in which she lived, was prohibited by federal law from paying.

With four young children at home, she was “overwhelmed financially and emotionally,” Marron said.

The mother was trying a home remedy — pennyroyal. It’s a plant used for mosquito repellant for animals. It is known to induce abortions when it is consumed. The problem? To achieve that side effect, a woman has to consume enough of the plant to risk liver and kidney damage, even death.

“She had already taken the pennyroyal for several days,” Marron said via Facebook messenger. “I mean, she could have died! She is so desperate. And I don’t know the ‘right’ dose of pennyroyal to suggest.”

Of course, there is not a ‘right’ dose. It’s a poison.

Marron hears from 80 to 100 women a month desperate to terminate an unplanned pregnancy, but trapped by inadequate insurance options, or none at all. But she’s noticed something in the last two months. The callers are increasingly panicked about their options. That panic is driving the women, she said, to extremes. Another woman was considering abortion by pennyroyal. One woman wanted to know how to use a coat hanger to clear her womb. And yet another announced that her boyfriend was going to hit her in the stomach to cause a spontaneous miscarriage.

Now that the GOP is taking full control of two of the three branches of the federal government, Marron fears that women’s health care services are at increased risk. The Congress, in its first days of session this year, has already made moves to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood programs and clinics.

Sarah Eisenberg is one of the organizers for the March on Lansing to protest GOP control in the state and federal governments.
Courtesy Photo

She said she fears women will die trying to find and access care.

Marron’s fears were mirrored over and over again as America prepares to transition to the 45th president in its history. It’s a time of turmoil fed by a reality television star turned politician and his Twitter fits. It was a bizarre campaign — bitter and divisive in ways not seen in modern politics —– tinged with the scandal of Russian hacking and interference on behalf of Trump. That disease over Trump has spilled over into anxiety and fear as his inauguration nears.

That fear is fed, at least in part, by Trump’s unpredictability. He campaigned on a complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but has since softened that stance, calling for the controversial health care law to be repealed and replaced. Over the weekend he said he wants health care for everyone, but was unclear how his plan would deliver that. He also campaigned on building a wall on the Mexican border and making Mexico pay for it. Now, while still promising the wall, he is expecting Congress to foot the bill and chase Mexico down like a creditor to have them pay for it.

Adding concern for many was the Trump campaign’s promise to deport millions of undocumented workers, ban people from certain countries who adhere to the Muslim faith from the country, and the potential creation of a registry of Muslims. He’s also promised to end same-sex marriage.

Add on top of this his open flirtation and political nods to the rising right wing, white nationalist movement known as the Alt- Right, and the recipe for fear and anxiety is sown.

“One day after the election, my visceral reaction was that so many people decided recognizing the safety of so many of our population was not important,” said Emily Dievendorf, an LGBT activist in Lansing. “Suddenly I had to confront the idea of who — you know in the grocery store or what not — didn’t consider me to be an equal human being. That they were willing to harm or not protect myself or those people that I love.”

That fear for the safety of the community is not without basis. From Nov. 9 to Nov. 16 last year, The Southern Poverty Law Center identified nearly 900 bias incidents. Over 32 percent of those were anti-immigrant driven incidents, the group reported, while nearly 22 percent were anti-black, over 11 percent were anti-Semitic and nearly 11 percent more were anti-LGBT. The Lansing area saw some of this as well. Lansing Police identified two acts of vandalism it tied to the election. Middle school students in DeWitt reportedly blocked lockers by linking arms and chanting “build the wall.” In Okemos, a female student was harassed for protesting Trump’s election.

As a transgender activist heavily involved in politics, Amy Hunter faced the prospect of a Trump presidency with great anxiety at first. The shock of the election upset, combined with his cabinet appointments generated even more concerns. But as Trump raises his right hand and swears the oath of office Friday— the what-ifs and imagining the worst-case scenarios are over at least in Hunter’s mind.

“The rubber will have to meet the road,” she said. “It provides a line of demarcation for those of us working in advocacy. It becomes more of where we are now; that’s when we will begin to have real conversation. And we know, we either need to protect, or fight for, or guard against. In a way that just makes it a little more concrete for me. And I think that will help us focus our energies.”

The anxiety of Trump’s election also sent Sarah Eisenberg down a path of active engagement.

She said she called established progressive political groups seeking ways to engage her fears and frustrations. “Hey,” she recalled saying to various groups, “I am an individual who’s terrified about what’s just happened; what can I do?” There were few answers for her and others. Through social media she connected with others and helped planned a major statewide rally the day after the inauguration.

Like Eisenberg, many Americans are not waiting until Trump and his allies on Capitol Hill have a chance to start taking concrete action — they’re already organizing.

Tens of thousands of women and their supporters will descend on Washington to protest Trump’s inaugural. Tens of thousands more will rally in cities across the country, including here in Lansing. Two events are slated for the capitol over the inaugural weekend.

On Friday, from noon to 1 p.m. a rally will be held on the east steps of the Capitol. That rally will feature speakers like Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Gretchen Whitmer; Sarah Anthony, chairwoman of the Ingham County Board of Commissioners; and Lansing City Councilwoman Judi Brown Clarke.

The following day, from 1 to 3 p.m., thousands of women and their supporters are expected to descend on the Capitol for another rally and protest organized by progressive women across the state. Eisenberg, one of its organizers, said while Trump and his cabinet are concerns for organizers, they were focusing their energy on changing Michigan policies. The trained social worker said the organizers and protesters support an agenda of amending the Michigan Civil Rights Act to include the LGBT community; encouraging and welcoming immigrants; and addressing voting issues, including “partisan gerrymandering.”

Listening to the children at the East Lansing elementary school where her 9-yearold daughter, Alice, attended, Stephanie Banghart was certain the bullying tactics of Trump were a losing strategy. The kids, she said, were talking about “how terrible Donald Trump was.”

But on Nov. 9, the mother of two had to comfort her sobbing daughter who could not understand how Trump had won the presidency. Banghart herself was unsure and absolutely taken aback by the rhetoric that had fueled his win.

She will be in Washington when Trump swears his oath of office, protesting with tens of thousands of others. It’s the first time in her three decades of life she’s felt it necessary to take concrete action to address a political concern.

“I want my daughter to know that you have to stand up for what you believe in,” she said. “I want her to understand that you have to stand up.”

Snaking around underneath the fear and anxiety is a threat of the rise of white nationalism and its legitimatization by the Trump administration. Concerns exacerbated over the weekend when Trump tweeted an attack against U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon. During the campaign, Trump was endorsed by various white nationalist and supremacist groups including the Ku Klux Klan. And he appointed Steve Bannon, the former editor of Breitbart News, a website the traffics in so-called “Alt-right” theories and news stories.

But for Bishop David Maxwell, of Lansing, it is important to note that while the Trump administration is laced with nationalists, Trump himself, Maxwell said, is not “fundamentally unmoveable or alterable on any philosophical or political position. I think at the very core Donald Trump is self-serving and narcisisstic.”

Amy Hunter lectures students at Delta College about transgender experiences. She's worried about what a Trump presidency could mean for advancements under the Obama administration for transgender Americans.
Courtesy photo

The underbelly of the administration — the Bannon wing if you will, is troublesome — but not insurmountable, he said.

“When faced with intolerance and bigotry, we band together to do whatever is possible,” he said. “To minimize it whenever it rears its ugly head.”

For him, that’s the promise of the great experiment of the American democracy. But he acknowledges as well that there were many mis-steps by the Clinton campaign in the election this past fall, including a failure to spend more time in Michigan, where Trump’s win could have been deflated if Democrats had flipped just 5,000 voters from Trump’s column. Part of that mismanagement, he said, was a failure by the Clinton camp and Democrats to fully engage in the street by street, block by block, church by church —a strategy Democrats used to stimulate the African American vote before Barack Obama’s candidacy.

Obama, Maxwell said, was an “anomaly.” Organizers should have recognized that the African American community would fall back into its historic role of low voter turnout. They turned out for Obama, he said, because it was an historic moment for the community, one that won’t happen again.

Dievendorf said that while the white nationalism and Alt-Right influences on the Trump win and administration were troubling, she saw them more as class-related issues. A battle for limited resources at a time when systematic racism and white privilege is being undermined.

“It’s a fight between classes for relevance and for resources,” she said.

Banghart said she feels obligated to engage in the political protests not just for her daughter.

“Up until now, I lived in somewhat of a bubble,” she said. “I surround myself with open and like-minded people, for the most part. I, like so many other people I know and love, thought there was no way a man who spoke about women, immigrants and minorities the way Trump does would win the presidency. His win was a huge wake up call for me personally. Up until now, as much as I’ve used my vote to support equal rights across the board, I’ve never been one to speak out. Maybe because I’m scared of conflict, maybe because I didn’t think my voice was that important. It’s really become clear to me that to remain silent is, in many ways, the same as accepting Trump’s platform of bigotry and intolerance, and I just couldn’t in good conscience do that.”