“What can I do? I feel like I should do something.” This basic conundrum reverberated throughout conversations I had once the shock settled in after November 8th, after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. For women who felt like we were headed into an administration that was openly hostile to our gender (not to mention a host of other issues), what was our recourse?
On the evening after the Women’s March, images flashed across my television screen of millions of people marching around the globe. News anchors speculated: is this going to grow into a movement, a concerted resistance against the Trump agenda? Or is this just a one-off protest? In other words, would the march translate into sustained action?
I wondered that myself, and I keep thinking about it — especially as things are only getting harder. Trump is still trying to enact his Muslim Ban, our access to affordable health care is constantly under threat, Trump has banned transgender service members from the military, he has rescinded DACA, and he has rolled back the birth control insurance mandate. And that doesn’t even cover all of the injustices we are facing.
What have everyday people — not politicians, not lawyers — been doing to combat the Trump agenda?
I had to look no further than three badass women to get my answer.
Before the ink had even dried on Trump’s order to reinstate and expand the global gag rule on his second day in office, effectively cutting billions of dollars in badly needed foreign aid for family planning and essential health services, Evvie Harmon had already sprung into action.
Evvie Harmon is a yoga teacher and entrepreneur from one of the most conservative districts in South Carolina.
She is also one of the co-founders and the Global Coordinator of January’s Women’s March. Having grown up in South Carolina, I tell her that I almost fell out of my chair when I learned that one of the Women’s March co-founders was from South Carolina. She laughs.
The morning after the election, Evvie got a Facebook invite for the Million Women March on Washington created by Teresa Shook. She immediately created a South Carolina March page and sent a message to Shook, letting her know the idea was brilliant.
In her message, Evvie also suggested getting people to march in their own respective states in solidarity.
Shook then asked her to help get statewide marches organized. “I told her I can give you 20 hours a week,” Evvie says. “Now we laugh about that. It was more like 120 hours a week.”
They had twenty-seven states who committed to marching in the first day. Two weeks later, groups abroad started to get in touch about joining. Soon local marches were organized in Australia, the UK, and Norway, among other countries. With only two months to get plans, permits, bussing and other logistics into place, the road certainly wasn’t always smooth. But on January 21st, the Women’s March took place — and more than 5 million participants marched worldwide.
Evvie credits this massive turnout to the grassroots approach that organizers used. She cites a call they had with human rights activist Bernice King as particular inspiration.
“She told us that we need to focus on three to five issues to get our message across. What we wanted to do is give everyone a voice on a grassroots level,” she says. “Each Women’s March entity could focus on what messages were important to their local area. Who knows better what needs to change in Charleston than people who live in Charleston?”
We talk about increased political advocacy in the Trump era. Evvie says that she definitely thinks more people, even those who may have been previously politically aware, have now been driven to action. She herself has always followed the issues and been moved to activism on an issue-by-issue basis. When Proposition 8 passed in California in 2008, making same-sex marriages illegal in the state, she organized in South Carolina to bring attention to marriage equality as a right.
“We did a march of just under five hundred people in Charleston, and then there was also a demonstration in Greenville and Columbia as well — that was the first big thing I worked on organizing from a grassroots level.” She credits this experience as giving her the tools to take on the huge task of helping to organize the Women’s March.
One March participant in January was Lauren Brokaw, an LA-based jewelry designer.
When I ask her about her level of activism before Trump’s election, she admits that she has recently become much more politically active, and that the administration’s agenda has been the catalyst.
“I always thought that I should keep my business and my personal beliefs separate,” she says, “but I am a female who owns a business that employs all women and sells to women, so I figured I could intertwine the two with a positive message of female empowerment.”
She decided to use her label, Stella and Bow, to raise money for Planned Parenthood and designed the “NASTY” bracelet, which Stella and Bow launched on Inauguration Day.
100% of the proceeds from the sales of the bracelet go to Planned Parenthood, and she has thus far raised over $12,000 for the organization.
She was also recently invited to sell the bracelets at actress Emma Stone’s Family and Friends Planned Parenthood charity bingo event, helping to raise even more funds for PP.
“So many people have now become outspoken and have used their platforms, from very small to very large, to speak out,” Lauren says. “In years past, all you could really do is call or write to various people in the political system. Now it’s a new ball game.”
We talk about how social media and organizations like Indivisible have given people a voice and an outlet to take action. “I think it makes some people feel better,” she says.
It has certainly led to a new, emerging group of young activists. Tona Brown is among them, though she is no stranger to trailblazing.
As the first African American transgender woman to perform at Carnegie Hall, the violinist and vocalist has also performed for President Obama and around the country. Tona Brown is now dedicated to engaging young people on the issues through her work.
When we talk about her path to activism, Tona says, “I didn’t choose activism. By nature of living my truth, I’m considered to be making a political statement. So I’ve had to educate myself on the issues that I was being confronted with.”
In her appearances at colleges and other organizations, she’s learned to use humor to convey her story in a way that is relatable, with the hopes of triggering her audiences to consider things in a different way than they are accustomed to.
Post-election, faced with the Trump administration’s overwhelming amount of disturbing policies, Tona considered how best to focus her efforts. Given that the National Endowments for the Arts and for the Humanities are both at risk of losing funding under the current administration’s budget proposals, she decided to concentrate on arts advocacy.
“The arts are an equalizer that shouldn’t just be available to the privileged,” she says.
And so, she has thrown herself into community-based work, teaching music to students in the D.C. area. “It started out as just music lessons, but it is so much more,” she tells me. “My students are so politically aware. They have a real sensitivity to and passion for the issues.”
Furthermore, Tona sees music as an outlet for her students. She explains, “There are students like me out there that would have been bullied. And, without the arts, they won’t have the opportunity I did to access their imagination and see their worlds as a different place.” The arts are the only subject she related to growing up. Without that outlet, she feels she would have faced depression or worse. This is why she is so passionate about advocating for arts education.
She is also currently writing a book on growing up and living as a transgender women in the South, and is planning a nationwide campus tour for next year. “It’s really important to engage with young people not only on the issues, but also on their own personal interests, those that resonate beyond the glamorization of politics.”
“Even if you’re frustrated,” she says, “you can do something to directly or indirectly influence the world.”