No Sleep Till 2020: Artists and Activists Plot the Opposition

No Sleep Till 2020: Artists and Activists Plot the OppositionEXPAND
Zohar Lazar

Lea DeLaria
LGBTQ activist, comedian, and star of Orange Is the New Black

I'm a 58-year-old butch dyke. When I came out it was illegal to be gay in every state in the union. I have spent nights in jail in Illinois and in Missouri — once for holding hands with a girl in public and once for kissing a girl in public. So let me just say I've been one of the people who's been on the front lines trying to change things. And I am not a fucking liberal; I'm a radical. I've never preached tolerance [of despotism] in my life. I've always taken an outsider view in the way I do my politics. I don't work within the system to maintain the status quo. So when I wake up and find an American Pol Pot in a really bad combover has been elected president of the United States — a person who is threatening to take away all the rights I have spent my entire life working for — one can understand my feelings of frustration and rage. When I feel frustration and rage, I put it into comedy and the rest of my work. And since I know the Voice audience, I am going to take a moment to say: The people who protest-voted [against Hillary Clinton] are whiny, privileged idiots. How dare they think their quote-unquote ideals are more important than people's lives? [You might be] talking about the poor white guy who lost his job in the coal industry and whose family is at risk — I get that. We need to have that conversation (and maybe one about finally getting rid of the Electoral College — it made a lot of sense in the nineteenth century when people were riding horses, but it makes absolutely no sense now). But voting for a fascist who will change the course of history and possibly take our democracy away — that's gonna make it very hard for me to be your ally.

Demetre Daskalakis
Physician/advocate for LGBTQ health care and HIV treatment and prevention

People who work in HIV have always straddled the line between activism and science, to the point that this line in 2016 is not perceivable: The progressive missions that we have launched to end AIDS, stigma, and the "-isms" that fuel the epidemic don't stop because of an administration change. We need to protect the house we have built and work to make it even stronger and better. Evolution means adapting to change. We need to shift our shape and raise our activist hearts, minds, and voices. If asked to serve we should serve. We can't just be silent; we have lived through the lesson that silence equals death. We need to stay radical.

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Honestly, this is where we shine. The nearly seamless interaction between community and public health in the realm of HIV means that the foundation of our house is strong. We will protect our house using decades of experience and reams of data supporting our work. Our community gives me hope. Science gives me hope. Love for our populations gives me hope. I anticipate that we will be ending the epidemic of HIV in New York City and New York State by 2020, with love and respect, as planned. NYC is above all resilient, relentless, and a beacon of hope.

Linda Sarsour
Executive director of the Arab American Association of New York

I am most afraid for the thousands of undocumented youth who will be stripped of their legal status once Trump revokes Obama's executive orders. I am afraid for young Arab, Muslim, and Mexican youth who are experiencing trauma, depression, and uncertainty. I am also afraid of the silent majority — will they now realize it's time for them to stand up and speak out? It's simple. Reach out to your neighbors; let them know you support them and that no matter who is in the White House, we will protect one another. Push your local City Council members, mayor, and others to ensure that New York remains a sanctuary city. What gives me hope is that out of 320 million Americans, only 60 million people voted for Donald Trump. He didn't win with a mandate, and that means a majority of Americans do not subscribe to his agenda. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have flaws, but to give credit where it's due, they have ensured programming and pushed initiatives to welcome and support immigrant communities, including the undocumented. Hopefully, we continue on that path and work even harder under the Trump administration.

Chuck D
Rapper, activist

I don't believe in hope. I believe you either do or you don't, and as a black person in the United States — as someone who's old enough to have experienced presidents who don't give a fuck about you — that tells me we need to tighten our helmets. When I was in my twenties we had to deal with twelve years of Reagan and then Bush. And all the walls of my surroundings were crumbling around me: the influx of guns and drugs, the prison system, the lack of opportunity, the lack of jobs. It was devastating. So I don't believe in hope. You can't just hope things will get better. Make things get better, or make people think. My oldest kids, they're in their twenties, and they've gotta figure this out. When we saw the election unfold, I told them, "This affects you guys. Donald Trump is seventy years old, but you have someone in office for four to eight years that's going to affect the next thirty years." This is the problem for people of color. When it comes down to the disenfranchised, a large percentage of the people around you are going to fall victim to it, and you've gotta help them out. Crying is not an option when you're black. You better get up off your ass and figure out how to make it work. With President Obama in office, maybe people felt too comfortable, that things would just be done. But I'm not a believer in hope getting things done — you have to figure out how to make people get things done and charge them up. Not everyone believes in that, and that's cool. But here we are. Gotta come up with some kinds of answers.

Heather K. Sager
Board member, New York Abortion Access Fund

Our work focuses on abortion access, but abortion doesn't exist in a vacuum. So many of our clients are disenfranchised and marginalized in other ways that contribute to their inability to access care. This includes issues regarding race, class, gender, orientation, and so much more. Injustice breeds further injustice, and while each client's story is unique, we see on a daily basis how these issues continue to cycle into each other. It has been heartbreaking to see a return to the idea that women should be punished for accessing care or prosecuted for exercising their rights. I fear an increased normalization of those attitudes. So support your local fund! And support funds in areas with significantly restricted access, such as states with few clinics or that have passed TRAP laws. When you donate to, fundraise for, or raise awareness of a fund, you're helping someone get services they otherwise wouldn't be able to. It's a great way to directly help. Speak up and out. Too many people who call us are afraid — they have been afraid and they continue to be afraid. They feel ashamed and alone, and often the best thing we can offer them is a friendly voice without judgment and with understanding. In your everyday life, anyone can be that voice. Post-election, we've seen an increase in people contacting us to volunteer, and in those wanting to support our organization. In difficult times, seeing people rally together is nothing short of powerful. We believe in working with and within our coalitions — we're strongest together. The best thing supporters can do is show up, talk about abortion, and, if they can, donate or urge others to donate. Together, we'll win.

Donna Lieberman
Executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union

Many people have said this feels like it did after 9-11. And after 9-11, the whole country came together. There's so much people can do. People have been donating to the ACLU, to Planned Parenthood, to organizations that stand for our values, and they need to continue to do that. And it's time for people to join the ACLU, which is easy to do. You can go to demonstrations, you can send emails to elected representatives. We had high hopes for a more progressive result at the state level here in New York, even though we don't do political campaigns because we are a nonpartisan organization. But we expect to be bringing hundreds of NYCLU supporters to Albany in March, and I think that as we adjust our strategies and agendas to the new reality, we will have opportunities for people to get active, to be involved, to support other people, to promote dignity and equality and justice. Right now people are calling and emailing in droves to get on the Peace Train, as we call it. The good news is that there are many, many Americans who are determined to stand up and fight for the values we hold dear, for our freedoms, for unity, for justice, and for dignity. So many people are committed to channeling this populist energy into a new mass movement that can insist on progressive change. I think that the energy is out there to be tapped — and we're determined.

Bianey García
Community organizer and LGBTQ activist with Make the Road New York

Deportation. That was the first thought that came into my head when I heard Donald Trump won the election. Our organization works to protect the rights of immigrant and LGBTQ New Yorkers of color. Some people who come to us for help, they don't have documents in this country, and we are assisting them with the process. We are fighting back against the hate: the homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and all kinds of discrimination. This is personal for me. I'm originally from Mexico. Four years ago, I was undocumented. I was afraid. But now I feel I have to do something for my community. They have dreams to make it in this country — like me. We also have workshops coming up this month to make sure the trans community feels safe, and we're creating safety plans. It seems like a bad dream, but we have to survive. This is so difficult, especially for LGBTQ youth dealing with bullying every day. Now we have a president who is a bully himself. We just have to mobilize people, and I know Make the Road and other organizations are in the process of planning a protest outside the White House. We've been fighting for decades to get LGBTQ rights. If we survived this many years fighting for our rights, making it through struggle after struggle, we're going to survive four years of this president.

Joel Berg
Executive director of Hunger Free America

People can march and protest and blog and write and monitor what Trump and the Republicans say, but I think they need to focus very concretely on the specific proposals and not get distracted by the rhetoric. I'm worried that Trump will essentially outsource his domestic policy to House Republicans and give Paul Ryan a blank check to eviscerate the safety net, so I think right now, people should contact their congressional delegations and talk about their priorities for protecting these things. Urge Chuck Schumer to be really tough in opposition to this. And remind people that the so-called losing candidate did win the popular vote. Certainly, there are some more progressive senators, and nationwide this was really the reawakening of the Latino vote. This wasn't our time, but it is going to happen. I'm hoping Democrats understand that this is a wake-up call and that we need something new. Ninety to ninety-five percent of the money spent on hunger in New York City is originally from the federal government. I hate to be apocalyptic, but if anyone feels shielded from any of this because there happens to be a thin river between us and the rest of the country, they are sorely mistaken.

Bob the Drag Queen
LGBTQ activist

What I'm most afraid of is people forgetting to understand one another in our current social climate. People all think they are doing the right thing. It doesn't mean they are doing the right thing, but people all think they're doing the right thing. If you try to understand someone's actions, and you actually talk to each other, you can figure out each other's motives. If you just shut out everyone on the other side, or if you just delete everyone on your Facebook who supports Trump, or if you ignore everyone who doesn't have your views, then you'll live in a bubble and you'll never see what anyone else thinks. And you'll never actually get anywhere. America is a resilient country. In the LGBTQ community, people are afraid. But I'm not afraid, because I know that people are resilient and queers are resilient and will always prevail.

Lizz Winstead
Co-creator of The Daily Show, founder of Lady Parts Justice

What we're going to see now is how many people are actually willing to step in the thick of it, roll up their sleeves, and make a change. What are we going to do about people who are frustrated about the status quo and the Democratic Party when it comes to developing more progressive candidates and more third-party candidates? Are people going to go, "You know what? Maybe I'm going to run for city council. Maybe I'm going to try and get on my school board. Maybe I'm going to promote getting candidates for these positions into a pipeline." Are they going to do that? Or are they going to be complacent? Because if they're still going to be complacent after this, then heaven help us all. Giving money, while it's really helpful, is never enough. Populating spaces, and having your voice be heard when you're standing in front of the people who are making decisions, and letting them know that their jobs are on the line, that's going to be really important. Because the people who were loudest in this last election were angry, working-class people, and they came out in droves, and Donald Trump spoke to them in a way that I'm still trying to figure out. To me, Game of Thrones is easier to follow than Donald Trump. I really don't know what he said to them, but the fact that he wasn't Hillary Clinton seemed to be enough for people. And that's terrifying to me.

Dean Baker
Co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research

In many ways the most serious threat with Trump is the pledge to do nothing on global warming, because the failure to act is irreversible. If we do nothing to reduce greenhouse gases for four years, and we obstruct efforts by the rest of the world, we don't get this time back. It is not going to be pretty. In terms of folks' ability to fight back, there are two fronts. The first is a personal one. Trump has energized the hardcore racists, xenophobes, misogynists, and other despicable characters. We have to defend those who might be victims of hateful acts by this crew. On a political level, Trump's campaign was about helping the people left behind. His actual agenda will be kicking these people in the face and giving as much money and power as possible to those already on top. We have to expose this fact. I'm sure Trump will help, since he is appointing to the top positions in his administration a group of Wall Street hacks, corporate lobbyists, and other types he railed against in his campaign. People have to know that Donald Trump is not on their side unless they are very rich.

Joan Juliet Buck
Author, activist

I am finding myself reliving the fall of 2000, imagining very hard that Gore won the election, that the entire nation turned toward alternative energy, that we addressed climate change and infrastructure rebuilding, that the reaction to 9-11 had not been to attack Afghanistan and invade Iraq and thus contribute to the dissolution of the Middle East, leading to millions of hopeless Syrian refugees. I'm imagining an alternative universe. For me, one measure of hope is that the Supreme Court will overturn the election result because of the Russian involvement. But that's wishful thinking too. I saw a headline saying that Trump and Obama had praised each other after they met, so is that hope? I've been getting emails from friends saying we have to forgive and try to understand the other side, and I am thinking, "Giuliani? Gingrich? General Michael Flynn?" No. Right now, I'm listening to Leonard Cohen.

Bob Gangi
Director of the Police Reform Organizing Project

My work brings me in direct contact every day with people of color, people living in low-income communities, and they have every reason to be worried and troubled, even frightened, by Trump's presidency. The conclusion we've come to is that we have a deeply racist law enforcement system, starting with police, through the criminal justice system and through our prisons. I'm most afraid of a return to the Giuliani times, to some of the problems we've seen in New York and across the country of cops being more aggressive, more abusive, and more discriminatory. Our city's constituency is at least potentially progressive and receptive to the arguments we're going to be making against abusive and discriminatory policing, and the spirit of our work demands us to continue to be in the arena carrying out direct action with public forums, producing reports, and aggressively organizing for change. Clearly, the outcome of the election was discouraging and painful. The Trump ascendancy is one of the most serious political setbacks our country has experienced with regard to social justice and racial justice. But those who are committed to the cause don't stop because the governor, or mayor, or president is hostile to their agenda.


Tony Kushner
Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright and screenwriter

I have a very deeply cherished belief in democracy, and I have seen in my lifetime over and over again that the will of the people when expressed on a national level can sometimes be badly mistaken. On the other hand, we won the popular election, and 2018 is already on the way. We have a lot of work cut out for us. We know what is coming up and the midterms should not take us by surprise. We have to make sure there is no voter suppression. It takes time to make sure people are registered, and have a way to the polls, and don't deal with the polls closing early and changing locations and confusing people. We need to make sure that people have access and we have to start giving ourselves assignments now. Maybe we can make a difference that way. I honestly think I do my best work when I hate the president in the White House, but I try to keep my activism such as it is and my writing such as it is — they're distinct. If something that I write makes a difference in some way to a number of people, great. I'm happy about that. I'd like my work to be of value to people. But my job as a playwright is to try to tell the truth as much as I can figure out a way to do it and to entertain. And my job as a citizen is to expand the franchise and protect the democracy and keep the democratic experiment going. As of yesterday, I think I have a new idea for a play. I intend to keep going. I see a lot of really amazing people doing incredible work.


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