by Jeremy Ornstein
Chair, Massachusetts High School Democrats
Almost a month has gone by since President Trump has taken office, and he has already (tried to) put in place several of the promises he made during his campaign. Responding to fierce anti-globalism sentiments, he railed against the Trans-Pacific Partnership on the campaign trail, a deal lobbied for by former president Obama that would significantly lower barriers to trade. As one of his first executive actions on the job, he officially pulled the U.S out of the deal. A Carrier air-conditioner production plant, which was in danger of being closed and moved to Mexico at a cheaper cost to the company, remained in Indiana. Trump, who had been criticizing Carrier’s decision and lobbied the company to the contrary, took credit for the decision, which saved hundreds of jobs. Most leaders and Americans of varying political ideologies would be supportive of these new, tangible changes. The TPP received criticism from all sides of the aisle for the economic sacrifices it made, and without the Carrier plant, a community would be in economic catastrophe.
But the methods to achieve these ends were not without sacrifices themselves. Without a strong trade deal, and especially with the strong tariffs that Trump has continued to support, America may fall behind in international competition. And the Carrier plant success, which was purportedly achieved with a mix of tax incentives and contract threats, may be the beginning in a long line of crony capitalism- in essence, money is given to already wealthy corporations rather than put to creating more efficient jobs. Instead of working to strengthen communities, it seems as though some of President Trump’s first presidential actions have simply been poor economic choices. In fact, the full picture of his time so far in office does not stop there; through a series of economic and social decisions, he has weakened the power of communities in the face of capitalism. Immigration raids have been ordered to increase, aggressively-- not to mention the implementation of plans to build a border wall. The ban on immigrants and refugees from 7 predominantly Muslim countries, while reversed in the courts, also aim to target and minimize important, American, communities. The deregulation of infrastructure projects like the Dakota Access and Keystone Pipelines open up vulnerable areas to potential environmental damage, and the freezing of federal workforce hiring is especially destructive for communities with minorities or people of color, both of which make up a large portion of the federal workforce. The continued repeal process of the Affordable Care Act only serves to limit the medical care of working-class Americans, including the many men and women who voted for him. But all of these harmful executive actions also serve to overshadow what could be done, like working to strengthen labor laws, broaden environmental protections, fight climate change, invest in better job training, reform the justice system, all of which would build, rebuild, or protect communities in danger of flooding, subject to unjust sentencing, and still recovering from the economic recession.
President Trump criticizes America’s involvement in the world, claiming that his administration’s policies, in the classically simple slogan, support America First. But even if closing America off to the rest of the world, giving American businesses free reign, and strengthening rigid borders gives the stock market a momentary boost, those policies also serve to destroy the communities that have, and will, define our country as a whole. Facing this terrifying moment in U.S. history as someone who considers themselves an activist, I am scared. My state government is progressive and powerful, as are my elected officials on the national stage, and I know that organized political voices, in marches or letter writing campaigns, can make a difference. But the election was in November, and in this country, that’s when democracy is in action-- unless you’re donating money, the opportunity to make a direct, visible difference in your government before and during elections, through grassroots organizing and the simple act of voting. Passionate leaders in congress may be able to resist the worst of Trump’s nominees and initiatives, and state leaders will have some room to resist, and enact strong legislation of their own. But for the most of us, Trump is in the driver’s seat at the federal level, and will be for the next two years, at the least.
So what do I do? The concept of the American community is being attacked, and from the highest of levels. Even when unified, successful resistance pushes back against what must not be done, it fails to accomplish what it must. For the next year and a half, leading up to midterms and my graduation of high school, I’ve decided that I’m going to try and fight for my community. Political organizing will be a crucial part of my community work. Registering and pre-registering voters, the latter possible only recently in Massachusetts, is one of the best ways to get people involved and prepare for the strongest possible electoral impact. Engagement in other ways, too, even networking, finds and retains potential activists who become more and more important as election day nears. Local advocacy, manifested for my state group of young activists, the Massachusetts High School Democrats in letter writing campaigns, gets citizens and students excited about political issues and engaged with their representatives. All of this political activity has the ability to make actual differences in local, state and even national government, when elections roll around. But I’ve been thinking about settlement houses, too, the progressive-era community centers which sought to fit the community’s needs, from alleviating poverty, to education, to political mobilization. Not only were they successful in giving aid to the people who needed it, but they unified neighborhood voices to fight for political issues when the moment demanded it. In the face of a hostile, incompetent, unjust administration, my goal is not just to organize a political resistance, but to try and help fit my community’s needs. It will be nowhere near simple, and the projects that I’ve envisioned and begun to work on, like a composting project and a school program advocating historical awareness, are also fairly small in scale. I know that in the midst of our present political turmoil, I didn’t attend a single GSA meeting at my school. The scale of the club is minor, but the power that even a single person can bring to the group is incredible. Instead, I organized. That, too, was meaningful- giving politically passionate people an outlet is gratifying and made a small political difference. But after Massachusetts High School Democrats canvassed and organized, making trips up to New Hampshire for Senator Hassan and through the phone lines to senators advocating against Senator DeVos, and my community is still threatened or limited by a lack of political change, I’m altering my strategy. Political revolutions are good, but they don’t just come when we get angry. Tangible community initiatives will help to fix the problems that we’re advocating about, and will help prepare our communities when it’s time to mobilize politically. Before we can expect political change, we have to make community change.
- "How Donald Trump Got Carrier to Stay." CNNMoney. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
- "What Is a Settlement House?" What Is a Settlement House? N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
- Boodman, Eric. "Arthritis Pills or Dinner: With Health Benefits Threatened, Retired Coal Miners Face Impossible Choices." STAT. STAT, 19 Dec. 2016. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
- Baker, Peter. "Trump Abandons Trans-Pacific Partnership, Obama's Signature Trade Deal." The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 Jan. 2017. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
- Sharma, Ruchir. "When Borders Close." The New York Times. The New York Times, 12 Nov. 2016. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
- "All of Trump’s Executive Actions so Far." The Agenda. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.