×

Columnist Andrea Ayvazian: How Trump has made America great again

  • President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.  AP FILE PHOTO



Friday, May 19, 2017

Although it has become cliché, it is also true: Donald Trump has made America great again.

We are great in our resistance, great in our inventive placard-making, great in our love for democracy, great in our ability to differentiate between lies and truth, great in organizing local activist groups, and great in our willingness to defend America’s cherished institutions. Donald Trump has inspired one of the greatest, most organized, most powerful, and most visible movements for change since the Vietnam War.

Young people are energized and active. Older folks are dusting off their sneakers, and middle-aged folks are taking all-night buses to march in Washington, D.C., on almost no sleep. Trump has made us brave again. Trump has made us empowered again. Trump has motivated us to build an opposition movement that is wide, deep, and outraged.

Churned up and agitated over the Trump presidency and what it means for American democracy, I took a long train ride from Springfield to Austin, Texas, in late January to visit my son Sasha. I had days on the train to obsess about the dangers that lay ahead for our country. Plus I had company over meals in the dining car — people from all walks of life and all parts of the country were wringing their hands and despairing about what was to come in the months and years ahead. We talked for hours while the train chugged along through the heartland of America.

It was on that train trip, while in a state of despair, that I thought deeply about what was needed during a time of national crisis. Somehow a whole vision broke through my sense of desperation — I had an idea of what might help us cling to democracy during the Trump years: a school that taught movement building skills — a “pop-up school” that taught useful skills to those seeking to resist Trump’s authoritarianism.

It was on the train trip home, somewhere around Cleveland, that the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership was born in my mind. And the Truth School, as it is known, is now up and running (truthschool.org).

Here is the banner headline across our website home page: “We do one thing. Well. We teach movement building skills. Class after class, week after week, month after month. We prepare social change leaders to win movement struggles.”

The work of the Truth School is modest, focused, and clear: We offer free movement building classes from Greenfield to Springfield. The classes are all held in places that already exist: churches, synagogues, libraries, senior centers, and union halls. We are busily raising funds because we have a firm commitment to pay all trainers without charging students.

The idea was born in January, and the Truth School opened on May 1. We have 42 classes scheduled in May and June, all listed on our website and in a hard-copy catalog that many of us are carrying around and showing to anyone who will listen.

The Truth School classes are as inventive, helpful, and diverse as the team of trainers who are teaching. Here are some examples: “Organizing 101: The Art of Structuring the Most Effective and Winning Campaign Goals, Strategies, and Tactics” taught by Jo Comerford of MoveOn.org; “Preparing to Run for Office” taught by former state Rep. Ellen Story; “Publish or Perish: How to Write For and Get Published In the Mass Media” taught by Michael Klare of Hampshire College; “Organizing Beyond the Silos” taught by Pastor Louis Mitchell of Transfaith; “Mobilizing Millennials: Amplifying Our Voice and Power” taught by Yamila Irizarry-Gerould, activist and organizer; and “Climate Lobby Training for Teens” taught by state Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, and Adele Franks and Lilly Lombard, who are Climate Action Now legislative activists.

We are excited that our fiscal sponsor is the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, D.C. We are their movement school and they are our steady parent. After I talked to John Cavanagh, the executive director of the institute, and told him about the movement building school we were creating in western Massachusetts and asked IPS to be our fiscal sponsor, he said he would take the idea to the board of directors and get back to me.

When he called with a response, he conveyed the institute’s great enthusiasm about the school and said, “There’s one caveat. In about eight months, the board wants your steering committee to take this idea on the road and replicate this model in cities across America.” When I told the steering committee this news, one member simply said, “I’m packing.”

Donald Trump did it. With his inability to lead, his frightening promises and threats, his disregard for women and distrust of immigrants, his incompetence and callousness, and his dangerous cronies, Trump has inspired everyday citizens to rise up and do what we can to stand against hate, embrace justice, protect the Earth, honor children, defend the sick, preserve civil liberties, welcome refugees, support elders, and dismantle racism.

Since Trump took office, some wise pundit noted that upholding democracy is now a full-time job. We think the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership strengthens those doing their part to uphold democracy. We are part of the struggle. And part of the solution.

The Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian, of Northampton, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She writes a monthly column on the intersection of faith, culture and politics.