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One Year Later: As the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration nears, three area activists look back

  • Devon Cruz of Belchertown writes a post for her blog, “Dear Mr. VP,” a collection of daily letters to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, in the Harold F. Johnson Library Center at Hampshire College in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Devon Cruz of Belchertown writes the Jan. 3, 2018 post for her blog titled "Dear Mr. VP," a daily aggregation of letters to Vice President Mike Pence, in the Harold F. Johnson Library Center at Hampshire College in Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Devon Cruz of Belchertown writes the Jan. 3, 2018 post for her blog titled "Dear Mr. VP," a daily aggregation of letters to Vice President Mike Pence, in the Harold F. Johnson Library Center at Hampshire College in Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Devon Cruz of Belchertown writes the Jan. 3, 2018 post for her blog titled "Dear Mr. VP," a daily aggregation of letters to Vice President Mike Pence, in the Harold F. Johnson Library Center at Hampshire College in Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Gloria DiFulvio of Hadley, center, talks Dec. 29, 2017 about pressing issues during a sit down to organize Valley Action's next formal meeting. Doreen Catterson, left, and Bernadette Harrigan, right, both of Belchertown, look on. Valley Action, founded by DiFulvio after President Donald Trump’s election, with help from Catterson and Harrigan, aims to increase civic participation through education, support and action. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Doreen Catterson of Belchertown, left, Gloria DiFulvio of Hadley, Bernadette Harrigan of Belchertown, Jane Mairs of Amherst, Elaine Fronhofer of Amherst and Linda Castronovo of Hadley sit down Dec. 29, 2017 at DiFulvio's home to plan the next Valley Action meeting. Valley Action, founded after President Donald Trump’s election by DiFulvio, with help from Catterson and Harrigan, aims to increase civic participation through education, support and action. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Linda Castronovo of Hadley convenes with a group at Gloria DiFulvio's Hadley home to plan the next Valley Action meeting. To her right, a list of recent “wins” is displayed. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Doreen Catterson of Belchertown, left, Gloria DiFulvio of Hadley, Bernadette Harrigan of Belchertown and Jane Mairs of Amherst sit down Dec. 29, 2017 at DiFulvio's home to plan the next Valley Action meeting. Valley Action, founded after President Donald Trump’s election by DiFulvio, with help from Catterson and Harrigan, aims to increase civic participation through education, support and action. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Gloria DiFulvio of Hadley founded Valley Action with help from Doreen Catterson and Bernadette Harrigan, both of Belchertown. Valley Action aims to increase civic participation through education, support and action. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Doreen Catterson of Belchertown, left, Gloria DiFulvio of Hadley, Bernadette Harrigan of Belchertown and Jane Mairs of Amherst sit down Dec. 29, 2017 at DiFulvio's home to plan the next Valley Action meeting. Valley Action, founded after President Donald Trump’s election by DiFulvio, with help from Catterson and Harrigan, aims to increase civic participation through education, support and action. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Amalia FourHawks of Florence talks about the changes she has made in her life since participating in the Women’s March on Washington following President Donald Trump’s election. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Amalia FourHawks of Florence uses Resistbot, an application that connects you with your government officials, Dec. 29, 2017 at her home. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Amalia FourHawks of Florence talks about the changes she's made in her life Dec. 29, 2017 after participating in the Women’s March on Washington following President Donald Trump’s election. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Women’s March on Washington. CONTRIBUTED/GLORIA DIFULVIO



@ecutts_HG
Tuesday, January 16, 2018

For almost a year now, Belchertown resident Devon Cruz has been in a steady relationship with the Vice President of the United States. She thinks about him daily, talks about him often and has even sent an anniversary card his way.

The relationship is one-sided, but that hasn’t stopped Cruz. She is the creator of Dear Mr. VP, a website with a simple explanation: “Just a single mom writing a letter to Vice President Mike Pence every day for the next four years,” as Cruz wrote in the site’s “about” section.  

Cruz said she bought the domain name about a week and a half after the Nov. 2016 election, knowing that she would start writing soon after the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017.

“After the election, I think I was feeling fairly despondent, like many people were, and wasn’t quite sure what to do with that,” Cruz said. She hoped to find “something I could do that utilized my strengths but that didn’t require a huge hourly commitment outside of the house,” she added. “I thought, ‘Well, you could write to someone.’ ”

What was once a passing thought is now a part of her daily routine — like eating breakfast or brushing her teeth. And as the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration nears, Cruz is one of countless citizens across the country who are continuing to make themselves heard — taking to the streets and to their screens, to their state capitals and to town meetings, to voice their concerns and anger over policy changes and appointments that many believe threaten the very foundation and the future of the country.

Of course, not everyone agrees. While Massachusetts’ 11 electoral votes went to Hillary Clinton, three towns in Hampshire County — Granby, Ware and Huntington — had a majority vote for Trump. 

Here is a look at three individuals, including Cruz, who have taken action over the past year.  

The unlikely pen pal

Cruz is a busy woman: A single mother of a four-year-old boy, she works two jobs. But she decided a letter a day was something she could commit to doing for the next four years. Some days, she’ll post a long rant about the issue du jour (Jerusalem was a recent one). Other days, she’ll dash off a few sharp lines about the tax bill or transgender rights. Sometimes, it’s nearing midnight, and Cruz realizes she hasn’t yet written to Pence — under blankets, she types on her phone while her son sleeps beside her.

“Dear Mr. VP,” she wrote one day last month, “I’d love to write you a longer letter, but I’m too busy binge watching The Great British Bake Off on Netflix.”

Dated Jan. 20, 2017, Cruz’s first letter to the vice president was a handwritten congratulations card, referencing his call for unity: “ ‘Inaugurations in a very real sense ought to be a time where we as Americans are coming together, coming together as a nation…’ you said. So before we talk about all those things we don’t agree on — like, every policy issue you’ve ever had an opinion on, essentially — can we find our common ground?”

On a recent winter day, sitting in a café near her office at Hampshire College (she works in the registrar’s office), Cruz reflected on what she found. As it turns out, both Cruz, 33, and Pence, 58, studied history in college (she at Hampshire College, he at Hanover College in Indiana) and went onto get jobs in their college-admissions offices.

“I know that’s silly, but it was just this really strange sort of personal connection that I hadn’t expected to find at all,” she said.

At first, Cruz would hand write and mail letters before typing them up for the website. Now, she posts directly to the website, dearmrvp.com, which allows her to include citations and links to topics she discusses — a recent post included a screenshot of Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” which she was listening to via the website Audible — as well as memes that fit the occasion. She still sends the occasional snail mail to Pence, too. In June, she sent him a birthday card. 

Recently, Cruz sent a  package of adult diapers to the vice president’s official residence, in light of the announcement that former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about conversations with a Russian ambassador. Gift message: “In case the news about Flynn has you s----ing yourself.”

“My mom was horrified,” said Cruz, whose parents read her blog from their home in Vermont. “I think she thought that I was going to end up in jail and people were going to show up at my door.” 

Mostly, though, Cruz said the reactions she’s gotten have been pretty positive. The most common response she gets is disbelief from people who are astonished to learn she really does write a letter every single day.

“I think it is sort of self-care in some sense because it is like my primal scream into the ether about whatever it is that is bothering me that day. And I feel like it is my chance to kind of decompress,” Cruz said. “If there is something that has happened that day politically that is really bothering me, it’s a chance to kind of spew it out in a way that isn’t looping in people who aren’t choosing to listen.”

Nearing the first anniversary of her letter-writing campaign (and Trump’s inauguration), Cruz said she’s not stopping anytime soon — she’s prepared to write a letter for each day that remains of his presidency — more than 1,000. 

The introvert activist 

Florence resident and artist Amalia FourHawks  would not describe herself as an extrovert. She doesn’t join clubs or enjoy being in large groups. But on Jan. 21, 2017, FourHawks, 60, found herself among the sea of people who had descended upon Washington, D.C. for the Women’s March.  

“Going to D.C. was a huge departure from my norm, but the minute I heard that there was going to be a women’s march in D.C., I knew I had to go,” she said, sitting in her living room. “I was terrified. It was very much heart-in-my-throat kind of time: I was going someplace I didn’t know, I didn’t know anybody else that was going.” 

Despite her initial trepidation, she was glad she took one of the chartered buses from Northampton to the nation’s capital. “I was part of this groundswell of people saying, ‘OK. We’ve been too complacent for too long, but now we’re in a situation, and we’ve got to stand up to it.’ ”

Before the election, FourHawks said, she’d long forgotten her high-school civics lessons. “I probably could not have named the three branches of the government without really sitting and thinking about it,” she said. “Now, I can quote government statistics, and I know the different branches. I know who my government reps are. I stay in touch with them, and I write letters, and I’m not alone. I know that this is happening throughout the country.”

On a typical day, she spends time on her computer reading various news sites and doing her own factchecking and research on what she reads. On her television at night is the news. She hasn’t seen a sitcom or a drama for months.

Helping her be more active, FourHawks has turned to an app called Resistbot, a free text-message-based service that helps people write or call Congress, their state governor or the White House. According to a piece published last September on the news site Business Insider, the service has amassed nearly 1.4 million total users since it launched in March of 2017. Messages can also be sent through Facebook messenger as well as via a messaging app called Telegram. 

FourHawks usually waits until the evening to send her messages through Resistbot. She said she has sent messages to U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and, when the topic is right, to Gov. Charlie Baker. She started using Resistbot during confirmation hearings and hasn’t stopped since. 

“I had been to see Elizabeth Warren at some of her speaking engagements, and she stressed the need for constituents to be involved and to tell her what they wanted. She was very adamant,” FourHawks recalled. “That was kind of an epiphany because it’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s right, she’s there because we voted her, but she also still needs to hear from us.’ ”

Her biggest focus continues to be simply waking up to her responsibility of being an active citizen.

“Everybody can do something,” she said. “Every single person can do something and has an obligation to do something to participate in their government. We don’t have the ability to just sit back and let the government wash over us anymore.”

The grassroots organizer

In November of last year, Gloria DiFulvio and her wife gathered with friends in their living room to watch the returns. “We were jubilant, at first,” she said, “and then we crashed.”

On an afternoon last month in that same living room, surrounded by some of the same people she’d been with that November night, the atmosphere was less tense. Five women had arrived at DiFulvio’s home in Hadley in preparation for the next meeting of Valley Action, a group formed in the days following the election that aims to increase civic participation through education, support and action.

After the election, “I emailed these gals and said, ‘We have to do a ‘What’s next?’ Like, what are we going to do about this? ” recalled DiFulvio, 51, a faculty member in public health at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “I knew that I didn’t want to be alone in sitting with the travesty of the election.” 

So a few weeks later, she hosted a house party of sorts, in step with a growing trend of “resistance” grassroots house parties that organizers have been hosting around the country. At Valley Action’s first meeting, 40 to 50 people showed up. After DiFulvio and her fellow organizers began posting on the progressive-movement website Indivisible, and on the Women’s March website, Valley Action began attracting more and more people. Soon, complete strangers were showing up at DiFulvio’s house, so the group moved to the Bangs Community Center in Amherst. 

Hadley resident Linda Castronovo says the group taught her skills — among them, how to lead and run a group — which she then shared with other groups she attends.  

“I’ve never really been politically active. I’ve always voted and felt like it was a really powerful, important thing to do as a citizen and naively, maybe, thought, ‘I’m doing my civic duty,’ ” Castronovo said. 

At an early meeting, the organizers asked people why they were coming and what they wanted from the meetings.

“They had three things pretty consistently — support from each other, education, information and action,” DiFulvio said. “They really wanted to do something — they didn’t just want to sit around and talk and be like, ‘How did we get here?’ ” 

Since then, the group has stepped up. They co-sponsored The March for Racial Justice in Holyoke. They’ve published columns and letters in the Gazette. They met with U.S. Representative Jim McGovern in advance of the tax bill to discuss actions that could be taken to stop it. Members also have attended town halls held by Warren and Markey and met with a local field officer for Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. And on Jan. 21, Valley Action will host a “Take Back the House Party” with McGovern and Ethan Todras-Whitehill, co-founder of the online community group Swing Left.

There’s no shortage of actions to take. But it’s do-what-you-can. “You don’t have to be at every meeting,” said member Bernadette Harrigan. “There is not a lot of talking about, ‘Woe is us.’ It’s ‘What is going on? What can we do?’ But there is a lot of doing.”

During the monthly meetings, they’ve written postcards and made phone calls to legislators. They also celebrate successes seen on the national and local stages. At a recent meeting, they celebrated Doug Jones’ ousting of Roy Moore for a seat in the U.S. Senate representing Alabama, and Massachusetts passing a law to guarantee insurance coverage for birth control without co-pays. They’re holding their next meeting on Jan. 17. (Information is available at valleyaction.net.)

“When we get together, we are really just trying to resist and persist,” member Elaine Fronhofer said.

For example: Did you make a phone call since the last meeting? Did you write a letter? Did you check out the Valley Action website? All of those things count, Harrigan said. 

Even with the big wins, there’s a lot more work to be done.

“We can’t take democracy for granted anymore,” DiFulvio said. “If this group does nothing else than to give people who don’t know how to be involved in their civic lives an avenue for that, then that’s great.”

“But it’s a slow slog,” Harrigan added. “It ain’t easy.”