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As Activism Under Trump Draws First-Timers, Organizers Look To Keep Momentum

Liam Elder-Connors
Nearly 2,000 people attended the March For Science in Burlington on April 22. Advocacy groups say since President Donald Trump took office, they've seen an increase in people who want to join their organizations.

In the three months since President Donald Trump's inauguration, some advocacy groups have seen an uptick in people who want to get involved in their organizations. The groups say that the next step is keeping those people involved in social activism. 

Last Saturday, despite the cold, grey skies and a persistent drizzle of rain, nearly 2,000 people joined the Burlington March for Science.

The rally – one of several in the state – was held in conjunction with marches around the world. The point was to celebrate the role of science the world and to protest the Trump administration's possible cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and research funding.

People held signs with slogans like "May the facts be with you" and "Stop Truth Decay."

Sam Clark said it was his first protest.

“I was out running errands and then I saw this, and it was a cause I agreed with, and so just decide to join,” Clark said.

Clark isn't the only one join a protest or a march for the first time. 

James Haslam, executive director of the advocacy group Rights and Democracy, said ever since the election, way more people want to get involved.

“The more people we can get involved to work together to create change, the more likely we're going to succeed,” Haslam said.

“I think the potential for burnout is actually less when there is a continual threat to the things that you hold dear." — Rory McVeigh, University of Notre Dame

He said the next step is to get people working at the local level — doing things like running for local office and helping with community outreach.

Haslam said they’re trying to find ways to involve everyone, whatever their interest, ability or capacity.  

“We have a lot of retirees and people that have time to come to meetings and be part of planning and [do] a lot of volunteer work in the movement, and then some people don't have a lot of time. Families, you know, are increasingly strapped for time, and they contribute in other ways,” Haslam said.

For 350 Vermont, a group that focuses on climate change and the environment, the approach is pretty much the same.

“We really encourage folks to get involved in the in-between time, said Maeve McBride, the director at 350 Vermont.  “And the way we do that is that we have in Vermont ... local groups or nodes of activity. And so this is an opportunity for people to get together in person in a group.”

Three months in, it seems like more people are getting involved, and organizations are making plans to mobilize those new people. But is there a possibility that outrage over the Trump Administration will diminish?

Rory McVeigh, a sociology professor at the University of Notre Dame and director of the Center for the Study of Social Movements, doesn’t think so.

“I think the potential for burnout is actually less when there is a continual threat to the things that you hold dear,” he said.

And even though issues like climate change, LGBTQ rights and immigration aren’t new, McVeigh says that the Trump Administration makes some people feel like rights they thought were secure are actually in danger of going away.

“So you see more and more people who may not have been, you know, heavily involved in activism looking for a way to get involved, looking for opportunities to speak out and to resist the types of changes,” McVeigh said.

On Saturday, which is President Trump’s 100th day in office, there will be another protest: the People’s Climate March, which is taking place in Washington, D.C. There will be sister marches around the country, including one in Montpelier.

According to Facebook, about 1,200 people say they’re going to attend the Montpelier protest.


Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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