by Rhett Wilkinson
It popped up during lunch.
The slide featured a quote from film actor Jeffrey Wright: “May the election of Trump bring forth the fiercest, smartest, toughest generation of ass-kicking women this country could possibly imagine.”
Utah Indivisible and Utahns Speak Out, the latter of which challenged its federal representatives Feb. 24, at its Town Hall for All, are organizations that are part of the larger resistance across America to President Donald Trump.
Now, the Beehive State’s movement is getting a female flavor.
Rise Up & March On was a function to help women get politically involved. Nearly four dozen females attended the event held in March at the Miller Free Enterprise Center in Sandy. Jaime Bringhurst and Jen Schwartz, both Salt Lake Valley residents, organized the function. It was meant to launch The Legacy Project, which Bringhurst said is designed to “create partnerships between women, encourage them to live a life of intention and purpose and teach them to fulfill their passions.”
Rise Up & March On was kicked off by well-known progressive activist Jim Dabakis after Schwartz announced that she’s running for the legislature; Dabakis lamented the Equal Rights Amendment not being brought up in the Utah legislature’s Rules Committee; staff each from seven entities described what it is and its work, and each offered personal stories of why they help; Emily Ellsworth educated on how to effectively reach federal and state legislators; the International Rescue Committee presented “myth and fact” about refugees; and audience members made remarks.
Putting it together
Bringhurst was asked about why she organized Rise Up & March On and is starting The Legacy Project.
“I want more faces and more voices that look and sound like mine, particularly in positions of power,” said Bringhurst, a Holladay citizen. “I want female faces and voices. Of all political stripes.”
“Of course,” she added, “I’m particularly committed to women who are using their voice for inclusive means.”
Bringhurst is a social worker and the election of Trump got her involved politically. She realizes that women are like her and have not been political advocates, so she wanted to get them in touch with the organizations who attended the event.
“It can be a vast ocean on your own,” she remarked. “So it is really about giving [women] direction and exposing them to the big players and letting them discover really what issue matters most to them in their own heart and letting them take action accordingly.”
Her biggest challenge to organizing Rise Up & March On?
“Getting out of my own way,” she said. “It might be the same thing that all people come up against. I think ‘who are you? You are not the expert: you have not been doing this for 10 years; you are not the smartest person in the room. Who are you to lead the way?’
“So… it was a matter of trusting … that my voice matters,” she added. “The partnerships with other women came naturally, swiftly.”
Her other half
Schwartz was the main partner; she first chatted with Bringhurst at a restaurant about bringing together different advocacy organizations. Schwartz, a South Jordan resident, told the crowd that she is queer and has a transgender teenager. The night that Trump was elected president, she sought respite in her closet and texted folks about her despair, apologizing to the teenager.
“I am sorry,” she told her child. “This is not the world I want for you.”
She then wore sweatpants to work – “it’s what I required for self-care at the moment,” she told the audience. “I felt like I lost my faith in humanity.”
Schwartz noted the many people who “spend a lot of time” on social media saying “this is wrong” to the election of Trump and the behavior of his administration since.
“There is nothing with saying ‘this is wrong,’ but you need to move forward,” remarked Schwartz, the owner of a business that seeks to help people find solutions to family challenges. She touted the importance of speaking out. She said she recently encountered flooding at an intersection and called South Jordan about it, learning that she was the only one to have notified the city. The last bit of mud was being cleared as she returned from work.
Schwartz is running for Utah House of Representatives in district 50, she said.
“I thought, (current representative Susan Pulsipher) is not going to represent me as an independent slash Democrat; she is not going to represent me as a queer woman,” Schwartz told the audience. They cheered when she added, “So I said, ‘forget it, I’m taking over.”
Dabakis gets his kicks
When Dabakis, a Utah state senator, described why it was so awful that the ERA didn’t get a committee hearing, he considered the Bears Ears debate and Republican combat in the state legislature and governor’s office against former President Barack Obama’s designation of the national monument.
“Our native people fought and protected Bears Ears and protected it for our families, and the forces of darkness are conspiring,” he said. “Who knows what they will do with it?”He also asked how politically involved the crowd is.
“Are you once per month? Once per week? Are you share-on-Facebook? I’m a senator because it forwards my activism – because it gets things done,” he said. “You may have 15,000 people at the Capitol… but they can’t strategize and they can’t lead and they can’t motivate.”
Rallies for women reportedly numbered 15,000 in Arizona, Ohio, Tennessee and Vermont.
Dabakis equated the Rules committee not hearing the ERA to “disrespect” for the 10,000 women he said attended Utah’s women rally.
“The Equal Rights Amendment (should) be simple. Equal rights for women – who doesn’t believe in that?” he asked. “It would be like voting in LDS General Conference.”
Voting procedures in the LDS Church’s semi-annual events are typically unanimous. Former LDS women leader Elaine Dalton described women’s marches as “unladylike.”
The audience asked how change can be made.
“We change the people in the legislature, or we change the minds of the legislature,” Dabakis said. “Because you know what? The Rules committee sat very happy (after denying the ERA a hearing) because they didn’t hear from you.”
Dabakis expressed hope for changing legislative seats in 2018, asking crowd members to help a candidate get elected. He added that Irish immigrants were not welcomed to America’s “table of power” as African-Americans and LGBTQ people were not immediately welcomed.
“In some countries, they throw a grenade on the table,” Dabakis said. “But in America, we elbow… and fight.”
The seven advocates
The seven entities who presented were YWCA Utah, Emily Ellsworth, Equality Utah, Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, the International Rescue Committee Salt Lake City office, Utah Women Unite and ACLU of Utah.
UWU’s Brenda Jane promoted the organization’s version of A Day Without a Woman Strike at the Utah Capitol. And speaking for herself, she pointed out that at the Town Hall for All, senators Todd Weiler (Facebook and memes) and Brian Shiozawa’s (texts and emails) attention was on their phones. Weiler and Shiozawa were two of eight state legislators to attend an event in which Utah’s federal representatives were invited but none attended.
“I was right behind them and saw it all,” she said. “Many other people who were there have mentioned this and even posted photos on Facebook.”
ACLU of Utah’s Anna Thomas pointed out that the organization is non-partisan and has sued every president since it has existed. Then she added: “we aren’t anti-Trump; we are anti-stupid ideas that violate the Constitution, which does seem to happen a lot these days.”
Nora Trinidad-Scholle, YWCA Utah development and membership coordinator, said that she arrived in Utah about a year ago and went about “finding (her) people.” She did at YWCA. “The YWCA is the best job I have ever had,” she said.
Ellsworth published “Call the Halls,” a guide on how to contact representatives “the smart way,” after many national media outlets covered her tweets about the topic. She said that representatives’ phones should always be running “especially for the next… four years” and that “you need to not only get in office but change who is in office.”
Preston Hilburn, Equality Utah programs manager, said because his family was progressive, he was fine with him coming out as gay at 15 years old – a big contrast to his cousin leaving Utah when he came out as transgender, as he was disowned by his family. “He’s very happy now, but seeing people that I loved and really cared about leave a place I call home because they did not feel safe, I could no longer sit on the sidelines,” he said. “So I took my radical, queer, pissed-off self and started volunteering with Equality Utah and that led to a staff position that I have today.”
Kelsey Boyer, PPAU online and community organizer, said she realized her goal of working for a non-profit after realizing she needed real-world experience and working for five years of Overstock.com upon graduation in sociology from Weber State University. “I wanted to work for Planned Parenthood because of reproductive justice, rights to your own body and controlling the new generation that we could bring in.”
Natalie El-Deiry, deputy director of the Salt Lake City office of IRC, said that there are very few people who can’t say they aren’t immigrants or descendants of immigrants and that she and her husband are immigrants. She added that each person deserves the freedom to live in a place that offers economic opportunity, education and living their religion freely. “Now more than ever, it’s a critical time to make sure those opportunities are in the community but specifically to refugees,” she said.
Jane grew up in Davis County. “So my entire life, women have been mistreated… and misrepresented,” she said. Pointing out she is white, “I want to use whatever privilege I have to help those who don’t have it,” she added.
Thomas grew up in Salt Lake to a “really big, really poor” Mormon family that had a lot of abuse and neglect. “I think I’ve always been a champion for the underdog,” she said. “I am 39 years old but still get so mad about those pushed to the margins. … I remind myself that I have so much to be thankful for… the last thing I can do is battle with people in the legislature for 45 days.”
Advocate presentation highlights
Ellsworth also said that it “exemplifies a lot of privilege” to think that constituents can “push a button” and get what they want. “Advocacy groups… know that it’s a long, concerted public effort,” she said. “(Representatives) need to know that the messages are personal and authentic.”
Ellsworth took eight hours of calls per day, she said. The ones that stuck with her were the ones with people who were crying because they were being deported and didn’t know what to do. “After hearing those calls, it fundamentally changed how I thought government worked,” she said, adding that she wasn’t an expert, having been hired right out of college. “I don’t know how a staffer can hear those stories and not be impacted.”
Ellsworth added that staffers will recognize constituents as experts on policies and contact them again, using the example of a physician who would contact a congressional office seeking change in health care.
El-Deiry made a case for why Trump’s executive order banning refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries was bad before offering IRC’s myth vs. fact slides on refugees. Among them: myth – we know nothing about the refugees coming to the U.S.; fact – refugees are the most thoroughly vetted group entering the U.S.; myth – refugees are mostly men; fact – over half are women; myth – refugees are all Muslim; fact – refugees are from all religions; myth – refugees are a drain on society; fact – refugees start businesses, pay taxes and contribute to their communities.
El-Deiry added that she liked Ellsworth’s point that messages to representatives must be personalized. “Coming from a round of meetings, it’s important to have your ‘why’ and your personal experience with refugees or immigrants and what you believe… needs to be changed,” she said.
The crowd speaks
Audience members’ comments and questions varied before and after they got one-on-one time with any advocate during lunch. Among the remarks: it is “unnatural” to be “hateful towards others” and that such an approach happens to a person when they are raised; people should expect to “live boldly, without fear of repercussion; I am “looking for a much better and inclusive definition of being male and female”; and “once you start to love yourself, you aren’t harming others.”
An audience member named Angela said she was “overwhelmed” at being politically active. “It’s been a few months and I’m already tired,” she said.
“There’s a lot of in-fighting in activism and there shouldn’t be,” Jane said. Schwartz said that a consensus among a group in the crowd was that a person didn’t need to focus on just one organization or issue; she is splitting donating $50 amongst five groups monthly. “Don’t underestimate the power of a dollar,” El-Deiry then said.
Perhaps the one male attendee then asked how to get to “the meat” of your point with a legislator.
“Tell your story – say what happened,” Thomas said. “There is no fat there. That is so powerful.”
It’s important to communicate with legislators outside of the 45-day time frame of the legislative session, Hilburn said. “During the session, (lawmakers) are always in meetings, but it is easier in the interim to get in touch with them,” he added.
Ellsworth said there are “two ways to a message”: one is crafting it, and the other is that there are so many that the issue can’t be ignored. “It’s volume as well as the individual message,” she added.
Trinidad-Scholle pointed out that many legislators text and Schwartz said it is helpful to thank lawmakers.
Rhett Wilkinson is a writer-advocate. His work has been seen in USA TODAY, ESPN and the Pew Forum. He believes in singer-songwriter Tyler Glenn’s words, “turn your pain into art.” Reach him on Twitter @rhettrites or via email: [email protected]