A year ago Donald Trump won the presidential election, and I felt crushed. It seemed hard to believe — my fellow Americans had voted into power a failed real estate mogul and reality show star who rose to political prominence by pushing a racist lie about the previous president. The despair I felt went far beyond the right and left of politics — I was scared of this authoritarian regime and felt helpless to stop it.
In December 2016 I discovered the Indivisible Guide — then just a simple Google document. This guide, which has grown into a national movement, provided ideas and a plan for getting involved locally to halt the Trump agenda. Their proposal — a resistance to Trump built on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness — called on the best of progressive politics, and did so without a political party, which I found refreshing after the toxic 2016 election. I had never been involved in politics, but Donald Trump was my wake up call. It was time to be an active citizen.
Indivisible reminded me of the basis for our democracy — that government represents me. My congressperson represents me and approximately 700,000 other constituents. All Americans are afforded this representation. Our representatives in Congress are proud to take us on tours when we visit, and are meant to be our voice in Washington, D.C. In fact, the legislative body is meant to serve as a check and balance on the executive branch, to prevent the sorts of abuses of power we are seeing from the Oval Office. In response to the chaos of the Trump administration, Indivisible gave me something I could do that made a difference — I could call my congressman. I could get my neighbors together and visit his office. We can ask our representative to defend the freedom of the press, to act to prevent corruption from taking root in our executive branch.
When I put out a notice online about our first meeting on Jan. 11 I thought perhaps there would be a dozen people. Instead there were 43 people packed into our tiny meeting space. Our next meeting grew to 125, and the next topped 150. We’ve visited our congressman’s office many times, carrying cards, articles and two different petitions — our first petition requesting public and regular town hall meetings had 1,868 signatures and was barely acknowledged by the congressman’s staff. We’ve held demonstrations, heard from speakers who’ve talked about issues facing our nation, and have created a real sense of community in suburban Minnesota. Our team includes those who recently identified as Republican, Democrats (from Bernie supporters to Hillary fans), Independents and others who’d previously been disaffected and uninvolved in politics. We’re united by our opposition to the Trump authoritarian agenda, and seek to hold our own congressional representative accountable for how he addresses this administration’s abuses.
After the last election I read about my representative in depth. I learned he claimed to have not voted for Trump. Could he be the sort of leader to stand up to the firing of the head of the FBI, to force Trump to release his taxes, to remove nuclear capabilities from Trump’s sole control? Even without changing his party-line votes, he could take action on these sorts of authoritarian issues. I have since learned that he is not that person. My impression of him is that he doesn’t really seem to want to discuss substantive issues, although from his social media posts it seems he does so with business leaders. Even after we’ve been rebuffed, I’m still surprised — why do so many public representatives not want to discuss current events with constituents, openly, in public?
It’s an honor to be an American citizen, but it turns out it takes work beyond just casting your vote. I urge everyone to call their representatives, both when you agree with their votes and when you disagree. Without constituent input, politicians only hear from their donors — judging by the output of the current congress they have heard what the moneyed donors want. If we value our democracy, people must pay attention, and reach out to their representatives. Your voice matters.
Dr. Jena Martin is a resident of Minnetonka, constituent of Rep. Erik Paulsen, wife, mom to two tween girls, and co-founder and co-chair of IndivisibleMN03.
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