People packed a community center to watch a live stream of “Resistance Training” from the ACLU. Many of them were taking political action for the first time in decades — or ever.
“Wow. Crazy,” one woman said when she walked into the Montlake Community Center the other day.
The room was packed. Middle-aged people, younger folks squeezed onto couches, a couple of mothers with babes in arms, all making time on a Saturday afternoon to watch a live stream of a Miami-based, nationwide “Resistance Training” put on by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Someone called for quiet, and Eve Warmflash stepped to the front of the room to introduce herself. She had rented the room for $45 an hour out of her own pocket, set up her laptop, a projector and a screen so complete strangers could gather, connect and learn the legal art of revolt.
“I’m just one of those people who decided to get involved,” she said, “because … I had to.” The room broke out in knowing applause.
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Crazy? More like compelled.
We may have had 400 days of rain the last two months, but we are clearly in the midst of what some are calling a “Liberal Spring,” when people are taking to the streets to urge the protection of First Amendment free speech, religious freedom rights, civil and reproductive rights, immigration. Pick your passion.
“You gotta do something,” said Jude Rosenberg, 66. “You can’t just sit around and say, ‘Somebody ought to do something.’ It’s time to step up.”
All over the region, and all over the country, people are coming out of their comfort zones, liberal comas — whatever you want to call it — and taking action for the first time in decades, or ever.
While the Montlake crowd was being schooled by ACLU leaders, a crowd of adults and children was standing along Rainier Avenue in Columbia City, holding signs: “We stand by our Muslim neighbors.” “You are loved in Columbia City.” “Equality is Patriotic.”
There wasn’t a specific action at hand; no formal protest. They just wanted everyone to know that they could breathe easy in those parts.
And on a rainy Monday morning, a crowd gathered outside the Westin Hotel where Republican Congressman Dave Reichert was keynoting the Washington Council on International Trade’s annual conference. (My favorite sign: “We don’t bite.”)
Reichert — a key vote on protecting the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid — is being followed everywhere after his refusal to hold any public events for his constituents to ask questions about the proposed GOP-sponsored health-care legislation.
Back at Montlake — one of 2,000 such viewing events involving 200,000 people nationwide — people broke into small groups to talk about why they had come.
“The obvious reasons,” Patt Schwab told me. “(President Donald) Trump is a very dangerous president.”
Schwab, 73, has lived through plenty of political unrest in her life but never really got involved until the day after Trump’s inauguration. Unable to attend any of the Women’s Marches that day, she spent the day before calling Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell to urge them to vote against the confirmation of Rex Tillerson as U.S. secretary of state.
“First time,” she said. “That made me feel like I was dipping a toe into activism. And when you wear a size 12 shoe, that means something. I need to do something more than just talk to the choir.”
During the live stream, ACLU Director Anthony Romero said the organization had seen membership surge from 400,000 members to 1.2 million.
“People are motivated,” Romero said. “They want to be engaged.”
ACLU attorney Lee Rowland explained the rules for demonstrating on streets, sidewalks and in public places, and what to do if you’re arrested.
Romero also announced the launch of a new, online organizing platform called PeoplePower.org.
“We’ll do the work in the courts,” Romero said. “You do the work in the streets.”
Sitting in the Montlake crowd, Rosenberg talked about being out here before. Women’s rights. Anti-apartheid. Gay rights. Anti-war. She thought we were making progress. Not anymore.
“I’m very disheartened about what’s happening in the country and looking for ways to take meaningful action,” she said, looking around the room.
“This,” she said. “It’s the silver lining.”