Young Sanders Campaign Aides Plan Anti-Trump Permanent Protest Base in Washington
The organizers behind Millennials for Bernie are raising money to create an anti-Trump movement headquarters in Washington DC that will be a base for sustained resistance against the next president and his administration.
“This house is supposed to be a place for everybody, regardless of what happened in the general election, to come together and fight,” said Moumita Ahmed, whose organizing helped millennials become involved in Sanders’ campaign and is setting up the house. “We are going to be there to hold him accountable and delegitimize literally everything that he is doing and not let him succeed.”
“Some of the things that are going to happen in this house are workshops, people coming in and talking about big organizing,” she continued. “We’re going to have parties. We’re going to have rallies that are going to be organized there. These are just basic ideas, but we know that once this house is available that people will come in and want to do more creative forms of resistance.”
Like Sanders’ campaign, the project is seeking $27 donations and is about halfway to its initial $30,000 goal, to set up the house before Trump's January 20 inauguration. They are calling it the District 13 House, named after the rebellious province in The Hunger Games, the dystopian book and movie series featuring a world run by oligarchs.
“We’re going to be there to sustain resistance against this administration,” Ahmed said. “We feel that the Trump administration is totally illegitimate, because of the way that he ran his campaign, and how he won, and even though mainstream media will say things like, ‘Oh, he just said those things, but obviously now that he is in office we think that some of the things he said aren’t going to fly.’ While that might be true or might not be true, we don’t know yet—that does not matter. You do not run that kind of campaign, especially for some of us, who were on a campaign where Bernie specifically said, ‘Do not attack the other person.’ [Trump's] entire campaign wasn’t just attacking Hillary, but literally every single ethnic group out there.”
“We have a long tradition of people involved in resistance movements, and setting up intentional spaces to work out of. It’s incredibly helpful and supportive on a number of levels,” said Nadine Bloch, a longtime Washington-based activist and training director for BeautifulTrouble.org. “I see my role as supporting the folks who will live there and will take on the daily actioneering, if you will. I am really excited to be in that role and be with the young folks who will be living in the house.”
New Challenges, New Progressive Movement
Organizers like Ahmed—talented young women of color—were among the unsung grassroots heroes of the Sanders campaign, say Becky Bond and Zack Exley, who headed the campaign’s digital outreach efforts and have detailed the experience in a new book, Rules for Revolutionaries. Months before Sanders launched his campaign, Ahmed quit her day job to help establish a technology-driven team that eventually empowered volunteers to build and manage an infrastructure that made 75 million phone calls, sent 8 million text messages and held more than 100,000 public meetings, all described in the book.
"Moumita and other volunteers are demonstrating the power of big organizing," Bond said. "When the Bernie campaign shut down, that didn't mean their organizing would be shut down, too. These volunteers were connected to each other via Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms that allowed them not just to communicate but organize and raise money both in social media but also in person in real life—and soon in an actual row house on Capitol Hill."
Ahmed, 26, grew up in New York and said she’s always been politically attuned. She first got involved in campaigns when Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, but learned how to be an organizer with Zephyr Teachout’s 2014 campaign for governor in New York state, where she was deputy field director.
“When you’re an activist, you understand what’s happening. You have a lot to say about it. You’ll go to events and you’ll advocate for change,” Ahmed said. “But organizers are people who have this larger goal, even sometimes a smaller goal. They are the ones that are most of the times behind the scenes, and most of the time organizing protests or a campaign, building networks, and just holding the space or activists together. Organizers are like chess players.”
Months before Sanders formally announced his bid for president, Ahmed started organizing social media presence and meet-ups for Sanders around the country. When the campaign launched, those volunteers and organizers became its state-by-state staff. Perhaps her biggest contribution, however, was creating Millennials for Bernie, because she said no other candidate was speaking in a way that reached people age 30.
“He understood that we were living in times like the ‘60s when people were rising up and talking about racial justice issues, and taking to the streets, and going on Twitter and getting their vote heard collectively. And you had two candidates, multiple candidates totally ignoring that reality, versus Bernie who understood,” Ahmed said. “I felt that if I were to start a millennial contingent that it would work. A lot of people would be on board. And it was true. Most of Bernie’s staffers were millennials. Most of his grassroots were led by millennials. I just wanted to create something so that people know millennials are active, that we’re pursuing stuff.”
Ahmed spent a year organizing for the campaign, which culminated in being a delegate at the Democratic National Convention. After Clinton emerged with the nomination, the group Ahmed created decided not to endorse anyone, but just work in individual ways for the rest of the campaign. She said millennials are "very pragmatic” and have “very progressive values,” and the protest house she is creating in Washington will be a reflection of that ethic as it pushes back against Trump's agenda and policies. “We are going to be like the people’s White House," she said. "And we are going to be right there in front of him so we stick out like a sore thumb.”
The group doesn't yet have a Capitol Hill residence, but they are fundraising and looking at several locations. Meanwhile, older progressive organizers in Washington are hoping that people around the U.S. will support the District 13 House, and more importantly, see that white middle-class America now finds itself in the same vulnerable boat communities of color have been in for years.
“I actually see something interesting because I have been involved for a long time,” Nadine Bloch said. “When people might say to us, particularly let’s say white middle-class folks, might say, Oh my god, this is the worst thing ever. You or I have to respond, Well, if you’re a black person, if you’re a trans person, if you’re a black and trans person, you have been been living with the worst thing forever. It has been this bad and it will continue to be this bad unless the people who are now awake, mostly middle-class white folks who have now awakened to how bad it is or might become, actively join the struggle to overcome these problems and to change it.”
“Projects like this, where you have dedicated activists 24-7, providing leadership in what can actually make a difference in stopping the aggressive degrading of the rights and the privileges and the health and the safety that we hold dear…that is hopeful,” Bloch said. “We have to be willing to do the work and dig in.”