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Activism growing in region - San Diego Union Tribune

by Terrie Figueroa

Protests that have cropped up around San Diego County over the past few weeks are drawing some unusual participants — first-time demonstrators who suddenly feel motivated to make their voices heard.

The activism — fueled by the election of President Donald Trump and the controversial policies he’s unveiled during his first few weeks in office — has been a surprise to many, including the leaders of longtime political groups who once struggled to draw a handful of people to their meetings. Now it’s standing room only, they said.

“I have never seen anything like the numbers coming out, never never never,” said Caroline Theiss-Aird, a Vista resident and vice-chair of North County Immigration Task Force, which organized a rally Sunday that drew 200 people. “People who have never done anything before are coming out in droves.”

Theiss-Aird called what’s happening across the region and across the country an “organic movement.” 

“(People) really feel under attack at a very basic level,” Theiss-Aird said. “And I don’t think that is an exaggeration.”

If she’s surprised, count that double for 73-year-old Jim Hamilton of Oceanside, who attended his first protest Tuesday outside the Vista office of Congressman Darrel Issa.

That event drew more than 125 people, while a similar event in downtown San Diego outside the offices of Sen. Dianne Feinstein and newly elected Sen. Kamala Harris drew roughly 100. A third protest was held in El Cajon, outside the offices of Congressman Duncan Hunter.

Hamilton said he and his wife are concerned about the direction the country is headed and felt compelled to see what they could do.

“All the news gets on your soul,” Sharlene Hamilton said. “I feel like I’ve got to do something.”

Many of the protesters are taking their cues from Indivisible, a kind of blueprint for grassroots activism written by former Congressional staffers. The guide started out as a “poorly formatted Google doc with typos,” co-author Leah Greenberg said Tuesday. She and her husband posted it and sent it to friends, expecting that perhaps someone might find it of use at some point. Greenberg said they woke up the next morning to find it had gone viral.

“We’ve been blown away by the immediate and spontaneous organizing,” she said. “Just the energy out there is unbelievable. One of the most common themes we have heard from people writing us is that they are not political people. Many say they have never called their senator about anything.”

San Marcos resident Kassie Panian, 52, marched in downtown San Diego as part of a push to start a national movement dubbed “Resist Trump Tuesdays.” She is new to activism.

“I have voted every election, but I never did this,” she said, adding that she now plans to join an Indivisible group.

By Tuesday, Indivisible had been downloaded about 1.3 million times — more than double the 582,000 downloads it had been two weeks earlier.  Just over the last week, the number of groups registered with the Indivisible site jumped from just shy of 4,000 to more than 5,300 — an increase of more than 34 percent.

The people signing up “do not consider themselves political partisans, but are called to action by the times,” Greenberg said.

There are dozens of Indivisible groups in San Diego County, including the one founded by Ellen Montanari, which organized the rally outside of Issa’s office. Also new to activism, Montanari said she believes the Women’s Marches around the country moved people from their social media accounts to the streets.

“That got people moving, and once they are moving, they don’t stop,” Montanari said.

Issa spokesman Calvin Moore said the office encourages people to speak out and that they are “happy to meet with anyone.” He noted that Issa held a town hall by telephone on Monday that drew 6,000 callers. 

The protestors in Vista held signs that covered many issues — healthcare, immigration were tops — but the common theme was resistance to the actions and agenda of the new president. 

The protestors who gathered outside the Democratic offices in San Diego were focused on encouraging legislators to stick to their values and stand up to the president.

“What we want to tell them is that we not only expect them to say no to the Trump agenda, we expect them to lead the resistance to it,” Kathy Stadler, a 43-year-old Clairemont resident, said of rallying outside the senator’s offices. who runs a few groups, including one registered with Indivisible. Membership of that group, she said, grew from 10 to 200 over the last week.

After the rally in outside Issa’s office, Vista resident Shiloh Strawbridge — one small child on her hip, another clutching her hand — made her way to the front, to get more information about future events. 

“I would rather not be an activist — I have my hands full,” the 38-year-old said, motioning to her kids, ages 2 and 4. “I just came to say we need our healthcare.”

She said she and her husband have a small business, and the only way they can do that “is because we don’t have to get a corporate job to get healthcare.” She called the loss of the Affordable Care Act “terrifying.” 

“We are not political, we are not partisan,” Strawbridge said standing in front of Issa’s Vista office. “We just want our voice to be heard.”

 

Allison Stratton