By Cory Phare
Executive orders. Massive protests. Tweets from the Oval Office.
And that was just the first week.
Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, it’s undeniable that last November’s election served as a social and cultural flashpoint. Large social demonstrations have occurred regularly, with more planned for the future. For many, the unprecedented first month of this new political reality has raised more questions than answers.
So, where can one turn to understand and navigate this rapidly shifting landscape?
According to Sheila Rucki, associate professor of political science, we can draw historic parallels to a few previous administrations.
“For example, President Reagan’s first term had controversial, non-mainstream nominations to head the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Education, but by his second term, [the controversy] had largely fallen away,” said Rucki. “Similarly, Nixon also waged a war on the press and attorney general.”
Playing hardball with political opponents is nothing new – but with the current unorthodox approach to the executive branch, Rucki sees the similarities ending.
“The difference is it took Nixon five years to fire an attorney general; for Trump, it was only five days,” she added.
An immediate face
Rucki has also seen firsthand what impact nationalist rhetoric has on a global level. Lecturing on foreign policy at the University of Pécs in Hungary at the end of 2016, she noticed that faculty and students seemed distraught about the possible renegotiation or end of NATO, the post-WW II treaty committing American forces to help Europe defend itself.
Rucki said the university’s discussion about the treaty’s possible obsolescence and Hungary’s current relationship with Russia revealed the fear they had of Russian expansionism, because the Hungarians had thrown off the shackles of communism only 27 years ago.
“They were terrified of us pulling out of NATO and how they’d be able to defend themselves,” said Rucki. “That really put a personal and immediate face on it for me.”
From many, one resistance
Today’s volatility of change, the result of follow-through on campaign promises, has been an inciting incident for those feeling disenfranchised and worried about the future.
According to Lisa Cutter, president of Cutter Communications, she felt compelled to get involved with the Women’s March on Colorado when asked to do so. The MSU Denver alumna, who graduated in 1992 with a degree in marketing, has been handling public relations for the group.
“There’s a lot of different individual causes that draw people to get involved – from immigration restrictions to cutting of social programs, loss of health care, women’s rights; the list goes on,” said Cutter. “Collectively, though, it’s a movement galvanized to protect rights we hold dear.”
“There’s a lot of issue-oriented groups that occupy different spots on the political spectrum and have different motivations,” said Rucki. “So far, we’ve seen the Trump administration unifying this fairly disparate group of folks.”
Cutter added that the loosely-defined coalition is a point of strength and the first step toward a sustained social reaction.
“It’s not against anyone specifically; rather, it's a declaration that we're paying attention and refuse to let our rights be eroded,” she said. “It feels great to be part of something important moving forward.”
Voting with feet – and wallets
The question that remains for many, however, is what happens next?
“Everyone’s worked up right now, pulling actions together with great crowd turnout,” said Rucki. “To last, though, there needs to be continued pressure on Congress to make changes there.”
That means looking at the larger impact a collective movement has on society and the message it sends to those in power. The Women’s March on Washington has launched a 10 Actions in 100 Days campaign to tap into a sentiment of resistance, while corporations like Google and Starbucks are taking a public stand.
“People are much more aware of where they’re putting their money and the social stances a business takes,” said Cutter. “Raising awareness means being ready to approach this on all fronts, including economic – which speaks the loudest.”
For those looking to make an individual impact, Cutter first recommended to start auditing informational input: Read constantly from multiple sources, critically analyze anything on social media, and make sure to not just fall into the trap of confirming your own preexisting biases.
And when it comes to continued in-person support, the best thing to do is distill efforts in ways that are both meaningful and engaging. As both Cutter and Rucki noted, coordinated and sustained civic involvement starts at the individual level.
“Say to yourself, ‘Oh, I’ll do this activity this week,’ whatever that is,” said Cutter. “Pay attention, pick what’s important to you, and go do it. That’s how real change happens.”
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