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'Resistance' Sets Sights on Ballot Box 01/19 06:11

   (AP) -- The idea first came to Teresa Shook, a Hawaii retiree, in the hours 
after Donald Trump was elected. Perhaps, she suggested to a few friends on 
Facebook, women could march on Washington to show the depth of their 
resistance. Two days later, New York fashion designer Bob Bland joined the call 
for action with her own message.

   "Who wants to join me?!?" she asked.

   Turns out, a whole lot of people did.

   The astounding sea of women in bright pink "pussy hats" --- half a million 
in Washington alone, and many more in hundreds of marches elsewhere --- became 
the face of the resistance to Trump and his agenda. It inspired thousands of 
women to do something they'd never done before: explore a run for political 
office. The jolt of energy, and unity, also laid the cultural groundwork, many 
believe, for the "#MeToo" phenomenon to catch fire later in the year, calling 
powerful men to account for sexual misconduct.

   Now, the loosely defined "resistance movement" --- a network of groups 
around the nation, with men and women raising money and knocking on doors and 
supporting hundreds of progressive candidates --- is setting its sights on the 
2018 midterm elections, hoping to deal the White House and the all-GOP 
government in Washington a permanent setback.

   Next stop for the Women's March organizers: Las Vegas. Rather than returning 
to Washington, they're holding a "Power to the Polls" rally in the Nevada city 
on Sunday, launching a voter registration tour and putting out the message that 
the next step is all about votes. "The year 2018 is really where the rubber 
meets the road," says Linda Sarsour, one of the original organizers along with 
Bland.

   A year on, Sarsour says what she's proudest of is that "the march set the 
tone for the resistance ... if you look at so many of the fights that happened 
this year, whether it be around health care, the tax bill, the dreamers, if you 
really look, it was led by women."

   The group pointedly decided to spend the anniversary in a battleground 
state, won narrowly by Hillary Clinton in November. "If it can happen in 
Nevada, it can happen anywhere," she says. Nevada is also, she says, at the 
crossroads of crucial issues like immigration and gun control; in October, it 
suffered the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

   Fueling these electoral ambitions is an infusion of first-time women 
candidates. Emily's List, which helps Democratic, pro-abortion rights 
candidates run for office, has proudly kept a tally all year of women who've 
expressed interest in running, via its website. More than 26,000 women have 
done so since the women's march, compared to only 920 in the two years before, 
says its president, Stephanie Schriock. The group has been buoyed by recent 
state legislative victories in Virginia --- where it focused on 16 races, and 
its candidates won 13 of them --- and by this week's victories of two Wisconsin 
candidates.

   "We're still recruiting hundreds of candidates, until the last filing 
deadline," Schriock says. "There's a decade of candidates coming."

   Debbie Walsh of Rutgers University, who's been studying women in politics 
for 35 years, says she had initially feared that women would be discouraged 
from seeking office by Clinton's defeat. Instead, she says, "there was this 
instantaneous response that stemmed from this visceral need to take back some 
control, assert some power."

   It's a unique moment for women on the left, she says: "The kind of focus, 
attention, activism --- I can't remember a moment quite like this."

   One woman who's already taken the plunge is Lisa Mandelblatt, a former 
attorney in Westfield, New Jersey who's running for U.S. Congress, trying to 
unseat a Republican incumbent in November. Like so many, she made her decision 
to run at last year's women's march --- "truly a life-changing event."

   Mandelblatt, 53, will be marking the anniversary at two marches this weekend 
in her home state. She says she's been thrilled to see that "the resistance is 
still being fueled by women. Men are helping it along, but I'm so excited to 
see that it's really being spearheaded by women activists."

   The post-inauguration marches and this year's encores --- not just the main 
event in Las Vegas, but in gatherings of varying sizes across the country and 
overseas --- bookend a year of activism that has helped deliver electoral 
victories for liberals. They've won local offices, made huge gains in the 
Virginia General Assembly, and even claimed a U.S. Senate seat in conservative 
Alabama.

   Plenty of self-identified progressives have lost, too. Still, the resistance 
sees itself as a big success.

   "I hate to use a term like silver lining, because the damage from this 
administration has already been so great," says Leah Greenberg, who co-founded 
the resistance group Indivisible with her husband, Ezra Levin. But, she says, 
"We have seen a pretty incredible wave of grassroots resistance and organizing 
that we hope to maintain for the long haul ... and it's activists DOING 
something, not just Facebooking."

   The movement ranges from new or burgeoning powers like Indivisible and the 
Working Families Party to longtime liberal staples like Emily's List, ActBlue 
and MoveOn.org. The groups have combined to raise tens of millions of dollars 
and organized on behalf of more than 1,000 candidates in 2017. By WFP's count, 
two-thirds of its endorsed candidates won.

   Resistance-backed candidates have won mayor's seats in New Orleans, 
Louisiana; Jackson Mississippi; and Birmingham, Alabama --- Democratic-run 
cities in Republican Deep South states.

   At first glance, that means one Democratic mayor --- though the seats are 
officially nonpartisan --- replacing another. But in each case, the winner 
represents a new generation of liberal activists. In Jackson, Mayor Chuckwe 
Lumumba, 34, says he wants to make the capital of Mississippi "the most radical 
city on the planet."

   The resistance has drawn comparisons to the tea party movement, but some 
leaders of that uprising on the right don't necessarily consider their 
left-leaning brethren political equals. Amy Kremer, a leader of the Tea Party 
Express until 2014, is skeptical of predictions of a "Democratic wave" 
commensurate to what the tea party helped Republicans pull off in 2010.

   "They have to make it about policy, not just the man," says Kremer.

   But Indivisible's Levin says an underappreciated part of the movement is 
that it reaches everywhere, even deeply Republican areas. That means empowering 
liberals who have "never had a progressive ecosystem" around them, while also 
enabling frustrated independents or conservatives.

   Not all of the candidacies fueled by the resistance were successful. In New 
Jersey, first-time candidate Christine Lui Chen launched a State Senate 
campaign, full of hope and energy. "I can't tell you how many doors I knocked 
on," she says.

   She lost. Even more disappointing, she says, was how almost all incumbents 
won their legislative races "in a state on an economic precipice." It left her 
feeling deeply frustrated with what she calls an entrenched system favoring the 
establishment. "I wanted to challenge the system," she says.

   Elizabeth Guzman had a happier experience. She recalls launching her 
campaign for Virginia's legislature in October 2016 thinking she'd join a flood 
of women serving alongside President Hillary Clinton. But the Peru native, who 
came to the United States as a "bilingual secretary" and now has two master's 
degrees, says she quickly shifted her focus after Trump's victory.

   She was endorsed by a number of liberal groups. "I had so much support from 
within my district and nationwide. They came and knocked on doors, raised 
money, sent postcards, made calls."

   Guzman claimed a northern Virginia House of Delegates district that had been 
in Republican hands for more than a decade.

   "Absolutely, I feel part of the movement," she says.


(KA)

 
 
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