The election had barely been called for Donald Trump when Jenn Welch and Emily Winter decided they had to take action.
In an exchange over Facebook messenger late on Election Night, the two New York City comedians thought up ways they could champion the progress they worried would be lost under the new administration. By Thursday they had a plan: to stage a three-night comedy benefit on inauguration weekend as a form of community activism.
The project – which they dubbed “What A Joke” – would send all proceeds to the American Civil Liberties Union. It also gave both women a sense they were taking meaningful steps towards dealing with the shock within themselves and their community.
“You’re donating money, but you’re also able to find relief and joy,” Ms. Welch says. “You have an audience coming out, choosing to sit together and experience something as a community, laugh together as a community. To me that is the most important part.”
As thousands of people took to the streets following the election in response to Mr. Trump’s surprise victory over Hillary Clinton, scores of other Americans began articulating their feelings in a different way.
Some, like Welch and Ms. Winter, organized campaigns that raised funds for advocacy groups. Others started calling their elected representatives or signing petitions. Still others took more personal routes – like going vegetarian to protest the president-elect’s policies on climate change.
The sudden wave of political advocacy is rooted in a sense that perhaps certain rights and social trends were being taken for granted. Turning to collective action, experts say, is a way for such people to regain a sense of balance.
“I think much of the activism we’re seeing post-election stems from a need to reestablish some sense of control,” writes Debra Mashek, associate professor of psychology at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., in an email.
“Many in the nation were truly surprised by the outcome of the election. They are struggling to explain what unfolded and how their own sense of likely outcome could have been so wrong,” she adds. “This topsy-turvy sense can be steadied by taking action.”
'Something bigger than ourselves'
That others throughout the country shared their need to act quickly became apparent to Winter and Welch. Less than two weeks after they first came up with the idea for a comedy benefit, Welch says, comedians in 20 other cities – including Memphis, Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Philadelphia – had agreed to stage fundraisers on the weekend Trump takes the presidential oath.
“Every local contact we reach out to is so excited to work with this,” she says. “It feels like this is what’s necessary. It’s what we can do with our skills and our voice.”
Across the country in Southern California, Faisal Qazi has been putting his own abilities to use. The neurologist and community worker responded to Trump’s ascension into the White House with a surge of alarm for the safety and future of his two young children.
Within weeks of the election, he and a team of advocates had put together a campaign, called #Beyond2016, to empower residents and communities in the region by developing a guide to political organizing, as well as antibullying training and legal counseling.
The campaign’s first session – held Tuesday night at a Unitarian Universalist church in Anaheim, Calif. – saw a group of about a dozen local educators, parents and community leaders discussing the best ways to talk to their students and children about bullying, as well as help them process the negative rhetoric from the election.
Eventually, Dr. Qazi says, they hope to create a curriculum that addresses the most pertinent concerns of the most vulnerable populations in the area. They then plan on holding weekly open sessions using that curriculum in localities across Southern California over the course of the next year.
“We want to capture the momentum, to ensure the safety and security of our community members beyond 2016,” he says.
“People felt very shaken up,” he adds. “The only grounding we can have is if we become part of something bigger than ourselves.”
Not everyone who has taken up a cause following Trump’s win intends to transform entire communities, much less the nation.
Katie Chew, for instance, decided to become a vegetarian exactly two days after the election – a personal move meant to express her dismay at Trump’s direction on climate change, an issue she feels strongly about.
“The idea that he is going to encourage drilling again or pull out of the Paris Accords is alarming, frankly,” says Ms. Chew, a graduate student in film at New York University. After hearing a statistic about the impact of farming and processing on pollution levels, Chew figured she could afford skipping her beloved bacon if it meant taking a stand.
“It’s a concrete action I can take. I don’t have lot of money, I don’t have much of an opportunity to donate to charity,” she says. “It feels good to feel like I’m standing for something, a little bit.”
Kwasi Mensah and a group of his friends have been collecting information on members of the Electoral College in swing states, calling on them to vote according to the will of the people. Mr. Mensah, a programmer for Google with almost no experience in political activism, knows the effort is a longshot. But like Welch and Winter, he feels the election woke an urgency in him.
“I think before this election, I just assumed there was this whole machinery that took care of a lot of things,” he says. “But democracy is a very active thing. I don’t want to tell my great-grandkids that there was more I could’ve done.”
“What can I do to make this the America that I want?’ ” Mensah says.
But amid the range of responses, what matters is that the activism provides an anchor for people, says Lauren Duncan, a professor of psychology at Smith College in Northampton, Mass.
“Finding that sense of hope, that sense of efficacy – that’s really important,” she says.
In New York City, Welch, the comedian, says that for her, the revival of hope has been one positive effect of the effort to launch comedy benefits.
“I feel like coming together with this and getting everybody involved, it’s given us a sense of control in a very powerless situation,” she says. “And to be able to raise money for ACLU on a national level, we’re feeling very much like we have power back.”