South Florida Activists Prepare for Life Under Trump
Anti-Trump protesters flooded downtown Miami sooner after Election Day.
Photo by Ian Witlen
A few friends, some oysters, and a lot of Ketel One were Rand Hoch's day-after-election hangover remedy.
But the president and founder of Palm Beach County Human Rights Council was back at work the next day. Aiming to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender, he quickly planned a meeting with Army veteran and newly elected Republican Rep. Brian Mast, who represents the Treasure Coast.
In fact, the more he thought about it, the more Donald Trump's election galvanized Hoch's plans to make a local impact.
“Since the LGBTQ community cannot expect much progress on the national level and, for that matter, on the state level, we must focus our attention at the county and municipal levels," he says. “Ultimately, Washington, D.C., will see what is happening on the local level on civil rights and perhaps finally get around to enacting legislation.”
From Palm Beach to the Keys, activists working on LGBT issues, social rights, and economic justice have quickly traveled through all five stages of grief in the wake of Trump's election. New Times spoke to some of them to find out how they've coped — and how they plan to continue fighting under Trump.
Krystal Ball is a senior media fellow at the New Leaders Council, a national nonprofit with a Miami chapter that aims to turn passion into concrete action, whether that be running for office, leading nonprofits, or starting new business.
Ball says the election should spark action, not depression.
“Protest built our country. This rush to sweep the election under the rug is very disconcerting," she says. "March for what you believe in, but also band together and work on a serious and thoughtful agenda so others will join in the voting booth next election.”
Next summer, the New Leaders Council will release the Millennial Compact With America — a policy agenda written for and by millennials. “Now more than ever, we’ve got to have bold new ideas for democracy, social justice, and making sure that the economy works for all," Ball says.
What will Trump's administration mean for that plan?
“It is impossible to say," she says. "I don’t think Trump even knows what he’s going to do. We know, though, that he ran a divisive and reactionary campaign with no respect for the norms of our democracy, so until I see otherwise, I assume that’s the kind of president he will be as well. We’ve got to offer a real policy alternative that is bold enough for the task at hand.”
Like Hoch, she says a focus on local action will be key to making progress in the next four years.
“We can only figure out what to do next, and the answer is almost always more love and compassion for a our flawed brothers and sisters who were desperate enough to fall for the tricks of a con artist,” she says.
Did you know that at current rates, it will be three decades before American women earn the same as men? That’s a fact, according to Janet Altman, board chair of the Miami-Dade Women’s Fund. The local nonprofit advocates for women’s rights in the community to create policy change.
Trump's election doesn't raise many hopes of changing that fact anytime soon.
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“Many of us are still processing our emotions,” Altman says. “We’re worried about the Supreme Court, the risks to reproductive rights and health-care access. We’re more concerned than ever about economic security for working-class single moms and protection for immigrants and their children.”
The Women’s Fund will be a voice for women and girls at the county and local levels, Altman says. She believes hope and strength can come from working together. Over the next few months, the organization will reach out to the community to define issues and programming.
“Complacency is no longer an option for many in our community. I expect more Miamians to contribute their resources — whether it’s time, talent, or funding — to help make things better at home,” Altman says.
“Roll up your sleeves and get to work," says Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association. The association concentrates on protecting wildlife and habitats, including combating oil drilling, in the Everglades.
Schwartz and his team worry about the effects of Trump’s policy on the environment, specifically South Florida’s ecosystem. According to Schwartz, the president-elect has already created a website for his incoming administration where he has promised to get rid of restrictions on the extraction of fossil fuels.
“For South Florida, that likely means quicker and more streamlined reviews of future oil drillings. There has been speculation for years about the amount of oil that exists under the Everglades as well as offshore," Schwartz says. “Development and habitat are incompatible, at least at the level that we are destroying habitat in Florida.”
Schwartz says work will come through demonstrations, lobbying, and public education, no matter what the White House prioritizes.
“We expect to hold rallies, conduct letter-writing campaigns, attend public meetings (and encourage others to join us), produce educational materials to spread the word, increase our use of social media, create videos, and conduct other activities," he says. "We are convinced that the majority of Floridians are with us on this issue."
Engage Miami concentrates on creating a culture of civic participation by shattering the myth that millennials are apathetic. Young voters are increasingly more involved in donating and volunteering with organizations, says Rob Biskupic-Knight, the group's executive director.
Just look at the group of Palmetto High School students who the day after Trump’s victory walked out of school in protest. Biskupic-Knight and his team hope to capitalize on this momentum.
“The issue is that traditional methods of engaging civically are outdated or aren’t user-friendly. We’re focused on creating new and expanded pathways to participate and speak up. We aspire to be the architects of civic engagement in the 21st Century in Miami,” Biskupic-Knight says.
Gihan Perera, cofounder and executive director of the New Florida Majority, has a cure-all plan for post-Trump hangovers: “Drink a lot of water and get some rest. If you have a headache or anxiety, there is no other way to fix that without getting your body in motion. Take action and do something.”
The New Florida Majority is a locally operated independent racial justice political organization focused on community empowerment. You might know it best for commissioning the Pigs Can Fly mural formerly on Biscayne Boulevard. The mural, recently removed following pressure from the building’s landlord, was what Perera describes as an absurd expression of the election. Many people believed Trump would be elected “when pigs could fly” — and then pigs flew, Perera says. The mural said it all.
As for the organization’s future plans: “You don’t sit there in fear. You take action," Perera says. He and the New Florida Majority are more committed than ever to building political power and participation in the community.
“Miami-Dade really turned out,” says Perera, who argues that Miami needs to continue engaging in order to hold national leaders accountable. One of the major initiatives of the New Florida Majority will be criminal justice reform, specifically the reversal of legislation that bars ex-cons from voting. Perera believes that for democracy to work, every American should have that constitutional right.
“These types of moments are formative even if we don’t know it. There’s a generation of conscious activists being formed just by what they are seeing in place,” Perera says.
In fact, in a too-familiar post-Election Day conversation. Perera’s 11-year-old son asked his father if he would be deported. “This is really about their future — that is what we are fighting for,” Perera says.
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