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As Trump Leaves Office, Anti-Trump Activists Try To Form New Agenda


During the Trump presidency, an array of activist groups sprouted up to fight his agenda. Together with existing organizations, they came to be called the resistance. Well, starting this week, they won't be resisting Trump's policies anymore. They will be focused on advancing their own. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben reports.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: When Ezra Levin and his wife founded the progressive group Indivisible in 2016, they widely circulated a handbook on, quote, "resisting the Trump agenda." It took tactical lessons in grassroots politics from the Tea Party. There's another lesson Levin now thinks progressives can take from the Tea Party - that it's easier to oppose a policy than to advance a new one.

EZRA LEVIN: We saw this from the Tea Party themselves during the Obama years. After Obama lost his House majority and then the Senate majority, the House passed a repeal of the Affordable Care Act literally dozens of times.

KURTZLEBEN: Then in 2016, the GOP won the House, Senate and presidency and still couldn't pass an Obamacare replacement.

LEVIN: When they attempted to do that, they were met by Indivisible groups and others pushing back against it, making it as difficult as possible to be politically, and they ultimately failed.

KURTZLEBEN: Now groups like Indivisible are likewise trying to turn from resisting one agenda to assisting in shaping a new one. That pivot is tough, says Dana R. Fisher, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland.

DANA R FISHER: Basically, there's historic precedent that when Democrats win, movements die. I mean, they call Democratic successes the graveyards of progressive movements and campaigns.

KURTZLEBEN: Fisher is the author of the book "American Resistance," and she notes that the Trump resistance had a range of interests but were unified in opposition to him.

FISHER: It was really easy to maintain this fragile coalition because specifically, they were basically playing defense. Do not roll back health care. Do not, you know, try to deport Americans, you know, et cetera and so forth. So that was very easy, and everybody worked very well together.

KURTZLEBEN: Now those group strategies will shift. Rachel Carmona is executive director of the Women's March.

RACHEL CARMOSA: I suspect policy advocacy will be more of a role in all progressive organizations over the last couple of years. I think, you know, we have not essentially experienced a petitionable government in the last four years.

KURTZLEBEN: But not every group has the same priorities. For their part, the Women's March thinks that COVID relief is immediately important, particularly for women of color.

CARMOSA: We have to be thinking about, what is the long-term effect of COVID on women and work, basically, in addition to, you know, women in health? So right off the bat, we know we are in a situation where we need to deal with the current conditions, you know, first things first.

KURTZLEBEN: Meanwhile, Indivisible's Levin mentioned D.C. statehood and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act as important reforms. And Black Lives Matter is pushing the BREATHE Act, which would shift funding from areas like incarceration to other areas like education. It's also not clear which of these policies Congress and a President Biden might agree on. One additional difficulty is just keeping up energy around a cause. Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, talks about how the group's goals gained attention during last summer's protests but then were swallowed up by other concerns.

PATRISSE CULLORS: When something is not readily in the media, folks move towards apathy or get distracted. So this is not just a question for our elected, but it's a question for everybody who protested with us last summer. For the millions of people who showed up, keep showing up.

KURTZLEBEN: BLM existed well before the Trump administration, but it has also made its own political pivot in recent months, starting Black Lives Matter PAC in fall 2020. That gives it a more formal footprint in the political world, one where it and other groups may be fighting for oxygen in coming months.

Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAY SOM SONG, "BAYBEE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.