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Organizing After The Women’s March: Local Lessons From The Tea Party

Lea Trusty
Protestors march in Stamford, Conn., on January 21, 2017, the day after Donald Trump's presidential inauguration. The Stamford march was one of hundreds of sister marches to the Women's March held on the same day in Washington, D.C.

Since Donald Trump was inaugurated almost three weeks ago, there has hardly been a day without a protest. The demonstrations have been passionate and persistent, but it’s unclear where they’ll go from here.  

WSHU’s Lea Trusty has been covering some of the protests in Connecticut. She recently sat down with WSHU’s Senior Political Reporter Ebong Udoma and Morning Edition Host Tom Kuser to get a sense of what these protestors want and how they might achieve their aims.

Below is a transcript of their conversation.

TOM: Lea, could you tell us about some of the protests you’ve been to and what people are saying?

LEA: The first protest I attended was in Stamford the day after Trump’s inauguration. It was part of the Women’s March movement and according to the Stamford Police, over 5,000 people were there. Lisa Boyne was an organizer of the event, and here’s what she said:

This is the start of a fight, and we're going to fight the Republicans and Donald Trump just like the Tea Party did.

TOM: Now that’s interesting. The Tea Party movement did lead to some electoral victories for conservative Republicans. Does Boyne believe they can replicate that with Democrats?

LEA: Yes, she does. Here’s what she says.

If we have Republicans in Connecticut that are going to be trying to defund the Affordable Care Act at the state level, or defund HUSKY or Medicare or things like that, you know what I mean? If it all trickles down to that, then we have to support getting Democrats in office.

LEA: You know, Tom, there have also been weekly protests at local congressional offices. The protesters told me they want to make sure members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation, who are all Democrats, stand up to Trump’s agenda. Here’s what Bridgeport resident Nija Phelps said while protesting inside Congressman Jim Himes’ office in Bridgeport.

Get to know your local representatives. Your state senators and your state House representatives. Go to them, talk to them, find out when they're going to have a town hall. Call them and show up.

TOM: Now that sounds like a tactic used by Tea Party organizers. Ebong, you covered some of the initial Tea Party rallies in Connecticut back in 2009.

EBONG: Yes, I did. You know back then, the Tea Party didn’t really take off until late spring, but some of the early rallies were in Connecticut. I remember going to an early organizing event at a Fairfield diner where former Texas Congressman Dick Armey showed up. I’ve just talked with UConn political scientist Ron Schurin about the similarities. He says the anti-Trump organizers seem to have learned a few lessons from the Tea Party movement.

Such as using congressional town hall meetings, and certainly being able to command the attention of the media as a way of getting their message across. So I think there has been some learning going on.

TOM: Then does Schurin think this will help the Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections?

EBONG: I asked Schurin that. Here’s what he said.

That remains to be seen, but in a way the Democrats have nowhere to go but up.

TOM: The Democrats have nowhere to go but up. What if the anti-Trump energy gets channeled into third party candidates?

EBONG: Well, Schurin has an answer for that.

I think the Democrats will really have to play their hand very badly for this to result in a third party movement. If the Democrats hear what their base is saying and seek to incorporate the energy of the people who are protesting, I don’t think it will lead in that direction, just as I don’t think the Tea Party movement ultimately led to a third party in opposition to the Republicans.

EBONG: You know, Tom, Schurin says we shouldn’t underestimate the capacity of President Trump, and his White House team to keep the fires burning on the left and to keep his base mobilized. But he feels the intense level of protest we’ve seen since the inauguration might dissipate a bit.

TOM: Well, I guess we’ll see if that happens. Thank you, Ebong. Thank you, Lea.

LEA AND EBONG: Thank you, Tom.

Tom has been with WSHU since 1987, after spending 15 years at college and commercial radio and television stations. He became Program Director in 1999, and has been local host of NPR’s Morning Edition since 2000.
As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.