By Emma Rogers, Staff Writer
Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the United States’s 45th president on Jan. 20, 2017. The following day, millions of women marched in cities around the globe to protest. They jammed themselves into train cars and buses and filled the streets. Women of all ages, from toddlers atop their parent’s shoulders to college students to grandmothers inching along in walkers and wheelchairs, marched together, each of them wearing a pink beanie as a symbol of solidarity and empowerment.
Libby Otto (BMC ‘20) described her experience at the march. “It was empowering! Just being there made me feel like I was a part of a group that was actually going to get things done.”
But Jan. 21 was just one day out of the next four years. After just a week in office, it’s clear that the Trump White House will be the most right-wing administration in modern times. The ban on Muslim immigrants, the preparation to build a wall on the southern border, and the plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act are just a few examples of the policy shift that may come to define the next four years. In the face of such blatant disregard for liberal ideals, what can the left do? What will be the anti-Trump protesters’ best strategy?
It’s a question both students and professors are asking themselves.
“There’s so many changes happening in Washington right now,” Explained Professor Marissa Martino Golden, a Professor of Political Science at Bryn Mawr. “I think there’s a hundred brush fires going on at the same time. And how do you deploy your firefighters? You can’t put them all out. There’s no branch of government that may be sympathetic to people who support more progressive policies. So where do you direct your voice?”
Golden believes that if anti-Trump protesters want to be successful, they need to, on an individual level, “figure out what they’re most passionate about and focus on that.”
Professor Stephen McGovern, a Professor of Political Science at Haverford, says that the marches are “clearly not enough” and that those who oppose the president need to “find ways to connect with the millions of Americans who backed Donald Trump, people who themselves feel deeply disempowered.
“There are sweeping societal trends at work here: globalization, deindustrialization and automation, that have resulted in lots of people really suffering. Massive job loss, unemployment, rising poverty, sense of disillusionment.”
McGovern also blames the left for Trump’s victory, arguing that “democrats have done a relatively poor job of addressing and responding to those needs. And this isn’t a recent phenomenon, this goes back many years. There’s gotta be more attention to electoral politics in red areas. It’s horrendous that Hillary Clinton didn’t even bother to campaign in certain rustbelt states. A mass protest in Washington, D.C. serves many important functions, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough.”
How does the Bi-Co community respond to all of this? The Friday of Trump’s Inauguration, Bryn Mawr held a teach-in that Golden coordinated in order to, as she puts it, “show how you get the insight to understanding what’s happening in 2017 through a variety of liberal arts lenses in a nonpartisan way.” Golden strongly feels that it is an educational institution’s responsibility to remain neutral. “A college can’t cross over into the political sphere, and neither can faculty,” she said. This idea is especially important in the current political climate, and especially because both schools — and many similar colleges and universities–are often routinely criticized for left-leaning partisanship.
While the administration may have an obligation to remain nonpartisan, Bi-Co students themselves certainly do not. Amanda Wessel (BMC ‘20) a D.C. native and lifelong political activist, has been impressed with the Bi-Co’s commitment to activism since coming to the college in August. And perhaps for good reason — both Bryn Mawr and Haverford have historically been ranked very highly in Washington Monthly, a list that prioritizes civic mobility and engagement.
But not everyone seems to think that the schools are doing enough. The day after the election, Jake Bernstein (HC ‘19) Grace Brosnan (HC ‘20) and Luke Seamus McGowan-Arnold (HC ‘20) organized several protests and demonstrations, and founded the group “Tri-Co Against Trump.”
In creating what was supposed to be a theater-focused exhibit for Haverford’s Magill Library, Bernstein, a Peer Awareness Facilitator at Haverford, ended up reading every publication of the Bi-Co News from 1955-1992. In his opinion, the Bi-Co community of today simply does not do enough in comparison with what they did in the past.
“On the cover of older editions of the Bi-Co News, you see front page headlines and you see pictures of people — students, faculty and staff — protesting unfair legislation within or without the school,” he said. “Rules within the school they thought were bad, equity inequality, making the school co-ed, making more opportunities for people of color within the Bi-Co community. Quakers were pacifists. And during the Vietnam War, Haverford was still associated with Quakers officially and there was a time when the draft was extended to the bottom 50 percent of every college class. And Haverford officially abolished grades during that time so that we didn’t have a bottom 50 percent so no one could be drafted.”
In contrast, Bernstein says, “We get to today and we see people meeting with the Haverford administration about divesting from fossil fuels — and nothing comes of it. Or organizing around frustration surrounding the presidential election and people go to some marches. The people who would have already gone to marches, go to marches. I feel like it doesn’t bring the community together in any effective way.”
In terms of citizen obligation, Bernstein feels that “people who have ability have responsibility” but “that’s not to say people who don’t have that ability are stunted or incorrect or doing something wrong. That’s not my place to judge, or say what they should or should not be doing.”
BMC student Amanda Wessel says students have to decide for themselves how politically engaged they will be. “I think it’s really hard to be a student and concerned citizen at the same time. We want to be politically active and we want to change the world but we also have to do our homework to get a degree that will allow us to be taken seriously when we do go out to change the world.”
When asked how the Trump administration affects how she teaches, Professor Jamie K. Taylor of Bryn Mawr’s English Department responded, “I’ve doubled-down on what I’ve always done. There’s a new urgency as to why we have to stay doing the work we do — critical thinking and paying attention.” To her, the Bi-Co is “trying, but we can be better. If you have cause, if you have money, if you have time, go do it. Stand up. Be bold.”