THE BUZZ 4: Blossoming Activists

By on November 15, 2016

A generation of politically engaged young people is born.

Emmy Hammond, 22, of  Wilson, works on a sign during a rally in the Town Square Thursday. (Photo: Robyn Vincent)

Emmy Hammond, 22, of  Wilson, works on a sign during a rally in the Town Square Thursday. (Photo: Robyn Vincent)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Kalamu ya Salaam, an activist and social critic from New Orleans, said the Civil Rights Movement revealed so many injustices that “it was unthinkable to believe that we didn’t have to struggle.”

In the midst of social turmoil, it is painful for some to realize that there is no going back, that the future may be a battle.

On November 9, young people across the country awoke to the election of president-elect Donald Trump. Some felt a pain and disenchantment they’d never felt before. Had the election gone their way Clinton would have been elected (or more accurately, Bernie Sanders).

According to an analysis of 2016 exit poll data by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, of the estimated 24 million people under 30 who voted in the 2016 presidential election, a large majority supported Hillary Clinton. But Clinton received notably less support from young voters than Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012, particularly in the crucial battleground states she lost to Donald Trump, reported KQED News, an NPR member station.

After surveying 1,000 young Americans, right-wing political consultant Frank Luntz recently noted: “The hostility of young Americans to the underpinnings of the American economy and the American government ought to frighten every business and political leader as they excite activists for Sanders and, to a lesser degree, Clinton activists.”

Young voters also reject other underpinnings of America’s history, like its legacy of racism and sexism.

Nikita Muromcew, a ninth grader at the Journeys School, expressed fear in the wake of Trump’s election, and concern for all those who might suffer under Trump’s policies but who cannot vote—children, felons, undocumented workers.

“He represents values we’ve been trying to abandon,” she said. “That sends a message that those values are OK. I’m worried that my minority friends won’t even be able to leave the house.”

Nikita’s sibling, Mary, an eighth grader at Journeys School, is personally afraid. “I’m a person of color and queer,” Mary said. “People don’t know what it’s really like for minorities. What will be happening to us in four years?”

Despite the fear of the future, Mary believes that this is a moment of rebirth for the country. “We are going to remember this. It is the moment to decide who we are. They expected us to fall down, but we’re going to do the opposite. If anything, we’ll be louder.”

Mary and Nikita will both be coming of age under Trump’s administration. “We’re finding our voices,” Mary said. “We’ve been rushed to find our inner strength more quickly than others have.”

“I am going to help our country,” Nikita vowed.

The siblings vow to help Jackson, too. They both attended a rally against Trump on the Thursday after the election, and plan to stay politically involved. They hope that Jackson will be a place that can welcome and learn from their engagement.

Nikita urges Jackson locals to “open your eyes and your mind. You may not see that minorities are here, but I am here.”

Mary and Nikita believe that “we’ve been hit but we can still fight.” Young people across the country who have joined in protesting against Trump share this sentiment, especially after the president-elect just appointed Stephen Bannon, a white nationalist and anti-Semite, his chief strategist and senior counselor.

Stefanie Schulz, a Jackson native who now works as an account coordinator in Park City, joined two thousand protestors in Salt Lake City’s downtown this past week. “The energy was intense because people were devastated and angry,” she said. As the group marched, “people were getting out of their cars at stoplights, honking horns and standing on balconies to cheer us on.”

Schulz says that she usually doesn’t attend protests, but felt she had to go and exercise her rights. “I felt so much anger after Trump won,” she said. “Every time I heard his voice I cried. I knew that if I went, I could channel all of my emotions to move forward positively.” Carrying this energy forward is critical, Schulz added. “We need to pay attention to midterm elections in two years … voting local is going to be more crucial than ever.”

Wyoming towns have also been sites of protest. Students, faculty, and staff at University of Wyoming held a walkout in protest of Trump’s election on Monday. Hundreds of people attended. Organizer Rihanna Kelver says she wanted to provide the community with a safe space to express how they were feeling.”Many of us are afraid, uncertain, and anxious because of the rhetoric and rise in hate crimes … in the week since the election.”

Graduate student and Showing Up For Racial Justice organizer Sarah Duncan said a professor noted, “It was the biggest non-sports turnout they’d seen in seven years.” Duncan says people held banners with messages such as “You Belong.” and there were chants in English and in Spanish. “We wanted to show Larmaie, and UW, that not only are we committed to students and citizens feeling safe here, we are committed to them being safe here.”

Duncan emphasized the importance of these gatherings in small and rural communities. “People expect the cities to protest, to stand up. We see that on the news all the time. But in smaller towns, it is more surprising and noteworthy … it resounds in very different and possibly even louder ways than it would in a big city.”

Young folks in Jackson Hole seem to agree. Since the election, there have been three rallies, all organized by young people and primarily comprised of them. Their main focus was to gather folks in the name of rejecting the racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and sexism espoused by Trump.

Similar to Salt Lake City, protestors were met with peace signs and honks of support. A group of high school students marched around Broadway, chanting, “My body, my choice!”

Among the young people rallying against hate and violence on the Town Square Saturday was Jeremy Lam, 19, of Salt Lake City. He was visiting Jackson with his fraternity. “It’s important to know we still have to accept one another despite our political differences,” he said.

Rainer-McIntosh Round, 17, is a student at Journeys School and a proud Eagle Scout. He stood on the square with his family on Saturday, raising his fist in solidarity to honking motorists. “I love this awesome example of people coming together and standing up for what’s right,” he said.

This might be a moment of the politicization of young people, of serious social change.

Jon Schwartz, a writer and research producer, noted that it was only 20 years ago that the “U.S. elites had so successfully depoliticized America that simply caring about politics was like having a super-weird hobby.”

Right now, however, politics are once again personal for young people who are angry and concerned about the environment, marginalized people, and their futures.  PJH

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