San Francisco community comes out in force to talk about Trump & how to be an activist

Three days after President Trump’s inauguration, about 150 community members packed the event space at Strut for a panel discussion about the Trump administration and its potential impact on the LGBTQ community, people living with HIV, immigrants to our country, and more. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation Real Talk event, “What now? Mobilizing over the next four years,” included a lively discussion about activism moderated by Honey Mahogany and Sister Roma.

“We’ve been talking internally at the foundation to make sure that we stay vigilant,” said Joe Hollendoner, CEO of San Francisco AIDS Foundation as he introduced the event. “We want to make sure that the policies the White House are implementing and enforcing are the policies that are not just friendly to the HIV community, but ensure that we go forwards and not backwards. We also want to create a sense of accountability not just at the national and federal level but locally in San Francisco.”

Kick starting the event, Roma and Honey spoke passionately about their history of activism—and why they volunteered to host an event about fighting back over the next four years.

“San Francisco is a special place because of its activism from the ‘60s through today. And we are not ready to let that go. We need to lead the nation. The Women’s March was amazing—thank you women, for doing your work. We are here to continue that work today,” said Honey.

What are we scared of or for? Pretty much everything.

An audience poll revealed the concerns our community has about what might change with the new administration. Many people (23%) said they were concerned about healthcare; 21% reported being worried about funding for programs; 21% said they were concerned about the environment, 18% said they were concerned about immigration, 10% said housing is a concern, 5% said their top concern is LGBT equality, and 3% said personal safety is a concern.

Audience members also said that they were worried about religious freedoms, reproductive rights, voting rights, foreign policy, consumer protections, the global AIDS crisis, women’s healthcare, cutting in funding to clinics that provide abortions, suppression of the free press, and freedom of speech.

“Suppression of the free press—that is crazy, y’all,” one audience members said. “That has got to stop, it is not cool.”

A healthcare provider at Mission Neighborhood Health Center, panel member Ivan Ramirez said that his top concerns were about affordable healthcare and immigration. “It’s so important for so many people right now, he said.”

Janetta Johnson, executive director of TGI Justice Project, said that ensuring the personal safety of Black trans women has been—and continues to be—a priority. “Women with hair on their faces are under attack. Women who are too tall are under attack. Sometimes just for where they use the restroom,” she said.

Shaun Haines, a multicultural Black and Native American panelist with Muslim heritage, also cited an increased worry about personal safety and racially-motivated crime and discrimination. “I know in the Haight there were signs representing the KKK. Walking around as an African American man, it’s a challenge.”

“It’s an incredibly scary time,” said panelist Michael Siever, a former ACT-up member and founder of the Stonewall Project. “I think it’s most important that we all stay alert and know what’s going on so we can defend whatever we need to. We need to love each other and be aware and alert and active.

We must come together to mobilize, and create change

After a policy update by state and local affairs director Courtney Mulhern-Pearson, and a few remarks by new District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, Honey and Roma turned the conversation to how we can come together to create change and support people who may feel threatened under a Trump administration and Republican-led Congress.

“You don’t have to go out and burn down a building and carry a picket sign—which San Francisco has a very rich history of doing, by the way. We’re not afraid of picking up a barricade and throwing it through the windows of City Hall. We’re not afraid to block the traffic on the bridge. We’re not afraid to start tipping shit over in San Francisco, or get arrested,” said Roma. “But we’re also very content sometimes to sit back and tweet, or make a post on Facebook. And we think our activism is quite enough. So, what I’d like to know is, what do you think the most effective form of activism is? What’s worked in the past, and what will work in the future?”

“Different moments call for different responses,” said Siever. “I’m always a fan of going out into the streets—but not everyone is going to do that. It’s important to make room for everyone. One person’s Facebook posting activism might be another person’s going out into the street’s activism. The most important thing is to do whatever you can do to try to keep this world going in a direction that is kind to all of us. And not get discouraged and keep a sense of humor.”

A few panelists referenced organized activities like the recent Women’s March, which inspired panelists and audience members alike with the staggering crowds it drew. Johnson reminded the crowd that grassroots efforts—that include artwork or low-budget media—can be powerful and effective in their own right. Ramirez and Haines said they preferred one-on-one interactions to change hearts and minds.

“If you can attach your own story to your cause, you’ll be able to create change. Or get someone to show up if you need them to be active and respond to our community’s needs,” said Haines.

Everyone seemed to agree that coming together, and presenting a united front against policies or legislation that threaten our community, will be important in the coming years. Johnson reminded the audience that we can get involved even if we’re not a member of the demographic group a cause supports. White cisgender women can, and should, get involved in programs that support black transgender women. Gay men can help fight to preserve women’s reproductive rights. And so on.

“We have to come together,” said one audience member. “We have to stop the separatism. African American, Latino, Caucasian—we’re all one family. We have to stop and evolve. We have to realize we’re all here for the same cause and the same purpose. To defeat what we have in front of us. We have to stop being divided. We have to come together as one.”

Check your privilege, and care about issues that may not even directly affect you

Recognize that to be a better ally, you first need to see and acknowledge your own privilege, said Honey. “There are many identities that I sit with and move through the world with. Even though I’m black and queer, and fall somewhere on the gender spectrum that isn’t male or female, at the same time the most important part of being an ally in any community is acknowledging your privilege. Even with all of those identities that some people might see as a negative, or weakness, or not the status quo, one thing I do try to recognize is that I have male privilege. I can choose to walk around in men’s clothing and I can move through the world in a way that is masculine, sort of. I also have height privilege. We become better allies by acknowledging our privileges. And finding ways to use your privilege to bring others up with you.”

One audience member’s comment about joining forces was met with enthusiastic applause.

“I’ve been guilty about just caring about my issues,” the participant said. “People would say, ‘Save the whales,’ and I’d say, ‘Let’s save my brother who’s locked up in prison. That’s what we should be saving.’ But, you know, they’re good too. We have to save the whales too! We have to look across at people who are different from us.”

“I’m a new activist,” said Ramirez. “I’m engaging my community but also other communities as well—like African Americans and Asians. That’s my goal, to be more engaged with everyone.”

Roma advised that people could join not just political organizations, but also organizations for spirituality, health or healing. “Maybe for one where you’re not a member of that minority or gender. Get involved.”

What can we do?

Now is the time to contact our representatives in Congress and ask them to vote “no” for secretary nominees who are anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT, shared one audience member.

Calling representatives in Congress is also important. Call 844.872.0234. You’ll be prompted to enter your zip code to be connected to your representatives.

Make a donation to a program, organization or cause that you support, suggested Roma. “Every little bit helps.” Another audience member suggested volunteering as a way to support programs or services that might lose funding under the new administration.

Honey reminded the audience to hold our politicians accountable. “Jeff Sheehy was just here. It’s important for us to hold our city’s supervisors accountable for their word. You can just walk into city hall and knock on their doors. And say, ‘What are you doing about homelessness in San Francisco? What are you going to do to protect LGBT rights? What about our healthcare systems?’ These people are here for you and they want to hear from their constituents.”

The Resistance Manual

For a guide on how to fight for the issues and causes that are important to you, check out the Resistance Manual, shared Mulhern-Pearson. The Manual is here:

The Manual covers issues including: Obamacare/ACA, immigration, mass incarceration, housing, LGBTQ equality, women’s rights, disability rights, foreign policy, the environment, and more.

 “It’s very helpful if you’d like to build yourself a roadmap,” said Mulhern-Pearson. “I take five minutes out of my day to call my representatives in Congress. I have a friend who hasn’t been able to reach their Congressperson over the phone so writes postcards instead. Find things you can build into your every day or every week.”

How are you willing to fight?

An audience poll revealed that many people were willing to make calls to their Congress representatives, share information on social media, go to a protest or demonstration, and make donations to organizations they support.

“These are all important things to do,” said one audience member. “But maybe they’re not enough.”

One person suggested that “running for political office” as another way to create change.

Haines asked the audience to not forget that we can enact change locally, by voting for state and city propositions that protect and support marginalized communities.

“There were some really disappointing things that were on the November ballot that did not pass that would have protected a lot of people from the onslaught or terror that is coming. It would have protected people who are out there in the cold and rain, but they did not pass because we were not paying attention. When these things that come up on our ballot, again, we need to take action,” said Haines.

“We have to get up, and keep going,” said Siever. “You listen to the news, and it’s all so appalling. You start to feel defeated. You just have to remember that collectively, we have incredible power.” 


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