Progressive political organizations and activist groups at Tufts have mobilized around resisting President Donald Trump’s agenda and have used his surprise electoral victory as a rallying cry, according to interviews with students in multiple groups.
Meanwhile, campus conservative groups are also noticing a spike in activity after the election because of statewide victories and growing approval for Trump among Republicans, according to Tufts Republicans President George Behrakis.
Members of left-leaning groups including Tufts Democrats, Tufts Progressive Alliance (TPA) and Tufts Climate Action (TCA) all say they have found new energy in the wake of the Trump presidency. Nate Krinsky, the president of TPA, said more people have attended the group’s events since Trump’s victory, which he attributed to a growing sense of urgency around progressive issues.
“People have realized: ‘In order to have a country that I’m proud of, a country that works and fights for what I believe in, I have to personally get involved and join that fight,’” Krinsky, a rising junior, said. “One good thing that came out of this Trump presidency is that people are really inspired and are getting active.”
However, Behrakis said that Tufts Republicans feel more energetic now because people have decided that a Trump presidency is not as destructive as they once thought.
“I think a lot of us are happy and we’ve been re-energized, even those who didn’t really support him, because they’re realizing that even if they didn’t vote for him, … he’s not Darth Vader who’s going to come and destroy the world,” Behrakis, a rising sophomore, said.
TCA member Bianca Hutner said that Trump’s victory has encouraged the group to take a more aggressive stance in demanding that Tufts divest from direct investments in the fossil fuel industry, particularly because the federal government is less likely to prioritize climate change.
She said TCA has been encouraged by University President Anthony Monaco’s leadership in the sanctuary campus debate and that the group may try to appeal to him more directly.
“I think that [Monaco’s statements on sanctuary campuses] is something encouraging, and he says he does a lot to make Tufts sustainable,” Hutner, a rising senior, said. “I think now he’s in more of a position where he would be more likely to divest.”
Hutner said that framing climate issues around resisting Trump energized many who attended the TCA general interest meeting this semester and might have encouraged more people to join TCA.
According to Krinsky, TPA has focused on framing local and state issues in terms of resistance to Trump’s federal policies to win support. Krinsky emphasized that it is important to pursue state-level activism alongside national issues, a tactic he views as more effective given Republican control of both houses of Congress.
“There’s a lot of work we could do at the state level that would arguably have a bigger impact on people’s lives,” he said.
Krinsky said that one of the major state bills that TPA has worked to support this semester is the Massachusetts Safe Communities Act, which would effectively make Massachusetts a sanctuary state. The bill prohibits law enforcement agencies in the state from working with federal officials to detain or deport undocumented immigrants.
Krinsky also said that TPA will join Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition that includes hundreds of community, faith-based and activist groups to support a host of political and economic issues.
“Raise Up Massachusetts has a full slate of policy proposals that we are really interested in, including a $15 minimum wage, paid medical and family leave as well as a progressive income tax — and that progressive income tax is going to be on the 2018 ballot at this point,” he said.
Krinsky said that many progressive victories achieved as a result of grassroots organizing, including opposition to Trump’s travel ban and the American Health Care Act, have kept momentum up, even though Republicans have a majority at the federal level and in many states.
“Wins are really important to not have people burn out and get discouraged,” he said. “If people just say. ‘Oh, I changed my ways, I got involved and nothing changed,’ that would be really sad.”
Misha Linnehan, president of Tufts Democrats, said the group will actively support the Massachusetts Safe Communities Act next year. This will be in addition to the group’s regular lobbying and phone banking sessions.
Linnehan explained that Tufts Democrats will adopt a two-pronged strategy to affect change under the Trump administration, the first of which will rely on state-level resistance to what Tufts Democrats considers harmful federal policies.
“There is legislation here [that Tufts Democrats support and] that tries to stop what the federal government is going to do that harms our platform,” he said. “Sanctuary cities are a great example of that, because [they] sort of resist these federal government policies that are intrusive and terrible for lots of people around the country.”
The second approach, Linnehan explained, will be applying pressure to members of Congress to vote more progressively on issues such as healthcare reform.
“From a political standpoint, you can work from both ways making sure that the legislation coming down from the federal level isn’t that harmful,” he said. “At the same time, with what things are cast by the federal government, we can try to create a cast of resistance at the state level, too.”
A top priority for Tufts Democrats and TPA will be preventing current Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, from securing reelection in 2018, according to both Linnehan and Krinsky.
Linnehan also said that he hopes to continue participating in events with Tufts Republicans because those events could help address partisan tensions.
“I think it’s important to have a dialogue with the other side, especially when there’s so much partisanship going on,” Linnehan said.
Linnehan added that though many at Tufts feel energized in resistance, many also feel discouraged and alienated by Trump’s victory.
“There are definitely some people who are more energized by this, but at the same time I think there is a large group of people [for whom] this is a very discouraging result, and I think they felt alienated by the whole process.”
Tufts Republicans will focus on a variety of issues next year, including promoting free speech, Behrrakis said. Additionally, the Tufts Republicans are preparing to campaign on behalf of candidates during the 2018 midterm elections.
“We’ve been in contact recently with the Baker campaign and also the Mass GOP as they decide who’s going to run against Elizabeth Warren,” he said. “Also, obviously some of us who live in Massachusetts will get involved in the local seats for the congressional districts.”
Tufts Republicans are also planning to invite conservative speakers to Tufts, perhaps including conservative Supreme Court justices. Behrakis explained that some of the potential speakers may spark controversy on campus, much like the controversy recently generated at the University of California, Berkeley in anticipation of Ann Coulter’s scheduled appearance.
“Nothing’s confirmed yet … but there’s some chance there might be some trouble around [inviting speakers], and I guess we’re going to have to deal with it when we come to it,” he said.
Behrakis said that nationally, Republicans are generally excited and ready to affect change now that they have control of the White House for the first time in eight years.
“I think it’s exciting and sort of a sense of redemption for Republicans,” he said. “It’s sort of our time to shine now.”
Linnehan said that he is excited to work on behalf of Tufts Democrats to resist the Trump administration next year.
“We’re going to come back next year and we’re going to really get down and resist the administration as much as possible, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.