Donald Trump’s election left Penn students angry, empowered and ready to resist. We’ve had some of the largest marches in recent memory in the last week, with loud, powerful voices in the Penn community rejecting the President-elect’s dangerous policies and hateful rhetoric. Penn students want to make a difference, but a lot of us are still wondering what it is we should be marching for.
With a Republican-controlled Congress and a president with an unpredictable but assuredly arch-conservative domestic agenda, we can expect to see the social safety net disappear quickly come January. But all hope is not lost. Where the federal government will fail us, we can step in with direct action and demand change. Lawmakers shape the country, but they don’t own it. We have more power than we think.
Let’s look at one of the most obvious examples: the federal minimum wage. Bernie Sanders made a $15 federal minimum wage a central part of his campaign, and — in no small part because of his influence — Hillary Clinton put an increasing amount of weight on the minimum wage in her platform.
With a Trump administration, a federal minimum wage hike is dead on arrival. But we can still support wage increases for working Americans. A lot of that comes down to state and local politics.
Quite a few cities and state governments have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum — California’s is $10 an hour, and the Seattle city legislature passed a bill that would push wages in the city to $15 an hour within five years. If we support candidates who back wage increases in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, we can support fair pay within our communities, even if the federal government isn’t following the trend.
Still, direct action lets us move beyond a dependence on legislators and state electorates for worker’s rights. Groups of workers at Penn and across the nation are constantly fighting to organize and unionize, demanding fair wages, benefits and equitable treatment that the government fails to guarantee. In Trump’s America, this is more important than ever. Dining hall workers in Houston Hall and security officers contracted with Allied Barton security are among Penn employees who have unionized in the past five years. Because of this, some of these workers are seeing their first real raises in years, and in some cases, decades.
After a ruling by the National Labor Relations Committee last spring that allowed graduate students to organize, grad students at Columbia, Yale, Duke and many other schools around the country are campaigning to unionize and demand fair treatment. The national fight for labor extends far beyond the higher education world, with laborers organizing strikes, boycotts and publicity campaigns to fight for rights and resources that national and state governments fail to provide.
This is what activism in Trump’s America is going to look like. When you have a government amenable to change, you try to work with them to push your agenda. When you have a government that isn’t, you have to work above and around them.
Take action that overrides bad policy. Push for divestment from businesses with unfair practices, vote with your dollars by buying from companies with good environmental and labor practices at home and abroad and make your voice heard by supporting strikes and protests. Students at Penn who want to get involved should look for groups with direct plans, that don’t have to trickle through the popular opinion of an electorate to make a difference.
Groups like SLAP, and Fossil Free Penn regularly hold protests, direct actions and sit-ins to fight for racial justice, workers’ rights and the fight against climate change. After the initial rejection of fossil fuel divestment, Fossil Free Penn is escalating its pressure campaign to get Penn’s administration to reject financial support from the fossil fuel industry. Beyond that, listen to voices of minorities, workers and struggling populations in the Penn community. Most of all, find ways that rise above the ballot box to fight back against a regressive government.
Trump’s election represented a great blow to the forces of progress in America, as the American electorate chose a politics of short-sighted, reactionary hatred. But it also represents a great opportunity. Now, maybe more than ever, we can demand change that rises above the winds of politics. I have no doubt that Trump’s administration and the Republican legislature will fail to provide justice for all Americans. It’s in our hands now.
AARON COOPER is a College freshman from Morristown, N.J., studying cognitive science. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. edu. “Aanarchy” usually appears every other Tuesday.