The Sunday after America elected Donald Trump, Placerville resident and small-business owner Sean Frame decided to do something about the anxiety he was feeling. Though he’s on a local school board, he never really considered himself a politically active person.
“There’s a term – slacktivist,” Frame said. “I was very good at posting things on Facebook, but I didn’t really ever take that out into the world. Especially living in this very conservative community, I thought sharing my political views would just make my friends and neighbors angry.”
Trump’s victory changed things.
“A friend of mine messaged me and said, ‘I know we are shell shocked, but we should sit down and have coffee.’ A group of us got together and commiserated, but then we started saying, ‘What do we do now?’ ” Frame said. “We knew we couldn’t change the results of the election, but we can try and change the actions of the new president and Congress, and the consequences for our community.”
Over the past four months, the group has swollen from that small coffee gathering in early November to a sophisticated political organization with nearly 1,400 members. Dubbed El Dorado Progressives, the group is calculating a long-term strategy – beyond organizing mass protests and issue-driven demonstrations – to drastically alter the political landscape in the county that went nearly 52 percent for Trump last November.
Frame isn’t the only one who has gotten off the couch lately, channeling outrage over the election results into action.
Vanessa Vanya, a 36-year-old artist who is relocating from Los Angeles to Seattle, can’t keep her online Etsy store stocked with the “I heart Planned Parenthood” shirts and stickers she started making after Trump was elected.
Caryl Hart, who heads Sonoma County’s parks department in one of the most prominent liberal strongholds of California, quit her comfortable, well-paid job to work for the preservation of open space and public lands at the national level.
Roberto Hernandez, a longtime immigration activist based in San Francisco, is leading a massive voter registration drive to unseat those who are politically aligned with Trump.
“Hoy marchamos, mañana votamos – Today we march, tomorrow we vote,” Hernandez said. “We’re going to target every single legislative and congressional seat that are anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT. If you’re a Republican, we’re going to help the Democrats defeat you. If you’re a Democrat who hasn’t done (anything) for the Latino community, we’re going to throw you out, too.”
Hernandez said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein is on that list.
“We’re going after the people who we think have been in Congress too long, who we feel don’t represent the views of Californians,” he said.
Hart, married to former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, acknowledged her financial privilege that is allowing her to leave her six-figure job in the top ranks of Sonoma County government. But she said she feels a profound sense of responsibility to employ her expertise as a lawyer, and deep experience in parks acquisitions and protection, to combat proposals she sees as threatening to the climate and natural lands protections.
“With this new administration, and particularly with a Republican-led Congress, I feel we’re at the tipping point with climate change,” said Hart, who is slated to leave her job in May. “And there are very real threats to transfer public lands to private interests.”
Her plans are still in the works, but she said she will assist nonprofits and potentially the state Legislature.
“My feeling is those of us who have expertise in this area need to do whatever we can to fight back against what I consider to be, at this moment, a monumental threat to everything that keeps us alive on this planet,” she said.
Vanya, whose art features dark, cartoonish drawings inspired by horror films and the culture of the 1980s, also didn’t consider herself a political person. But when Trump made disparaging comments about undocumented immigrants from Mexico, she said she was appalled.
After the election, angered by Trump’s continued tough talk on immigration and Planned Parenthood, she shifted her focus to the newly elected president.
“I love doing portraiture, and I wanted to draw Trump, but I couldn’t draw his face. So I did one with the alien conquering it,” she said, referencing the original “Alien” 1979 film by Ridley Scott. “His statements and whole idea of illegal aliens is so ridiculous.”
Vanya has turned her artwork into a fundraising effort for Planned Parenthood, an organization Trump and some Republicans in Congress have sought to defund because the national nonprofit provides abortion services. During his campaign, Trump said at a Republican debate that he “would defund it because of the abortion factor, which they say is 3 percent. I don’t know what percentage it is. They say it’s 3 percent. But I would defund it, because I’m pro-life.”
Planned Parenthood spokesman Andrew Taverrite confirmed that abortion services amount to 3 percent of the total services the organization provides. Federal law also prohibits the use of federal dollars for abortion services. The majority of its funding is used to treat and screen for sexually transmitted diseases and infections, in addition to providing birth control, cancer screening and prenatal care.
For Vanya, the moves have hit her personally.
“I’ve been going to Planned Parenthood since I was 15,” she said. “I’ve never had better medical care in my whole life.”
All profits from Vanya’s “I heart Planned Parenthood” shirts, printed in what she describes as a “Pee Wee Herman-esque” style, are donated to the organization, she said.
“I’m embarrassed that I’ve never paid attention to politics in my whole life until now. It really started when Trump started attacking Planned Parenthood. I was appalled,” she said. “I felt so small when all this started happening, and I didn’t have money to donate to them, so I started doing this.
“People have been going crazy for them,” she said.
Vanya has donated $500 so far, and she estimates once the next batch of shirts go out, she’ll be able to donate a total of $2,000 – and that’s just the beginning.
“When I get to Seattle, I’m going to make more,” she said. “This has all been amazing. As separated as I feel from the president and his administration, I have never cared more. I’ve never felt more connected to my country, and I’ve never wanted to to fight more than I do now.”
In El Dorado County, the new progressive group is dividing itself into targeted teams.
One group goes into local schools to inform undocumented kids about their rights. Another is dedicated to applying pressure on Congress to preserve the Affordable Care Act. Dozens were expected to protest a Placerville City Council meeting Tuesday night to denounce a resolution opposing the state Legislature’s effort to in effect make California a “sanctuary state.” They want to elect young people to local office, and there’s a massive push under way to stop Trump and his administration from taking actions that undercut climate change policy.
Frame understands all this could be tough.
Republicans have carried the blazing-red county for decades. It is part of California’s 4th Congressional District, which has remained solidly Republican since 1993, and voters there have opted for Republican presidential nominees for more than half a century – even when former President Barack Obama was most popular.
“I saw the Bush years as one of the darkest chapters in American history,” Frame said. “But with Trump, it’s different. People are devastated. They’re understandably scared, and they’re willing to work to change things.”
Angela Hart: 916-326-5528, @ahartreports