Democratic Congresswoman Katherine Clark, who has represented Massachusetts’s 5th Congressional District since 2013, has never been someone to shy away from difficult issues. Just last month, the U.S. House passed Clark’s legislation, The Bringing Postpartum Depression of the Shadows Act, to provide states federal grants to develop and maintain programs for better screening and treatment of postpartum depression.
In acknowledging post-election fears, anxieties and vulnerabilities many of her constituents will confront in Trump presidency Clark convened a public conversation on December 3 at Cambridge College on Moving Forward: Promoting Safety & Tolerance in Our Communities. The goal was to give practical tools for creating safe spaces and resources for combatting hate and intolerance, and community based action steps moving forward.
“I ran for office to help our communities and to go to Washington and work for families,” Clark stated. “That role is going to be more important now than it has ever been. As I’ve seen the appointments and the structure of the Trump administration take place, my concerns are mounting, not dissipating. We have to be vigilant. We have to be armed with facts, and we have to be making sure that we work together to create and protect our inclusive communities.”
There has been a recent uptick in hate crimes, a call for a Muslim registry, many are anticipating threats to abortion access and copay-free contraception, many fear being targeted because they are transgender and have fears of imminent deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants. Clark’s office is fielding calls every day from hundreds of constituents since the election. Congresswoman Clark pulled together a panel for an open discussion, which I hope many more elected officials will conduct across the country.
The panel comprised of Dr. John Robbins, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Eva Millona, Executive Director of Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), and Christian Miron, Deputy Director of NARAL Pro-Choice, myself, and Eva Martin Blythe, Executive Director of the YWCA Cambridge as moderator.
Fielding questions and concerns from the audience highlighted how women and people on the margins have the most to lose in a country pivoting away from their full protections and participation in a multicultural democracy. Therefore, Clark convening a public forum is no surprise to her constituents because Clark’s always in tune to the woes, concerns and pulse of her constituents, and she’s in touch with policy decisions that might disenfranchise voters rights at the state level.
“Our democracy is on the line,” Clark told the audience. “This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans. This is about what we have for our future. We need our citizens more than ever to be involved.”
As one of the better states to reside in during a Trump presidency, Christian Miron told attendees, “Here in Massachusetts, we are uniquely positioned to act as the forefront of the resistance to the Trump administration’s policies to roll back civil rights, to roll back access to health care, and we can do that through our state Legislature.”
A Trump presidency is what I can best depict as a “disastrous opportunity,” I shared with the audience. For those of us across multiple identities and concerns, like myself, Trump encourages an intersectional dialogue as well as activism against potential erosion if not dismantling of decades-long civil rights gains.
We all on the panel encourage building alliances and coalition building outside of attendees comfort zones. For example, Dr. John Robbins suggested “Could we have an Islam 101 talk? Could we have a meet-your-Muslim-neighbor talk? Could we have a class where we take turns reading the Quran or the Torah or the Bible?'”
I suggested to a predominantly white audience interested in building bridges across various demographic groups outside their communities and comfort zones by becoming race conscious, and introspective by investigating their intentions and impact of using race-distancing strategies. In order to take those bold steps I suggest they, first deconstruct their whiteness and white privilege, and, second, ask the questions: How are you white? How white are you?
Overwhelmingly attendees gave the public forum two thumbs up, and are looking forward to more.
“Today’s discussion was a good start. We all need spaces to share our shock and fears, and even hopes. As several of the questions revealed, the challenge for all of us is going to be to climb out of our silos to really understand and align with the issues of others,” Susan Fleischmann, Executive Director of Cambridge Community Television told me.
“Will white women support Black Lives Matter? Will Muslims or gay men support reproductive rights? is will be the true test of this time in history.”
In order for our voices to be collectively heard in the halls of Congress they first must be heard and acted upon by our elected officials.
With over more than 100 people from across Clark’s 5th Congressional District she closed the event stating “As we move forward as a nation, the path we take starts with our communities. Their passion and commitment will help build the future that our children deserve.”