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After Massive Marches, Activists Look To 'Channel Energy' At Local Level


The organizers of last weekend's big protest marches are asking how to translate them into political action.


Those organizers include the activist Ai-jen Poo. She arrived in Washington among a group of domestic workers, nannies and caregivers.

AI-JEN POO: Many of them are immigrant women and women of color, and they feel like the stakes couldn't be higher in this moment.

GREENE: Now, the number of people on the National Mall far exceeded the number at the previous day's presidential inauguration. Several million other people marched in other cities.

INSKEEP: But none of it changed the reality of last fall's elections, which gave the White House to President Trump and Congress to Republicans. Ai-jen Poo, a Democratic-leaning activist, is now considering what to do next.

POO: The opportunity is enormous, and I think one of the things that we're looking to do now is figure out how we channel energy back home to the communities that everyone comes from. And we saw thousands of small marches locally. And all of those marches can be turned into local organizing efforts. Right now, there are protests and marches being called for every single Tuesday. And what we want to do is build community so that we can translate all this energy into political power in the 2018 election.

INSKEEP: So what do you do with the names that you've gathered?

POO: We're hoping to connect people locally so that they can organize house parties, organize regular community meetings, town halls in communities.

INSKEEP: So people in Oak Park, Ill., where you're from...

POO: Exactly.

INSKEEP: ...Would find out that there are other people in their neighborhood who marched on Saturday who have similar views and they might get together, you would hope.

POO: Exactly, in very much a de-centralized meetup model. Lots of organizations have been using this house party model to organize very effectively.

INSKEEP: What does that mean, a house party model?

POO: It means that somebody who is on that list volunteers to host a gathering in their home for people in the neighborhood. And you have a meeting where you share stories, you share experiences and you talk about what you want to do next.

INSKEEP: You've used the word energy. You've used the word community. Ultimately, though, in a democracy, this is a question of power. How do you translate that energy and community into power?

POO: We want people to start organizing now for the 2018 elections. We want people to run for office. If you've ever thought about running for office, now is the time. With what I saw on Saturday, we have the potential to create a wave where women voters drive victories at every level of elected office in 2018, and that's what we need to make happen.

INSKEEP: To what extent is the tea party, which organized after President Obama's 2008 election and had a lot of successes, to what extent is that your model?

POO: I think we're in a completely different moment. This is a movement moment. Every few generations, we are called upon to take a little bit more risk and to work harder, not just for our own families and our own communities but for the well-being of the whole country.

INSKEEP: But I mean, on a practical level, are you looking at, on a mechanical level, what the tea party did or what other movements have done in the past to organize and learning from them, copying them or adding to them?

POO: Yes. We're learning from every movement, absolutely, and I think the tea party was very successful in leveraging the electoral political system to gain power and influence. And we absolutely want to build political power, absolutely.

INSKEEP: Ai-jen Poo, thanks very much.

POO: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: She's the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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