Democratic Congresswoman Katherine Clark, who's represented Massachusetts's Fifth Congressional District since 2013, has never been someone to shy away from difficult issues. Just last month, the House passed Clark's Bringing Postpartum Depression of the Shadows Act to provide states with federal grants to develop and maintain programs for better screening and treatment of postpartum depression.
In acknowledging the fears, anxieties, and vulnerabilities many of her constituents feel about a Donald Trump presidency, Clark convened a public conversation last Saturday at Cambridge College titled "Moving Forward: Promoting Safety and Tolerance in Our Communities." The goal was to offer practical tools for creating safe spaces, resources for combating hate and intolerance, and community-based steps on moving forward.
"I ran for office to help our communities and to go to Washington and work for families," Clark said. "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."
With a recent uptick in hate crimes, a call for a Muslim registry, anticipating threats to abortion access and co-pay-free contraception, anxiety about being targeted because of gender identity, and fears of imminent deportation, Clark's office has been fielding calls from hundreds of her constituents every day since the election. Clark pulled together a panel for an open discussion, something I hope many more elected officials will do across the country.
The panel consisted of John Robbins, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations; Eva Millona, executive director of Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition; Christian Miron, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice; and myself. Eva Martin Blythe, executive director of the YWCA Cambridge, served as moderator.
Fielding questions and hearing concerns expressed by the audience highlighted that women and people on the margins have the most to lose in a country pivoting away from their full protection and participation in a multicultural democracy.
"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, the response to Trump demands an intersectional dialogue as well as activism against potential erosion and dismantling of decades-long civil rights gains.
We all on the panel encourage building alliances and coalitions outside of attendees' comfort zones.
"Could we have an Islam 101 talk?" Robbins suggested. "Could we have a meet-your-Muslim-neighbor talk? Could we have a class where we take turns reading the Koran or the Torah or the Bible?"
I suggested to the predominantly white audience that they take steps to become more race-conscious and introspective by acknowledging their privilege.
Overwhelmingly, attendees gave the public forum two thumbs up and wanted more.
"Today's discussion was a good start," Susan Fleischmann, Cambridge Community Television's executive director, told me. "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."
Will white women support Black Lives Matter? Will Muslims or gay men support reproductive rights? This will be the true test of this time in history.
With over 100 people from across her congressional district listening, Clark closed the event by saying, "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."
REV. IRENE MONROE is a writer and theologian living in Cambridge, Mass.