November 2017

The Formerly New Activists: Fighting the Trump Administration in Appalachia

One year ago, the three of us had not yet met. We were in various states of anger, frustration, and fear. Today, we co-host a podcast, are board members of a progressive organization, and friends. Here is how we each got here.

by Sara Anderson, Micah Weglinski, and Megan Smith

One year ago, the three of us had not yet met. We were in various states of anger, frustration, and fear. Today, we co-host a podcast, are board members of a progressive organization, and friends. Here is how we each got here.

Sara’s Story

It’s election night 2017. One year ago, the wine had gone sour and I couldn’t watch TV anymore. Just thinking about it, and I tear up. My 6-year-old daughter and I went—in blazers of course—to vote earlier that day. She helped me vote and was so excited.

The following day was the first day my kids ever saw me cry. I can remember the fear I used to feel when my mom cried—like the world was unstable. And I hope they felt that way. Because the Trump presidency is about as bad as we all imagined, and my kids need to know that sometimes I attend meetings, am absent for bedtime, and seem distracted. They need to know that Trump cannot win.

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Activists protesting the ACA repeal outside Senator Shelley Moore Capito’s office in Charleston, West Virginia. Courtesy of WV Metro News.

On a grey winter day last year, I was at a mobile office hour for Senator Shelley Moore Capito (WV-R) with a new, activist friend, Megan. We had mutual friends before the election, but after, we started attending meetings (eventually leading them) and just clicked. But that day, we were there to give Senator Capito’s staffer hell. I was focused on Betsy DeVos as the worst Trump cabinet nominee. Others were discussing immigration. And another local—who I later came to know was Micah—spoke passionately about Capito’s environmental stance. With a signature sign in hand, he decried her position on the Stream Protection Act.

What started with agony at an election has turned into a life that in ways is, if not 180 degrees, then at least 90 degrees from what it was a year ago. First, I started to write. My friend Hanaa and I started a blog to tell people how, why, and when to confront Trumpism. For months, we tirelessly wrote post after post about how to stop the nominees, defend immigrant rights, and stay involved. We “lost” those fights, but we had to do something—if not for other people, then for our own peace of mind.

The Trump presidency is about as bad as we all imagined, and my kids need to know that sometimes I attend meetings, am absent for bedtime, and seem distracted. They need to know that Trump cannot win.

Megan, Micah and I—learning we all had a gift for talking—decided to start a podcast. We wanted to discuss national—and perhaps more importantly state and local—issues from a progressive lens.

We also became board members of Mountaineers for Progress, leading the charge to shed a light on progressive issues in West Virginia.

And we are tired. We can’t forget to mention that we’re tired. I write this after working all day, putting my kids to bed, and doing dishes. I’m not playing the martyr card (because I definitely also watch trash TV). But—as I tell my kids—I can’t let Trump win. And this month I am getting a glimmer of what we can all do if we focus on the end game. Democrats aren’t perfect. Nor are progressives. But we can canvass, get out the vote, put pressure on elected officials, and show the world that we are that shining city on a hill.

Micah’s Story

I woke up on the morning of November 9th, 2016 and gave my wife a hug in bed and said, “He won.” She had the same reaction as many people to Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the 2016 election: she began to cry. I was upset as well. I had to break the news to my six-year-old daughter, who went to bed excited with the prospect of waking up to the news that the United States had just elected its first female president.

Although it was difficult at the time, we got dressed and went through the normal routine of the day. I looked at people’s faces as I walked around town. Almost everyone looked as though someone had run over their dog.

I had no idea at the time, but the next year was going to be interesting!

After the inauguration, I watched the Women’s March and the reaction to the first travel ban in January of 2017. I was moved by the amount of engagement and knew I had to get involved. I read in the local paper that Senator Capito would be hosting ‘mobile office hours’ at the public library in downtown Morgantown, WV. I decided to go. As I entered the library, I was amazed to see the place was packed. Unfortunately, our senator was not in attendance, but sent one of her underlings to stand in her place.

I’ll never forget listening to the passion of the people asking questions. There were two women who really stood out from the crowd: they were motivated and enthusiastic. They pressed Capito’s field representative on a number of issues in a respectful, but forceful, manner. I wasn’t planning on speaking, but I made a statement and asked a question about Senator Capito’s push to eliminate the Stream Protection Act.

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Anti-Trump protestors in Morgantown, West Virginia. Courtesy of TimesWV.com.

After the event was over, I introduced myself to those two women: Sara Anderson and Megan Smith. They had been involved with organizing a group of people to visit Senator Capito’s local office in Morgantown for the past several weeks. I told them I would meet them the following Tuesday at noon at Senator Capito’s office. Those Tuesday meetings turned into a regular occurrence that continued for the next six months.

It was during that time that people were beginning to get more organized. I learned that Sara and Megan were part of two local grassroots organizations that focused on issues relating to West Virginia. We began to make calls to our representatives and encouraged our friends to do the same. People would call/email/text us and ask how they could get involved.

It was at some point during this organizing that Sara suggested we start a podcast. The goal was to be a voice for progressive activists in West Virginia. We shared stories of success and failure and discussed the challenges we face as progressives in a conservative state. We began recording in Sara’s dining room. We interviewed members of the newly elected progressive city council. Thanks to the Media Innovation Center at West Virginia University, we now record our podcast—The New Activists on the Block—in a professional studio. The pod has been widely successful, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

After the inauguration, I watched the Women’s March and the reaction to the first travel ban in January of 2017. I was moved by the amount of engagement and knew I had to get involved.

In the past year, the three of us, along with many other activists, have poured untold hours and energy into fighting for what we believe. We had meetings with our U.S. senators and congressman. We organized countless local events around a variety of important issues, such as climate change, healthcare, hunger, and the budget. We’ve held voter registration and turnout drives. We organized an election forum for city council candidates. The list goes on and on and grows by the day.

Our success or failure as activists lies in the ability to get people engaged and keep them engaged. We must include all members of our community in this process to form a wide-ranging coalition that will work to make our society successful for everyone. This is what motivates me. Today, serving on the Board of Directors for Mountaineers for Progress, Megan, Sara, and I work day in and day out to achieve this goal.

Megan’s Story

I’ve always been aware of social justice issues; I’m not a fan of hate and I deeply believe in freedom and fairness for all. As a kid I fought for bullied peers and later protested the Iraq war after 9/11. When President Obama was elected, I struggled to hold back the tears of hope and joy I had for this country. In my naiveté, I thought we had reached an ideal in this country and that there was no turning back. I hate to admit it, but at that moment, I took my hands off the wheel. I began a professional career and a family, moved across the country and started graduate school. I left fighting for social justice and politics on a shelf not recognizing the tremendous privilege that reflected.

When Trump was elected, it felt as if the world crashed at my feet, and it was never more apparent that I had to do something. An overwhelming depression crept through the next several days. I didn’t know what to do or where to start.

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Activists protesting the Muslim Ban in Wheeling, West Virginia. Courtesy of TriStateUpdate.com.

On the Sunday following the election, I joined a group of 45 other women I did not know to discuss what we could do. At that meeting I learned how important it was to find others who wanted to fight with us. Sara was at that meeting and we knew of each other through mutual friends. Soon we were co-leading the women’s meetings; we had complementary strengths and both felt compelled to fill the leadership gap when no one else really stepped up.

Next, we joined a local group called Mountaineers for Progress, and within a few weeks were elected to their leadership board. Early on we started showing up at Senator Capito’s office and we met Micah at one such meeting. Right away the three of us found kinship and common interests. Sara and I had been discussing running a women’s response to politics podcast for West Virginia and, once we met Micah, it seemed like he would add another important layer.

When Trump was elected, it felt as if the world crashed at my feet, and it was never more apparent that I had to do something.

Our goal with the podcast was to create a space where others could listen to the feelings and opinions of people they could relate to. We wanted people to hear from the progressive left and learn about the way politics impacts our lives in West Virginia and our communities. There have been a lot of victories and a lot of challenges over the past year, but one thing is certain, the three of us have been able to lean on one another for advice, comfort, and laughs.

Through the grassroots activism we’ve all leapt into this past year, I’ve learned so much. I’ve met incredible people throughout the state, found my voice, and best of all, we’ve learned how to support each other and make change. On November 8th of last year I was alone in the fight against injustice; now I’m part of a huge network of inspiring humans who bring hope and change to the new future we will build together.

So we are one year in. We are energized, active, and keep pushing toward progress. Onward.

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Sara, Micah, and Megan

About Mountaineers for Progress

Mountaineers for Progress is a non-partisan association advocating for progressive causes and educating the citizens of West Virginia on those issues. Founded in 2016, MFP is a grassroots organization that harnesses the energy of progressives in the state to move forward a new vision for West Virginia.

About New Activists on the Block

The New Activists is a new podcast about the progressive movement in West Virginia. Tired of the standard trope of West Virginia being Trump country, three friends, Sara Anderson, Megan Smith, and Micah Weglinski, who are also local organizers and activists, started a podcast to provide a voice to progressive causes in West Virginia. We discuss current events and interview local politicians and activists. New episodes are posted weekly, and episodes can be found on SoundCloud, Stitcher, and Google Play, among other outlets.

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We here at The Activist History Review are always working to expand and develop our mission, vision, and goals for the future. These efforts sometimes necessitate a budget slightly larger than our own pockets. If you have enjoyed reading the content we host here on the site, please consider donating to our cause.

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