Veteran activist Melanie Carling “took [her] eye off the ball” during Barack Obama’s tenure as president.
Carling admits she’s guilty of feeling that inequality, especially towards women, was solved once and for all.
“We’ve been comfortable for so long. It’s hard to get out of these soft walls,” said Carling, a trade supervisor at USF St. Petersburg’s Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Carling first got involved in activism in the 1970s as a teenager when the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade brought the issue of abortion to the attention of the American public.
But now Carling, 59, calls the election of President Donald Trump the lowest point in American politics she’s ever seen.
“I’ve become rather more discouraged than I’ve ever been in my life in this time, this political time,” she said. “I just don’t see the avenues I had back then (in the 60s and 70s) to take.”
For Sandra Acton (pictured above, right), a local resident who works in accounting at a liability insurance agency, the feeling was similar.
“I was very happy with President Obama. I was really disappointed with the election,” she said. “I feel like you wonder how President Trump got elected and I think it was complacency.”
To combat parts of Trump’s agenda such as healthcare, a new movement called Indivisible is organizing to be one of the avenues Carling sorely misses.
Local activist groups are springing up across the country, and Indivisible FL-13 is firmly rooted here in Florida’s Congressional 13th District, which covers most of Pinellas county.
Acton is one of the organizers of the group. Acton said the 2016 election moved her to become involved in activism for the first time.
Acton describes herself a “normal, boring person.”
“I have never done anything like this before. But after the election, I was feeling disappointed and disheartened and a little bit hopeless,” she said. “And my sister had sent me a copy of the Indivisible guide. I actually ended up reading it a couple of times and it just was kind of a lightbulb for me.”
After discovering that there was no active Indivisible group in the area, Acton started one on Facebook.
“I just felt called to do [it],” she said. “I knew that I wanted to do something. I knew that I couldn’t just sit back and watch our country change in a way I didn’t want.”
In its guide, Indivisible mentions the staunchly conservative Tea Party movement as the inspiration for its tactics.
Just as the Tea Party movement aimed to disrupt former president Barack Obama’s agenda early in his presidency, Indivisible plans to stage similar disruptions for President Trump. Namely, by using “a purely defensive approach” and opposing all of Trump’s policies, according to Indivisible FL-13’s website.
“I think we can [have the same impact as the Tea Party],” said Carling, an Indivisible member, “but the issue between us and them is that we want a big tent and there’s not always agreement in a big tent.”
“I would hope to [have an impact like the Tea Party] but I fear that [Indivisible has] gotten so much notoriety very rapidly. I worry that it’s going to fizzle out because I feel there was so much momentum initially and it just kind of exploded and it’s only been three months now,” Acton said.
According to the Indivisible guide, the movement operates by three tactics: “…forcing them [the Trump administration] to redirect energy away from their priorities, sap Representatives’ will to support or drive reactionary change and reaffirm the illegitimacy of the Trump agenda.”
In addition, the movement uses “four local advocacy tactics” to achieve those goals. Members attend town halls and other local public events to show their presence. While attending, Indivisible members ask politicians “hard” questions. They also visit and make coordinated calls to politicians’ district offices.
Recently, about 20 Indivisible FL-13 members attended a town hall held by Rep. Charlie Crist in the USC ballrooms.
“I think he was scheduled for two hours and he ended up being [there] over four hours because he really wanted to listen to what everyone had to say,” Acton said. “There was just so many people there that it was hard to get time to ask our questions.”
Last Friday, members held a rally outside Crist’s downtown St. Petersburg office to deliver a thank you letter to him for promising to vote against the now-scrapped American Health Care Act.
The group is also trying to reach out to Florida senator Marco Rubio to arrange a meeting with him.
“Representatives can be a very valuable counterweight to Trump’s policies and agenda,” said Erik Durneika, a USFSP senior majoring in political science.
He said constituents contacting their representatives to voice their opinions on policies is important to bringing about change.
Durneika, 18, hasn’t been heavily involved in political activism. But he believes in the necessity “to become civically engaged in the university setting.”
In anticipation of last year’s presidential and congressional elections, he volunteered with voter registration activities at the USFSP Civic Engagement Fair last semester.
Carling also feels that the action of younger generations is important for bringing change.
“I see a lot of energy right now with the younger people It’s gonna be a tougher road than I had just because there’s more blockages,” she said. “With the advent of the internet, this is a tool in which the people that are young now are very familiar with and I think that is the deciding factor between progress and no progress.”
To her, younger generations challenging Trump’s administration represents a changing of the guard.
“I’m gonna be 60 pretty soon and I don’t have as much energy as I did, so my stage [for activism] now is this, this place,” Darling said, referencing her job at Barnes & Noble. “ so I can make contact with people who can go out. I can tell them something (and) it might give them the impetus.”
To give a face to individuals who are threatened by the Trump administration, Indivisible in general wants to go further than just telling their stories. It wants to recruit “women, people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants, Muslims and the poor and working class” as members to represent themselves.
“We hear from other group members that we need to be more diverse. We’re trying to reach out to other activist groups in the community, but it’s just hard because everyone has their own priority,” Acton said.
“I think it also helps just bringing a different perspective in. Everyone’s got their story and that’s something we’re interested in,” she added.
Acton also wants more student involvement in the group as well.
“We would love to have some students. It would be nice to have some diversity in our group. Most of us are adults. We’re a little older,” she said.
For Carling, having the dedication to accomplish the goal and an extended attention span is the key to success in continuing opposition to Trump.
“In the ‘60s, people gave their lives to [activism]. They knew that’s what they were doing,” she said. “That is what we need to do now.”
For more information about Indivisible FL-13, you can visit their website http://indivisiblestpete.com/ or follow them on Facebook, Indivisible FL-13 or Twitter, @IndivisibleFL13.
Photos by Nicole Carroll | The Crow’s Nest