This is a transcript of the Jan. 17 edition of Working. These transcripts are lightly edited and may contain errors. For the definitive record, consult the podcast.
Jacob Brogan: You’re listening to Working, the podcast for what people do all day. I’m Jacob Brogan. This season on Working, we’re talking to individuals active in fields threatened by the Trump presidency. These are the stories of important, difficult jobs, jobs that are likely to get much more important and much more difficult in the years ahead.
For this episode, which we recorded just before Trump’s January inauguration, we spoke to Eugene Puryear, an organizer with ANSWER Coalition, which was planning a protest on the day of the inauguration. Though he works for ANSWER Coalition on a volunteer basis, that effort is sometimes like a full-time job for Puryear. He says that he occasionally sits through eight-hour-long meetings, and that’s just a sliver of his total commitment to the organization.
Puryear led us through some of the many responsibilities he’s had to fill in the lead-up to the big day, from securing permits to fundraising to sitting through those endless meetings. Then, in a Slate Plus extra, Puryear talks to us about how ANSWER Coalition plans to deal with any counterprotesters who show up, and how they prepare for other security risks.
If you’re a member, enjoy bonus segments and interview transcripts from Working, plus other great podcast exclusives. Start your two-week free trial at Slate.com/WorkingPlus.
What is your name and what do you do?
Eugene Puryear: My name is Eugene Puryear, and I’m a volunteer organizer with the ANSWER Coalition.
Brogan: What does that entail, your work as a volunteer organizer?
Puryear: It’s funny, it’s almost like a jack-of-all-trades position. Principally, what that means is when we’re putting on something like the next big thing we have coming on, like the inauguration, there’s a whole range of different pieces that we can all get into, from the basic nuts and bolts of how do you get people there to how do you contact the media, and what are all the materials and things you need.
Usually, being a volunteer organizer essentially means that I am part of a core base of individuals, that when we start a project—whether it be a big thing like the inauguration or whether it be something that’s a longer-term, let’s say, educational campaign about a foreign policy issue or a domestic issue—we sit together and we divvy up, and oftentimes it’s relevant to different things we do. For example, I do podcasting, I do media stuff. I often will fit into that role as well, or working on social media or whatever it may be, but part of that sort of initial group of folks that says, “OK, here’s our list of things that we have to accomplish.” Then based off of that, where are the areas either where we know we’re good at things, or we’re just like going to jump in and figure it out as we go.
Brogan: This is still a volunteer position for you, as I understand, and presumably for the other organizers whom you work with. What is it that drives you to sink all of this energy and time and other resources into this effort?
Puryear: I think what drives me is a sense of, well, who is going to do it if you don’t do it? I think that one of the things that we’ve seen over time, especially with progressive social movements, is most of them—it’s surprising to people—are sort of driven by that. Like the civil rights movement of people in SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee]. I’ve talked to SNCC veterans who live in D.C. who told me they would go months without getting paid. They would just be begging people to feed them, but it was the right thing to do. The labor movement, people putting it on the line.
I feel kind of that way about the challenges that we face today, whether it’s defending workers’ rights, raising the minimum wage, fighting around policing issues with Black Lives Matter. I also work a lot on gentrification issues, the way this all scales up nationally in a way that I think is clearly in opposition to what we’re calling the Trump agenda is sort of, like, if average, everyday people don’t take ownership over our own life, can we really complain?
I got involved as an activist when I was in high school, around the Iraq war. That’s how I got involved. It seemed like, OK, we’re going to go to war. It doesn’t seem like a good idea. Someone should do something. I’m looking around and, like, I am someone, and I might not be able to do everything, but I can do something. I think, by and large, the way big social change happens is every individual person taking on whatever little piece they can take on. Insofar as I can volunteer and have the freedom to be a part of this, I think that it’s just part of my duty as someone who wants to pay forward a lot of the advantages I have had. For instance, to be able to go to college, to have had parents who were able to provide me a basic, decent living, to be able to be out here.
There’re so many other people who are still fighting and still struggling and still pushing on so many different levels, that it just seems to me that it’s something that’s a little thing all of us can do. As I always say, like any good organizer will tell you, if you only have 20 minutes out of the week, I can find some way to put you to use in a way that is super-relevant. We always say it’s all about quality of sacrifice. An hour to one person might be way more than like a week to somebody else. I think that that kind of sense of sacrifice is what it’s really going to take to move this country in a more progressive direction.
When you have people in the millions taking that 20 minutes or that week or that spring break or whatever it is to put in some of this really hard work, with that kind of ethos, we can do something.
Brogan: In the almost 15 years—coming up on 15 years—that you’ve been doing this kind of organizing, did you do any sort of specialized training or preparation to learn the skills, make sure you were ready to hit the streets?
Puryear: All on the job. I think one of the great things that I have seen happen since the rise of the movement for black lives is the growth of more training and leadership spaces. I got involved in activism in the early 2000s. It was still a relatively conservative period in this country, and a lot of the antiwar movement, the anti-globalization movement, it wasn’t new but it was really sort of these green shoots emerging out of nowhere. We were just kind of doing our thing and seeing where it went. I really just, over the years, by being thrown into fights and jumping into stuff that I maybe never expected, have just learned as we went in, sort of in an apprenticeship way.
I’ve been lucky to have a lot of people around me from the civil rights movement, from the anti–Vietnam War movement, from the labor movement, who have been doing this for a number of years, who can give you those on-the-job training kind of tips. It is very much the way I’ve come about, almost like an apprenticeship the way we’ve set it up, where you’re sort of doing the work as you learn.
Brogan: Let’s take a step back. What is ANSWER Coalition? What is it doing, especially with regard to the presidential inauguration, which we’re looking toward, if not looking forward to, as we’re recording this the week before?
Puryear: The ANSWER Coalition stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. We’ve been around since 2001. We led the first demonstration against a military response to the 9/11 attacks in just a couple weeks after that, and since then, as our name implies, we’ve done a lot around the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the situation in Israel/Palestine, police-brutality work. Really, a lot of what we do is to try to make those social justice connections between what Dr. King called “the triple evils”: poverty, militarism, and racism.
As it concerns the inauguration, as people perhaps would not be surprised, we are organizing a big rally. We’re going to have a big setup down at Navy Memorial at Seventh Street to really not only have a representation of opposition to then–President Trump’s agenda, but also to be able to, I think, give people from around the country who are listening live on Pacifica Radio or watching it on C-SPAN or whatever it may be, a sense of what kind of grassroots activities and actions and things like that are happening around the country, that will probably continue to be happening over the next four years in this, I guess what some people are calling, a resistance to Trump.
Yes, it’s going to be what people sort of expect and maybe know, which is one of these large, big rally setups right there where the parade is going to be. If you’re listening and you know D.C., it’s like Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s all the stuff you’d expect: the sound, the stage, getting the speakers together, what is going to be the different pieces in terms of signage in addition to whatever people bring on their own. It’s going to be a lot of what people think of, I think, in terms of the traditional sort of rally piece, but then it also has a lot of very particularistic elements, because this is the inauguration, so it’s not like a march. It’s a rally: It’s in one place. It also has all the different security components to it. It also has sort of an excitement component, since you also have people who want to support the president’s agenda. It’s that sort of deal.
Brogan: How long have you been working on this? How long have you and your co-organizers been preparing for this protest?
Puryear: We’ve been preparing for this protest for about four-ish months. This is something that in the ANSWER Coalition we have done for many years, which is to have spaces for people to raise social justice messages on the inaugural route. In the most general sense, we knew that we probably wanted to do it, say, six months out. We said we probably are going to do this one way or the other. I would say, in terms of actually working on this, it’s been about four-ish months. That kind of three- to four-month period is sort of about what you need to really be pulling people from around the country, particularly when you’re an all-volunteer grassroots group where people who are coming are renting vans and buses, and they’re not big organizations. You need a good set of months to help people get the bookings in and different pieces like that.
For instance, if you’re going to bring a bus here from, say, even New York City, which is relatively close but it’s about five, six hours, you’re trying to get here on the inaugural route at about 7 a.m. It takes a little bit more, because the bus companies, it’s not like the typical take-your-schoolkid-to-D.C. daytime trip. They’ve got to get a driver who has the right hours so that they can leave very early at 2 or 3 in the morning, they have to time it correctly to make sure they’re able to get the right amount of rest in the amount of time you want them to stay in Washington, D.C., because there’re legal codes around how long people who drive buses and trucks are able to drive them.
You have to make sure all that gets worked out, which also means sometimes the price will be a little bit more because it’s a specialty piece, which means if you’re a grassroots group that doesn’t have millions of dollars, you need a couple months not just to get people buying tickets with enough lead time to be able to pay the installments of when you have to pay. Most bus companies are actually pretty great about this kind of thing and they’ll let you, kind of, right up until the day before, get money in—shoutout to bus companies for helping these things happen. You want to give yourself some lead time to get in there, to raise a little bit of outside money, to let people buy tickets and stuff like that.
I’d say that three- to four-month period is superkey. Even less so maybe for us in D.C., especially with a lot of experience, we can pull stuff together petty quickly. There’re a lot of companies around here who do stage and sound and stuff like that, and they do huge things, million-person things, on short notice. Especially when you’re drawing in folks from around the country, that’s about the time you need and some of the things that they’re considering and thinking about to make that possible. Then on our end in D.C., doing what we can do to help facilitate it: find bus companies, how do you sell tickets, can we help you customize a flier that you can use to promote in your local city, all that kind of stuff.
Brogan: It’s about networking and organizing, but to do that, it sounds like you’ve been working on this since well before the election. This wasn’t just about opposing or resisting Donald Trump for you.
Puryear: Absolutely. From our perspective, so many of these issues, they’re bipartisan issues. Whether or not you can say x-person is slightly better than y-person on x, y, or z, if what we really want to do is push for an agenda that is in favor of women’s rights, it’s not only a constant struggle but from the point of view of how the legislative process breaks down, as Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” From our perspective, whether it’s a Democrat or whether it’s a Republican, the issue is still relevant.
Even had Hillary Clinton been elected, obviously, let’s take an issue like women’s rights, there are still tremendous attacks against women’s rights, so perhaps you could say relatively unequivocally she was better on many of those issues than Donald Trump, especially given his statements on sexual assault, but be that as it may, we still need a very strong fight-back movement to push back. For any president, I think it’s extraordinarily important when they’re making their calculations that they know that the people on the grassroots are going to keep pushing no matter what, because they believe that the issue is important, more so than the vessel.
We were sort of planning this either way, and of course you have to look at then how do you change the orientation. For instance, in 2005 when it was George W. Bush, the orientation was very much people coming out to oppose Bush and oppose the Bush policies. In 2008, people were celebrating Barack Obama, but many people still wanted to be out there with a message of “Don’t forget who put you there and the things that we need,” and other things. It wasn’t necessarily as many people coming to be against him as it was people saying, “You need to be strong on x, y, z issue.”
There’s a je ne sais quoi to how it often is going to play out in terms of the message people want to send, but I think for us it’s very important to be able to have the ability and to maintain the ability of people to come out and exercise their ability on the inaugural route behind these social justice issues.
Brogan: You’ve been listening to activist and organizer Eugene Puryear. In a minute, he tells us about big meetings and his responsibilities on the day of the protest.
* * *
Brogan: How many hours a week would you say that you put in to the organizational effort?
Puryear: I would say, in terms of me, personally, in a week, probably anywhere between 12 and 30 hours. It can be almost like having a second full-time job the closer you get. The further out you are, the more you’re just making things happen but you have longer lead time, but when you get closer to the day itself, then you’re going to start to get these longer weeks where it’s almost like you have a second job, just because there’s more different pieces that have to come together and there’s also less wiggle room in terms of what you’re able to do.
For instance, right now we’re roughly a week-ish out, and so now you’re starting to deal with also people coming from out of town to help you, so making sure that people are getting around, making sure that there are people who are able to get off work, for instance, to go into our office space and to be there for people who are coming from out of town, or also in town, to help organize folks to come out and get the word out. It’s a week out, so you’re trying to get as many people as possible. In sort of a strange paradox, you start to get many more people who want to volunteer right toward the end, because it becomes more of a real thing to them. Then all of a sudden you need more people to do things like staffing.
Then also you’re looking at an inauguration, which is coming right off the holiday, so everyone’s kind of like totally checked out for two weeks right before Jan. 1. Then Jan. 3, all of a sudden hundreds and thousands of people are like, “Oh, I want to come.” Then you have all these people who are signing up and doing different things, so you have a greater need to do basic stuff like data entry. Like I’m out handing out leaflets, let’s say, for two hours, and now everyone’s like, “Oh my God, this is in, like, a week,” and I get 30 people who sign up with me right there at a metro stop while we’re getting the word out.
Then someone has to then input those names, and we don’t have a month or whatever, like we may have had four months ago. It’s got to happen today, because those people are going to need to know what are the updates, what are the things that are coming out, which can sometimes be daily. Like what are they saying in terms of the metro, what are they saying in terms of what’s prohibited, what are they saying in terms of what the weather is going to be? We want to be able to communicate all that stuff to people as soon as we know it, and not just put it on our website but send it directly to them. Then that starts to take up more time.
I would say usually between 12 and 30-ish hours sounds about right. I think a lot of it also depends on how many folks we get who volunteer. Honestly, if I got 20 volunteers, let’s say, when I walked out of here today, who said they wanted to help, then I could probably be doing maybe five hours’ worth of work. Really, a lot of it is, very depending, but the way I look at it is it’s almost like a low-level part-time job, like something you pick up for some extra change here and there, up until about a month before. In the same way you would block out enough time for a second job because you must have that money, it’s like, if we are going to accomplish this goal, for maybe a week or two leading up to it I’ll be working more of, like, second-job-type hours, knowing full well, though, the more we do and the harder we work, the more we’ll be able to reduce our workload because we’ll bring in more people who want to volunteer.
Brogan: Of those 12 to 30 hours, how much of that time do you spend in meetings with other organizers just doing the basic planning?
Puryear: I try to spend no more than about, like, eight of those hours in meetings. Now, some of that obviously is going to vary, like when things are happening. For instance, before you know where your permits are going to be exactly, you don’t necessarily need to meet that long because you’re mainly just figuring out where are we going to go, when are we going to go, who are we trying to reach? Then it’s like, OK, we’re going to be at Navy Memorial, and we now know this and we’re two weeks out, which is more or less what happened this time. Then we might have to have like one eight-hour meeting to figure out everything that’s going to happen.
Brogan: An eight-hour meeting?
Puryear: Well, yeah, actually. I wouldn’t be surprised, because when you work in an office with someone, it’s easy enough to come in, like at a newspaper, and you have your check-in meeting every morning: “These are the things that are happening, blah, blah, blah.” Everyone’s in the same place, everyone’s on the same [inaudible]. It’s very easy to do. When I’ve got 15 people, all of whom could have generally different schedules and certainly can have different things come up at different times that are going to be more or less opportune for them, then have the longer meeting all at once to then try to set up the amount of time.
Since everyone’s trying to move around based on their work schedule, school schedule, whatever it may be, childcare and so on and so forth, a lot of times it’s easier if you can just set it out and then say, “OK, for the next five days, everyone accomplish this, then we’ll check in.” I would say you probably spend roughly eight-ish hours in a week meeting with people. Definitely the longer meetings are something that’s built in to volunteer-based organizing of all types, and I see it at the national and the local level, just because it really is the most efficient way to get everything out of the way, and then let people in their own 24 hours fit it in with our broader scale.
Brogan: As someone who goes crazy in a half-hour meeting, I have trouble imagining what these eight-hour meetings are like. Can you paint a picture for us? Where do you host these kinds of events normally? What’s the vibe in the room?
Puryear: Usually, and I would say many social justice groups are the same, if you, as we do, have a shared office space, it’s either going to be in your office around a conference table or in someone who volunteer’s office space, so you can have a dedicated meeting room over a certain period of time, a place you can put stuff up on the walls for brainstorming. I would say it is that kind of combination of maybe two parts controlled chaos/brainstorming, one part definitely superpractical/grassroots. You usually have some sense going in, at least one person will take the initiative to make some general agenda based off of, “Hey, we need to meet either just to generally check in, or like there’s this critical piece of information. Like now we know we have a permit, so we better figure out all this stuff.” Someone will take a stab at a brief agenda.
You come in, you’ll lay that out, see if anyone wants to add anything, subtract anything, whatever it may be. Then a lot of it is, “OK, here’s our practical issue.” Let’s say, “Now that we have a permit, let’s run down all the things that we need to do, blah, blah, blah.” It may just be like, “Hey, we’re three weeks out and this is just a check-in meeting, let’s run through blah, blah, blah, where we’re at.” Then based off of that, you’re going to say, “OK, what’s getting done? What’s not getting done? Who needs help? Who can help them? How do we make sure the things that we had previously said we were going to do are actually taking place and getting done?”
Then we’re going to move more to something that’s going to be like, “OK, what are some of the other things we can do, either building off what we’ve already done or like what are just new elements that have come in that we have thought of?” Like, “Hey, someone just volunteered this week who’s a great photographer.” They’re a professional photographer and they’re volunteering their time.
I think with volunteer organizing, it’s one of the great things and one of the challenging things, because you find, especially in the D.C. area where there’s just a lot of people with skills, people will show up and they’re like highly professional at what they do, but then you’ve got to find out a way to make that work. It’s like, oh my God. That could be something like we’ve got this great, award-winning photographer who’s like, “I’ll do anything. I have eight hours a week,” or whatever. It’s like, so what do we do with this person? How do we do it? Can we integrate it with social media? Can we find a way to maybe do something on the day of as well, and how do we bring these different pieces together?
Usually in meetings like this as you lead up to a demonstration, there’s more of that because there’re just more wrinkles that come out, from people who come out of the woodwork to help you, to news events or whatever that you might want to react to or find a way to build off of, or that may be more relevant. Say someone said, “Oh, I heard so-and-so on the radio doing such-and-such. Can we find someone who can track this person down? We’d love to have them speak,” and things of that nature. The first two pieces are usually like a check-in piece, then sort of a brainstorming piece about anything new that comes on, and then the final piece of a meeting. … By now you’ve probably gotten to about six hours. I think people would be surprised. You get enough people around a table brainstorming about good things to do, you can talk about a million things.
Always the last hour, two hours, then has to be to drill that down. You’ve got limited amount of time, limited amount of people, limited amount of resources, so then you’ve got to go back through everything you’ve said and just double-check, who’s following this, who’s helping this person, who’s making sure these things happen, just so we’re all agreed this is who is accountable for these tasks. Then of the new things we want to do, what of this is actually realistic and are we actually going to accomplish, then how does it fit into anything, and this is who’s accountable for that, and then you’re going to break. I would say it can be pretty grueling. I think that like all people, the longer it goes the more difficult it is. You’ll take a few breaks, people will drink coffee, you might order food somewhere in there as well, but definitely, you always feel after it that it was the right thing to do. Then the ability to just go for, like, five days and get things done is a lot easier.
Brogan: Thinking about this protest in particular, this inauguration protest, what were some of the key elements that you were responsible for?
Puryear: In this one, I was working on social media pretty heavily, initially, trying to figure out what our social media look was going to be, talking about hashtags and all that kind of thing. I was helping coordinate some translations for some fliers as well, so also just maybe general media, if you will, in terms of figuring out how we get out the word. I’m also working as essentially a volunteer coordinator on at least one day out of the weekend days and all the weekends leading up to it. Basically I’m the person who, if you go to the ANSWER Coalition website and sign up to, say, go put up big wheat-pasting posters all around town on traffic boxes, I would be the person who gets there in the morning a few hours before everyone else, opens the thing up, gets everything printed out in terms of posters; if you have paste, make sure all that stuff is mixed, ready to go; make sure that there’re fliers or any other pieces you want people to have with them if they talk to people when they’re out there doing postering and someone says, “Hey, what’s this about?”
All that kind of basic nuts and bolts, I get all that set up. Figure out, to some degree, in conjunction with other people, where people should go and make sure it’s mapped so that we can keep track of everything we do, because you have to take all the posters down based on legal requirements, so you better keep track, unless you want to get fined.
That’s what we do in the morning, and then I’m the person who will greet you, say, “Hey, this is what’s going on. Good to have you,” do a little orientation, talk to folks, and then make sure all the teams are set up and then sent out, then just sort of posting up if there’s anything that happens. People come late, see if we can find out a way to get them out doing something and meeting up with people; people come at different times, they have to clear some issue, maybe they need some clarification on should we do this, can we do that, what are the legal regulations on this? I’m there to answer the phone and say, “Do x, don’t do y.” That’s one of the big things that I’m doing as well.
Brogan: You’ve been listening to activist and organizer Eugene Puryear. After this brief break, he talks about fundraising and about how aspiring volunteers can get involved with ANSWER Coalition.
* * *
Brogan: What was the hardest logistical step for this protest?
Puryear: I think the hardest logistical step for this protest was, as strange as it may seem, not knowing where people could go. With the inauguration, the issue with permitting is so—it’s really not complicated, but it’s very frustrating the way it works, and there’s always so much back-and-forth, more so than other events.
Brogan: Because the Presidential Inaugural Committee controls so much real estate?
Puryear: Exactly. Like the National Park Service, which stands in for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, and since they are the National Park Service and can give themselves first in time for all permits before they unlock the door in the morning, they control everything. What they claim is that the Presidential Inaugural Committee then tells them what they want and what they don’t want, so if you’re mad, it’s their fault. Be that as it may, whoever’s fault it is, at the end of the day it often means that it could be the very last second. Usually if it’s, like, let’s have a big rally in D.C., you’re the one who picked the date, time, place, whatever, and then you go and you see if a permit’s available. They can pretty much tell you 99.9 percent of the time, yes, at that moment, at that day. They may not approve it, but you have a pretty good sense whether you’re in or whether you’re not.
This one, it can be like, this time, you’re two weeks out and you’re just finding out where exactly you can be. It’s tricky, because then you’re thinking, OK, how do we create a buzz around it and how do we create a meeting point? You’re thinking, OK, where can we meet that we can tell people, that’s relatively central to several different checkpoints and areas of the route so we can get on there? How do we represent this in our fliers? Is it something where you say, “OK, now I’m three months out, so do we put an exact location yet?” or do we maybe not say that, and wait till we’re like two months out or a month out or whatever? Do we just say, “Yeah, let’s gather here and do here, and if we have to change it at some point, we’ll change it at some point, we’ll have two different pieces”?
That’s always tricky, because people, very rightfully so, they want to know the nuts and the bolts, the details, where to go, when to go, how to get there. We can tell them a lot of it, but you can’t tell them all of it, so that’s a big logistical challenge not only in terms of telling people where to go, but in terms of how much money you’re going to spend. If they say, “We’re going to restrict you to only this tiny little sliver of space,” then that could be like a really small setup is all you can do and it won’t cost a lot of money. They could say, like, “Hey, you’ve got a whole big thing and you could do a whole big stage, sound, and whatever, have Jay Z and Beyoncé if you wanted to up there.” Then it’s like, How am I going to pay? These big stages could be $30,000 to $40,000. People will donate, but you only have a limited amount of time, so the longer that takes, the longer it is to get those kinds of things set up.
I definitely think the indeterminate nature a lot of times, of where you’re going to be on the inaugural route and how much space you have, just creates a ripple effect of challenges through a lot of different things that you’re putting together.
Brogan: What’s the fundraising process for a protest like this one? How much of your energy and time goes into that?
Puryear: I would say a good bit of time. I would say as an organization, probably like 30 to 40 percent of the overall time of all volunteers has some fundraising capacity. That means everything from those of us who have been working with ANSWER for some time, and also those of us who are also social justice activists on a number of different issues, who have networks of people you can appeal to. Some people, you’ve been around the block for a little bit, you know a lot of people, you can bring stuff in. Some people, it’s like literally someone is just soliciting their friends for like $1 to $5, and then telling them to donate on their website.
For us, like we don’t have any big donors, any big foundations or anything like that. Now, occasionally, you will get a person of conscience who will just see it off the internet, so a lot of our fundraising time is really based off of asking people and getting people and appealing to people on that sort of personal level, talking to our volunteers about like, “Hey, you don’t need to be able to bring a million dollars, but if you can just from your friends raise $100,” if we have enough volunteers and each person brings $100 from their 20 friends or whatever, then that starts to add up to a lot of money.
A lot of it is also spent on that kind of grassroots fundraising, where we’re actually combining our fundraising with our outreach. We’re going to talk to community groups, we’re going out into churches and places like that. In the same way, we’re telling people, “Hey, we’re doing this demonstration, this is how we’re doing.” We’re also saying, “This is totally grassroots. To print these fliers I just gave you, it cost x. To do these posters that I gave you, it cost y. Hey, we know you don’t have a lot, but if anyone can just do like a pass-the-hat type of piece, if anyone can write a check, if anyone can give us cash, whatever it takes. We also take cards, too, of course. It’s the 21st century.” We want to do that as well.
It definitely is almost like a built-in part of our outreach for the demonstration that that is a way that we think. I think it’s overall good for the work, because it also creates a sense of ownership among people when it’s not just like one or two development directors worrying about fundraising, but when it’s everyone’s responsibility to do whatever they can to bring in what they can to make the demonstration possible, so that really whatever happens at the end of the day, everyone involved can say, “Hey, I made that happen. We made that happen together.” It wasn’t someone who came from on high, which I think also creates a much more empowering feel than if you just have someone who can drop in a million dollars off the top, like great. Then you can do a lot, but on the same token, I don’t think you get the same level of ownership from individual people about like, “Hey, I didn’t just show up, I really played a key role.”
Brogan: People who aren’t going to be here for the inauguration who want to be involved, people who are thinking about how they might be involved with protesting and other efforts after the inauguration who want to participate, how can they reach out? How can they help? How can they support the kind of work that you do?
Puryear: People should go to our website, answercoalition.org, and just shoot us an email, give us a call, and tell us what you’re interested in, what you’re already doing, what you’re working on. That’s part of what I think we’re going to try to do at this demonstration. We’ve got people who are coming building tenants unions in different cities, people working with immigrant communities who are looking to resist deportations, people who are working in rank-and-file grassroots labor organizations. What we’re hoping as well is that what we’re taking in from the people who are contacting us in terms of the things they’re doing in different places in the different cities that we didn’t know about, in terms of the things that we’re doing in different places in different cities where we do know about. For example, here in D.C., I’m very involved in the movement for black lives and also against gentrification, that we then have something of a database so that if people can’t come—hey, I know it’s a Friday, people have to work.
If you can call us, email us, whatever, shoot us a message on Facebook, we’re ANSWER Coalition on Facebook and also on Twitter, we want to be able to try to hook people into things that we know about. Also, if they are doing something or have something going on that they think is relevant to what we’re calling this resistance against the Trump agenda, we would love to try to find a way to work with them and amplify that, and also hook in other people who are talking to us as individuals looking for groups and organizations.
Brogan: Cool. Thank you so much for joining us to talk about this.
Puryear: Thank you so much for having me.
Brogan: It’s our pleasure.
Thanks for listening to this episode of Working. I’m Jacob Brogan, and I get cranky in any meeting that lasts longer than about 45 minutes.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the work that ANSWER Coalition does, their website is at www.answercoalition.org—one word, no hyphens or anything. Eugene Puryear himself also has a podcast, which is called By Any Means Necessary.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about our podcast, Working. Our email address is email@example.com. You can listen to past episodes at Slate.com/working. Working is produced and edited by Mickey Capper, who does not work on a volunteer basis but does put in many hours. Our executive producer is Steve Lickteig, and the chief content officer of the Panoply network is Andy Bowers.
* * *
Brogan: In this Slate Plus extra, Eugene Puryear talks to us about how ANSWER Coalition plans to deal with any counterprotesters who show up, and how they prepare for other security risks.
This inauguration protest, are you at all concerned about counterprotesters or other forms of resistance to your own particular brand of resistance?
Puryear: I don’t think I’m particularly concerned. I mean, certainly in 2005, which was the last supercontentious one, I think, in terms of inaugural protests, with the second Bush term coming in, there wasn’t actually a lot of, at least certainly not like physical, clashes between Bush supporters and protesters. My general feeling is that there’s no one really coming to watch a parade that’s spoiling for a fistfight. I guess this is a new era, so we shall see.
I certainly do suspect there will be many people there supporting President Trump. Certainly some of his supporters, like Bikers for Trump further down the route from us, they’ve gained a little place. Allegedly, they may do a little rally, although that’s not 100 percent clear if that’s happening. I think it’ll be there, but I think that what usually ends up happening is so many people come to wherever the protest site is, that that is the message in that area and as far as it spreads, and other folks tend to sort of go around there.
I’m not expecting anything. We’re fully permitted. I think that experience has shown us that a lot of the fear of violence between the two sides, especially at big events like this, is 99 percent of the time overhyped. Certainly we will remain vigilant. Certainly people are right to be thinking about those kinds of concerns. I think it’s always very relevant. I think in the history of protests, it’s also very relevant to consider the role that the state has played sometimes in exacerbating some of those differences, but I suspect that it will all go very smoothly from that regard.
Brogan: Do you do any training or prep with fellow volunteers or with the protesters who are coming, about nonviolent response and things like that, in the event that things do go south?
Puryear: We do have a security team of people who we develop—from both people who have volunteered with us for a long time to people who are folks who have just volunteered who have some particular expertise—to establish a unit of people who are prepared for situations.