‘It woke us all up’ -- Trump’s presidency creates wave of female activists

Tamara Stevens is a busy wife, mother and business owner who also serves as vice president of the parent-teacher group at her sons’ school. Normally, that would put the Roswell resident in line to be president of the organization next year.

But these are not exactly normal times.

Lately, Stevens, 46, and a onetime Republican, finds herself more drawn to political activism. She’s concerned about protecting reproductive rights, marriage equality, the environment and other things. “I saw that all of the rights we’d taken for granted, and all of the gains we’d thought we made were at risk. I just decided it was more important to me to get involved with those issues than to plan the next teacher appreciation luncheon.”

She’s got lots of company out there these days. Stevens is a member of Pave It Blue, an all-female grassroots group that in barely seven weeks of existence has helped upend the 6th Congressional District special election through its support of Democrat Jon Ossoff. Ossoff bested 17 other candidates on April 18 and fell just shy of the 50 percent vote total needed to avoid a June 20 runoff.

With nearly 1,825 members already and close to 350 more metro area women clamoring to join the closed Facebook group it uses to organize and communicate, “Pave” is a compelling example of how President Donald Trump’s stunning election last November has helped birth a vibrant new force of female activists.

But it’s hardly the only one.

"People look at me like I'm crazy when I say this, but the best thing about Trump winning is it woke us all up and got us going," said Essence Johnson, 34, a consultant from East Cobb and an active member of three grassroots groups, including Indivisible, a national progressive movement formed in the wake of the presidential election. "We are going to make America great again, just in our own way."

Indeed, if anything stands out about the first 100 days of the Trump Administration, it’s the vast numbers of women who have determinedly — even a little guiltily in some cases — decided it’s past time they stepped up and spoke out. A burgeoning movement that announced itself the day after the Inauguration via women’s marches in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and numerous other cities has quickly expanded to a wave of female-led activism on a host of social, moral and political issues.

Of course, many women remain supportive of Trump, who garnered 42 percent of the female vote overall (53 percent of white women) in last November’s election. That hasn’t budged much according to a new CNN/ORC poll; as the 100-day mark approached, 38 percent of women said they approved of his handling of the presidency.

Likewise, not all of this potent new breed of female activism skews liberal or progressive. In March, a new organization of conservative women quickly formed when some Women’s March participants created an offshoot “A Day Without a Woman,” an action that encouraged women to skip work to take part in rallies, marches and other activities that underscored their value to all facets of society. The Right2Speak group urged conservative women to post pictures on social media of themselves at work and elsewhere with the hashtags #NotMyProtest and #WeShowUp.

Related video: 60,000 people gather in downtown Atlanta for Women’s March

“We hit on something so profound, so many women who were offended by that move, even some Independents and Democrats,” said Right2Speak cofounder Missy Shorey. The nationwide nonprofit group has already identified some women in Georgia to work with them on their next effort, which will include polling and conversations with “real women in real communities to identify a common sense, common ground agenda where we hope women can come together.”

One of those women, Vivian Childs, is eager to get involved — and also a little frustrated that so much negative pressure is being brought to bear against Trump so early in his administration.

“I think he’s been trying really hard to do things within his first 100 days,” said Childs, who lives in Warner Robins, where’s she long been active in Republican politics. “I think it is time for us to allow him to do things he’d promised to do.”

Yet the newly motivated women here aren’t making any apologies for throwing themselves into progressive causes like the refugee ban, access to health care, education and the environment. Fueled by text-messaging groups and strategy sessions conducted in coffee shops or the carpool pickup lanes at their kids’ schools, many of these activists share a newly “woked” sensibility that, as women, they’re not only entitled to speak up about current issues.

They're obligated to.

“We’d gotten so comfortable with the notion that our civic obligation is to vote and that that was enough,” said Jennifer Long, 41, a Sandy Springs mother of two who’s a member of the group 159 Georgia Together, which began as an offshoot of Pantsuit Nation, the private Facebook group for female Hillary Clinton supporters.

"It's not enough," said Long, who co-hosted a party for people to learn more about Ossoff. "The (presidential) election was my eyeopener that I needed to do … I don't know …more. A lot more."

Some women are trying to keep the politics out of their activism. Lindsey Donovan, volunteer leader of the Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America says some 150 moms from around the state showed up for its lobby day at the state capitol this year — more than double the turnout in 2016. Often accompanied by their children, they blanketed the legislature with their message of opposition to the revised version of the so-called “Guns on Campus” bill that Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed last year.

“This is a nonpartisan issue for us, and we’re a nonpartisan organization,” said Donovan, a mom, Army veteran and gun owner who lives in Savannah. “This has nothing to do with Second Amendment rights. It’s about common sense and safety on campuses, and I think people have started to see that their voices matter.”

Yet even Donovan can’t ignore how Trump’s election has ratcheted up her own activism level.

A Muslim, she said she stopped wearing her hijab for awhile before Election Day.

“All of the rhetoric around President Trump’s campaign affected me personally. I was very afraid, and I think it gave me pause for awhile not to show who I really was,” said Donovan, who’ll take part in a major counter protest during this weekend’s National Rifle Association convention in Atlanta. “But after he got elected, it was, ‘No, you’re not going to take this away from me. I’m going to speak out. I’m going to start wearing my hijab again.’ It motivated me to get over that fear and my thinking that Goliath is going to continually win and we’re not going to do anything about it.”

Over at Pave It Blue, meanwhile, their own Goliath-like mission is clear:

“We’re thinking big and starting local,” said co-founder Jen Cox, a real estate agent who moved to East Cobb seven years ago from Denver and is new to political activism. “We want to get Jon Ossoff elected, then help progressive politicians flip the other red districts in the state and then do it around the country.”

Even Ossoff’s near-miss on April 18 hasn’t dampened their fervor. When she woke up the next morning, Pave co-founder Lesley Bauer already had more than 140 Facebook notifications from members wanting to get started on the runoff. On Tuesday evening, about a dozen women and their kids showed up at Riverside Park in Roswell to remind folks about the June 20 faceoff between Ossoff and Karen Handel, and to chat up their man.

So many women are RSVP-ing for a runoff planning meeting on Saturday that the location keeps changing.

“We have 147 yeses, 28 maybes and this place has 50 folding chairs,” Cox said as they were leaving the park.

“So what if we tell people to bring a chair?” Bauer suggested.

Now that's activism.