The Greatest Obstacles To Inclusive Democracy

Wendy Lu

While President Donald Trump was gearing up for his Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, hundreds of people gathered at the Wyndham New Yorker Hotel the night before for the Anti-Inaugural Ball in New York City. Although I can certainly verify the event was fun, it was more than just a party with good food and music. The Anti-Inaugural Ball served as a call to action for professionals, students, regional activists, politicians, and artists from all backgrounds who want to create positive change during the next four years.

The Jan. 19 event also kicked off the launch of 1460 Days of Action, a new organization that educates people about the various policy issues that will affect different communities during Trump's presidential term. It also provides a toolkit for taking specific actions to address those policies. (It's named like so because there are 1,460 days in a four-year presidency.) As part of the Anti-Inaugural Ball, all ticket proceeds went toward funding two nonpartisan nonprofits, the New Leaders Council and the New Americans Leaders Project, both of which focus on identifying a new generation of leaders and training them to run for office. The ball raised more than $100,000 and more than 1,000 people attended the event, according to Kevin Jennings, co-chair of the event.

A core theme and goal of the Anti-Inaugural Ball was striving for an inclusive democracy in the United States. "Tonight's the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end," Jennings, who was the assistant secretary of education for former president Barack Obama during his first term, tells Bustle. "The most distressing part of Donald Trump's campaign to me was how he defined some people as 'real' Americans, and how other people weren't because of their religion, race, or national origin. In a truly inclusive democracy, we'll have leaders who value each and every American."

Sayu Bhojwani, president and founder of the New American Leaders Project, was also in attendance at the Anti-Inaugural Ball. She agrees with Jennings, adding that it's important for people to feel that they have the opportunity to participate in shaping their community. "They should have access to the institutions of democracy, lawmakers should represent them, and policies should reflect their interests," Bhojwani tells Bustle. "When they want to go to the polls, they are welcome at the polls, and that when they want to go to city hall or state legislatures and voice their concerns, they are welcome there."

Bhojwani tells Bustle that Trump's presidential victory has indirectly provided "an increased level of permission for people in our society to engage in hateful action and rhetoric." And that's what the Anti-Inaugural Ball, among many other events and organizations dedicated to fighting Trump's agenda, was all about combatting.

I asked eight activists who went to the ball what an inclusive democracy would ideally look like to them, and what our biggest obstacles will be during the next four years. Here is what they said:

Susan Siegel, 57

Wendy Lu / Bustle

An inclusive democracy means... "all voices are heard. That doesn't just mean across race, age, class, and religious groups, but also reaching across the aisle to people who think differently than us. For example, my brother is a Trump supporter and Obama's talked about how we need to listen and talk to people who think differently than us. An inclusive democracy is about doing exactly what we're doing here: giving all people a chance to have their voices heard. We all have common values, and it's important for us to find that common ground to move this country forward."

The biggest obstacles during the next four years are... "the picks that (Trump) has already put forth for Supreme Court Judge and some of the other posts. They don't represent the full spectrum of our democracy. They seem to represent a white, wealthy class of men. On the other side of that, we have Trump to thank for pushing the next generation of kick-ass activists from all generations. The fact that we have Trump as president is, in a strange way, the silver lining for us. I think our country needed a big kick in the ass. What's happening is that people are now standing up for what they believe and finding ways to be active."

Kim Piazza, 57

Wendy Lu / Bustle

An inclusive democracy means... "making it a lot easier for people to vote. But that's got to start from the grassroots level, where we have to keep more state governments from being run by GOP. They're going to do everything they can to suppress the votes of women and minorities in particular, young people and also older people. I think that's part of the inclusiveness we need to work on is bring those people in and help them vote. If we can't change the laws, we've got to have a way for them to get IDs in the states."

The biggest obstacle during the next four years is that... "we have to concentrate on the races that we can win to get the majority. Secondly, I think we have to look at it from a local perspective. Who are the local candidates that could challenge the incumbent GOP and get that power back? I think we also have to support the civil rights organizations, like the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal. Pick a cause and don't be silent."

Jessica Robinson, 34

Wendy Lu / Bustle

An inclusive democracy means... "one that actually honors all of its citizens in every single way, in terms of race, color, creed, and religion."

The biggest obstacle over the next four years is... "that Trump is someone who is focused on shock value, I think he's someone who is divisive in his communication. I think he's someone that has the potential to not only hurt the U.S. reputation abroad, but also actually hurt relationships with other countries. Where we have strong strategic partnerships, whether that's NATO, the United Nations. I think that the challenge is for us to not only do what we can to bring more awareness to this, but also fight against any new policies that [Trump's administration] may be focused on."

Mike Balaban, 64

Mike Balaban

An inclusive democracy means... "our co-host committee [at the Anti-Inaugural Ball] exemplifies it. We have members from every one of the different sub-movements that make up the Democratic base. We've got every group represented here. Nobody thinks about who that person is. It's more about shared, common values."

The biggest obstacle over the next four years is... "a cabinet that has basically made their careers being not inclusive in their businesses and their government roles. Everything about them speaks of non-inclusiveness. Aside from a token here and there in the cabinet, it's pretty much old, white men who've made lots of money, disregarding all the things that we all stand for. The first thing is standing up to these people and not letting things happen without action and reaction."

Isela Blanc, 45

Wendy Lu / Bustle

An inclusive democracy means... "that we need to understand our American history and be really inclusive in terms of understanding how we came to be a nation. If Mexican Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, if we all understand how we played a role in the nation, that's being inclusive."

The biggest obstacle over the next four years is... "we really don't know what Trump is going to do. I think a lot of us would like to believe that he was all talk and not much action. But, when you look at the people he's appointing, it's frightening — whether it's in terms of our environment, our economy, our diversity, it's everything."

Maya Gittelman, 24

An inclusive democracy means... "a differentiated understanding of what social justice means. It's not about equality, it's about equity. It's about recognizing our differences and celebrating our differences, but also working towards inclusivity, differentiated instruction, differentiated education, differentiated civil rights. It's a matter of looking at marginalized groups,listening to them, and listening to what we actually need."

The biggest obstacle over the next four years is..."hatred and selfishness. I think that's one of the biggest problems today. Also, just a lack of caring from a lot of conservatives, from a lot of independents, from anyone who really supports [Trump's] mission. It's coming from a place of selfishness."

Saundra Thomas, 54

Wendy Lu / Bustle

An inclusive democracy means... "all voices are heard. 'Inclusive' means that we make sure no one is missing out on this idea of 'and justice for all.' We're a country filled with immigrants from the very beginning, and that's what makes us spectacular as a nation. And if we lose that, we lose the integrity of what this country was built on. To really go forward in a true fashion, as our outgoing president would often say, to be a more perfect union, we have to make sure that we are inclusive. That we make living in America comfortable for all."

The biggest obstacle over the next four years is that... "we're dealing with a situation that we've never seen. I can tell you, as an almost 55-year-old, having voted eight times at least for president, that we're dealing with an unknown in many ways. However, I think we have to continue to... create resistance to things that don't seem right, push back, stand up, and not lose sight of the fact that this man works for us,not the opposite. We have to hold him accountable. I think if we do that, no matter what happens, we will feel better at the end of two and four years. If we are complacent, we're going to feel like crap at the end of these four years. So, we've got to keep the momentum going."

Michael Montaño, 36

Wendy Lu / Bustle

An inclusive democracy means... "treating every person, whether they are gay or straight, whether they're male or female or don't identify with either of those binaries, whether they are disabled or able-bodied, as having a part to play in making our country truly great. Their government [needs to] consider them as full human beings and be responsive to them in all the ways the government owes its people."

The biggest obstacle over the next four years is... "I wish I had more to say about that. I think for now, given the national election outcome, I'm really focused on doing what I can at the local level [as candidate for San Antonio's City Council, District One] to make sure we renew America's promise and start building again from the ground up."