Bill McCarthy had a single question for a near-capacity crowd that gathered Saturday to kick off a SLO Progressives’ strategy session dubbed “Activism 101.”
“Has anyone seen anything in Washington (D.C.) that they’d like to change?” he asked, and the crowd roared to life.
It was in that spirit that the five-hour event offering a series of mini-seminars on ways to become a more effective political activist got underway. The enthusiasm for the event underscored the increased participation numbers SLO Progressives has experienced since the November election, organizers said.
Event organizer Nick Andre said Friday his organization had sold more than 150 tickets, at $10 a piece, for the event at Trinity Hall in Edna, a venue rated for up to 300 people. There were few empty seats in the main hall Saturday.
The crowd laughed when Andre said SLO Progressives, which counted more than 350 in attendance at its last monthly meeting, had grown considerably from its humble roots.
“SLO Progressives started with three people on a porch,” he said.
Fellow event organizer Jennifer Bauer, of the San Luis Obispo County chapter of the group Together We Will, said her own group has grown to 1,200 members throughout San Luis Obispo County and more than 350,000 people nationwide.
Bauer, a teacher, tearfully discussed conversations she has had with students who said they were scared by what President Donald Trump’s policies would mean for undocumented immigrants.
“This is real, this is here, this is now,” she said.
San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon also addressed the crowd, speaking she said in a personal capacity as her elected office is nonpartisan. McCarthy, who introduced Harmon, reminded the crowd that she won the race for mayor by just 47 votes. He said events like Saturday’s training session would be critical to producing future electoral victories for progressives.
Harmon highlighted the overwhelming participation numbers during the Women’s March on Washington, D.C.
“We are the majority,” she said.
She also gave those in attendance some advice. Harmon said that while activists must offer “resistance to empire,” they also need to make sure “we are creating an alternative.”
Saturday’s event was broken into several sessions. The first dealt with the question of how to successfully lobby politicians, while the second addressed “unconventional techniques” that protesters can use to gain media and public attention when their causes go unnoticed.
Addressing the crowd on the first topic were Erica Reyes, a staffer for Democratic Rep. Salud Carbajal, and William Ostrander, who ran against Carbajal and several others in a race to replace outgoing Rep. Lois Capps and whose campaign was centered on campaign finance reform.
Reyes offered the assembled crowd several suggestions for how to effectively contact their elected city, state and federal representatives, and laid out the challenges attendant with each successive level of government.
Ostrander urged those in attendance to reach out to politicians with different belief systems. He said everybody has their own truths.
“It’s not just facts and alternative facts. It’s your facts and my facts,” Ostrander said.
He said he loved speaking to politicians of opposing philosophy because it helps him to sharpen his arguments.
“You need to understand what (the person’s) truth is, then you can push back,” he said. “If you’re willing to meet them part way, you may find you have more in common with them than you ever imagined.”