A TC Alum holds an “Anti-Inaugural”
Kevin Jennings remembers Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 as “one of the best days of my life.” With the inauguration of Donald Trump shaping up as “one of the worst,” Jennings (M.A. ’94), Obama’s former Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe & Drug Free Schools, decided to take action.
“I got the idea of holding an ‘anti-inauguration party’ at my house, with the goal of starting some kind of longer-term effort to push back against the Trump agenda,” says Jennings, who now serves as Executive Director of the Arcus Foundation, but was acting in a private capacity. “Right after the election, I put out a message on Facebook, and almost immediately I heard back from 45 people.”
“Immigrants made America great, and we should welcome and empower them, not shut them out.” —Kevin Jennings (M.A. '94)
By the eve of Trump’s swearing in, Jennings’ idea had mushroomed into at least three separate Anti-Inaugural Balls in New York City, Miami and San Francisco, and his living room had been ditched in favor of The Wyndham New Yorker Hotel, where roughly 1,000 people gathered for speeches, stand-up comedy and the solace of an open bar, as well as the launch of www.1460daysofaction.org (“No one can do everything, but everyone can do something”), dedicated to taking political action every day of Donald Trump’s term as president. Tickets ranged from $25 to $5,000 – “We took an unusual direction for a fundraiser – pay what you can afford,” confided Jennings, who earned his degree in school leadership through TC’s Klingenstein Center – with proceeds going to The New Leaders Council and The New American Leaders Project, both of which prepare immigrants to run for political office. (The latter group was founded and is directed by TC alumna Sayu Bhojwani, who was also on hand with her daughter, Yadna.)
“Immigrants made America great, and we should welcome and empower them, not shut them out,” Jennings said.
To a large extent, the Anti-Inaugural Ball lived up to its self-billing as “not a Trump bashing event,” but instead, “an evening put together by professionals, activists, students and artists, joining together to make a difference in the world around us.” Volunteers handed out “1460 Days of Action” cards with phone numbers for the White House, the Speaker of the House, the Senate President Pro Tempore and the House and Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, and helpful websites such as www.whoismyrepresentative.com. Isela Blanc, a formerly undocumented immigrant who had just won election to Arizona’s state assembly, urged “Republicans, Democrats, Catholics, Protestants to care for each other, because when we do, we give back one hundred-fold, and that’s what makes this nation great.” And Michael Montaño, a candidate for City Council in San Antonio, Texas, called on the audience to “take seriously the politics of persuasion” and make themselves “vulnerable to the people whom we disagree with, because maybe we’ll find some common ground, as hard as that may be to imagine.”
Still, there was definitely some Trump-bashing going on.
“Like everyone here, I was very upset by the election results, and I want to be with like-minded people right now.” —Laura Brodsky
“Suffice it to say that the Republican party is not the only organization that wants to drain the swamp,” said television producer Dominic Pupa, who emceed the evening.
“Donald lies so much I can’t believe I never dated him,” said comedienne Caroline Rhea.
Another comedienne, Judy Gold, called Trump “the only native New Yorker who’s never been in therapy,” and then, with Pupa, performed “You’re the Trump,” set to Cole Porter’s venerable ditty. Among the printable verses:
“When you get a clue, we’ll work with you, you chump, ‘cause if you say I’m the bottom, you’re the Trump!”
Meanwhile, out on the ballroom floor, where the crowd seemed equally drawn from the nonprofit and corporate sectors, there was a sense that people were ready to roll up their sleeves and do something.
Laura Brodsky, who described herself as coming from “a long family line of politically active New Yorkers,” said she was especially worried about Trump’s views on climate change and the future of Roe v. Wade.
“Like everyone here, I was very upset by the election results, and I want to be with like-minded people right now,” she said.
Jennie Krems, who had worked as a volunteer on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, said she would have preferred to be celebrating her candidate’s victory, but acknowledged feeling “more motivated this way. If Hillary had won, I’d have continued working on political issues, but not as a day job. Now I’m thinking of a career change into government or politics.” Her boyfriend, Carlos Mercado, who works in finance, said he was particularly concerned about Trump’s fiscal policies.
“I don’t think he’ll make good long-term decisions for the economy,” he said.
Still, it was clear he wouldn’t lack for advice. At precisely 7:45 p.m. (and twice more before the evening was over), Pupa called on the crowd to take out their cell phones.
“Tweet the President-Elect of the United States right now at @realdonaldtrump,” he said. “Include #transparency, #releasetaxreturns, #1460daysofaction. And tell him, ‘You work for us. We are watching.’” – Joe Levine
The views expressed in the previous article are solely those of the speakers to whom they are attributed. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty, administration, or staff either of Teachers College or of Columbia University.
Published Monday, Jan 23, 2017