Now that the inauguration is over and the reality of the new administration is setting in, many people who have not previously been political activists are finding themselves unable to stay silent. A local group has formed in New Paltz that calls itself “Ulster Activists,” or U-Act, for short. Their stated mission is “to bring together concerned citizens working to sustain human and environmental rights in resistance to the current regime.”
Their first meeting on January 15 at the New Paltz Community Center was held under the auspices of the national MoveOn.org political advocacy group, which asked its membership and those on its mailing list to volunteer to host meetings on that day in their hometowns to address constructive actions that can be taken to resist the new policies being enacted.
More than 500 such meetings were held around the country on that date with some 14,000 people getting involved.
“Resist Trump” was the rallying cry from the MoveOn.org people, but New Paltz resident Tom Denton, host of that first meeting in New Paltz, refocused the message to “Challenge Trump,” with the thought, he says, that “resistance” is too passive a message and “challenge” is more proactive.
“I volunteered to host because — like many people who attended that first meeting — I don’t have a lot of past activity in activism, but I feel I have to do something, given this new administration we have now. And many people who attended that meeting said the same thing; ‘I haven’t done this kind of thing before, but I don’t want to just talk, talk, talk… I want to do something constructive and productive.’”
Without any publicity other than word of mouth, shared in part through social media, the January 15 meeting at the New Paltz Community Center drew 109 people, says Denton. A second meeting weeks later drew nearly as many, with 30 of the initial participants returning and 55-60 new attendees.
In addition to Denton, the group’s steering committee includes Joy Dryer, Suzanne Flaum, Linda Freeman, Misha Harnick, Lori Horsman, Cari Keith, Amy Kletter, Josh Mora, Lori Morris and Toby Stover.
As a brand new group, the Ulster Activists are in the process of figuring out what their structure will be in the coming months. The first meeting was run with guidance from MoveOn.org, says Denton, which suggested focusing on three issues they highlighted as calling for immediate action: healthcare, presidential cabinet choices and immigration. “I put out a call for some help — people who could facilitate smaller groups in the meetings — and six people volunteered. We found that people in the group were also interested in financial reform, women’s issues and the environment, so we formed our own small groups around those issues, as well. Those are our working groups so far.”
While the January 15 “Day of Resistance” meetings around the country were initiated by MoveOn.org, the group has since told the hosts of those gatherings that they’d prefer any individual groups that form to not call themselves something akin to being a “local chapter” of MoveOn. “We can say we were supported by MoveOn.org,” says Denton, “but we were encouraged to choose our own name.”
More information is available on Facebook at U-Act or visit U-Act.net.
“Our group has been able to channel the energy to some extent,” says Denton, “to get people directed to actions that are taking place. Right now, we’re trying to figure out what the function and purpose of our larger group will be, and the nature of our connection with other existing groups like New Paltz Climate Action Coalition and Move Forward New York. My own feeling is that we’re going to be facing a lot of defeats in the short term, maybe for two to four years, and if that’s true, it’s important to keep up the morale. But it’s wonderful to be in a community with people who feel the way you do and have the same impulse to challenge.”