UPDATE, November 21, 9:17 a.m.: The number of hateful acts recorded in the days after the presidential election has increased to 701, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Progressive groups on Friday gathered together to call for President-elect Donald Trump to go beyond paying lip service in denouncing the escalating incidents of hateful intimidation and harassment across the country.
Several labor, civil rights, and faith groups convened in Washington, D.C., a day after the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) publicized more than 437 reports of hateful intimidation and harassment between November 9 and November 14.
Maureen Costello, director of the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance program, reiterated at the press conference that these reports do not represent isolated incidents.
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“You’re going to hear that they are being exaggerated, that they are hoaxes, that they will pass,” she said. “And I’m here to tell you that that is not true.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), put the onus on Trump to play a proactive role in stopping the downward spiral.
“While Trump spoke against these acts in his 60 Minutes interview last Sunday, his actions contradict that message,” she said at the press conference.
Among the actions cited by Weingarten: Trump’s appointment of former Breitbart News head and white supremacist icon Steve Bannon to the role of White House chief strategist, and his Friday morning pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a man deemed too racist to serve as a federal judge under President Ronald Reagan.
Rewire reported Friday that the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue “could not be happier” with Sessions serving in the Trump administration. Sessions told the conservative Weekly Standard in October that characterizing Trump’s boasts about groping women as sexual assault would be a “stretch.” His dismissal of the allegations made the Alabama senator one of the few congressional Republicans to not take at least nominal distancing steps from their party’s nominee at the time.
Sessions was selected to head the Department of Justice in the Trump administration.
“In the American labor movement we have a saying, which is, ‘Which side are you on?’” Weingarten said at the press conference. “And it is time for the president-elect to make clear that hate and division will not be accepted in America, that we need to be both a nation that fights for lifting wages and a nation that fights bigotry and discrimination.”
The SPLC’s Costello laid out the lasting consequences if that doesn’t happen in the aftermath of the presidential election. She emphasized the loss not only for marginalized youth but for the nation, particularly if students of color and students with low incomes should remain subject to continued trauma.
“We cannot afford to have that entire generation traumatized,” she said. “We can’t afford to have that entire generation believe that they don’t have access to power and that their voice will not be heard. When something like this affects students in schools and we have put trauma on them nationally, we are inflicting a wound on ourselves that we will continue to feel for a generation.”
AFT and SPLC led more than 100 groups, representing more than ten million people, in writing a letter calling on Trump to keep his promise to be the president for all Americans “by loudly, forcefully, unequivocally and consistently denouncing these acts and the ideology that drives them.”
The letter’s signatories include the Human Rights Campaign, AFL-CIO, the National Organization for Women, the National Education Association (NEA), J Street, MomsRising, the Bully Project, and a range of other organizations.
“Educators are witnessing firsthand the hate speech and hostile acts inspired by Donald Trump’s rhetoric directed at our students,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said in statement. “All students have a right to feel welcome and valued in our schools and deserve safe learning environments. Trump must call for an end to the toxic rhetoric and violent incidents now and commit to the values that unite us: respect, kindness and dignity.”
“We’ve certainly seen a steep rise in incidents since the election and throughout the election season that disproportionately affect students of color, Muslim students, and LGBT students,” said Lee Hirsch, founder of the Bully Project and a filmmaker who has documented bullying in schools.
It is “terrifying” that many of Trump’s followers feel they can get away with hateful behavior, Hirsch told Rewire in a phone interview, adding that the Bully Project is looking to the president-elect to make clear that such behavior is unacceptable and to “reinforce that every student should have the opportunity to be safe and learn in school.”
J Street, a progressive pro-Israel group, opposed Trump’s candidacy because of his foreign policy positions and his attitude toward Muslims and other vulnerable U.S. communities, said Logan Bayroff, associate director of communications.
The organization is now looking to support communities threatened by Trump and by his extreme cabinet appointments.
“It’s extremely important for us to stand by those communities and oppose discrimination and hate,” Bayroff told Rewire. “Over 70 percent of American Jews did not vote for Trump and our community does not share his values.”
Latino and Muslim communities also stand in solidarity in the face of the inflammatory rhetoric, policy proposals, harassment, and hate crimes happening around the country. The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) and Muslim Advocates hope that Trump will take the necessary steps to begin healing a divided nation, according to a joint statement issued Friday.
MomsRising signed onto the AFT letter because parents are seeing the “toxic impact” of Trump’s actions and rhetoric on kids, Executive Director Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner said in a statement sent to Rewire.
“We have heard from moms across the nation that the racism, sexism, and xenophobia that came directly out of Donald Trump’s campaign has been harmful to many of their children, and created widening divides in our nation,” she said. “Going forward, our strategy is to monitor Trump’s actions, words and behavior and to speak out and call for action when he promotes hate speech and hateful actions, or nominates someone who we know will worsen the divisions and the fear in our nation.”
The Advancement Project, a multi-racial civil rights organization, has condemned Trump’s choice of Sessions as “a dangerous addition.”
“Picking someone with a documented history of racism and who has gone after voter registration groups to run the country’s highest law enforcement entity is disgraceful, unacceptable, and must be wholly condemned,” Executive Director Judith Browne Dianis said in a statement from the organization. “Donald Trump repeatedly attacked communities of color, immigrants and LGBTQ people, among others. Offering Jeff Sessions the post of attorney general is how Trump comes through in his promise—we are witnessing how words morph into policies and practices that harm people of color.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has documented incidents of hate nationwide, and has issued a call to the nation to “speak out against bigotry and harassment until the sun finally sets on a renewed wave of hate.”
“We can’t sit back and watch this become the new normal,” Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney with the ACLU, wrote in a blog post.
Pamela Merritt, co-founder and co-director of Reproaction, told Rewire that it is good to see groups coming together to declare that the hateful behavior spiking across the country is “unacceptable.”
“It is extremely important now and I am very heartened to see groups and organizations banding together, especially groups that don’t normally work with each other. That’s exactly what we need,” Merritt said.