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Posted on Feb 20 2017 in Arts & Culture

Home is Where the Resistance Is

Home is Where the Resistance Is

Home Is Where the Resistance Is

In the months since the election, millions of Americans have taken to the streets to protest President Trump’s agenda, most notably at the Women’s March on Jan. 21 and at airports after the president signed an executive order restricting immigration. While the public demonstrations have caught the nation’s attention, a quieter movement is also happening in living rooms and at dining room tables in the city and around the country.

People have opened their homes to neighbors and strangers in ways they have not done before. Some who have never been politically active and who may not have entertained much at home have found that a living room can be a valuable asset when looking for a place to organize and expand their community. And at a time when many people, particularly immigrants, feel vulnerable, a private home can provide refuge.

In northern New Jersey, two women organize Syria Supper Club, weekly dinners where Syrian refugees break bread with people in the area who sign up online. Across the country, a feminist group called Solidarity Sundays encourages people to invite neighbors into their homes to drink cocktails and contact elected officials. Since the election, 11 Solidarity Sunday chapters have opened in New York City. Other gatherings have happened more spontaneously, as when Patrisse Khan-Cullors and other Black Lives Matter activists gathered one night in a Santa Monica, Calif., house for an emergency meeting to discuss the ramifications of the executive order on immigration.

At a recent Love Trumps Hate Sunset Park dinner, about a dozen immigrants and their children gathered in a two-bedroom duplex apartment, along with representatives from the Immigrant Justice Corps, City Councilman Carlos Menchaca and two neighbors who work at a local nonprofit, the Center for Family Life.

Over a dinner of chicken and rice, baked ham and kale salad, anxious guests discussed federal immigration raids, said Rachel Meyer, who attended the event and hosted an earlier one. More than 600 people had been arrested over the weekend in such raids, including about 40 people in the New York area.

Attendees wanted to know what would happen if they were deported. Would they have access to their money in banks? Should they set up a power of attorney for their children? They also had questions about how to deal with subway harassment and school bullying. “The mood was a bit tense at first,” said Ms. Meyer, 32. “It’s a little awkward to go to a stranger’s house. But as the evening went on, people relaxed.” On the way out, some attendees hugged.

The dinners have also helped forge closer bonds among neighbors, like the one that has blossomed between Ms. Meyer and her next-door neighbor, Reba Frankel, 37, after the two hosted a December dinner with their spouses in their Sunset Park co-op. “We had traded bread recipes and they cat-sat for us when we went out of town,” Ms. Meyer said. “Now we are going to protests together and organizing together and email every day.”

Even the youngest participants have noticed a change. “Our children are bonding,” said Ms. Castillo, who has two young daughters. “My daughter said to me, ‘The only good thing about Trump winning is that you formed Love Trumps Hate and I get to make all these new friends.’”

In late January, Ms. Khan-Cullors, a founder of Black Lives Matter, and about a dozen other activists held an emergency meeting in a two-bedroom house in Santa Monica, after protesting the immigration executive order at Los Angeles International Airport all day. In a gathering that lasted until midnight and grew to 40 people, a legal adviser broke down the implications of the order for the guests. “I need to be with people right now,” Ms. Khan-Cullors, 33, said in a telephone interview. “I need to know that we have each other’s back. We’re not just going to live online in the social media world.”

For a younger generation that has come of age in an era of telecommuting, a living room makes for a more natural venue than a sterile office conference room or a church basement. In the early days of Black Lives Matter, Ms. Khan-Cullors hosted many gatherings at her home in St. Elmo Village, an artists’ community in Los Angeles, where she lived until 2015. “Many of us in this generation are not interested in having our thoughts, our intellectual property or our organization inside of traditional building spaces,” she said. The home is “where we’re generating a lot of ideas.”

“It’s where we’re producing the next iteration of where the movement is going,” she said.

There is also a long history of political organizing in the home. Fledgling groups often do not have the resources to rent office space, so living rooms make viable alternatives. At the consciousness-raising groups of the late 1960s, for example, women gathered in one another’s homes in New York and around the country to discuss feminism.

“To the extent that women have power, it tends to be in the home,” Gloria Steinem, a founder of Ms. magazine, said in a telephone interview. “The goddess of the hearth is a woman, for God’s sake.”

Certainly, women have figured prominently in the months since Hillary Clinton lost what would have been a historic election of the first female president. The women’s marches that took place around the country the day after the inauguration drew as many as five million protesters, by some estimates, making it among the largest marches in American history.

“I think what you’re seeing is that the resistance is being led by women,” said Rebecca Traister, the author of “All the Single Ladies” (Simon and Schuster, 2016).

Consider Solidarity Sundays. Three mothers in Alameda, Calif., started the Facebook group a year ago, rattled by the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and the shooting in nearby San Bernardino, Calif. For a year, the group, with about 800 members, gathered monthly at two of the organizers’ homes to eat, drink and contact elected officials about specific policy concerns, like police violence. Babysitters would watch the children. Most of the members are women or identify as women.

And then the election happened. Three days later, the group held an emergency meeting at the home of Kate Schatz, one of the founders. The gathering, with 100 attendees crammed into a living room, was “super intense,” said Ms. Schatz, 38, the author of “Rad American Women A-Z” (City Lights, 2015). “We spent the whole time brainstorming.” Now the group has 12,000 members, with about 100 chapters meeting in 27 states. Manhattan has four chapters, Queens one and Brooklyn six.

On the second Sunday of every month, guests who have signed up through Facebook arrive at a neighbor’s home. Last Sunday, Rachel Thieme hosted her third event in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. She held the first two in her railroad-style apartment; the third one she co-hosted at the apartment of Artineh Havan, also in Greenpoint.

Many of the attendees have never been politically active before, she said. For Ms. Thieme, 36, these monthly gatherings have served as a political awakening, a chance to flex a long-dormant political muscle. As her neighbors made phone calls, she refilled their cocktail glasses. “I don’t even know what’s going to be happening in the world,” she said. “But what I can count on is that there is going to be a ton of rad women in my house who want to take action.”

Chapters have also opened in more conservative parts of the country, like at the home of Kathryn Mahaney in Bay Saint Louis, on the Gulf coast of Mississippi. Last Sunday, she hosted her first event, with around a dozen guests drinking bourbon and eating king cake, a traditional Mardi Gras dessert. While other chapters focused on political actions, Ms. Mahaney, 33, saw hers as a way for politically progressive neighbors to find allies in a deeply conservative community.

By opening her home, Ms. Mahaney hopes to make liberals feel less isolated. “Many of them feel that they have to hide,” she said. “They are afraid to signal their political beliefs because of the fear of retribution from friends and family, as well as from strangers.”

And in Maplewood, N.J., about 20 people gathered at the stately home of Kate McCaffrey on a recent Saturday evening. Mohammed, 35, and his wife, Hamida, 30, refugees from Homs, Syria, who asked to withhold their last names to protect family still in Syria, had spent two days preparing a dozen dishes from their new home in Elizabeth. Guests, mostly from New Jersey and New York City, paid $50 a person to sample the couple’s hummus, tabbouleh, stuffed grape leaves and kibbeh. The money collected is donated to the families of the Syrian cooks, who buy the ingredients and prepare the meal. The guests ranged in age from their late 20s through their mid 60s.

With a fire blazing in the living room, guests gathered around two large tables for dinner. Mohammed and Hamida sat alongside their friends, Rawda, 30, and Haian, 40, refugees from Homs who also requested that their last names be withheld. Rawda shared pictures on her iPhone of the couple’s three children playing in the snow in front of their Elizabeth home. Without a translator present, guests struggled to communicate using translation apps they loaded on their smartphones. “Do you know Ikea?” one woman asked.

Mohammed looked baffled until she showed him a photograph of the furniture store on her iPhone. “Yes! Ik-ea,” he said, pronouncing the name with a soft “I”. “We have that in Jordan.”

Although a few people mentioned politics, the conversation mostly stayed light, by design. Sitting down to dinner “is normalizing in the best possible sense of the word,” said Melina Macall, 53, a founder of the club. “It’s not a conversation about something awful. They’ve had awfulness after awfulness. It just gives everyone a break.”

Ms. McCaffrey and Ms. Macall started the Syria Supper Club on Sept. 11, 2016, as a way to “reimagine the day,” said Ms. McCaffrey, 50. Initially, the women organized two events a month. Since the election, demand has ballooned.

In January, they organized 15 events held in various suburban homes in the area. “Not everyone wants to go to a demonstration,” Ms. McCaffrey said. Dining together “is a concrete way of supporting refugees by showing hospitality. It’s very calming and soothing just to share a meal together. You feel like you’re living your values.”