After Donald Trump won the presidential election in stunning fashion more than two months ago, Philadelphia — one of the country’s bastions of the Democratic party — was gloomy, quiet and a little beaten down.
But things have changed.
As Trump is about to be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States following a campaign that largely relied on insulting nearly every group at one point or another, progressive Philadelphia feels ready for battle.
You could feel it on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a coalition of organizations rallied in front of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Center City. You could feel it last Saturday, when a collection of artists raised $23,000 for causes like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Planned Parenthood. And you’ll be able to feel it this weekend when thousands of women take to the streets of Philadelphia for what’s expected to be one of the nation’s largest women’s marches in response to Trump’s inauguration.
It takes thousands of people to make resistance work. But it also takes a handful of leaders. We’ve identified 19 people who are Philadelphia’s “Faces of the Resistance.” They’re listed below, in alphabetical order:
Shani Akilah and Abdul-Aliy Muhammad
Members of the Black and Brown Workers Collective
Why they’re Faces of the Resistance:
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, more than six in 10 victims who died from LGBT or HIV-related hate violence were people of color. But as NCAVP and the Southern Poverty Law Center have noted, hate violence is largely unreported: Research out of the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that incidents may be 25 to 40 times higher than the FBI’s reported totals.
“We should respond to a regime that is not even tracking the deaths of black and brown queer people,” said Akilah. “For our lives and for the fallen, so we’re showing up for ourselves.”
The Black and Brown Workers Collective had quite the 2016. Their demonstrations against racism in the Gayborhood eventually spurred a Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations hearing. Akilah said in 2017 we can expect more of the same. The collective will be especially focusing on socioeconomic issues and the nonprofit sector. The group is also planning for HIV-positive people of color to guide its actions, in light of potential funding cuts that HIV research and resources may face.
We asked the two members about what their year of organizing was like, with Trump’s win coming near the end. Muhammad spoke to the reactions the collective received. “The first thing that people say is you’re being divisive, by naming this thing that we don’t think is true. Because we don’t see it. Or because it doesn’t impact us the way it impacts you,” they[1. Abdul-Aliy Muhammad and Shani Akilah are both non-binary. Muhammad’s pronouns are they/them. Akilah’s pronouns are also they/them.] said. Muhammad believes that in discussions around painful experiences, there’s a racial double standard. “When it comes to black and brown trauma? [People] immediately forget. Immediately dismiss. Immediately devalue. And that’s just what anti-blackness looks like and white supremacy is.”
Akilah and Muhammad both seem to be looking forward to their work this year.
“I don’t know if feeling hopeful is what I want to say,” said Akilah. “I want to say that we see clearly.”
Founding Editor at Streets Dept.
Why he is a Face of Resistance: After the election, Benner moved quickly. He began organizing two large events with like-minded Philadelphians in the arts scene. The first happened last Saturday. Collective Action, a silent auction that counted work from 161 artists and raised roughly $23,000 for 10 causes, mostly national organizations like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Planned Parenthood, but also a couple of local institutions too, particularly the Mazzoni Center and the Al-Asqa Islamic Academy. The second, Signs of Solidarity, can viewed around the city today. Thirty banners, with anti-hate messages, are hanging from buildings around town, with a heavy concentration in Old City. The banners are the work of a deep list of heavy hitters in public art (shout out to co-organizer Aubrie Costello, a silk graffiti artist and Billy Penn Who’s Nexter.)
“On Jan. 20, if your city drops a whole bunch of signs that shows that no: the rest of us are sane and empathetic…,” he began when we spoke to him earlier this week, “I hope it makes people feel accepted, included, validated and loved. I think art can be used a lot of ways. The most useful tool might be for healing.”
He added, “We don’t want Inauguration Day to feel like any other day, because it’s not. We want it to feel like kind of a different city. We’re using the public space to remind people… We are in country where love and inclusivity has made us successful.”
Associate professor of politics and global studies at Drexel, author
Why he is a Face of Resistance: Ciccariello-Maher went from an author known to enemy of the far-right over Christmas when he tweeted satirically about wanting white genocide and it got shared on the conservative news site Breitbart. Most of the death threats and hate emails have abated, but Ciccariello-Maher says “what we’re going to have to deal with moving forward is building a strong resistance of supporting each other and knowing we’re going to be targeted.”
He’s spending the spring semester on sabbatical in Mexico, researching self-defense movements and how they can help communities come together. In Philadelphia, Ciccariello-Maher worked with organizing the movement around Brandon Tate-Brown, the black man killed by officers in December 2014 (no charges were filed). He said communities in Philly need to develop networks so residents can pay closer attention to police work and know how to best deal with the possibility of police brutality.
Founder and co-national organizer of the Equality Coalition, National Steering Committee Member with Occupy Inauguration (DC)
Why he is a Face of Resistance: It was in the summer of 2015 when Daniel Curcio founded the Equality Coalition, a gay-straight alliance based in Philadelphia created to support Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid. The group — which protested against Hillary Clinton’s nomination — has worked with partner organizations in planning weekly demonstrations against Trump’s policies and rhetoric since his election in November. Curcio is also a national organizer with Occupy Inauguration, a group that put together a mass rally and protest in Washington D.C. for Inauguration Day and the weekend that follows.
The Equality Coalition aims to push issues over candidates and encourages members and supporters to work with their local representatives for change.
“We are moving from anti-Trump rallies, which was a reaction, but that reaction sets up other actions like dominoes,” Curcio told Billy Penn. “What we need to do now is start protesting the issues. Start protesting the corruption. Start protesting the 1 percent.”
Community organizer, POWER Philadelphia
Why he is a Face of the Resistance: Power Philadelphia’s goal is to transform the city’s neighborhoods, people and politics, with faith as a key ingredient for bringing communities together. As a result of Trump’s election, Power Philadelphia is launching a program called “100 Days of Faithful Resistance.” The program will focus on training and informing people on topics like fair funding for schools, police brutality and mass incarceration. “The President-elect’s nominee for Secretary of Education (Betsy DeVos) would be devastating for equity in funding and the promise of accessible education for all students,” Hagans said. “In Pennsylvania, we know that we have a fight ahead of us and this President will not stop the resolve of Pennsylvania’s people of faith to live in a more just commonwealth.”
Why she is a Face of Resistance: Helen Gym had only been in City Council for a few months before she introduced a resolution condemning Trump’s campaign rhetoric. The resolution, which condemned “the racist, sexist, xenophobic, and anti-American values that have been espoused by Donald Trump during his bid for the United States Presidency,” passed in June 2016. When Trump visit Philadelphia in September, she stood with other leaders in slamming his presence, saying “as an Asian-American community member, when I hear about who is and isn’t a citizen, I think of World War II internment camps.”
Since Trump’s election, Gym has encouraged both resistance and pushing forward on progressive policies, including those she works on while on the board of Local Progress, a national group focused on progressive issues like immigration rights and criminal justice reform.
Hillary Clinton surrogate, activist and political commentator
Why he is a Face of Resistance: Try turning on Fox News for a few days and *not* seeing Malcolm Kenyatta’s face across the screen. It’ll be a tough go. The North Philadelphia native and Billy Penn Who’z Nexter who made a name for himself over the years for his community activism became one of the faces of Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Philadelphia, even being featured in a national ad for her campaign. Now that the election’s over, Kenyatta, whose grandfather was a civil rights leader, is now a political commentator on a number of national platforms. He says he’s continuing to resist Trump’s rhetoric by “refusing to be silenced or discouraged, especially when real people and their real lives are on the line.”
“We have to constantly remind ourselves that [Trump’s] hateful, divisive and unhinged behavior isn’t normal and a stain on the office,” Kenyatta said. “Sustained outrage against Trump isn’t about politics, it’s about people. And I fear millions are about to get hurt.”
Beyond media appearances, Kenyatta said that in February he will roll out a new program called “Civic Saturdays,” in which the basics of government and civics will be taught to people in his neighborhood.
Executive director of the Media Mobilizing Project
Why he is a Face of Resistance: This Philadelphia native has, for the last three years, been the executive director of the Media Mobilizing Project, a Philly-based nonprofit that works to use media and communications to build leaders and social movements. Most recently, the group has launched “Philly We Rise,” a website that provides a platform for people to organize and take action locally to fight for alternatives to Trump’s agenda. Mercer is also a national board member with the Media Action Grassroots Network, a conglomerate of socially progressive organizations.
“Many of the issues that communities are facing existed before the election,” he said. “Long-term work that many folks have been doing in the Philly community and across the whole country is basically the basis of where we will fight back against Trump.”
Steering Committee member for Philly Coalition for REAL Justice
Why he is a Face of Resistance: The Philly Coalition for REAL Justice has a goal of building power among regular people. To some extent, Moody acknowledges, not a lot changed when Trump was elected president over Hillary Clinton. “We weren’t that concerned about hopes of the political system saving us. Clinton would be supporting some of the same things.”
He’s been in the group for a little over a year and is also involved with protest movements like Temple’s Stadium Stompers and The Fight for 15. Moody and others with the Coalition have organized some of the biggest protests Philly has seen in recent years, including after the election of Trump. Now that Trump is president, Moody say the Coalition will be doing “the same thing we have been doing,” which includes addressing police brutality and attempting to get the city to remove the statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo.
Founder and organizer, Women’s March on Philadelphia
Why she is a Face of Resistance: More than 100,000 people are expected to march in Washington, D.C. this weekend for the Women’s March on Washington. After Trump was elected, Emily Morse, a Philadelphia-area resident, scourged the internet for ways she could help. So Morse created a Facebook event for the Women’s March on Philadelphia, a group that was likely the first sister march of its kind. Thousands of people are expected to attend Philadelphia’s version of the march, and more than 100 other cities followed suit and have planned their own sister marches.
Morse’s plans don’t end with the march this weekend. She and her co-organizers have created a nonprofit, Philly Women Rally, that will continue hosting events after the march is over.
“I think that this election was a real eye-opener for a lot of people,” she told Billy Penn. “So I’m sad that this is what it took. But I’m thrilled that it’s made enough of a difference.”
Former Mayor of the city of Philadelphia, CNN analyst
Why he’s a Face of Resistance: Nutter began speaking out against Trump while still mayor, saying he was following the “playbook of Hitler” and then calling him an “asshole” during a press conference held after a pig’s head was thrown at the Al Aqsa mosque. Back then and for the next several months it seemed Hillary Clinton would be a lock for the presidency and Nutter a possibility for her cabinet.
That didn’t happen, but Nutter is staying active in politics as an analyst. He’s toned down the language but has continued going after on CNN. Just this week, he got into it with former Senator Rick Santorum, who defended Trump’s attack on Congressman John Lewis. “He doesn’t get a pass, Senator,” Nutter said. “We’re not normalizing ignorant behavior. We’re not normalizing ignorant behavior in this country.”
Assistant Director at the New Sanctuary Movement
Why she is a Face of Resistance: Blanca Pacheco wants to show her sons another way. “As a woman, a victim of domestic violence, I really don’t want my kids to think that that’s okay and that’s normal,” Pacheco said of Trump’s controversial comments on greeting women. “I want to lead by example, I have two boys. That’s not how you treat women.”
The New Sanctuary Movement, an interfaith coalition of activists and congregations, is among groups leading the charge on immigration reform from Philly. Pacheco is alumna of New Sanctuary’s program for teaching others to teach social justice organizing. So, it’s no surprise that today, she’s focused on education— offering more for resources to trainees to help peel back the onion on “systems of oppression,” conversing more with organizers of other marginalized backgrounds to share knowledge and collaborate.
“I think for me, it’s just learning about other people’s struggles, and opening up conversations with my family, friends and my sons,” said Pacheco. Through those discussions, she’s hoping more people will be aware that this inauguration is, “bigger than a politician promoting hate taking office, there’s a machine behind.”
Professor of political science at Temple, national vice-chair of the Democratic Socialists of America
Why he is a Face of Resistance: Schwartz’s work with the Democratic Socialists of America really entered the spotlight during Bernie Sanders’ campaign in 2016. Since the election of Trump, Schwartz says, some 5,000 people have joined DSA, nearly doubling the group’s size. Similar additions have happened in Philly, with the local chapter going from about 150 to 300.
Schwartz sees education as a necessary priority for Philadelphia during the Trump administration and wants to see the city collect more taxes from universities and corporations to help get more funding. “That’s one big thing that unites people,” he said.
Executive Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania
Why he is a Face of Resistance: “We are preparing to take [Trump] at his word,” Reggie Shuford told Billy Penn via email. “Our hope is that much of his talk was mere campaign bluster, and it does not turn into policy. But if it does, we’ll be ready on Day One.”
Day one for Trump, the president-elect told the Times, will start next week: “I mean my day one is gonna be Monday because I don’t want to be signing and get it mixed up with lots of celebration.” But he also told that paper that “strong borders” would be among his first orders. Amid concerns surrounding immigration rights, and not to mention LGBT rights, efforts to eliminate bias from the criminal justice system, women’s health access and religious freedom, Shuford is aware of the ACLU’s role and determined to not “lose sight” of how new policies will play out in the city and state.
“Our plan as an organization is to be prepared for any challenge that may be ahead. We can carry that out in courts, with state and local governments, and in the public discourse,” he wrote. He also expanded on his goals personally, which are connected, he said, to the organization: “When possible, I also will find ways to support individuals and organizations that resist any attempts by the new administration to curtail civil rights and civil liberties.”
Amanda Silberling and Syra Ortiz Blanes
Penn students and co-founders of the sexual assault awareness group We Are Watching
Why they are Faces of Resistance: Silberling and Ortiz Blanes started We Are Watching in September when they responded to a leaked email from a fraternity. The group has grown since then and gotten publicity from outlets like USA Today for its actions and words against Trump. In October, We Are Watching put flyers and art on campus denouncing Trump’s comments toward minorities and women as part of a protest it called “Your Body, Your Ballot.” The group’s focus lately has been on T-shirts. It designed a shirt featuring Trump’s face getting attacked by kittens and the slogan “The Pussy Grabs Back. So far, hundreds have been sold, with most of the profits going to Women Organized Against Rape, Philly’s lone rape crisis center.
Silberling planned to go to Washington DC for the Women’s March on Washington scheduled for today. She knew plenty of classmates with the same plans. “You would think it would be a source of pride for a university to have one of their alumni become president,” she said. “But like no one is excited about it. I feel like obviously the entire campus isn’t anti-Trump, but overall the campus is definitely not celebrating.”
Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler
Senior Pastor, Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church
Why he is a Face of Resistance: Mark Kelly Tyler is one of the most well-known African American activists in Philadelphia. And for good reason. He heads up Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, a bastion of civil rights in the United States. For years, he’s led actions across the city fighting for everything from education to criminal justice reform and is an active leader with POWER, or Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild.
Following Trump’s inauguration, Tyler told Billy Penn that “There may very well come a time in his presidency that we have to go to the streets, that we have to be organized and push back on things that are important.” Now is that time. Tyler is one of the lead organizers of the MLK Day of Action, Resistance, and Empowerment March Coalition, a conglomerate of dozens of Philadelphia organizations that took part in a massive march “against right-wing extremism” on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Philadelphia.
Governor of Pennsylvania
Why he is a Face of Resistance: On NYE, Governor Wolf’s reelection campaign sent a fundraising email that made it all plain: “We can either stand together in Pennsylvania and fight back against the enemies of the progress we’ve made or watch it all be lost to Donald Trump’s allies.”
In a statement to Billy Penn, through his spokesman J.J. Abbott, Wolf promised: “We cannot predict what exactly what the new administration and Congress will do, but I can assure Pennsylvanians that I will continue to fight against the status quo and any attempts to hurt Pennsylvanians.”
The governor will be paying close attention to issues that affect civil rights, the middle class and women’s health. But, he singled out repercussions that repealing the ACA could have on the state: “Chief among my concerns is what Washington will do for the nearly one million Pennsylvanians potentially facing health care cuts at the hands of the new administration and Congress. I will ensure that Washington politicians understand the devastating effects on Pennsylvania if they choose to take away coverage for people facing substance use disorder and life-threatening diseases.”