ITEM PHOTO BY DAVID WILSON
Members of the Swampscott Huddle group pose for a photo at the Panera Bread in Vinnin Square.
By DAVID WILSON
SWAMPSCOTT — Abbe Smith is quick to say not everyone in the room is necessarily a Democrat.
There may have been an independent; heck, there may have been a Republican. But looking around, it’s safe to say that any Donald Trump supporter in the room had an incredible amount of restraint.
The Swampscott Huddle — 13 men and women so far — got together Friday night at the Panera Bread in Vinnin Square.
The concept of a huddle was born out of the women’s marches; “a small group of friends, family, neighbors and fellow marchers … and a space to meet” is all that’s necessary, according to the website for the Women’s March on Washington.
The purpose of a huddle, the website says, is to “keep the women’s march spirit alive, build the movement beyond those who marched, and set a concrete plan of action.”
Smith, of Swampscott, said she had planned on being in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20; spending the day watching the inauguration of the country’s first female president. It was a plan that never came.
“I didn’t want to be anywhere near Washington” on that day, she said Friday over a coffee. Instead, she went to Florida. The day after Trump’s inauguration, she was at the women’s march in West Palm Beach.
“One of the reasons the women’s march was so powerful is it wasn’t anti-Republican, it wasn’t partisan and it wasn’t anti-Trump; it was pro-humanist, it was pro-our values, pro-family,” Smith said.
Fear of a Trump presidency was one of the topics that led off the discussion in the back room of the restaurant. We’ve got to make it another three-and-three-quarter years before another election, event organizer and Swampscott resident Brian Felder says.
“I’m not so sure it’s gonna take that long,” one discussion member interjects to laughter. Still, the country will “still have” now-Vice President Mike Pence, another says.
Felder said people need to be aware “it’s not just that we don’t like (Trump), or we’re scared of him … but we have a damn good reason to be.”
“What are we afraid of?” one member later asks; it’s a question that silences the room for a moment.
Debbie Friedlander of Swampscott said she’s concerned the current administration is becoming, as she puts it, a kleptocracy: a form of government in which officials use their power to steal.
“I really don’t believe (former Exxon Mobil CEO) Rex Tillerson is acting in good faith as secretary of State,” she said. “That’s my greatest fear; there’s no transparency.”
Another question is asked: “What is the thing that hurts us the most?”
A few things, Felder says. “One is the view from the outside of what this country is right now; the other is … (losing) what this country stands for,” he said. “It is really frightening to think of what we’ve already sacrificed in the last 100 days, never mind what we could over the next (three-and-three-quarter years).”
It’s a period that may appear long to some, but this was not a meeting to complain. Members spoke of making phone calls; writing letters — Smith came with stationary — while others flipped through a 15-page contact list for elected officials.
April 15 is coming up. One member mentioned that an act of protest could be to send blank tax forms to the White House; “We want to see your taxes, (Trump),” she says to nods and agreement.
Getting youth involved was another topic touched upon. Their passion and love for their country is something that should be taken advantage of, members said.
“I think young people communicate very different than our age group,” said Friedlander, who is retired. “I also don’t think they associate with political parties, (but it) doesn’t mean they are not politically knowledgeable.”
“I think they see political parties as old-school,” she said. “I think they see it as part of a corporate bureaucracy; and I think they’re very distrustful.”
Felder, a member of the Swampscott Democratic Town Committee, said young voters want elected officials to listen to them.
“We know there are these groups in high schools and in colleges, and would they say they’re lined up with our party? No,” Felder said. “Would they be willing to sit down and talk with us about what would get through to them? Absolutely.”
Smith posed a question to the group: what are your three big concerns under a Trump administration. Could we gather a consensus, she asked.
It wasn’t easy; the “Russia issue” — the country’s alleged involvement in the U.S. election — could prove Trump a traitor, one member said. Other answers ranged from education to climate change; the Affordable Care Act to Tillerson’s role at the State Department.
Friedlander, again, went in on Tillerson. Once the State Department goes, we’re finished; it won’t matter what kind of health care we have, she said.
But under the first months of a Trump presidency, there’s one group most discussion members saved praise for: the press. Members rattled off publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, that, they say hold a spotlight on the administration.
Because without the press, Smith said, the country could fall further “down the rabbit hole.”
The next Swampscott Huddle meeting will be held from 7-9 p.m. Friday, March 24 in the back room of Panera Bread in Vinnin Square.
David Wilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.