Just shy of one year ago, Americans awoke to learn that Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States. Kittery resident Sarah Brown was among those feeling despondent about the stunning upset.
“I spent the first week just in complete and utter depression,” Brown said in a recent interview. “For someone like me, that’s not productive.”
It wasn’t long before Brown decided to stop sulking and start looking for ways to make a difference.
“These are gonna be four long, hard years,” she said she thought at the time. “There are going to be a lot of things that are just out of our control, so how are we going to manage the fear and the depression of watching our country go down a road that we don’t feel is right?”
The solution, she realized, was to organize. She founded the Resistance Seacoast, a collective of citizens working to oppose Trump’s agenda, protect democracy, and empower people to “be the change that we want to see,” she said.
Almost a year later, after several large rallies, marches, and meetings, the Resistance Seacoast has more than 1,000 members, according to Brown. On Saturday, Nov. 4, they’ll mark the one-year anniversary of Trump’s election with Art for the Resistance (AFTR), a concert and art exhibit at South Church in downtown Portsmouth. The event will feature live music from local acts Muddy Ruckus and Mara Flynn, along with visual art by Seacoast artists.
The event’s two main organizers are Resistance members Seth Waleryszak of Kittery, who will perform spoken word, and Dan Gordon of Eliot, who is curating the artwork. Gordon said hosting an arts event is a way to get people to think creatively and build community without “just resisting in anger.”
“By bringing music and visual art together, we can reach people in ways that they haven’t been reached previously,” Gordon said, noting people of all political persuasions are welcome. “We have to find ways to bring people together, to engage people at a deeper level.”
Waleryszak said Resistance members have a range of political philosophies, but they were all disgusted by “the hatred and the vitriol and the absurdity” of the Trump campaign, and by the president’s divisive words and actions since taking office.
“So many rights that have been fought for, so many rights that have been achieved generations ago, are suddenly under threat by this extremist ideology and this incredible willingness to lie about everything,” Waleryszak said. “It’s not just about the politics of right versus left. This is about the rule of law, the foundations of our country, and everyone is needed.”
Art for the Resistance isn’t the first big event the group has helped bring to life. The Resistance Seacoast has partnered with other regional organizations to put on several prominent events this year.
In January, Resistance members worked with Occupy New Hampshire Seacoast to organize the Women’s March in Portsmouth, which drew thousands of people to Market Square.
In March, the Resistance collaborated with clergy from about 10 local religious organizations to hold a Candlelight Walk for Unity. Despite frigid temperatures, a crowd of hundreds participated in the interfaith vigil in downtown Portsmouth.
In April, the Resistance again united with Occupy to help organize a Tax Day Rally Against Trump’s Economic Agenda. Later that month, the Resistance partnered with Climate Action New Hampshire for the Portsmouth NH Peoples Climate March.
More recently, in October, the group hosted “A Mixer on Issues of Racial Justice” at the Portsmouth Gas Light Company, featuring speakers from the local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ).
“We have to try as much as possible to make connections with other groups that are likeminded, because we can’t do this alone, but we have to do it,” Gordon said.
The Resistance has also endorsed candidates for Portsmouth City Council and Kittery Town Council. The municipal elections take place on Tuesday, Nov. 7, just three days after Art for the Resistance. Although the group aimed to endorse the most progressive candidates, Brown stressed that people don’t have to be liberals to join the cause.
“There is a place for the whole spectrum within the Resistance,” she said. “We are not going to be just the hardcore left.”
Waleryszak, a minister at Unity of the Seacoast in Dover, urges people who are frustrated with Trump and Congress to get active in local politics and initiatives. Simply expressing anger and displeasure — a practice he calls “tantrum yoga” — is counterproductive, he said.
“It’s reasonable to be angry, but how is it helping us? Anger by itself only creates toxins in the person who’s angry,” he said. “What can you do to be part of the solution? How can you channel that anger, transmute it, and then create something?”
One way, he continued, is to run for a seat on a local board or committee, or to support other likeminded candidates. While national politics tend to dominate the news, state and local elections can have an even greater impact on people’s daily lives, he said.
“It’s not just about choosing which is the lesser of two evils every four years. There’s so much more we can do,” Waleryszak said.
He said he would be reminding attendees of Art for the Resistance to head out to the polls on Nov. 7.
“There’s an election right after this event. We’ll make sure people realize that,” he said. “If we don’t even take advantage of the fruits of our liberty, what does our observance of the flag even mean?”
Art for the Resistance is intended to promote an exchange of ideas and perspectives, Gordon said. There will be local beer available, and guests will have a chance to mingle in a positive atmosphere.
“Art, by its very definition, challenges us to think in fresh ways and to realize that there is no one way of seeing,” he said.
Gordon, a painter, said there is no strict theme to the art that will be on display at South Church; he said artists were invited to submit overtly political work, or something more abstract.
Local artist Bill Paarlberg submitted a painting of Trump on the lid of a toilet. Others entered pieces with environmental messages — a topic of great concern under Trump’s administration.
Waleryszak said getting local artists involved in the Resistance movement is critical to its success.
“We want to encourage an artistic community to develop, because we need inspiration, and it’s the artists among us that can help us,” he said.
But Brown noted that everyone has useful skills to contribute. She encouraged anyone who is upset about the current state of affairs to connect with the Resistance Seacoast and share their ideas.
“Join the Resistance and we’ll find a place for you,” she said. “If you’re feeling helpless, it’s not enough to just wallow in that. You’ve got to get off your ass and do something about it.”
Art for the Resistance takes place Saturday, Nov. 4, from 7-10:30 p.m., at South Church in Portsmouth. There is a $10 suggested donation, which includes a beer reception. For more information, click here.