A scientist in Georgia upset about President Trump’s stance on climate change became a “mad scientist” and decided to run for office. A young Latina in Colorado decided to do something about her anger and frustration after the 2016 election and won a seat on her city council. Women across the country who have never been politically active are volunteering for one side or the other in the midterm elections.
Since Trump was elected, activism among women has surged. Women dominate many of the “resistance groups” that sprang up after 2016. More women are running for office than ever before. More women are giving money to candidates than ever before. The gender gap is larger than ever before.
Among women without a college degree, more approve of Trump than disapprove of him. But there are also many women from a wide variety of backgrounds and education levels who like the direction Trump is moving the country after eight years of President Barack Obama.
Following the confirmation battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, many of the women who backed Trump say they now feel a greater sense of urgency to retain a Republican Congress. But if Republicans lose control of the House or the Senate on Nov. 6, it will be in large part because many women, passionate about the state of the country, came off the sidelines to play a more significant role than in past years.
Over the past several months, The Washington Post conducted extended interviews with Democratic and Republican women in two locations — the suburbs of Atlanta and the suburbs of Denver — and returned for repeat interviews to assess their support or opposition to Trump, their personal involvement in politics and the issues that have motivated them to action.
What follows are portraits of some of the women behind the changing politics in America.
“He created the female warrior.”
Caroline Stover sees one positive thing Trump has done for women: “He created the female warrior.”
She said Trump “brought out the warrior” in her and other women who want to protect what they see him damaging: women’s rights, health care for their families, the environment, America’s standing in the world.
“It’s a primal reaction,” she said, explaining why a record number of women are running for office and so many like her are compelled to be politically active for the first time.
“If we can say anything good that came out of this, it’s that women have gained confidence and traction and power,” said Stover, 59, a marketing executive sitting at her kitchen table in the Atlanta suburbs stapling voter information to slip under neighbors’ doors.
“The way that he degraded women, the way that he degraded other groups . . . I really felt that that somehow reflected on me as an American,” she said about Trump. “I was not going to let that stand. I needed to raise my voice and say this is not my president, this is not America.”
So that’s why on a drizzly 95-degree Saturday, she started knocking on strangers’ doors.
“Early voting starts Oct. 15!”
“Our future depends on these elections!”
She kept on going, trying not to let the lukewarm response from a couple washing their car break her enthusiasm.
Stover moved to the Atlanta suburbs a decade ago from Los Angeles. Her husband got a job in the area’s growing film and TV industry, and they joined an influx of newcomers that continue to make the red state a bit bluer. “I didn’t know the names of my senators,” before Trump won, she said — before his election jolted her.
Right after the 2016 election, she got an email from MoveOn.org, a group aiming to end Republican control of Congress. “I don’t even know how they found me,” she said.
Soon, she was leading “Resist Trump Tuesdays Atlanta,” organizing weekly protests outside the local office of Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.). She thought 10 people might join her first protest, but 147 showed up.
Since the Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration, Stover has attended scores of rallies. She opened her suburban home on a quiet cul-de-sac in DeKalb County for a fundraiser for the Democrat running for secretary of state, John Barrow. She packed Manuel’s Tavern, a popular hangout, for a discussion of voter suppression and fraud.
Stover is also one of the more than 5,500 women in Atlanta in PaveItBlue, a network that hosts events like “Bloody Marys and Postcards,” a brunch where women write postcards to tell neighbors how to register to vote, where to vote and about Democratic candidates they favor.
On the day Christine Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh testified on Capitol Hill, Stover joined an #IBelieveChristine rally.
She brought with her the sign she has carried so many times since the 2017 Women’s March: “My Body, My Choice, My Country, My Voice.”
“The more the press criticizes him, the more I like him.”
Suzanne Holland, 66, a retired Advanced Placement government teacher in the suburbs southwest of Atlanta, pays attention to what’s going on in Washington.
And she likes Trump.
“I felt less safe under Obama,” she said. “People in certain countries really do hate Americans,” she said. A travel ban “needed to be done,” and Trump got it done.
Holland was in her classroom 17 years ago when the 9/11 terrorist attacks killed nearly 3,000 Americans, and she has never shaken the worry that another attack was coming. “I don’t mean tomorrow or next week, but I do wonder about what’s going to happen, because I do feel like it will happen,” she said.
Her husband flew helicopters in Vietnam. He didn’t much like Republican Sen. John McCain’s politics either, so Trump’s very public spat with the Arizona politician before he died in August “wasn’t a big deal,” she said. What is important to her is that she sees that Trump respects the military by how he salutes and addresses them, how he gives generals top jobs and how he has increased military spending.
“I also feel safer because Trump wants his wall,” she said, as she sipped a cup of tea in her kitchen on a southern edge of Atlanta. “Well, I don’t know if that’s going to happen. But because he keeps harping on it, I think things are going to happen with immigration. I welcome immigrants who are going to come here and become citizens, or even just work here and go back home. That’s fine. But we just can’t have open borders. . . . I do feel like open doors allows the bad people in.”
She credits Trump, too, for calming the Korean Peninsula by talking to North Korea’s leader.
She also knows his “blunt style” is a turnoff for many women.
“Sometimes I wish he would just keep his mouth shut or keep his thumbs off his phone,” she said. A master gardener who grows blackberries for her own jam and orange zinnias that attract hummingbirds, she added: “Nastiness is a real turnoff.”
She doesn’t blame Trump for starting the escalating incivility. She said it’s bigger forces that began before Trump, and she points to social media and 24-hour news channels.
“I am tired of it,” she said of cable news. “It makes people anxious. You hear the news and think, ‘What is the other side of the story?’ It’s negative, negative, negative. If Trump burped, it would be news.”
It has gotten to the point, she said, that, “The more the press criticizes him, the more I like him.”
She no longer regularly listens to Fox News. She turns on the Weather Channel and the BBC. She reads the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, National Review and emailed commentary that somehow started landing in her inbox from conservative Ben Shapiro.
She has never voted for a Democrat.
After the “horrible” Kavanaugh hearings, she said many Republicans were reminded that they need to guard against “our majority in Congress slipping away,” and that, “it doesn’t take that much to change.”
In July, when asked to grade Trump, she gave him a 6 out of 10. In October, she said he had earned an 8 out of 10.
“Even with the pushback, he is continuing to fulfill promises he made to voters,” she said. More military spending. Lower taxes. Tougher line on immigration. Conservatives on the Supreme Court.
She will be handing out GOP literature and making phone calls ahead of the midterms, and plans to vote for Trump in 2020.
“I always say, you gotta let it burn.”
Crystal Murillo remembers vividly her reaction to the 2016 election. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” she said. “I just didn’t see myself represented at all.” She was angry and frustrated. Then she got to work.
Murillo decided to run for the Aurora City Council in suburban Denver. On its face, it was an audacious decision. She’s the daughter of Mexican immigrants, and her family is not politically active or wealthy.
Two experiences put her on a path to politics. One was an internship in the state legislature, where she worked for Crisanta Duran, the first Latina speaker of the Colorado House. “I got to see a Latina in politics,” Murillo said. The second was participation in a program run by the Colorado chapter of Emerge, which trains Democratic women interested in running for office.
Murillo, now 24, faced an incumbent who was more than three times her age, a supporter of the president and long active in Republican politics. On the night of the election, one year after Trump’s victory, Murillo became one of three progressive female candidates elected to the council, and by far the youngest.
“This wasn’t about one particular president,” she said of her decision to run for office. “It was the values that that person represents. . . . He was the spark and is the embodiment, I think, of a lot of the anger and the things that I think are wrong in our country. But it wasn’t about him.”
Instead it was for her community, and Murillo’s focus remains primarily on the needs of her constituents. Still, she sees the November elections as potentially pivotal for the country. She mentioned the Kavanaugh nomination and the current makeup of the Supreme Court. “I’m terrified that the things I took for granted and the things that I was afforded . . . aren’t going to be available for my little cousin,” she said.
Murillo declines to put herself on a pedestal as an example for other young people. Instead she is diligent about representing her constituents. She is learning quickly how to navigate through city issues and the power dynamics that go with them.
She takes inspiration from Usher and his song with the lyrics “gotta let it burn.”
“I always say you gotta let it burn . . . ,” she said. “Without struggle and tension and critical thinking and, like, pushing yourself, you won’t grow, and you get complacent and systems get outdated and complacent and just kind of stuck in one place, and you kind of need people to continually push for something different.”
“I found that my commitment to him was firm.”
In early 2015, Dede Laugesen attended the annual Conservative Political Action Conference with her husband in the Washington suburbs.
After Trump spoke, she walked to the press area in the back of the room, where her husband, the editorial page editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, was sitting. “I said I think it’s Donald Trump,” Laugesen recalled. “He patted my shoulder and he said, ‘Oh honey, he’s not even going to run. . . . ’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s a shame, because I really think that he is the guy who could win.’ ”
Laugesen, who lives in Monument, Colo., studied broadcast journalism at the University of Colorado, worked in advertising and later started a business called the Rosary Project, which prospered until the Internet disrupted Catholic book and gift stores. Eventually, she turned to politics, starting in 2014.
In the summer of 2016, she joined the Trump campaign, first as a volunteer and then as a member of the staff. On the day the “Access Hollywood” video was released, she was at the El Paso County Republican Party’s headquarters. “I remember taking a really deep breath, closing my computer, packing it up and walking out of the office without saying anything to anybody,” she said.
She prayed about it and pondered the salacious revelation and what it said about her candidate. She talked with her husband. “I found that my commitment to him was firm,” she said. She reached that conclusion based on her faith, of “being a Catholic who is forgiving of sinners, recognizing that we all sinned and have things in our life that we’re not proud of.”
Laugesen blames Obama for many of today’s political divisions. When President Barack Obama talked about change, she saw that as an effort to move the country “away from what we have been in the world, a constitutional republic, and moving us toward socialism.” Trump’s message, to make America great again, was a signal that he “wanted to return us to our roots and reaffirm the goodness that is America.”
She is skeptical about talk of a blue wave in November. She is puzzled by the polls that show so many women do not like the president. “It’s hard for me,” she said. “I’ve always been one who gets along better with the guys than I do the girls. And maybe that’s why God made me mother to six boys. I like a guy who can speak his mind and get things done.”
She loves Trump’s tweets and what she called their “orneriness.” Christians support him, despite his past personal behavior, she said, because “he’s unwaveringly pro-life, pro-Israel and pro-America. . . . We’re all sinners, but we get used for good things anyhow.”
On the day after Ford and Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Laugesen posted the following on her Facebook page:
“I stand with Brett Kavanaugh and all men who are unjustly, unfairly, accused of sexual misdeeds for political or personal gain. I am a woman who has been sexually abused and raped. I am also a mother to six boys. Americans will suffer the consequences for generations if the radicalized smear tactics of the Left are allowed to succeed in this case. Due process and rule of law MUST win out or we all lose.”
“I went from being a happy scientist to a mad scientist.”
Jasmine Clark is a microbiologist who lectures at Emory University. She never thought she would stand outside coffee shops asking people to vote for her.
“If anyone would have asked me three years ago, ‘Will you run for office?’ I would have laughed,” Clark said.
But the 35-year-old mother of two is hoping to defeat Republican incumbent Clay Cox, the CEO of a private probation company, who now represents Georgia state House District 108.
After crying in her pajamas the night Trump was elected, Clark helped organize Atlanta’s March for Science, which drew thousands to protest Trump’s refusal to address climate change. She fretted over the time a political race would mean for a working mom, but announced her candidacy because, “I am a woman, I am black and I am a scientist, and I felt that since Trump got elected, all of these parts of my identify were under attack.”
“I was happy in my nerdy science world until 2016 — then I went from being a happy scientist to a mad scientist. I believe in facts,” Clark said. “ I got involved. I marched. I made calls. I rallied. I still felt I needed to do more. So now I am running for office.”
Fewer than half of the voters in her district in Gwinnett County northeast of Atlanta are white, and she is taking Spanish lessons to better reach Hispanic voters. Many are furious with Trump’s immigration policy and his response to the 2017 hurricane in Puerto Rico, she said.
When canvassing, she has learned that many have no idea who their current state representative is or what power they have. When one voter — an elementary school teacher — admitted that to Clark, she responded by saying Georgia legislators voted not to expand Medicaid.
Clark has reached out to Christian pastors because, she said, “Republicans have hijacked the messaging that they are the religious — not others.”
“Democrats are not Jesus-hating atheists that some portray them as.” It’s not that she doesn’t pray, she said, “But when Republicans demand a prayer in schools, my question is: ‘Which prayer?’ ”
Muslims, Hindus and Jewish people live in her district, too.
“When [Supreme Court Justice Anthony M.] Kennedy announced he was retiring, my first emotion was anger. On social media, so many people were just throwing mud at one another. Bernie supporters were saying it’s the DNC fault. Other Democrats were saying it’s the Bernie peoples’ fault. . . . I made a post that said, ‘Listen, Who the heck cares whose fault it is? We are here now and we have to do something about this.’ ”
Clark voted for Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the 2016 Democratic primary but then supported Hillary Clinton. Some of her “Bernie or Bust” friends chose not to vote in the general election and now regret it.
“Certain people feel like if a candidate doesn’t give you the warm and fuzzy feeling, they can’t vote for them. That is playing checkers and not chess. Things like the Supreme Court are on the line, women’s reproductive rights are on the line.
“I have talked to people who even after this are still not going to vote. I don’t know how you get through to those people. I have heard a lot of people say: ‘It doesn’t matter who’s there. My life is crappy regardless.’ How do you combat that?”
“We hired him to run the country, not raise our children.”
For the first time in eight years, Kelli Warren went on vacation, and she thanks Trump for her Florida beach week this year.
“The economy is good and people feel it,” said Warren, 54, a former elementary schoolteacher.
She said her husband, who now works at a private security firm after serving in the Marines and as a police officer, handles their money, and because he sees gains in their 401(k) and stocks, “he’s a little more loose with the spending money.” It’s nice not to have to wait until Christmas to buy certain things, she said.
Her friend, Christine Becnel, 49, also praised the improved economy when asked why she supported Trump. “Look around, businesses are doing well,” she said.
The two friends, over lunch at an Atlanta restaurant called the Southern Gentleman, agreed Trump was not perfect.
“He has got no filter. He just says whatever comes into his head,” Warren said. “He’s the Howard Stern of the White House.”
What about Trump’s long record of saying things that are just not true? His mocking of people he disagrees with? His lawyer’s payments to women who said they had extramarital sex with him?
“I don’t need him as my moral compass; I’m my own moral compass,” Warren said. “You kind of have to look at what’s the end goal, and are you getting there, and then kind of ignore some of the blah in between.”
“We hired him to run the country, not raise our children,” Becnel said.
She added that there are so many allegations and Trump has strongly denied many of them that it’s hard to know what is true.
“I don’t have enough time to have a brief drawn up and show me the facts so I could draw an accurate conclusion.”
Becnel, a consultant to business and political leaders, likes how Trump “presents himself. I like the moxie he has.”
Most of all, Becnel is relieved Obama is gone. She blames Obama for the recession that really stung her family beginning in 2009 — even though Obama had only taken office that January.
Many credit Obama with nursing back to health a sick economy he inherited, but Becnel believes Obama’s health plan sunk the economy lower.
Her monthly premiums rose from $400 a month to $1,500. She feels better off under Trump but wishes he would move faster to lower health costs.
“I felt financially hurt every day of Obama’s presidency,” she said.
“I thought, okay, I have to do something.”
Robin Kupernik was alone on the night of the 2016 election, in a hotel room in California, where she was attending a work-related conference. She supported Clinton and had never liked Trump.
Her distress over Trump’s victory intensified the next day. No one at the conference felt they could talk politics. “I hated that trip,” she said. Her husband, a Trump voter, was mostly incommunicado. “I got home and he gave me flowers and he said, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ And so it was hard for us.”
Kupernik, 52, who lives in Arvada on the west side of Denver, had started life as a Republican but switched to the Democratic Party more than a decade ago. “It was really heartfelt, and it was a big thing,” she said. “But I was not then super active in politics.” The 2016 election changed that for her.
“After a couple of weeks of depression, I thought okay, I have to do something or I’m just going to keep being really depressed,” she said. By early in the Trump presidency, Kupernik had found an organization close to home, Arvadans for Progressive Action, through which to channel her energies.
“Before the election, I wasn’t calling my senators,” she said. “I wasn’t calling in to town halls. There was no Indivisible for me to join. I wasn’t working with my church to have an educational presentation on immigration. Now I am. I never canvassed before for a political candidate. Now I’m canvassing for a couple of political candidates.”
She said her immediate fears after the election, that institutions would quickly crumble under the pressure from Trump’s attacks, did not materialize. “But I see that the more realistic fear is that . . . every week stuff happens in Washington that we don’t even see, just little tiny dings at these institutions.”
She has paid close attention to the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible involvement by Trump campaign associates. She anticipates a damning report from Mueller, one that “far exceeds the bar for impeachment. My biggest fear is that Congress won’t impeach him. And then where will we be?”
When Trump met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last summer, and was roundly criticized for not standing up more robustly for the United States, Kupernik saw a silver lining in the consensus that Trump’s performance had undermined American values. “It was like a little bit of a glimpse of what it used to feel like when America would agree on something,” she said.
As the election approaches, her activity level has increased. She canvasses regularly and has written “a jillion postcards” to voters, all focused on races that could give Democrats control of the state. She remains optimistic about November, but cautiously so. “I don’t want to get cocky,” she said. “I am very nervous. I mean, after 2016, I don’t know how it’s going to go.”
“It made me sick to my stomach how unsafe I was.”
On a sweltering August day, Darien Wilson joined a dozen others — nearly all female — outside an office building in suburban Denver. They carried signs that said things like “Traitor Trump Denies Truth” and “Protect Children from Guns” and “Country over Party.”
It is a weekly ritual for the group, participants interconnected through area chapters of Indivisible. They gather to show their dissatisfaction with Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, who represents Colorado’s 6th Congressional District and is in a struggle to hold his seat against Democratic nominee Jason Crow.
The district is highly diverse — more than 100 languages are spoken in the schools. Clinton won by nine percentage points in 2016. Coffman, tireless in his work, has weathered repeated challenges in recent elections. His margin in 2016 was eight percentage points. Even his critics acknowledge his political skills and tenacity. He has tried to hold Trump at arm’s length, but Democrats say he overwhelmingly supports Trump’s positions.
Many of the women newly activated have focused their energies on the 6th District. Some show up for the weekly demonstrations near his office. Others stand on an overpass over one of the freeways, holding anti-Trump banners that draw honking horns from passing motorists. Others are making calls and knocking on doors. The National Republican Congressional Committee recently canceled planned television ads on Coffman’s behalf.
Eiko Browning, a doctor, never did much other than vote. Now she shows up regularly for the weekly demonstrations and also sends a small contribution to any candidate she finds appealing, anywhere in the country. “I feel like we need to right the ship, and we all need to be pulling together in the same direction,” she said.
Wilson was in the middle of the lineup of demonstrators. A Texas native, she and her husband moved to Colorado in 2009. They have three children — two daughters and a son. After the election, “I would wake up in the morning and it would be my first thought, and I was sick,” she said.
She was repulsed by the idea of someone accused of sexual assault living in the White House. “I would go, after 2016, to a restaurant and look around and see all the white men there,” she said. “So many of them voted for Trump, and I would think all these people are okay with grabbing someone by the [genitals] and saying that. It made me sick to my stomach to think how unsafe I was.”
She got involved in a school board election in her community. She counts health care and gun violence as two other issues of importance. She gestured toward her friend, Cindy Sandhu, standing next to her with her baby, and noted that their involvement is exponentially higher than in the past.
“Cindy and I have been working on postcards to voters in [the 6th District],” she said. “We have been canvassing. We have been making phone calls. We’ve been making donations. But the thing that I think is different, switching back to what’s different from before, is that we’re very familiar with all of our local candidates, way down ballot. I know who’s running for county coroner.”
Wilson stressed that, though she is a lifelong Democrat, the Indivisible chapter of which she is a member is not a Democratic Party adjunct. “We take our Democratic representatives to task as well,” she said.
Recently, her unhappiness focused on Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), who she believed was not sufficiently forceful in opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination. “He talks about bipartisanship,” she said. “It’s like he thinks it’s the ’80s and their side is playing fair. They’re not. So we want him to be more outspoken, tougher.”
Still, it is Trump and the Republicans who animate the work she is doing. “We’re making sure that no stone is unturned,” she said. Asked what she thought is at stake in November, she had a terse response: “The future of democracy.”
Everything that defined her “had been repudiated.”
Yadira Caraveo was born and raised in Colorado. Her parents immigrated from Mexico in the 1970s, arriving at different times but both from the same small town. They arrived as undocumented immigrants but were put on a path to citizenship as a result of the amnesty provisions in the 1986 immigration bill that was signed by President Ronald Reagan.
At 3, as she recalled, she decided she wanted to go to medical school. She thought she would become a cardiologist, but in medical school she kept being drawn back to working with children. Today she is a pediatrician in a practice in the Denver suburbs. She is also a first-time candidate for office, running for a seat in the Colorado state House.
She has been politically active for some years. In her fourth year in medical school, she structured her studies in a way that allowed her to volunteer for Obama’s 2008 campaign. Eventually she was offered a staff position. She remembers her father crying when Obama won the presidency.
Before the 2016 election, she saw fears rising in the Latino community. One child, about 8, seemed nervous when he was in for a checkup. She asked him about it. “He’s like, ‘I’m just really scared that Trump is going to win . . . because kids at school have been telling me that me and my parents need to leave, we need to go back to Mexico.’ ”
On election night, she was watching the returns with her parents but as the results turned toward Trump, she left, preferring to be alone at home. A strong supporter of Clinton, she said she felt as though people had voted “against everything that makes me — so a woman, a Latina, child of immigrants, an educated woman who’s independent, not married, childless.”
After the election, she decided she needed to do more, outside of medicine. She said that, for herself and many other women, it was a feeling that “if he and his party are going to attack everything that I stand for then I better . . . get out and do something about it.”
Now her life is one of constant juggling, between immovable medical appointments scheduled months in advance and the never-ending demands of fundraising, political gatherings and campaigning.
When she knocks on doors, she says she can see “they’re not super excited to answer it for a random stranger,” particularly one who is a political candidate. “Once I start talking about how I’m a pediatrician, actually, their body language and their face changes completely.” She believes there is more energy among Democrats — turnout during the June primary was strong — but worries about complacency and false assumptions about the power of a blue wave.
The other things Caraveo sees is a desire on the part of many voters to tend to local politics. “The big thing that I’ve been hearing everybody talk of is, let’s forget about the federal government. The federal government is going to be a mess for a while and so let’s focus on the state and make Colorado someplace that’s safe for people, that’s welcoming to people where we’re going to try to protect the people that we value and the ideas that we value.”
“What bothers me most is the people who believe him.”
Carol Gantt, 42, is disillusioned, more because of Trump supporters than because of Trump. He will leave office eventually. Her Atlanta neighbors who voted for him won’t go anywhere.
“What I expect is people to have enough common sense to kind of decipher through the bulls---, and the fact that some people are just not going to because it does not align with their agenda, that’s a problem for me,” she said. “It doesn’t bother me that [Trump] lies; I expect that. What bothers me the most is the people who believe them.”
She sees Trump’s presidency as a reaction against the first black president, “an undoing of everything Obama did.”
More than half a century ago in this southern city, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting for civil rights, for equality. Yet, last year Trump said there were “good people” at the white supremacists march in Charlottesville, a moment she said, that was “among the saddest” of the Trump era.
Yet she said some people don’t seem to mind the racism she sees Trump stirring up. In fact, Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, Brian Kemp, uses every chance to align himself with Trump and to say that he, too, is “politically incorrect.”
In one of his TV ads, Kemp carries a gun, hops in a pickup, and says, “I’ve got a big truck, just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself.”
To Gantt, that political ad is reminiscent of “the Jim Crow era, of when white men were in their trucks looking to round up people they thought were undesirables — black people.”
Kemp signs dot big lawns of some grand Atlanta suburban homes while many others are showing their support for Kemp’s Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, who hopes to become the first black female governor in the nation.
“But I don’t want to get my hopes up,” Gantt said. “It could end up being business as usual.”
Gantt, who is active in a Baptist megachurch where politicians frequently show up ahead of elections, sees Democrats kicking into high gear ahead of the midterms. But she said even with Abrams’s candidacy, “I see white people more energized than black people.”
The euphoria of Obama’s election was followed by the Trump presidency, and many black people do not see how elections help them.
Early this year, she quit CNN after 14 years. She took a job producing language learning, exercise and other programming that she said “feeds the soul.”
“Now, if I want to bury my head in the sand for a day and don’t really want to know what was said, what was done, I don’t have to,” Gantt said.
Many women — Republicans and Democrats — interviewed over the past three months say they have cut back or stopped watching CNN, FOX and MSNBC because it was stressing them out. Gantt said it was making her depressed. Others said since Trump’s election that they were drinking too much alcohol and overeating, packing on the “Trump 15.”
During a lunch around the corner from Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King preached, Gantt and her friends talked of recent racist incidents. A white woman had called the police because she saw black people in her neighborhood pool. Black men avoid canvassing in the midterms because some people get alarmed to see them at their door.
“Honestly, it’s hard these days,” said Robin May, 43, a life coach and friend of Gantt’s at the lunch.
She said she was making an effort to understand where Trump supporters were coming from, “but when I hear people who align with Trump’s political philosophy, I hear it as anti-Robin. It’s gotten that hard to have a conversation. The divide is dangerously wide.”
Trump’s alarming tweets are “basically my morning coffee.”
For months and months after Trump was elected, Jen Helms — who was badly shaken by the election — began her day the same way. “My routine every morning,” she said during an interview in early August, “is I get up and I open Twitter and I look at his Twitter feed. . . . It’s basically my coffee in the morning.”
She had attended Obama’s acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver but was never very active politically. On Election Night 2016, she was “devastated” and the pain did not quickly go away. “I still get emotional thinking about it,” she said.
She found the name of an Indivisible chapter in the Denver area. She didn’t know much about it. “All I know is I needed to be involved in that.” Initially, the group struggled to set priorities for action. “We couldn’t find a focus because there was so much,” she said.
Some people cared about education, others health care, others the environment. But the connections provided support. “I can go to this group and I still have other people understand me, she said. “Then when I burst into tears, they were like, yeah, I feel you. I didn’t feel ashamed.”
Over the summer, Helms was having trouble sleeping and was still overwhelmed with anger. “I realized that this constant state of outrage was really taking a toll,” she said. She stopped reading Trump’s Twitter feed when she woke up.
In the final weeks of the midterm campaign, she is making calls and going door-to-door for Democrat Jason Crow, who is trying to unseat Rep. Mike Coffman (R) in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District. Inspired by Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) and his challenge to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), she spent several days in Texas canvassing for his campaign.
She has found an outlet for her anger and frustrations and is committed through 2020. “Driving home from that phone bank, it felt good,” she said after an evening at Crow’s campaign office. “It felt like I was helping. I was part of the solution. It’s a terrible feeling to wake up and just be in despair like I had.”
Jordan reported from Atlanta and Balz reported from Denver.
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Design and development by Andrew Braford. Photo editing by Karly Domb Sadof. Video editing by Monica Akhtar. Graphics by Aaron Williams. Copy editing by Jordan Melendrez.