On the first day of Utah’s legislative session in January, nearly ten thousand activists marched on the state capitol in the middle of a snowstorm. The huge crowd, proudly adorned in pink hats, filled the building and spilled out onto the steps outside, chanting and shaking the golden-domed rafters to welcome a decidedly Republican legislature. The message was loud and clear.
Utah is woke now. And the resistance is not going away.
It’d be tempting to dismiss this kind of turnout as nothing more than a fad, the result of an election gone bad. That’s what Senator Orrin Hatch and his colleague Jason Chaffetz believe. They refer to the attendees at their raucous, impassioned town halls as nothing more than a bunch of angry liberals. The state’s GOP chair Jim Evans called Utahns at these events “thugs,” and issued a press release encouraging representatives to discontinue public meetings with constituents. Since the Chaffetz debacle, there has been only one public town hall held by the Utah Congressional Caucus. And let’s just say the Resistance showed up and made itself heard.
While Utah’s reputation as a deeply red state is well known, Salt Lake City proper has more registered Democrats than Republicans and is considered a bastion of progressive values. But it’s been held hostage by gerrymandering, each section of the city’s influential population divided up among districts, watering down liberal voices with the surrounding conservative majority. Despite the big fat “R” next to his name, Trump barely slid by in the election here, with a large section of the vote going to local challenger Evan McMullin’s brand of compassionate conservatism.
Are Utah’s grassroots organizations living in a blue dot echo chamber or is this movement genuinely bi-partisan?
I reached out to several prominent resistance groups that have been heavily involved in both national and local politics with a simple question: Do you work consistently to resist the Trump agenda but identify as a conservative or a Republican? The volume of answers I received shocked me. Out of a group of several thousand activists, hundreds responded that they identified as conservative or independent but were deeply disappointed with the current leadership and actively trying to influence change. A handful of them bravely agreed to go public and are profiled below. Whether or not these folks remain Republican, Independent, or other they are part of the resistance now. And they are not going away.
This retiree thought he’d finally be setting politics aside for golf and his grandkids. Then Trump was elected.
“I would not have been worried that my taste for liberal social issues would be in danger even under Republican governance. In 2015, I had thought Roe v Wade was safe secure established law, that gay rights, reproductive rights, and advancing societal diversity were the trends of the future that could not be reversed even by Republican majorities.”
Steve saw the storm gathering throughout the 2016 campaign, and when Trump won the election, he woke up the next day ready to resist. He participates in marches, writes op-eds for the local newspapers, and has gotten to know congressional staffers at his local district office. And Steve hasn’t identified as a Democrat. Not yet. But he has words of warning for his fellow conservatives.
“I confess. Prior to Trump I often supported Republicans. I believe that market solutions to our economic and political difficulties are superior to government based solutions. I believe in secure borders and a strong defense. I believe that fiscal discipline serves our country well. I still believe in these things. However President Trump has caused me to abandon, at least temporarily, the entire Republican Party.”
This mother, nurse, and teacher has made caring about people her passion. And she’s not about to stop now.
Jennifer spent twenty years as a hospice nurse, practicing daily compassion for her patients even when times were difficult. A few years ago, despite a hectic life as a Mom of three young children, she returned to school and earned her degree in early education and child development. Jennifer identifies as a conservative and has been checking the R in the ballet box in every presidential election since she became a voter, with one exception: November 8th, 2016.
“I was just going along, doing my civic duty of voting and answering jury summons, I haven’t ever been active in politics. This election changed all that.”
She echoes something heard again and again as Republicans swell the ranks of the Resistance. Many are issues voters who identify as conservatives, but are not loyal to a particular party. These types of voters have often found themselves most comfortable with the GOP agenda. The Trump administration is changing that.
And like many in Utah, Jennifer is finding it difficult to navigate the politically charged atmosphere with family members. Some were shocked when she became such a vocal opponent of the current administration, speaking out at town halls and attending local events.
“I will say that I know so many other Republicans that are disgusted and dismayed and frightened by this administration. Our numbers are not few. Among us conservative types, however, it’s hard for us to get out and be active and vocal about this presidency.”
But Jennifer, who has committed herself to caring passionately for people her entire life, recognizes that now is not the time for polite acquiescence. She’s committed to putting aside her personal comfort and standing up to the unconscionable, not matter which side of the aisle it lands her on.
Courtenay and Andrew Stevens
These college sweethearts are navigating the tricky intersection of faith, politics, and family in Utah.
Courtenay and Andrew Stevens have what most people would envision as the typical Utah family. Raised in conservative, Republican homes, these 28 year old college sweethearts have two young children and are active members of the Mormon Church. Andrew majored in international politics in college and considers himself an Independent, while Courtenay’s political views have historically aligned more closely with the Republican Party. They both agree, however, that personal accountability, intelligence, and compassion are values they consider central to their faith and their life.
“Conservatism talks a lot about the importance of personal choice and accountability, and that’s something that gels really well with Mormonism. So growing up, there was a definite feeling that being a good Republican went hand in hand with being a good Mormon.”
But after supporting George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, Andrew and Courtenay saw a definite shift in the GOP. Andrew says the way in which both parties have cozied up to lobbyists has convinced him they don’t have their constituents’ best interests at heart. Courtenay agrees.
“I like to say that I don’t think I left the Republican Party as much as the Republican Party left me. And that became painfully obvious after the 2012 election and particularly in the 2016 election.”
Still, she confesses she didn’t become more involved in activism until after Trump was elected. Now they donate to organizations like the ACLU and make phone calls to local representatives, resisting the administration in whatever way they can. This activism has not, however, gone unnoticed by their families. While Andrew’s has been largely supportive, Courtenay has struggled to help her conservative parents and siblings understand the couple’s political views.
“I think some of my family members are genuinely concerned that I’ve lost my faith or that I’ve been corrupted or blinded by the “views of the world.” The thing is, I feel that my religion does leave room for multiple interpretations on social and political issues, and I don’t think that any of my views are not in harmony with my religious beliefs.”
Andrew says it’s been hard to watch the way Courtenay has had to carefully navigate conversations with her family, deciding whether or not standing up for what she believes is worth the fallout. It’s a situation that’s familiar for both conservatives and liberals in the Utah resistance, who often face hostility from family and friends with differing views.
“Having to constantly do that kind of math — it’s exhausting for her. There’s this balancing act of, “Do I just roll my eyes and walk away? Or am I sacrificing my personal integrity if I let this slide and say nothing?” And all the hurt feelings…I mean, it’s not like we’re burning down orphanages. We just aren’t Republicans anymore.”
This moderate, Independent activist believes in country before party. Every time.
Like many other immigrants to this country, Antonella Packard is passionate about America. As a naturalized citizen from Honduras, she relentlessly pursued a degree on the advice of her father, who insisted that “education is something no one can take from you.” Antonella was awarded custody of her sister-in-law’s children after their mother passed away under tragic circumstances and says the experience taught her lots about healthcare, education, and social services in the United States. She is currently the Utah State Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the largest and oldest Latino and Latina civil rights organization in the United States.
Antonella hails as a former Republican who now considers herself “happily unaffiliated.” She’s been active in politics previously as co-chair of the Utah Hispanic Latino Legislative Task Force, providing input on immigration, healthcare, education, and public safety policy. And now she, and the community and country she loves, face a new set of challenges under the current administration.
“I decided a long time ago that I would place country over party. So, I will vote for those candidates that I feel will represent us best. I am part of what I believe to be a dying breed — a centrist…My family, my community, my state, and my country are very important to me. Like many people, I do not like injustice, bullies, prejudice, and lack of civility.”
It’s not easy being a Latina in a state that ranks at the bottom for gender equality and has one of the largest wage gaps in the nation for women of color. But like most of the Utah Resistance, Antonella is used to uphill battles and she’ll do what she’s always done. Persist.
She’s spent her career helping to improve education in Utah. Now Cathy’s best chance to change lives is to run for Congress.
Cathy Callow-Heusser always intended to get involved in politics someday, but maybe not in precisely this way. Born in Montana and a Utah native since 1978, Cathy’s been many things: software engineer, a math teacher, and a researcher and evaluator. A mother to four and a grandmother to twelve, Cathy holds a PhD in education and has been affiliated with such prestigious organizations as the Utah State Board of Education, Utah State University, and the National Science Foundation. Cathy founded her own business in 2002, EndVision Research and Evaluation, focused on using technologies to improve outcomes in math and reading for early learners. She’s also, as it happens, a registered Republican.
Like many of us, Cathy says her political views have changed over the course of her life. She leaned Libertarian for a while, was Independent for many years, and then re-registered as a Republican about seven years ago. In 2016, though, Cathy noticed something strange about the GOP platform.
“While I agree with much of the 2008 GOP platform, I became disturbed by changes to some of the language that I saw in the 2016 version. I debated changing parties or once again registering as an Independent, but decided that most people are unaware of the platform changes in those 8 years as the Tea Party influence grew. I believe that the 2016 platform is not well-aligned with a large percentage of registered Republicans in the US.”
Since the election last November, she’s attended the Women’s March in DC, shown up at local town halls, and made daily calls to her congressman. She remains disturbed by the Trump administration’s agenda and committed to effecting change.
While Cathy’s immediate family shares many of her views, she admits to avoiding discussions with extended family members and friends who might not be supportive. But as Cathy well knows, all that will have to change. Because in 2018, Cathy intends to run for Utah’s First District Congressional Seat, currently held by her own representative, Rob Bishop.
This piece was originally published on Rantt.