With 1,500 attendees, ACLU launched People Power, a grassroots mobilization platform designed to help organize actions against US President Donald Trump
Miami (AFP) - Until Donald Trump became president, Kelsey Thomas spent her time studying, hanging out with friends and lounging on the beaches of Florida. But not anymore.
Now she has become fiercely political, joining the new activist movement in America that has come to be called the "Resistance."
For Thomas, a 29-year-old university student, the turning point was the huge wave of women-led protests that filled Washington and other cities on January 21, the day after Trump's inauguration.
She traveled from Fort Lauderdale, where she lives, to the US capital to join the throngs protesting against the Republican billionaire president.
"That was really inspiring and motivating. I just started worrying after the elections and really I got more involved after he took office and after the Women's March in Washington," Thomas told AFP.
Thomas now works with a local women's group that took part in that rally and is opposed to the Trump-backed Republican plan to replace the health care reforms known as Obamacare.
Many services, such as those for people with mental illness or substance abuse problems, would be taken away, she said.
"All of this motivated me to fight for all the injustices that I see and continue to see every single day," said Thomas.
- 'Fertile for activism' -
Like Thomas, many in the "Resistance" movement feel their core values are being threatened by the Trump administration. And they are ready to fight back.
Jose Parra, a political analyst at a consultancy called Prospero Latino, said "the public in general is beginning to become politically educated when they feel that there is a threat to their way of life and that is what is happening with the Trump administration's proposals."
What is at stake for these new political warriors are the rights of women, immigrants and Muslims, equal treatment of gays and lesbians and progress in public health and environmental protection.
"There is a controversy for every taste," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, America's largest human rights advocacy group and a pillar of the new anti-Trump drive. "There are a lot of issues under threat."
Romero, who was visiting Miami, said his organization had 400,000 members before the presidential election and now has 1.2 million.
"We are living in times that are very fertile for activism because people feel threatened," he told AFP.
"But at the same time there is nothing romantic about this. People know that the federal government in the hands of Trump wields vast power."
To harness all this grassroots energy, the ACLU created a platform called PeoplePower.org with the slogan "Join the Resistance." With this, the organization hopes to recruit more activists and lay the groundwork for political action against Trump.
The movement was launched last Saturday in Miami at an amphitheater filled with 1,500 future activists. The event was broadcast live on Facebook.
People of all ages who, like Thomas, had their political awakening four months ago, listened to lectures on how to convene rallies, what kind of activities are legal, the best places to gather and what rights police and immigration officers have in dealing with protesters.
- Ideological zeal -
This surge of political awareness that prompted the ACLU to create PeoplePower.org is seen all over.
When the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos Gimenez, announced that the city would no longer be a sanctuary city -- one that refuses to cooperate with federal immigration authorities seeking to deport people -- a rally took place the very next day outside his office.
Since then there have been many more protests against him.
Late night talk and comedy shows are now rich in political satire that ridicules or lampoons Trump, and their ratings have risen sharply.
Activists are even recruiting on the dating web site Tinder, where one can now find people eager to do something as un-sexy as go to a town hall meeting.
And NGOs are recruiting on new sites like MeetUp and that old-fashioned place called Facebook.
For instance, on Sundays the civil rights group MoveOn holds nationwide call-ins, known as "Ready to Resist," in which it trains people in the finer arts of grassroots resistance.
Wilfredo Ruiz, spokesman for the Florida chapter of CAIR -- America's largest Muslim rights advocacy organization -- told AFP that Trump's travel ban targeting people from an initial seven and now six mainly Muslim countries has caused people to rally to his group's defense.
This is creating a kind of unified, organic resistance nationwide. "We are teaming up with other civil rights organizations at other, unprecedented levels," said Ruiz.
Now, collaboration among NGOs, universities, churches, mosques and synagogues is not just about marching or filing lawsuits together. Rather, they are sharing strategies, resources and logistics, he said.
This is happening for instance in California, where religious leaders have created a clandestine network of homes where people are willing to shelter unauthorized immigrants.
Some people -- including Romero, Parra and Ruiz -- are comparing this groundswell of ideological zeal to the climate that gave rise to the civil rights movement of the 1960s to end racism and discrimination against blacks.