The first conversation took place late at night, shortly after the inauguration of President Trump. When a small group of graduate students from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government convened, they reflected on what a new administration could mean for progressive values and how policy changes might influence state and local governments.
By late February, those intimate conversations among friends evolved organically into what’s being called the “Resistance School,” a four-part series of online sessions aimed at countering Trump’s agenda.
“We just came together as a group of friends who care about something in common,” said Yasmin Radjy, a second-year public-policy student and one of the 11 cofounders of the Resistance School. “And it just turned into this thing.”
That “thing” has become more than a simple meetup, it seems. There’s a polished website, a curriculum of sorts, a social media following, and a vested interest from thousands of people from as far away as Manila and as close to home as Cambridge, the group says.
The project’s creators are even likening themselves to “Dumbledore’s Army,” the collection of students in the Harry Potter novels who quietly worked together to learn how to fight dark magic.
Participants are encouraged to register together, to foster a sense of community. About 4,000 groups of people, both big and small, have signed up for the free workshops, which will be hosted in a main room for a limited number of participants on campus — with possible overflow space — and live-streamed on Facebook.
“We’ve been reaching out to as many people as we can,” said Shanoor Seervai, a graduate student and one of the co-founders. “We have also had to again draw on our resources, and a lot of students have jumped on board to volunteer.”
The so-called school is not officially affiliated with the Kennedy School, and is entirely student run. It has received support from some groups on campus, however.
According to the Resistance School’s website, the aim is to bring people together in response to Trump’s victory, “with a desire to help transform our country.”
“Republicans now control the Senate, House, and more state legislatures than they have in almost 200 years,” the website’s “About Us” section reads. “Those losses have emboldened the right to launch an all-out attack against our nation’s creed — that all are created equal.”
It also inspired the founders of the Resistance School to ask themselves: How can we most effectively fight Trump’s agenda? And, more importantly, group members said, how could they share their knowledge with others?
“Given our shared skill-set and how varied the group was, we wondered if there was something we could do together to contribute to the groundswell of activism happening across the country,” Radjy said. “The answer that we came to was, given the tremendous wealth of resources we have access to here, how could we get those resources to people?”
People collaborating with the group include former campaign staffers for former president Barack Obama, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton; community organizers; and human rights activists, according to the group’s website.
The first session, “How to Communicate our Values in Political Advocacy,” begins Wednesday. It will be followed by one session each week through the end of the month.
The topics range from discussions about mobilizing and organizing grass-roots efforts to learning how to sustain momentum for the long term.
“The energy in the country right now is amazing,” Radjy said. “There are so many people who want to do things around how to be politically active.”Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.