The presidential election has spawned an awakening of activists. Around the country they’re mobilizing around issues ranging from immigration, to education, to health care.
In Maine, Planned Parenthood in particular is seeing a sustained spike in volunteers. One of the reasons for that is the Republican replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act, which would de-fund the health care provider.
At a rally against the GOP proposal in Portland this week, Kate Cordaro worked her way through the crowd, armed with a clipboard and pen. Her mission: to get people to go on the record as supporters of Planned Parenthood and to sign up to volunteer, just like Cordaro did five months ago.
“It’s amazing how quickly you can see what an impact you’re having, and how powerful that reach and touches", said Cordaro. “It’s been pretty amazing.”
Cordaro says she felt it the very first time she worked a phone bank on behalf of Planned Parenthood to garner support.
“I reached an older woman in northern Maine,” said Cordaro, “And she was so kind and sweet, and immediately said, ‘Of course, I totally support Planned Parenthood. What are you talking about today? What can I do to help?’
Cordaro was able to patch the woman through to Senator Susan Collins’ office to carry the message one step further.
Says Cordaro, “It was just so immediately exciting.”
That kind of excitement is still going strong says Planned Parenthood of Northern New England spokeswoman, Nicole Clegg. Every month, Planned Parenthood in Portland holds an ‘Hour of Power’ to train people how to support the organization and other causes. Before the election, Clegg says, about a dozen people would show up for these trainings. But over the past five months the numbers have surged.
“Usually we have close to 100 people attend each time,” said Clegg. “A couple of months we’ve had to do two, just to accommodate the interest.”
At their most recent training session held this week, about 75 people packed the room, including Elizabeth Fowler, a teacher from South Portland.
“I think the climate right now makes me feel like it’s important to get out and do more in the interest of guaranteeing choice for my daughter and her generation and the generations that follow,” Fowler said.
Some participants, like Alex Collins of Portland, say they recognize they can no longer be complacent.
“You gotta take action if you ever want things to change,” said Collins. “If you look at the protests that are happening across the nation, they’re actually having an effect on people. So it doesn’t help just to complain about things.”“
Seizing on that eagerness for action, Planned Parenthood infuses it into the training. After giving tips for best practices to get in touch with lawmakers, a sample script is projected on a wall along with the phone number of Senator Susan Collins. And then everyone starts dialing.
There is some concern that all of this energy could easily wane. Cathy Walter of Gorham attended the Portland rally before heading to the Hour of Power training.
“Already, a lot of my friends that I went to the march [with] in Washington, I couldn’t get them to come here tonight,” Walter said. “And I’m disappointed. So I want to know how I can speak better, and motivate people to do something.”
Planned Parenthood’s Nicole Clegg is aware of the need to harness sustained support, and told as much to the crowd at the rally.
“You need to understand this is a marathon. It is not a sprint,” said Clegg. “Our resistance – really, our persistence – has to last.”
Clegg says the trainings, though just an hour - are designed to give people skills that will last for the long-term.