A newly formed group in Gainesville struggles to unite against the new president and his policies.
During election season, Gainesville felt safe.
I’ve never received backlash for expressing liberal opinions or participating in activism. Though I do brace myself for verbal sexual harassment, I don’t feel afraid to hold hands with another woman in public. Living in a college town has its advantages, but it can also create a bubble. A lot of people in town thought Donald Trump had no chance of winning the presidential election.
Personally, I wasn’t so sure. I work just outside Gainesville at an organization that serves 12 counties in Florida, several of which are rural and consistently Republican. I was concerned by the number of Trump yard signs I saw while traveling for work and the number of vocal Trump supporters I met. So when he won the election, I wasn’t as shocked as those on my Facebook feed.
I was surprised, though, to see Gainesville, instead of being immobilized by shock and hopelessness, get to work right away. Two days after the election, there was a community speak out at city hall that over 400 people attended. Just over a week later, protesters at the Freedom from Fear march occupied University Avenue.
The group behind this response is called Gainesville City of Resistance, or GCOR. According to Candi Churchill, an organizer for the United Faculty of Florida and the Graduate Assistants Union, GCOR is “not an organized group yet, but perhaps the beginning of a resistance movement.” It was created after three local organizers — Joey Brenner, from the Service Employees International Union, Jeremiah Tattersall, a co-chair for the Alachua County Labor Coalition, and Churchill — met to discuss the election. The conversation moved toward action, and they were later joined by Matthew Pearson-Dawe, Lauren Dawe, and Joe Courter.
They wanted the community to see a public denouncement of the president-elect, so they planned a speakout. The original organizers, who are all white, wanted the people who are most affected by Trump’s proposed policies to have a voice. So people of color, and other often-silenced groups, were invited to join them.
GCOR’s ground rules, introduced by organizer Diana Moreno, are based on social justice facilitation literature. Members are asked to assume good intentions, center marginalized voices, call people in rather than out, and own their intentions as well as their impact. At in-person meetings, people who are more marginalized speak before those with more privilege, and little dialogue between members is permitted. Theoretically, the rules apply at meetings and on their main organizing tool, Facebook. The rules are meant to give everyone an equal platform.
The GCOR Facebook group has served as a platform for sharing ideas, articles, and events and has contributed to the high turnout for meetings. It’s how I’ve heard of every event. The online group operates a little differently than the meetings. As none of the in-person limitations exist, anyone can post and have his or her voice heard. But, enforcing ground rules is easier in person than online. On Facebook, people are less likely to consider rules before typing up a reply to a post, especially if they disagree with the rules.
Just before the Freedom from Fear March, GCOR member Sophia Cruz-Perez shared a Facebook post in the group discussing the disbandment of the Charleston chapter of the group Showing Up for Racial Justice. Those calling for disbandment implored members of this white-led group to join groups led by people of color groups because “the end of white supremacy will not come from a room of white people talking to each other about racism.”
“Calling out racist, sexist or homophobic actions is not a personal attack,” Soto said.
Churchill deleted the post and temporarily blocked Cruz-Perez, a move which was widely seen as silencing POC voices. Churchill admitted she made a poor judgment call and apologized. She also wrote that the post came at a time when the page was being flooded with hate speech, misinformation about the upcoming march and other unwelcomed posts.
Regardless of Churchill’s intentions, what was more important was the effect this incident had on the group. Moreno said the organizers have watched the group devolve into a source of infighting and call-outs.
Alu Soto, a GCOR member, said marginalized people are tired of explaining these concepts to those who refuse to understand. “Calling out racist, sexist or homophobic actions is not a personal attack,” Soto said.
“My approach has always been to give people room to make mistakes,” Moreno said. “But I also acknowledge that there are folks in our community who have been really hurt by systems that have excluded them, and they don’t have that type of patience that I do, and I honor that … I believe their anger is justified.”
Moreno and her fellow organizers felt like they couldn’t meet everyone’s expectations when people of color were invited to be part of the planning and were critical of the work the they were doing.
But, Cruz-Perez says people of color aren’t looking for a seat at the table; she wants GCOR to shift support to endeavors that are already led by people of color.
This is Moreno’s hope for GCOR as well. She wants it to become an organization that can plug people into existing movements, rather than reinventing the wheel.
It is clear that the GCOR Facebook group causes organizers and members significant emotional distress. But, if GCOR is going to become an activist hub, it will need some form of online presence.
Despite infighting, I think it’s important to continue working with GCOR. Personally, I want to be involved with visible resistance movements. Soto will continue to attend meetings and hold the organizers and members accountable for what they say. Cruz-Perez will continue to attend as well with the hope that things will shift, and the voices of people of color—especially black voices—will be centered. Moreno is inspired to continue leading by local organizers Paul Ortiz and Zoharah Simmons who have been part of local and national activist movements for decades. They told her that despite how exhausting organizing is, giving up is not an option.
We should remember this throughout the Trump presidency. New resistance movements are never going to be perfect, but the only way they can improve is if marginalized groups continue to speak up and give feedback to organizers, and if organizers listen in return. It’s crucial for white people like myself to take the time to listen and understand others’ experiences. It’s crucial to listen and not rush to our own defense. And it’s crucial now, more than ever, for us to talk to other white people about dismantling systemic racism and confronting the personal biases that allowed Trump to be elected in the first place.