800 turn out in King of Prussia to learn how to confront a Trump administration

A packed house at Wednesday night's "Resistance Forum" in King of Prussia.

A standing-room crowd of 800 packed the auditorium of Upper Merion Middle School on Wednesday night to listen to one speaker after another outline ways to mobilize against the man about to be inaugurated as president of the United States.

Those who turned out for the gathering organized by Democratic State Sen. Daylin Leach of Montgomery County had come following two months of anger and frustration over Donald Trump's win in November.

They were told to form Facebook pages with like-minded friends and try to expand followers; consider putting their "bodies on the line" in acts of civil disobedience in the years to come; and, in the words of one Democratic political consultant, start to mirror the tactics that Republicans have used to win power in Washington and in a majority of state capitols across the country.

The goal of Daylin's Resistance Forum, he said, is to preserve policies and institutions that progressives hold dear and that Republicans appear poised to dilute or dismantle.

"The end of democracy is not inevitable," Leach said, "but there are warning signs."

The nation is more divided than it has been since the Civil War, Leach said, and with Republicans controlling so much policy-making nationwide, it is critical that average people on the left end of the political spectrum act.

Checks and balances, Leach said, "are going to have to come from you."

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The stated aim of the gathering in King of Prussia was to be nonpartisan, to help people learn how to protect institutions and policies that they hold dear.

But those invited as panelists included former Hillary Clinton campaign official Sara Solow; political consultant Aren Platt, who has represented progressive candidates in campaigns; environmental activist Maya K. van Rossum; Philadelphia community organizer Malcolm Kenyatta; and Cara Salemme, a mother from York County who helped advocate for a law enacted last year allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Platt, of Cycle Strategy, had harsh words for the traditional strategies employed by the Democratic Party, and urged that everyone on the left consider new ways to become effective and adopt some of the ways Republicans have used to dominate politics in recent years.

"What we're doing, it's just not working," Platt said. "We have to mirror what the side in power has been doing. . . . We need to talk to people about what affects them."

"Resistance is not futile," said Kenyatta, whose grandfather was a civil rights activist.

Van Rossum, whose Delaware Riverkeeper Network has successfully fought fracking, said, "Open your minds to the possibility of standing up and putting your body on the line."

For people who turned out for the three-hour event on a weeknight, it represented an opportunity to channel anger and feelings of helplessness after two months of grieving Clinton's loss to Trump.

As a stream of cars turned into the middle school parking lot around 6 p.m., Beth Goldstein Huxon, 52, of Philadelphia, berated four Trump supporters who held signs near the street.

"Does the Bible say go ahead and mock disabled people?" she asked, referring to the president-elect's mocking during his campaign of a New York Times reporter with a physical disability.

One man responded by repeating the slogan on the sign he was holding.

"Trump won. Get over it," said the man, who after initially refusing to share his name, identified himself only as Richard Hertz, "a chaplain from Philadelphia" and said he distrusts the media.

In an interview before the event, Leach said progressives were looking for ways to mobilize once a Trump administration is in power.

They fear that Trump, with a GOP Congress at his side, will dismantle policies dating back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.

Pushing back is one of Leach's aims as the newly named president of Washington-based Americans for Democratic Action, a grassroots advocacy group founded in 1947 by a group that included Eleanor Roosevelt.

ADA, which has advocated for civil rights, antipoverty programs, and environmental protection, needs to be reinvigorated, Leach said, especially in light of the marginalization of Democrats in Washington.

"How do we effectively protect the gains of the last 70 or 80 years against this person," Leach said, "who seems to have no regard for the most basic shared human values?"

mpanaritis@phillynews.com

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