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Grad Students Organize to Resist Trump

By Caroline S. Engelmayer, Crimson Staff Writer

Progressive Action Network, a graduate student activism group, held its first-ever meeting Wednesday evening to organize advocacy efforts, including protesting a recent White House executive order on immigration.

Dakota McCoy, one of the group’s organizers, proposed protesting the Dakota access pipeline, various cabinet appointments, as well as arranging activism against President Donald Trump’s executive order which halts immigration from several Muslim majority countries. The Progressive Action Network also proposed writing op-eds to publish in members’ hometown newspapers.

“As graduate students particularly, it’s easy to be isolated—in labs, in groups—and we need to come together,” McCoy said.

Zena Agha, a graduate student and member of the Harvard Arab Students Association, said that Trump’s immigration order had affected her friends and family.

“This ban that got passed on Friday has real influence on the people I care about, the countries I’m from, and the people I associate with,” she said. “I want my mom to come to my graduation, I want Iraqis to come here, I want Americans to be able to explore that beautiful part of the world.”

Sarah Cleary and Rosa I. Rivera, two members of UNITE HERE Local 26—a union representing Harvard’s dining hall workers—offered advice about organizing that they said they had learned in the union’s 22-day strike this fall.

“What I want you to know is that you’re not powerless—look how many people are coming out, look how many people are taking to the streets,” Cleary said. “You need to continue to reach out to all the other groups on campus, come together, find where your common ground is. When enough of us team up, [Trump] won’t be able to ignore us any more.”

Both Cleary and Rivera urged students to work together with other organizations on campus to coordinate events. They said coalition-building would also be important for the Progressive Action Network’s advocacy work. During their strike, Local 26 members and Harvard University Dining Services workers rallied support of students and faculty across all Harvard schools, which Cleary and Rivera said was instrumental in what they described as their success.

“It’s kind of hard to make the decision between being a Harvard student and standing up for what you believe in,” Rivera said. “At some point in your life, you have to take a risk and stand up for something that you believe in. Why not now?”

McCoy proposed that the group would have three meetings per month, one to organize events and two actual events.

“I think we’re uniquely situated to respond to this,” McCoy said. “Our expertise, especially if we combine from different groups, can have a really powerful impact.”

Other organizers also stressed the importance of creating and sustaining the Progressive Action Network.

“With a lot of us, this is our first time being politically active, especially people who have mostly been thinking about politics under [former President Barack] Obama, so there’s a lot of uncertainty and I think trying to organize under this broader umbrella where everybody can fit in is really important,” Courtney T. Wittekind, another graduate student, said. “At the [Graduate School of Arts and Sciences] level, it seems like the least we can do.”

At the College, a similar group called the Student Power Network, formed ahead of Trump’s inauguration and organized trainings and protests for undergraduates looking to resist Trump.

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