Just as the frontlines of the resistance have been worn down to the nub in the face of the ongoing normalization of Donald Trump, along comes the cavalry.
“The army! The little blue army!,” laughs Katie McMahon, a Diamond Lake neighborhood-based Irish-American immigrant, wife, mother of two, harp teacher and the original voice of “Riverdance,” who recently launched the grass-roots volunteer political organization Swing Blue Minnesota (facebook.com/events/1859757920932023/?active_tab=about).
“We’ve got our first meeting Sunday (1 p.m., 424 8th Ave. NE), and I want to get things done, but I want it to be fun, so I’m making little blue champagne drinks,” says McMahon, sitting in her living room. “Sometimes politics is just a little too sincere and serious, which is why at some point I want to do a music event with all the traditional protest songs — maybe the Driftwood [Char Bar] can be our little rebel bar. I was talking to some people in the big group — we’re a subgroup of Stand Up Twin Cities — and they said there’s a little waning in the resistance when people don’t know what to do. I said, ‘We’ve got to make it fun.’ And as you know, I like to have fun.”
McMahon admits she was far from being a political animal in Ireland, or Minnesota, until Trump won the electoral vote and the White House.
“One of the big reasons the Trump presidency has impacted me so much is because my grandmother, who lived in Germany and was from Prussia originally, was a refugee in the Second World War, fleeing the Russians,” says McMahon, who moved to Minneapolis to be with her husband, musician Ben Craig, 15 years ago and who regularly travels to Ireland for gigs and to see family. “When she was moved down to where her husband lived in southern Germany, there was a concentration camp nearby. She said she didn’t know what was going on there; they had this propaganda TV showing these happy Jewish people in there, working.
“When the camps were liberated, there was a tour of the American army that educated the Germans about what had really happened in the camps, and she just said that the whole village was devastated and crying and dumbstruck. When Trump won, I was devastated. I thought, ‘What are we going to do with this?’ And my dad said, ‘Well, you’re just going to have to wait another four years.’ And that just reminded me of that whole ‘being a good German’ thing, you know, where you don’t do anything or say something and you see this injustice happening and you have to resist and do something. I mean, I wasn’t sleeping properly — until I started organizing and joining groups.”
Like many others, Trump’s election and the validated racism, misogyny, lies and sheer stupidity that has come with it led McMahon to undergo what she fully admits has been a political awakening.
“I’ve been here for 15 years. It’s gotten more dramatically different between the right and left,” she says. “I was not a citizen when Bush got elected the second time, so I couldn’t vote. Then I got my citizenship and I was very excited to vote for Obama and had my first lawn sign. I think I was just living in cloud cuckoo land, because I voted for him and he got in and I didn’t really have to do anything. When Trump was elected, that night I sat on the kitchen floor and cried. It was devastating. I was very anxious, and I think a lot of people were and still are.”
McMahon’s first move as a budding activist was to attend the Women’s March On Washington the day after the inauguration. When she returned, she wanted to do more, so she attended a meeting of Stand Up Twin Cities (standuptwincities.com) and was passionately inspired by the grassroots power of the people.
“I would say that half the people there had never been politically involved before, which is amazing,” she says. “Had it not been for Trump, I never would have educated myself as to what the policies of the GOP are right now and how damaging they are to most Americans. Now I and a bunch of other people know all about it, and we’re able to go mobilize and go to the state capitol and kick up a fuss about these bills they’re trying to push through.
“My group, Swing Blue, is a little different from the national groups, in that we want to be led by the local people. Contact us when you want more bodies, when you want people to phone bank and fund raise and we’ll help you, but you’re in charge. We’ll be a little blue army ready to go whenever they need us.”
Her story is emblematic of what can happen when one citizen decides to get organized and make something happen. As for Trump…
“I can’t listen to him anymore, so I just read the transcripts,” she says. “And as I read the transcripts just to know what he’s up to, I just find myself getting dumber. There’s the danger of normalizing him and being OK with him. He’s an abomination in every way.
“I’ve done the training with Our Revolution Minnesota (ourrevolutionmn.com) and they’ve had dramatic results for the City Council elections, where incumbents are out and more progressives are in or there was no endorsement. So you can see how much power you can really have when you educate yourself — and it’s more than just a vote. That’s also been a huge learning thing for me, because [voting is] all I used to do. Being a delegate is like a vote times 100.
“The worst thing Trump has done to America, and it’s been done by Americans to America, too, is that he’s made us a very unpopular country. It’s made us laughed at the world over. Unfortunately, a lot of Americans aren’t aware of or (don’t) care about what ‘they think about over there.’ But I’m very aware of it because I go to Europe every year. It’s appalling.”
Silence and something like apathy has become a coping measure for the beaten-down troops of the resistance, but McMahon credits “my feisty Irishness” for her courage to keep on keeping on towards making a difference.
“When I see something that’s wrong, I have no problem putting myself out there,” she says. “I don’t want to be in physical danger, but I do like how all the protests now are middle-aged women and children. It’s like, ‘Yeah, you can’t really say anything bad about this and you can’t get violent on us because you know we’re just here and we’re just citizens.’
“I think it’s important. If we don’t stand up and make our voices heard, this could get worse. I have a lot of friends who are really depressed and anxious and still haven’t done anything about it, and I’m trying to get them to do something because it feels good to do something. There’s lots to be done, and we need them all.”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.