CINCINNATI -- If two Cincinnati millennials held a meeting to boost political activism, would anyone actually show up?
Maggie Rader and Alice Flanders were doubtful about their idea, cooked up one night over margaritas and frustration over a Donald Trump presidency. If they got 60 people to a meeting to hear local politicians give advice on how to get involved in public service, they would call the night a success.
Then 450 people showed up.
“We had so many people there, so many people at this random little event,” Flanders said, about their first Democracy in Action meeting, hosted by the Know Theatre, on Jan. 31.
So many people, in fact, that they had to move the event from the Know Theatre to Northern Kentucky University to accommodate a crowd that spent three hours listening to talk of gerrymandering and volunteering for local campaigns.
It turns out that disappointment with Trump’s unexpected presidential win, and unhappiness over his new policies and cabinet appointees, may be giving local Democrats a very unexpected boost in activism.
“What we’ve experienced since the November election is an incredible number of people calling and saying, ‘I’ve been sitting on the sidelines too long; I want to get involved,’” said Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Tim Burke. “There are people who feel as if they have to do something to make their feelings known and impact the process.”
The spike in involvement comes just months after low voter turnout among Democrats, even in places as blue as Hamilton County, helped to guarantee Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the November election.
But enthusiasm has suddenly shifted to the Democratic side, Burke believes.
He points to the thousands of women who showed up for the Women’s March in Washington Park in January -- followed by the hundreds who rallied at City Hall a week later to protest Trump’s immigration ban -- as proof that Democrats are awake here.
“They’re seeing some of the things Trump is doing, like what he’s done with the immigration order, are exactly what some folks were afraid he would do,” Burke said. “All of those things I think are shaking people up and motivating them to look for ways to have an impact.”
Dozens of Democrats are jumping into the Cincinnati City Council race and a record-breaking number could end up running for the nine seats by November. So far 30 candidates have pulled petitions to run.
Some are heeding advice from former President Barack Obama who urged activism in his farewell speech, calling for people to “grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office yourself,” said Kevin Tighe, founder of Stratis Campaigns.
“People are really answering that call to action,” Tighe said. “I do think Trump is a factor as well. People are seeing (running for council) as an opportunity to really effect some change.”
Others are taking smaller leaps into the world of politics.
Jaila Nored has been friends with Mike Moroski for years, so she was thrilled when he told her he was running for a Cincinnati Public School Board seat. Then he asked her in late December to be his campaign manager.
Nored, 22, a data analyst at the Council on Aging of Southwest Ohio, took some time to think about the offer before ultimately agreeing.
"While I was thinking about it, one thought came in mind: ‘When this is all said and done, do you want to be the person, when you had this opportunity, who said no?"
Jen Bryant, 39, had never been politically active until she went to a Hillary Clinton rally at Union Terminal last July, and was later contacted by the campaign to volunteer.
Bryant, a stay-at-home mom who lives in Mariemont, became a phone bank volunteer and soon had an epiphany.
“It forced me to take responsibility for the fact that I really hadn’t been doing anything before,” said Bryant, who eventually became a canvas captain.
Although Clinton lost Ohio and the presidency, she won Hamilton County, including the village of Mariemont.
“Afterward the election, victories were great but the losses were what motivated us even more,” she said. “So much of this did not just happen overnight, like redistricting and voter suppression. Where were we when that happened… we weren’t organized.”
She just formed the Wooster Corridor Democratic Club, and their kick-off event attracted more than 40 people on Super Bowl Sunday. And Bryant recently became the precinct executive and Democratic ward chair for Mariemont.
“I do not think we have ever had a ward chair in Mariemont before,” Burke said.
Just a few miles away in Terrace Park, home to Republican Sen. Rob Portman, Jeanette Hargreaves organized 40 Democrats into a new group.
Later this month, the Know Theater will host another Democracy in Action session. This time, they’ll train attendees on how to react appropriately as a bystander during moments of crisis.
It won’t be the last event, either. Flanders and Rader are already planning for more political action series in the months to come.
“People want to move forward with this -- it’s not a flash in the pan,” Flanders said. “We have four more years of this and it’s been a long two weeks.”