Getting creative: Female activists find artistic inspiration in the bummer election of Donald Trump
Female activists find artistic inspiration in the bummer election of Donald Trump
It was dark and stormy outside, and inside the cafe, it was standing-room only. A slender young woman in a plaid shirt with a dirty-blond bob stepped onto the stage and blew into a colorful noisemaker.
“Welcome to the pity party!” she announced.
With that, Grace Loescher, a homeless youth advocate, commenced another evening of cathartic creativity under the banner of Speak Out Sacramento, a relatively new artistic imprint Loescher co-founded with Matthew James Walsh and HK Poet for emerging performers. Loescher is also the program director of the local nonprofit Waking the Village, which supports homeless young people in Sacramento through its three housing programs. Her involvement in hosting the open-mic SOS reflects a creative avenue that more female do-gooders are taking to get their voices heard when everything is dark and stormy these days.
The January 18 open-mic at the Shine Sacramento cafe was pity-party themed to match the nation’s mood two days before the historically unpopular inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States.
About two dozen people sang, rapped or read poetry. Some of the content was political, like Loescher’s poem about feminism—and her surprising admission that she used to date Mike Pence Jr. in high school—and some was apolitical, like a couple who performed acroyoga.
Loescher, who also runs her nonprofit’s Creation District program, which provides studio space to creative youth, believes in merging art and activism to tell the stories of marginalized people who feel under siege from the new administration.
“It’s frustrating when I hear people say, ’How much can Trump really change? What can happen in four years?’” Loescher said. “It takes a lot of privilege to be able to say that, because the folks who are not going to notice that difference are the ones who don’t already face the daily oppressions.”
She’s not alone in her frustration. Another homeless activist in the community, Shahera Hyatt, has also turned to the arts to continue fighting for social justice.
In her day job, Hyatt directs the California Youth Homeless Project, which advocates the needs of homeless youth to policymakers. For the past year, Hyatt has been moonlighting as a stand-up comic, with a regular gig hosting open-mics at the Sacramento Comedy Spot on Monday nights.
Hyatt, who spotted negative impacts of Trump’s presidency long before the inauguration, has found an outlet in comedy, channeling laughter to invoke an emotional response and, hopefully, positive change.
“I think delivering [a message] in a comedic platform highlights the absurdity [more] than, let’s say, my 10-page report on the subject can,” she said.
Loescher agrees, adding, “You have to be able to laugh at the oppressors.”
If art can be an expression of anxiety, Hyatt and Loescher are finding great inspiration in the commander in chief. Both expressed disgust over Trump’s documented sexism—from his recorded boasts about being able to get away with sexual assault to his plans to cut funding for the Violence Against Women Act.
“[Trump] villainizes feminists and makes them out to be just feminazis, the super uptight woman who’s so politically correct,” Loescher contended. “That’s really scary to see.”
“Honestly, I think his face should come with a trigger warning,” Hyatt said.
As advocates for homeless youth, they also worry about what could happen to young people.
Loescher says she works directly with undocumented homeless youth who would be affected by Trump’s pledge to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, increasing their chances of being deported.
Hyatt has already fielded calls from frightened youth.
“The morning after the election, I woke up to a message from a young black trans person who is experiencing homelessness and was asking if I could trade places with them or take their blackness away, or give them one good reason to keep living,” Hyatt recalled.
Loescher and her co-workers at Waking the Village have begun creating informational workshops to arm the marginalized community they serve with a “sliver of power,” she said.
Hyatt and Loescher are also big believers in organizing. The activists participated in last week’s historic marches—Hyatt traveled to Los Angeles to be one of the 750,000 people at its Women’s March, and Loescher was one of the 20,000 who rallied at the Capitol.
“It’s so cool to see so many groups coming together as one,” Hyatt said. “I think the louder we get and the more noise we make and the more we push back is the only way that we’re going to feel a sense of power and create change.”
That drive to uplift the downtrodden now finds women like Hyatt and Loescher under a new kind of limelight.
Returning to the cafe stage after the acroyoga couple wowed the room last week, Loescher tried to lower the crowd’s expectations.
“I could pull an anaconda out of my ass right now and it wouldn’t be as impressive as they were,” she joked.
It was the night before the inauguration and two days before historic women’s marches around the world offered their hopeful retort to Trump’s vision of “American carnage.” Reading from her poem, Loescher addressed the second audience:
“Let me be the porch light that beckons you home to a sisterhood of bruised fists that have been beating themselves up for too long.”
A room filled with artists heard her.