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New Jersey Town Shows How Democrats Are Resisting Trump

The election of Donald Trump has galvanized the 'resistance' in progressive Montclair, New Jersey.
Image: Members of Mobilizing Montclair at the Women's March on Washington
Members of Mobilizing Montclair at the Women's March on Washington. The activist group, which grew out of the widespread dismay over the election of President Trump, send 16 buses packed with women to Washington for the protest.Mobilizing Montclair

The television was on. The drinks were flowing. The apartment was packed with people ready to party.

Hostess Christine Oldenbrook even had balloons ready to drop when the election results came in and confirmed what they were all expecting — that Hillary Clinton would be elected the 45th President of the United States.

Then, suddenly, Donald Trump emerged as the winner. And instead of cheers, there were tears, actual tears.

“It was the saddest election night party I ever hosted,” Oldenbrook, recalled. “By nine o’clock we were all crying.”

That sad scene was replayed on Election Day all over Montclair, New Jersey, one of the most liberal communities in America and a rock solid Democratic town where Clinton won nearly 85 percent of all the votes cast for president.

“Never in a million years did I think Trump would win,” Oldenbrook told NBC News. “I’m still in shock.”

Oldenbrook has plenty of company — and not just in this leafy suburb thirteen miles west of Manhattan.

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Nationally, 93 percent of Clinton voters disapprove of Trump's administration so far. That number is only slightly better, at 82 percent, among all Democrats, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Trump’s victory was an especially painful political kick in the pants for many residents in this racially and economically diverse town of 38,000 that is home to so many former New Yorkers it’s been dubbed the “Upper West Side of New Jersey.”

Members of Mobilizing Montclair at the Women's March on Washington. The activist group, which grew out of the widespread dismay over the election of President Trump, send 16 buses packed with women to Washington for the protest.Mobilizing Montclair

Until the very end, they believed Clinton would be elected the nation’s first female president.

“Montclair is a bubble,” said John Van Wagner, president of the Montclair Republican Club. “People were utterly convinced Clinton would win. It seemed preposterous that Trump would pull this off.”

But instead of licking their wounds, Montclair has quickly become part of the anti-Trump resistance.

Grassroots groups like Mobilizing Montclair have arisen from ashes of the Clinton campaign and the local Democratic Party reports it has been inundated with calls from volunteers wanting to know how they can help.

“This has galvanized people” said LeRoy Jones, chairman of the Democratic Party in Essex County. “Sometimes out of these electoral tragedies comes hope.”

Even Van Wagner acknowledges that Trump’s triumph appears to have awakened a sleeping giant.

“It has propelled more people into action,” said Van Wagner. “A good example of this is the recent move towards the proposal to make Montclair a sanctuary township," he said, referring to a community that limits its cooperation with the federal government related to immigration policy

"I spoke against the measure. But there were far more people speaking out in favor. Far more people," he said.

Politics has been in Oldenbrook’s blood since she campaigned for George McGovern in 1972 as a teenager.

That year McGovern, the Democrat, was trounced by Richard Nixon, the Republican. So Oldenbrook also experienced early on the heartbreak of being on the losing side of a presidential election. But the Trump win, she said, was accompanied by “disbelief and horror.”

Worried residents of Montclair, N.J., hold a special meeting on March 21, 2017 with local leaders to come up with strategy to resist President Trump and his agenda. The meeting was organized by the grassroots group Mobilizing Montclair which earlier sent 10 busloads of protesters to the Women's March on Washington.Mobilizing Montclair

“I think a lot of people here felt the same way,” she said. “Soon people started talking about marching on the inauguration and I thought, ‘I’m going to DC. I’m going to march.'"

Then that conversation started spreading on social media and Oldenbrook started hearing from other women in town saying “we should organize something.”

And out of this Mobilizing Montclair was born.

“It was so organic and a real testament to social media,” she said. “Then we started hearing about the Women’s March and the next thing we knew we were filling up buses and sending them to Washington.”

Oldenbrook said taking to the streets in protest is her default setting. “I’m always marching about something,” she said.

But what made Oldenbrook’s heart soar was the sight of so many young moms joining the cause.

“We’ve had a bit of a struggle because we all work, we all have families,” she said. “But this is an amazing group of women. They’re much younger than me and I tell them if you can get this done you will rule the world.”

The desire to protest the administration has been felt nationwide among Democrats. Whether it's been rallying at airports against the president's so-called travel ban or marching on Washington, D.C. to defend science, the Trump resistance has sprung into action.

Since the Women’s March on Washington, Mobilizing Montclair has been forging alliances with other like-minded groups, like Montclair-based BlueWaveNJ and the New Jersey chapter of Organizing For Action, and coming up plans of action to keep the resistance going.

“The frustrating thing is that there is so much to march for, between Trump’s attacks on the environment and Planned Parenthood,” she said. “He’s gone after Meals on Wheels, for Pete’s sake. But we can’t march every weekend. We’ve got this group of enthusiastic women and the questions was where should we go with all this enthusiasm.”

So Mobilizing Montclair partnered with Montclair City Councilwoman Renee Baskerville to set-up an organizational meeting in the council chambers where they could hash out a strategy with help from the public.

“It was standing room only,” Oldenbrook said. “Our next big push will be the governor’s race and the primaries. I hope we can keep the momentum going," referring to this year's New Jersey gubernatorial campaign.

Mobilizing Montclair member Elana Segal said groups like theirs are important unifiers because places like Montclair are full of families with shallow roots in the township.

“I’m from New Jersey and a lot of the women are not,” said Segal, who grew up in Hazlet. “New Jersey is its own animal. So I think our mission is to educate locally, not just talk about paving roads but to talk about how things that are happening in Washington affect us here.”

Segal agreed that it’s important for groups like theirs to forge alliances with other organizations in Montclair. “There’s strength in numbers,” she said.

But Segal said she would also like to see Mobilizing Montclair reach out to an often overlooked group in their town — independent voters.

“For me that is an untapped group,” said Segal, who is herself a registered independent. “You would be shocked how many unaffiliated people voted and did not vote. I think we need to figure out who those people are an how to reach them.”

That’s music to the ears of longtime Montclair Democratic Party activist Keith Ali, who also happens to be the former warden of the Essex County Department of Corrections.

Keith Ali, former warden of the Essex County JailCourtesy of Keith Ali

“I do see a resurgence in grassroots type activism,” he said. “People are paying attention. Donald Trump has made them pay attention.”

Ali said he too didn’t think the nation would go for a “carnival barker” like Trump.

“We lived with Donald Trump, we knew Donald Trump, his sister managed a housing project in East Orange,” said Ali, referring to the neighboring town. “We couldn’t figure out how the rest of the country totally ignored his failings.”

But Trump is president and “we have to fight.”

“I think a lot of young people this election got disenchanted with our level of fight,” Ali said. “Trump gets praised for fighting back. That was missing from our activist side. Now we’re getting it back.”