Activists On The Left Seek To Harness Spending As Part Of Their Anti-Trump Resistance

Jun 11, 2017
Originally published on June 26, 2017 8:43 am

President Donald Trump may not have the most Twitter followers on the platform but he is probably the most powerful person in the world who is tweeting on a regular basis. (Look no further than the recent "covfefe" incident and the raging wildfire of memes it incited.)

And it is precisely the president's compulsion to tweet-vent/tweet-rage that Allyson Kapin is counting on as the best vehicle to keep Democrats and progressives engaged in the national anti-Trump movement — especially novice activists.

Kapin is the brains behind WeCanResist.It, a new app launched in late May that funds social justice organizations "whose issues are being targeted by Trump."

"It is basically America's swear jar but for toxic ideology," she said. "So every time Trump goes on a Twitter rampage or tweets something dangerous or hateful, the app lets you automatically donate to a nonprofit that's fighting to protect our democracy, human rights, or the environment," she explained.

Unlike single or annual donations, which Kapin said can be quickly forgotten, these recurring contributions not only keep political causes top of mind, they also "help channel people's anger and frustrations." The nonprofits on the receiving end of the app are vetted by Kapin and her all-volunteer team of colleagues.

But, beyond providing instant gratification for her fellow lefties, Kapin is clear about the big-picture objective of the app: To keep people new to the world of political activism engaged beyond a single rally — what she describes as a growing number of first-time protesters who have not been involved in the "activist" space before. Additionally, Kapin hopes to draw attention to some of the smaller or less well-known advocacy groups that are often overlooked because people have never heard of them.

Kapin's efforts are part of a building national movement of anti-Trump pro-cotts — when consumers seek out companies, products or services that align with their political values.

Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors, confirms that the growing polarization that has permeated today's political discourse is mirrored in an expanding polarization in the economy and the way citizens are spending disposable income. Although he hasn't studied the phenomenon, Naroff notes there is ample evidence that consumers at large are exerting their partisan power over companies. And he argues technology is playing a critical role.

"Just look at Nordstrom," he said.

The national department store chain dropped the Ivanka Trump brand in February after a viral campaign called #GrabYourWallet encouraged shoppers to boycott all Trump products. Officially, Nordstrom cited the brand's poor performance as the reason for the decision without explicitly stating what role the boycott or the social media backlash may have played in those dropping sales.

"Given that we've got the Internet, we've got email, we've got Twitter and everything else that's out there, the ability to reach these disaffected people and turn them into disaffected consumers is probably greater now than it's ever been," he said.

Although he usually refrains from advising his clients to out their own political leanings, he notes many large companies benefit from publicly staking their ground. For instance, shortly after Trump announced the U.S. is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, Andy Pharoah, vice president for corporate affairs at Mars Incorporated, told NPR that he is disappointed in the president's decision, but that the candy and pet food company will be undeterred in its own efforts to combat climate change.

That is the kind of statement that will likely lure chocoholics who also support stringent climate change policies.

Tracking the financial gains for large companies that go out on these ideological limbs is complicated, because a multitude of factors can contribute to rising sales, but small organizations can sometimes make those connections more easily.

Take Rachel Berks, owner of the boutique shop, Otherwild. Berks, who continues to be an avid Hillary Clinton supporter, was the first designer to set off the "The Future is Female" T-shirt craze leading up to the 2016 election. The simple cotton tee — Berk's riff on a 1960s lesbian mantra — was outperforming all of her other designs but it wasn't until she decided to donate a quarter of the proceeds to Planned Parenthood, that her business exploded.

"When I did that it really blew up and went viral," she said.

Berk was moved to make the donation during the period when Congress was first voting to defund Planned Parenthood. Just as she was inspired to contribute, Berk said, "I think [people] were interested in a tangible way to give back."

It's anecdotal but Berks said it was proof to her that slews of progressives are looking for new ways to carry their political values into other areas of their private lives.

"People were feeling just like me — frustrated, hurt, asking what do we do next?" she said.

Similarly, Nate Lerner, executive director of the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, took a look around his own circle of friends and observed the same longing for direction. That prompted him to create the Boycott Trump app shortly after the November election.

It is essentially a searchable database that shows links between companies and the Trump administration. Lerner estimates the app has been downloaded more than 350,000 times since November.

He said he created it because he was afraid to lose the momentum progressives opposing Trump had managed to build leading up to the election.

Lerner wanted them to know, "They can still speak through their wallets and through their purchasing power every day," he explained, "So we wanted to remind them of that and give them the ability to take action through that."

Since its debut, Lerner has added several new features to the app that he says make people feel more empowered. In addition to connecting users with their local representatives, they can now also email companies directly through the app to convey their dissatisfaction.

Like Kapin, Lerner hopes the Boycott Trump app will act like a gateway to political action.

"There certainly is a new generation of political activists that we're seeing rise and come forward," he said, "but at the same time they're not getting engaged on traditional means of political action like volunteering and donating and calling their representatives and we aim to change that."

But there have been some unintended uses of Lerner's creation. Pro-Trump shoppers have been downloading it too in order to find and buy products that will go to companies aligned with the administration.

That doesn't bother Lerner.

"If you're downloading our app and if you're using it for a negative purpose, you're actually still helping our cause," he said. That's because every download only helps bump up the app's rankings.

"So the joke's on them," he said.

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Speaking of protests, they aren't limited to college campuses these days. On any given weekend, activists on either side can likely find a rally to join. But on the left, NPR's Vanessa Romo found activists trying to make spending a part of the anti-Trump resistance.

VANESSA ROMO, BYLINE: Allyson Kapin identifies as a super liberal who used to feel deeply bummed whenever President Trump went on a Twitter rampage. But Kapin is no ordinary lefty. She's the brains behind Women Who Tech, so she's an entrepreneurial techie who makes things like this.

ALLYSON KAPIN: America's swear jar but for toxic ideology.

ROMO: It's her latest creation, an app called We Can Resist It that launched late last month. And this is how it works.

KAPIN: Every time Trump tweets something dangerous or hateful, the applet you automatically donate to a nonprofit that's fighting to protect our democracy.

ROMO: It is one piece of a national movement of anti-Trump pro-cotts (ph) - think the opposite of a boycott. And an increasing number of these inventions are intended to target one sliver of the so-called resistance, says Kapin.

KAPIN: We're really seeking to engage all the people who are just brand new to politics. They showed up for the first time in their lives at marches, and they were left asking, what's next?

ROMO: She says if Democratic organizers don't have an answer and a plan, then there's no way they'll gain control of the House in 2018 and take back the presidency in 2020. Nate Lerner agrees, which is why he's also targeting this new generation of novice activists with his Boycott Trump app. He says voters don't have to wait for another election.

NATE LERNER: They can still speak through their wallets and through their purchasing power every day. We want to remind them of that and give them the ability to take action through that.

ROMO: The app, which is essentially a database of businesses with ties to the Trump administration, tells people what to buy and what to leave on the shelf. So an anti-Trump chocaholic with a cat who likes the occasional beer can buy a Milky Way bar and Whiskas kitty treats but definitely avoid those Coors Light Tallboys. Why? Because the CEO of the beer company held a fundraiser for Trump. And Lerner's app does something else. It connects users to executives at pro-Trump companies.

LERNER: You know, for example, when the ACA was being repealed, folks would contact their representatives. But we want to push people to also contact these companies and say, hey, you're supporting a president who is threatening our health care system.

JOEL NAROFF: The ability to reach these disaffected people and turn them into disaffected consumers is probably greater now than it's ever been.

ROMO: That's Joel Naroff. He's an economic strategist. And he says social media and smartphones have made it far easier for consumers to express their political leanings at the cash register. And that's appealing for some big companies, which explains why many out themselves. But here's an ironic twist. The apps that are encouraging the lefty shopping activism are also being used by conservatives to find out what not to buy. So for every Milky Way bar that someone on the left is buying, someone on the right is picking up a Coors Light six-pack. Vanessa Romo, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.