How to Help Protect 3 Things President Trump Could Cut

Kal Penn, an actor currently appearing in Designated Survivor, and appointed member of President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and Ronnie Cho, vice president of public affairs at MTV, both served in President Obama's administration as associate directors of the White House Office of Public Engagement. The views expressed here are their own.

As President Obama’s former liaisons to young Americans, our mandate was to assure that young people had a seat at the table. After three sleepless nights of asking, “What now?” there are a few things we want to share.

While we hope that the new incoming president will appoint a diverse cadre of young Americans to serve in the positions we held, the reality is that Donald Trump’s campaign promises were to erase the progress we made. Below, we outline only three of the many accomplishments affecting young Americans that President Obama achieved in partnership with them. These are things that President-elect Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, and the Republican Party have pledged to cut or eliminate entirely. We believe they’re still worth fighting for.

How are we going to protect this stuff?

Focusing on the 46.9% of Americans who didn’t bother to vote (and those of us who did but didn’t volunteer enough) is critical; we can’t afford to be disengaged. Protest alone isn’t enough to save these policies. There is undoubtedly beauty in peaceful protest, especially for those of us from historically marginalized communities — the solidarity takes us out of the isolation we feel, and there is immense strength in numbers. The incredible energy of protest alone does not move the needle without partnering it with strong advocacy and longer-term strategy.
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This election outcome happened because we didn’t do enough. We have to do more, right now.

The Obama years have emboldened advocacy organizations in D.C. and around the country. They will now need more help than ever to fight on the local, state, and federal level. We offer some links to those groups below. Your local volunteer centers, mosques, schools for students with disabilities, LGBTQ centers — these all need some love, some donations, and some new members willing to stand with them and stand up to what’s coming.

Because half of us didn’t vote, much of the progress will be lost — that is a given. But the real shame would be if we also let these newly emboldened advocacy organizations wither and die at precisely the time we need to wrap our arms around them.

If you’re looking to take direct action to preserve the progress we’ve made, we suggest the following steps. Here we go:
Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images.
Ronnie Cho served as an associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement.

College Affordability and Pell Grants:


Pell grants for higher education doubled to $5,500 under Obama. The American Opportunity Tax Credit for higher education is at $2,500. Obama took banks out of student lending, resulting in $67 billion in savings. He also increased investments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), rural schools, and arts education programs. The high school graduation rate is now the highest on record at 83.2%. The Trump-Pence ticket has promised to eliminate Pell grants and get rid of public funding for college and trade school. Republicans believe it is not the role of government to make college or trade school more affordable.

How to protect this stuff: If you do not want college costs to increase by at least $8,000, you can join organizations like Generation Progress, Center for American Progress, Our Revolution, National Campus Leadership Council, Six, and Young Invincibles. Track upcoming repeal measures, and call and write to your member of Congress. If you are part of a fraternity, sorority, or other large organization, sign letters on behalf of the entire organization; there is strength in numbers when approaching media or members of congress. Focus also on local and state funding for education.
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Climate Change and Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM):


Obama doubled production of clean energy. He also: secured the Paris Agreement, domestic rules on fuel efficiency standards, and critical investments in solar and wind; made $4 billion in loans available for clean-energy projects, and will have saved $18 billion through rules cutting greenhouse emissions 41% by 2025 at federal agencies. He dismantled the Minerals Management Service, cut ties between energy companies and the government, and rejected Keystone. Countries like China, India, Brazil, and much of Europe invest public funds in science-related fields, and the U.S. similarly invested in order to compete economically in emerging fields under President Obama ($1 billion in private investment and commitments were secured as part of his Educate to Innovate campaign, and $3 billion over 14 federal agencies for dedicated STEM programs). A stunning $50 million to job-saving arts grants were allocated through the recovery act. Obama started the Turnaround Arts program in underperforming schools around the country, resulting in increased school retention, and math and reading scores. Trump, Pence, and many Republicans don’t believe in science and don’t understand that climate change is a real thing; they promise to roll back these accomplishments.

How to protect this stuff: There’s a lot that’s going to get gutted here. But federal rule-making does go through public comment periods. Be part of that process (it’s all online). Advocacy toward private companies is often effective, as they still need to compete in a global marketplace and sell things to countries with populations that know marriage equality does not cause hurricanes. Lots of science and arts funding is allocated through the budgetary process, which the White House Office of Management and Budget submits to Congress. Your local school board and campus needs you, too. Organizations like Next Gen Climate, Americans for the Arts, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, and a ton of STEM and STEAM groups like Change the Equation, and Girls Who Code are active in this space.
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Photo: Evan Agostini/AP Images.
Kal Penn served as an associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Marriage Equality, Equal Pay, Equality for All:


Obama is the first president to support marriage equality. He signed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, passed Lily Ledbetter, and created and supported initiatives on ending sexual violence. He increased disability funding, worked to end racial profiling, and pushed for criminal justice reform. He also mandated family hospital visitation for same-sex partners if hospitals receive federal funds, and repealed "don’t ask, don’t tell." The Trump-Pence ticket and the Republican Party believe in reverting back to discrimination based on sexual orientation, religion, gender, and a whole lot more.

How to protect this stuff:
First, as we mentioned, reaching out locally to vulnerable people already in our communities is helpful. Is there a mosque or synagogue, refugee or LGBTQ center where you live? Can you volunteer and be a resource? Secondly, partner with organizations and take an active role in the legislative process on all levels, and be aware of and active about Supreme Court vacancies.

Organizations like HRC, Victory Fund, Planned Parenthood, NCLR, NAACP, and SAALT work in this space.

What else?

Look, this happened because we didn’t do enough, but we are still the majority. If you are giving yourself a day or two to have your 18 beers and eat cold pizza in your pajamas, do that. Then get to work. Because there are millions of people who don’t have that luxury, and we have so much more to do, right now. This can’t wait. Let’s all double down on the country we love.