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USA TODAY: Anti-Trump demonstrators finding wealth of options in once-apathetic Miami

MIAMI — In a city known more for its beaches and night life than its political activism, it's suddenly become hard to keep track of all the groups that have formed to oppose President Trump.

On a recent Sunday, more than 400 people filled a church for an organizing meeting of Women's March Miami-Dade chapter, a group that paid for 200 people to attend the Jan. 21 march in Washington, D.C., held its own march in Miami and is now branching out to advocate for nearly a dozen issues ranging from LGBT rights to gun control.

One hour later and two blocks away, about 50 people sat outside a bookstore for the third meeting of Indivisible Miami, a group that is pushing a defensive strategy to block the executive orders flying out of Trump's White House.

There's a group that held a hunger strike last week to get the local mayor to abandon Trump's immigration policies. There are ongoing demonstrations by the local Black Lives Matter movement. There are new groups created by former Hillary Clinton campaign staffers and other groups formed by people who had no political background at all.

Glenn Terry, 69, a lifelong resident of the Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami, said it's encouraging to see people in this historically apathetic city rise up to get involved. But Terry, who has attended meetings for various groups in recent weeks, said he's worried whether all the momentum can keep up with so many different groups using different tactics to accomplish different goals.

"We know there are 20 fires out there that need to be put out. But if we try to put them all out, we won't put out any of them," said Terry, who formed his own group after the election, which he originally called the "Coconut Grove Nine" but later renamed "Progressive Miami."

The difficulties facing protesters in Miami are the same ones facing organizers in cities around the country — how to maintain the momentum of the protests and how best to channel that energy into effective change. The first issue is figuring out which group to join.

Harish Hoon, a product manager who has worked for Nielsen and General Electric, got so caught up in the 2016 election that he quit his job and volunteered for the Clinton campaign. That turned into a full-time job as a field organizer near his home in Miami Beach for the political novice.

After the election, he was so distraught by Trump's victory that he didn't return to work, focusing instead on figuring out how to contribute to the growing protest movement. But faced with so many options, he came up with his own plan. Hoon now spends his days visiting all the groups, verifying which ones are legitimate, collecting their information and trying to bring them all together.

"Everybody has their own take on what went wrong in the election," Hoon said. "All of these groups are forming around what went wrong and how they might be able to fix that."

That all-encompassing approach is far different from that other recent political movement: the Tea Party. Marty Cohen, an associate political science professor at James Madison University who studied the rise of the Tea Party, said the early days of that movement were very different. In those days, early Tea Party members were guided by three basic principles: adherence to the Constitution, a limited federal government and the importance of U.S. sovereignty. Their goal? Stop Obamacare.

"The Tea Party fastened onto the Affordable Care Act and used that as a way of mobilizing people and keeping a coherent message, like a mantra," Cohen said. "It kept it simple. It kept it focused."

Joe Garcia hears that and scoffs.

"If you want discipline, become a Republican," said Garcia, a former Democratic member of Congress from Miami.

Some members of the anti-Trump movement want to absorb that lesson. The national Indivisible movement, for example, created a step-by-step guide for its local chapters that openly credits and emulates the Tea Party. Written by a group of former congressional aides, the guide lays out a defensive strategy designed to block Trump's actions.

"If a small minority in the Tea Party could stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump," the guide reads.

Mike Williams, the co-founder of Indivisible Miami, preached that strategy at his meeting on Sunday. While people asked about fielding political candidates in 2018 or bombarding members of Congress with phone calls and protests, Williams said their focus needed to remain on blocking Trump's actions for now. "It's all defense for now," Williams said. "We don't push any specific agenda. We're not at that point yet."

Stephen Milo, the founder of another group called Indivisible Miami-Dade and Broward, disagrees. "The best defense is a good offense," he said.

Milo has tried to use his group to push forward, reaching out to moderate Republicans who are disappointed in Trump's actions so far and organizing events to shame Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., into holding a town hall during the upcoming congressional recess.

Milo was also at the center of one of the biggest dust-ups in the burgeoning Miami protest movement when he tried to organize a march outside Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in nearby Palm Beach.

Milo, who runs a meeting and event planning company, said long-standing civic groups offered to help him out since he was new to the game. But he said the groups had a different motive: they wanted to take over the march. Milo went ahead on his own and even met with local police to plan out the route. But when he couldn't find a route that assured a safe environment for the marchers, he canceled the event.

That drew disparaging comments on his group's Facebook page, which has left Milo concerned about the future of the movement. "When we march around on pure emotion, speaking a message that we understand on the left, those people who are independents or moderates, they shut down to it," he said. "All you’re doing is creating a bunch of impassioned people in your tent, but you’re not expanding that tent."

There are signs, however, that the groups have started working together. Emma Collum, a corporate attorney who is now the director of Women's March Florida, said several groups heard about protests planned outside a Miami-area Planned Parenthood clinic last week. They quickly organized counter-protests and were ready to descend on the clinic.

"So we called the Planned Parenthood president and she said, 'Please don't do that. We don't want to confuse or scare our patients,'" Collum said. "So we helped what could have been a really confusing, scary situation and turned it into a really great day where people gave a lot of funds to Planned Parenthood instead."

The ultimate test for the protest movement will be whether it can stay organized through the 2018 and 2020 elections. The Tea Party rose from a wide-ranging collection of local groups to a national political force that got three senators and 87 members of the House of Representatives elected in 2010, as well as and untold numbers of candidates to state and local offices.

Some did that through their local Republican parties, but many worked around the party structure and accused the GOP of trying to co-opt their grassroots movement. How will that work this time around? "I don't think the groups have the trust in the Democratic Party," Hoon said. "For now."

Democratic leaders in Miami understand that reluctance. Dwight Bullard, a former Democratic state senator, said one challenge will become finding candidates who embody the principles of the movement and aren't simply reciting their talking points. He said it will also be difficult for long-time Democratic operatives to give up any control to protesters who are just now jumping into the political fray.

"Like Charlton Heston said, 'From my cold dead hands,'" Bullard laughed. "But folks (in the party) are coming to the conclusion that we can't make the same mistakes we did in the past. We can't force candidates down people's throats. We can't run away from a message that is populist."

Juan Cuba, chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, has started working with the different groups to see how he can help them and how they can help the party. He said the party has the benefit of a long-standing structure, while the protesters have infused a new level of energy to the process. "I think they make us stronger as a party," Cuba said. "Our past practices should be questioned and we should fine-tune our message. We can't be scared of listening to that."

READ THE STORY HERE: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/02/19/donald-trump-protest-movement-miami/97905320/