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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

They know what is said about them.

Crybabies. Snowflakes. The post-election protesters were cast as millennial whiners, yearning for a safe space to nurture their wounds after Hillary Clinton’s defeat by President-elect Donald Trump.

But that’s not the focus of five college students, all 20-somethings from around the Kansas City area. They’re aiming for something completely different. And they are willing to work for it.

They attended the protests in Kansas City, along with hundreds of others. But they were the ones manning the card table, handing out water bottles and collecting more than 200 signatures of people interested in being involved.

And yes, they voted. In fact, they’ve very engaged politically; several are political science majors. They’ve been meeting almost daily, forming a group they are calling WhatNow.

“It’s not about those that voted for the president-elect and those who didn’t,” said My Hoang Nguyen of Kansas City. “It’s about policy and humanitarian efforts.”

A forum Tuesday will be their first effort, 5:30 p.m. at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, 4501 Walnut in Kansas City. Networking will start, followed by a 6 p.m. panel.

“You may scream in the street, you may make a sign and march, but nothing will change if you allow your emotion to guide…” began a Facebook post by Nguyen, who initiated the work.

For the forum, they want an event where those who see themselves as liberal and those who say they are conservative can sit down. And talk. And more importantly, listen. A place where people could express views — in civil tones — and be assured that they wouldn’t be verbally attacked.

Finding a venue, that proved difficult. There were issues of insurance and security and trying to spark interest from local politicians. They contacted Mayor Sly James’ office, city council members and also reached out to national figures like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

To find conservative voices they’re tapping Republican student organizations of area colleges. They are hopeful that professors who are sponsors for such clubs can help leverage student involvement.

“I think both sides can lack empathy,” said Michele Lazarowicz. “I hope empathy comes back in style.”

Using the hashtag #WhatNow, and Twitter handle @WhatNowKC, they’ve decided on this mission statement: Connecting communities through empathy, education and advocacy.

They bought three website domains and will launch on WhatNowkc.org Tuesday morning. Work around gaining nonprofit status has begun.

The initial group also includes Sandy Altamirano of Overland Park and Jennifer Feeney and Sarah Turello of Kansas City.

They know single-issue voters, say about guns or abortion, can only explain so much of how people voted. They’re not interested in making a bogeyman out of special interest groups. The pitfalls of Machiavellian forces, too often at odds in the two-party system, are also apparent.

“It’s not about whether your person won or lost, but why can’t we all win?” said Turello.

All of this, and much more, is what they are eager to discuss with others.

Like many, they’ve struggled with political divides in their own families. One has a Trump-voting father and a Clinton-voting mother. That raised the concern that one parent might have voted in a way that will eliminate the health care of their college-aged child, if Obamacare is repealed.

They’ve had older adults talk down to them, as if they don’t understand the Electoral College. Actually, they can explain its origin and nuances better than most. The young women worry what Clinton’s loss implies for their future careers, asking how much of the vote was anti-female?

Mostly, they realize there is much to learn about voter motivation. Not only to understand it, but get to know people well enough to grasp how they dismissed or rationalized what felt so personal and offensive to the diverse friendship networks they value. Namely, the sexist and bigoted comments that peppered the Trump campaign.

As Nguyen sees it, Kansas City saw two different types of protesters after the election. There were those who sought solace, unity with like-minded voices drawn together primarily out of concern for remarks that targeted Muslims, immigrants and others. And, there were those who were in a more anarchist frame of mind, a far smaller collective.

Much of the initial response felt like grieving to Nguyen.

It’s not that people didn’t accept the results of the election. They did. And it worried them. Others reacted to the discontent; the crybaby comments.

WhatNow views all the feedback as energy to be captured.

“If we let this passion die down, this power die down, it will be the same thing,” Nguyen said. “And then, eventually, the community will get angry all over again.”

Mary Sanchez: 816-234-4752, msanchez@kcstar.com, @msanchezcolumn

IMAGE: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton poses with supporters after a campaign event at Rutgers University’s Newark campus in Newark, New Jersey, U.S., June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

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