I fled the USSR as a refugee. This is why Trump scares me—and why I’m fighting back

At first I was in denial. Watching Donald Trump’s electoral win in November, I could not believe it was true. I kept hoping that we would all come to our senses and he would just disappear. But one after another, all my hopes fell. Trump was to become the 45th president of the United States.

I had this sinking feeling of despair, anxiety, and sadness.

I have experienced this feeling before, that there’s nothing you can do, that this is it.

I am a Jewish refugee from Ukraine, the former Soviet Union. After graduating from university with a degree in economics, I witnessed my father’s murder because he was Jewish.

I grew up in a country with no democracy. I know how a dictatorship looks, feels, and acts, how it smells.

Donald Trump’s tactics felt very familiar: disrespect towards two other branches of government, especially judicial, lack of transparency, the conflicts of interest. His daughter and son in law holding top government positions in the White House felt familiar. His firing of the people in charge of investigating him: that felt like a big red flag, too.

Donald Trump’s hostility toward the press scared me because, again, it felt very familiar. Growing up in the former Soviet Union, I had three TV channels. They all reported the same news. All newspapers and magazines published the same articles. I never had an opportunity read a book except those we were permitted. I never got to vote, or travel outside of the USSR.

Trump’s speeches targeting immigrants and separating people based on their religion scared me in a different way, too. Growing up, my passport recorded that I was Jewish. It was an unspoken rule that because I was Jewish, I needed to study and work harder to get accepted to a college or get a job. I did not have the same opportunities and rights as Russians. The USSR’s government was targeting Jewish people and Muslims in a similar manner. Trump’s executive orders discriminate against people because of their religion, and target the most vulnerable among us. I see the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, and wealth is shared among the small group of people in power.

When I came to the United States, I found a country different from the Soviet Union. After my father’s death, I immigrated to this country as a 25-year-old single mother with $30 in my pocket. I did not know a word of English. I made a living for myself and my daughter by working hard. I found a country with a balance of power, respect for the law, and sense of inclusiveness. I found a country in which each person has a voice.

Even knowing that, the most frightening idea of all was that I knew that over time, people get used to these things. My friends; me. We learn to accept things. I grew up feeling different, less valued than my friends and neighbors just because I was Jewish. I thought that this is how life is. It only takes a year or two for things to become normal. The newspapers will change, the people will change.

Right after the election, I looked on Facebook for events to find groups of people who felt like I did. I spent the next couple of months attending different meeting and gatherings. Then a friend sent me information about the Indivisible Guide and a link to an episode of Rachel Maddow’s show about Indivisible. In mid-January, I signed up for my first Sunday meeting. It was the second meeting ever for Indivisible SF; the group had formed just a week earlier. There were 70 or more people in the room and they all wanted to do something.

In the last three months, I have attended four town halls hosted by my representative, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Leader of the U.S. House. I spoke to Pelosi and to Jackie Speier at a town hall, and told them my story. I asked them what they were doing to protect the health of our democracy, and what we can do to help them fight back as hard as possible against the policies of this administration.

If we, as citizens, lose our democratic rights, we may not have them again for generations. But it doesn’t have to happen. We can fight back. When I think about making difference, I think about the ACA, and how hard we have fought to protect it. I think about Trump’s cabinet trembling because of our resistance.

Today, what I feel more than anything is…impressed. I am impressed that people are not afraid to speak out. Much has happened over the last few weeks, and much is happening every day. I find I am impressed with Sally Yates. People are leaking information. They’re not afraid to lose their jobs to speak the truth. I’m pretty impressed with the American press. They’re not afraid to be persistent. 

I am so impressed with the talented, kind, creative members of Indivisible SF. In Indivisible SF, I found a community, where we can build connections, and fight together for what makes this country great. I am impressed with the Indivisible leaders who we meet from small towns in California, who sometimes feel very isolated but keep organizing and fighting.

The only people I am not impressed with are the Republicans in Congress.

When I think of them, I think of them simply as people who are not doing their jobs. I am an accountant. I do a job for my company, and then, I am paid. If I do not do my job, I do not get paid. In this country, we get to pay people for the job of representing us. I am too busy being an accountant to go to Congress and do this job—representing the best interests of the American people—so I pay someone else.

To fall in line behind the President, to not ask questions, not to ask why, is not to do your job as a Member of Congress in America. That is how American government works.

I am so proud of all we have accomplished. We will keep fighting.

I believe that all people essentially want the same things: health, happiness, and a future for themselves and their loved ones. If we keep this in mind, we have more in common than not. We just need a vision, and a strategy to make that vision come true.