Talking to Aditi Juneja is easy. She’s young, funny and she reminds me of any number of my friends in the activist space. Like so many capable organizers, she’s down to earth even though her work makes her look like superwoman.
Shortly after the election, Aditi started compiling a spreadsheet of issues and legislation that was coming out of Congress and being promised by Trump. She shared the information with Sam Sinyangwe, the co-founder of Campaign Zero and Stay Woke, who gathered a team to turn it into a wiki for the resistance. The result was the Resistance Manual. This open resource is continually being updated with new information about current policy as it moves through the government. The manual also breaks down bills into easy to understand explanations, then tracks them visually as they advance through Congress or state government.
Aditi is in her final semester of law school and is simultaneously managing the daily content needs of an army of around 200 volunteers who are responsible for the bulk of the updates to the resistance manual. “It’s a huge job” she admits, but “the strength finds us.” She has powered through the challenging first months, and she tells me it all feels a little surreal. Shortly after the manual went live, she was getting calls and emails, “Now I’m the go-to source for the anti-Trump resistance,” she laughs.
It’s not an easy time to be spearheading a progressive resistance. Her detractors on the right have bemoaned from day one that the concept of resistance to a president is definitively unpatriotic. When I ask Aditi how she feels about being labeled unpatriotic, she’ says “I’ve personally thought a lot about it; about whether resistance was democratic, whether it was the right thing to do, or whether we should be trying to work closely with and influence GOP politics and Trump. What I came down on, there has to be a line in the sand. Once your government is not subscribing to democratic ideals, once your government is holding press briefings where they exclude certain outlets and attacking other branches of government or the intelligence community, then you are in resistance mode. It becomes incumbent on the people to preserve the democratic ideals that make us a nation.”
So, I ask, what brought you over the edge from interested to wholly invested in organizing against Trumpism? Right away she says, “It was during the nominating convention when Khzir Khan spoke. For me, it was about representation and identification because he looks like a person who could be related to me. To hear him say ‘Do you even know what the constitution says? I will gladly lend you my copy.’ That was a moment where I realized that what makes us Americans is our choice to be Americans. Period. Full stop. That’s it. You don’t have to bleed for the country; you don’t have to die for the country. If we want a just and equitable nation, we have to accept that what makes people Americans is their desire to be Americans. We make a choice. Unlike other nations, we don’t have a shared culture or religion. What we have instead is a set of values and ideals, and they were the foundation of the first functioning democracy. DeTocqueville called us the great experiment- he came here from France to see if it could work, you know? And 250 years later we are still standing as a democracy. It’s remarkable, most don’t last that long. The reason it lasted in my view is that the people who are here are not accidentally here, we all go back to someone who made a choice to take a risk, including those who were brought here as slaves and took the risk to fight for freedom and equality for all.”
So, what is patriotism in 2017 if that’s what defines us as a nation? “It’s about active and engaged citizenship,” Aditi explains, “I think that’s what it’s always been. Different moments have looked different- during World War 2 it was Rosie the Riveter and women going to work and planting victory gardens. At the same time, though, there was Japanese internment and what we get to do as a nation is learn from the failures of the past. We can look with guilt, but not shame.”
She tells me that Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” harkens back to a time that didn’t exist. It ignores the mandate that we acknowledge our mistake so we can grow and learn. “So, I think patriotism is active, engaged citizenship that ensures we do better than we’ve done before.” In the Resistance Manual, that looks like individual volunteers taking ownership of sections and being rigorous in their examination and reporting on a policy issue. She says she hopes that the manual will be able to include a full, factual story on all policy issues. That will require volunteers to continue to engage with her definition of patriotism by dedicating themselves to remaining engaged with government.
Aditi ended by giving some honest advice to people just starting in activism or organizing who might think the work is daunting. “You don’t have to know what you’re doing, ” she says matter-of-factly, “When I created the resistance manual, I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know it would become this. I started making a spreadsheet of policies because I was just trying to keep track and know what the hell was going on and then I shared it with someone who helped me make it public. You don’t have to know what you’re doing every step of the way. I think that there is this notion that you have to have a plan, and you don’t. You can figure it as you go along and you’ll screw up probably, and that’s OK too. You don’t always have to know how it’s going to work out and what’s next. I am as guilty as anyone of wanting to know what comes next.”
Lastly, to young women she says, “When you do something. Take credit for your work. Have your name on it, do an interview, reach out to press. It feels weird, and it feels self-aggrandizing, but I hope our last generation of women was the last generation that had hidden figures in it.”
Edit: The original version of this article did not include Aditi’s mention of African slaves who did not choose to be Americans, but have continued to fight for the rights of all people to have the full benefits of citizenship.