Rachel Ussery, a junior in the School of International Studies, has participated in many aspects of the student activism community at American University.
One of the founding members of Education Not Debt, a campus group which pushes for a tuition freeze, Ussery has also been involved with Fossil Free AU and AU Community Garden. Her entry into activism began with her time at American University.
“I’ve definitely been interested in a lot of social justice issues,” Ussery said. “The town I grew up in didn’t really have an activism scene.”
Although her passion is for climate justice, after spending a semester working on a farm, Ussery’s activism focus has shifted toward food justice and farming, which led to her involvement with AU’s community garden.
Ussery recalled times the AU activist community confronted the Board of Trustees as important milestones for campus activism.
“Those moments have been really powerful in making the administration realize that students are watching what they do,” Ussery said.
The relationship between activism at AU and in D.C. is close, according to Ussery.
“Activism at AU is definitely affected by the fact that we’re in Washington D.C. at the seat of federal government,” she said. “I think it definitely informs what we’re doing.”
Ussery pointed out that since most Americans aren’t able to access D.C. easily, activists at AU have a larger obligation to get involved.
“When we have the chance to make our voice heard on Capitol Hill, or other powerful entities in downtown D.C., I think it’s really important that we’re there,” Ussery said. “Because most people can’t just go downtown within half an hour—but we have that opportunity.”
The new presidency has increased the demand for action by activists, according to Ussery, who “are always kind of waiting for the next big thing to happen with the Trump administration.”
“I think it’s a little more ‘seat-of-our-pants’ activism,” she said.
Trump’s administration has made activists such as Ussery look more outward from campus movements to focus on national issues as well.
“It seems like the situation calls for that with what’s going on in the country, while also integrating that into what we’re doing at AU in terms of making it a sanctuary campus and stuff like that,” she said.
As far as what movements are not receiving the attention they deserve, Ussery believes Black Lives Matter movement is one of the most important and under-reported.
“It doesn’t get the legitimacy and power it deserves,” Ussery said.
In regards to how the election of Donald Trump as president will affect activism, Ussery said she hopes a “new progressive movement” will arise as a result.
“I see a lot of different left-groups kind of coming together for different issues which I think has been really great,” she said. “In terms of immigration, climate, black lives matter stuff, police brutality.”
During the election, Ussery supported Hillary Clinton, but had reservations. Having supported Bernie Sanders at first, Ussery then focused on Clinton, seeing her as a better choice than Trump
“Like a lot of people, I definitely had complex feelings about Hillary Clinton,” Ussery said. “I did vote for her, because I saw Donald Trump, and still see Donald Trump, as a threat that is much greater than she was.”
Ussery acknowledged that there may never be a “perfect candidate” in the presidency, and as a result wanted for a Clinton win.
“At the time I thought it was important for progressives to come behind Hillary to defeat Donald Trump, and here we are,” she said.
Ussery said that although campus activists’ objectives remain the same, she believes the Trump presidency makes activism even more essential, and shifts the way in which it’s carried out.
“It’s more important than ever to be holding universities accountable during these times,” Ussery said. “It doesn’t necessarily change anything that’s going on in universities in terms of our overall goals, I think it changes the urgency, and it changes the perspective through which we’re looking at it.”
The “threat” posed by Donald Trump could hold one redeeming consequence, according to Ussery, which is solidifying and bolstering activism at universities such as AU
“I think the Trump presidency is bringing up a lot of threats that have been there for years, but it’s really coming to the forefront now,” Ussery said. “So I hope that it kind of galvanizes a new generation of campus activism.”