On the day of the Women's March in Washington, D.C., Holly McKinney stood in a sea of pink pussy hats on a train platform and spotted a man and his teenage son sporting red "Make America Great Again" caps. McKinney thought she knew how the Trump supporters felt. When she had arrived in D.C. during the presidential inauguration the day before, she and a friend had been the only pink-hatted passengers on a train full of red caps. Buoyed by the goodwill and inspirational speeches of the Women's March, she decided to reach out.
"I just said, 'Hey, how are you guys doing?'" she says. "That was the extent of it, but just the look of relief in their faces to have someone acknowledge them and say hello was crazy."
McKinney returned home to Carrboro riding a wave of excitement, both from the march and from her small act of reconciliation on the Metro platform. She wrote to legislators, signed petitions, and kept up with the news about increasingly divisive executive orders and policies. Those actions felt important, but they did not feel personal.
"I started thinking, What do I have to offer that other people might not?" she says. It turns out the answer lived in her own home. McKinney is married to comic book author Brockton McKinney, the creative director of NC Comicon, which is held at the Durham Convention Center. "I said, 'I have an idea: Resistance Con. Are you on board?' He said yes, and that was it."
Then a small team, which also includes panel director Amy Fader and director of volunteers Christy Dixon, put together an impressive lineup for the event's June 3 debut at the convention center. Panels on intersectionality, violence against transgender people, and protesters' rights; musical and spoken-word performances; workshops on "craftivism" and zine-making; and the presence of local and national nonprofits will combine to help attendees "celebrate diversity and learn how to effectively challenge the current climate of exclusivity." A June 2 pre-party at Motorco (featuring music from Kamara Thomas, Pie Face Girls, Mary Johnson Rockers, and JooseLord Magnus) and a "resistance karaoke" after-party at the Pinhook make this an ambitious, diverse debut.
"I feel like Holly has succeeded even before this event has taken place because it's so important to connect with activists in our own community, to learn from one another, and to build relationships, alliances, and friendships," says Krista Bremer, author and associate publisher of The Sun magazine, where McKinney works as office manager.
Bremer, a convert to Islam who wrote a memoir about her marriage to a Libyan-born Muslim, will be in conversation with writer Melody Moezzi and activist/chef Vimala Rajendran on the panel "Maintaining Strength and Pride Amidst the Rise of Anti-Immigrant and Anti-Islam Sentiment." Bremer hopes to share a lesson she learned on her book tour, one that is pertinent to Resistance Con's goals.
"What I have discovered is that strength comes from connecting to real people," she says. "My experience with them has taught me that they're much more open-hearted, open-minded, and naturally wise about the shared common ground among major faiths than the media would like us to believe."
McKinney hopes the convention, which will donate all proceeds to the ACLU, will also consolidate a common calling to resist not just particular policies or politicians but any rhetoric or cultural ethos that polarizes, rather than unites, human beings—the kind of divisions that would make two people in pussy hats nervous in a crowd of red hats, and vice versa.
One embodiment of that form of resistance is VALIDnation, an interactive performance-art piece by nationally noted Durham artist Stacey L. Kirby. Attendees will speak with Kirby about themselves, their lifestyles, and their freedoms, and an ID card will be filled out, marked "valid," and sent to legislators as a symbol of the validity of all lives.
"I feel like 'resistance' is one of those words that anyone can understand," says writer, educator, and organizer Dasan Ahanu, who will give a spoken-word performance at Resistance Con. "To resist you have to take a stand and you have to be in line with what it is that you believe and what you think should happen. At this point in my life, after years of organizing and activism, I don't want to convene for the sake of convening. I just want to know that I'm showing up somewhere where people are going to be rooted. I feel like this is going to be this kind of event."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Mounting Resistance."