Yanik Dumont Baron and Christian Latreille, CBC/Radio-Canada
Kristin Freeman, an extraordinary guardian
Missoula, Montana. A cool night had fallen when Kristin Freeman came to the small house of Congolese refugees. Hardly the door ajar, shouts of joy flared.
The muffins that the guest had prepared quickly disappeared, the bag of paper carried by the hands of four excited children. The septuagenarian had come to teach English to their mother; she was welcomed as if she were their favorite grandmother.
No doubt, it is an unusual tutor who entered this house. A woman very different from the one who watched with concern the rise to power of Donald Trump in 2016, the popularity of his ideas of withdrawal, closing the borders.
“I have heard such infamous things. People said, “If we let immigrants in, they will rape our children.” “A repeated speech around her, in a Montana that almost never welcomes refugees.
Because of Donald Trump’s speeches and ideas, Kristin Freeman is convinced that she suffers from depression. The specialists’ solution surprised her: going back to the trenches, volunteering, getting involved. No need for medication!
“This is not the time to relax,” said one of these specialists. Instead, “show the foreigners that they are appreciated, that you care about them”, that they are welcome in a country that closes its borders to foreigners.
Teaching rather than drugs
A tip received as an electroshock. In a few weeks, Kristin Freeman is accredited to teach English to refugees. Among those she sees most often, there is this Congolese family to whom she brings muffins.
Mrs. Freeman walks slowly, leaning on a cane. A rhythm that hides an overflowing energy. She has a smile sometimes teasing and conversation very easy.
Tonight, Kristin Freeman’s lesson touches the basic vocabulary used at the grocery store. Very practical for Chantal Nyiramanza, hired as packer in a supermarket.
His pupil obviously appreciates. Young mother with an embarrassed smile, Chantal spent nearly 20 years in a refugee camp. She spoke only one African dialect when she arrived in Montana a year and a half ago. At 28, she could not read or write.
The task of mentoring can seem daunting. In Kristin Freeman’s eyes, the experience is rather a blessing.
“Giving heals depression. It makes me forget my own sadness. It drives me to listen, to give. “
The arrival of Donald Trump in politics coincided with the wave of refugees fleeing Iraq and Syria. The images of this drama pushed a group of Missoula to open its doors to foreigners.
People arrived in the middle of an election campaign, in a state that largely supports Donald Trump. In a year and a half, Missoula has welcomed thirty families, a little over a hundred people. That’s not enough in a country that admitted nearly 85,000 refugees in 2016.
The host targets were cut in half by the Trump administration. But experience allows Kristin Freeman to show some optimism. “I am hopeful that this movement will continue and that it will compensate for all this negativity. “
Joe Billie, Trump supporter
Aston, Pennsylvania. Fox News plays muted. Near the TV, a book, Congress for Dummies . Congress for Dummies.
“It’s a friend who bought it at the joke,” says Joe Billie, a little embarrassed. He quickly hid it, before adding: “We still learn interesting things. “
This book, Joe Billie needs it; factory worker, former soldier, he goes into politics. A dive into an unknown universe.
To dislodge another republican
An adventure inspired by the success of the most unlikely politicians: Donald Trump. His win convinced Joe Billie to stop chewing and take action. “He broke the glass ceiling, I thought,” I can probably do the same thing. “
Father Joe Billie hopes to dislodge one of the elected officials who has represented his region in Congress for seven years. The latter does not support enough President Trump, according to him. It is therefore a Republican who wants to replace another Republican.
“The elites here fill their pockets and our taxes go up. There is no more honesty, no more integrity. I want to help people. “
The aspiring politician stands tall, wearing short hair, probably a habit acquired in the navy. “The country needs my help. I can do more, positive things. “
What Joe Billie wants to change is what he sees around him. The bad health care for veterans, the rising health insurance premiums, the good jobs that are disappearing at his plant.
Already in the countryside
A political adventure that takes up practically all his time. There are those hands to hold, those interviews to give, the gifts to solicit, the political details to master.
Joe Billie puts his big cup of coffee on the kitchen table. His home is his headquarters, the place where he plans his unlikely race.
At his side, there is his wife and two political science students who sometimes sit at the dining table with their laptop. Her campaign manager had to withdraw after the death of her husband.
“It’s hard to find people who have the time to do that. I can not afford to pay someone. For the moment, Joe Billie is fishing in the family savings.
He also receives donations from the public. Small amounts: $ 10 or $ 15. A support that is worth gold in his eyes, he who faces a well-established opponent and well financed.
The TV is still on at Fox News. Nearby, there is a red cap, similar to that popularized by Donald Trump.
The white embroidered message on the cap recalls the president’s slogan: America First Candidates. It’s a group of Americans who think like Joe Billie, political reinforcements for Donald Trump.
Joe Billie already sees his entry into the US Congress, alongside compatriots. “We are not politicians, we are ordinary people who want to improve their country. “
Catherine Callow-Heusser, a Republican vs. Trump
Park City, Utah. It’s not just the Democrats who have been fighting Donald Trump since his election. Many Republicans are also in revolt against this president with the sometimes cavalier ways, even rough, with the women.
This is the case of Catherine Callow-Heusser, 61, doctor of education, who wishes to be a candidate for the Republican Party in 2018. She aims high. Nothing less than a seat in Washington to represent one of the four electoral districts in Utah.
” I do not have a choice. If I want to win in Utah, I have to campaign under the Republican banner, otherwise I have no chance of being elected. “
This professor, also a computer engineer, has a quiet strength. A force she wants to use to transform the Republican Party from within. A party she does not recognize anymore. A political formation whose program, according to her, reflects less and less the traditional values of the Republicans.
The arrival of the Tea Party candidates eight years ago pushed the party far more to the right, she says.
“I have never seen the United States as divided as it is today. The political climate is so polarized that we can not even talk calmly with the Democrats. Since my family is for Trump, we decided to avoid politics. “
According to Catherine Callow-Heusser, Americans are nervous. We do not know exactly what will happen. Will Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation lead to the removal of Trump? Will he be running again in 2020? We do not know. “
Already a clever politician, she still helps the White House leader to avoid alienating the electorate of Utah, where Trump was elected with 45% of the vote.
It has been a long time since this republican, who flirted with libertarians and who was also an independent electrician, wanted to engage in politics. The election of the real estate mogul was for her the starting signal.
“It’s a huge risk that I take, admits this novice. I leave a good job with a good salary and colleagues I love. I had to start a small business to get some income during my campaign. “
The election of Donald Trump has created a lot of anxiety, she says.“Besides, that’s what he does better than playing with people’s fear.For those who do not support his presidency, we are still wondering what damage he will cause to the country. “
Resist and fight
The mother of four and grandmother of 12 grandchildren notes that Trump’s arrival in Washington has at least reduced American political apathy. “Resistance across the country is a sign of change. “
“Americans will continue to fight for freedom of expression. This is the basis of who we are. I travel a lot and every time I come back to the United States, I repeat that there is nowhere else I would like to live. I will always be proud to be an American “, even if she is not very proud at the moment of her president.
Ayaz Virji, the recalcitrant popularizer
Dawson, Minnesota. Ayaz Virji is a doctor in a city of 1540 inhabitants of Minnesota. 42 years old, father of three children. A man with easy laugh, pushed in front of the spotlight despite himself.
The doctor is also a Muslim in a community that voted for Donald Trump. His patients supported a politician who claims that Islam “hates us”.
Which places Ayaz Virji and his family in a very special situation.
It was from homework that he chose to plant roots in Dawson three years ago. This desire to help those who do not have access to good health care.
It is also from duty that he is in this auditorium of a small farming town. This desire to iron out differences.
Trump’s victory, Ayaz Virji made it a personal affair. “I felt completely betrayed. I was angry. I did not understand. “
Backwards, Ayaz Virji has agreed to explain her faith to her community. A quarter of the city came for this first unusual meeting.For more than 90 minutes, the doctor spoke of Islam and terrorism.
Then there was a second in the nearby city. There, he was badly received, he was called “antichrist”. The confrontation shook him.
Should he continue? Wear a bullet-proof jacket for future encounters? Follow in his brother’s footsteps, immigrate to Canada?
“I can spend my day complaining […] or doing something against it.Ayaz Virji displays the conviction of one who knows the good side, that of virtue, of logic. But that role, he does not really want it. He prefers to treat his patients.
Ayaz Virji reassures the crowd gathered tonight: he does not want to convert anyone. His message is simple: do not trust appearances. We must think before judging.
“Once we humanize each other, it’s harder to put people in boxes. “
Ayaz Virji comes with good intentions, but he also arrives prepared, protected. Since he publicly speaks of his faith, he has received insults and two death threats.
That’s why the doctor’s henchman came armed tonight. Doug Peterson sat in the crowd; he hides a small revolver on him. Just in case.
Tonight, the discussion went well, but it’s not always that way and he can not convince everyone. Recently, he received an anonymous letter. The author compared his message of peace and tolerance to false news and he attacked Islam.
His message, Ayaz Virji carried it in front of more than a thousand Americans and many others have heard of him. “I’m human,” he explains, “not a hero. I have bad days. Moments when he is discouraged.
Then the doctor remembers dozens of letters of encouragement from across the country. Letters he keeps preciously in his office. “The message goes beyond Islamophobia,” he says. […] It is to the exclusion that we must attack. “
Ayaz Virji puts his hand on the pile of letters, visibly touched by the support of pure strangers. These encouragements is his fuel for the future. “If it’s not me, who will? “
Susana Isaacson and Susan Symington, inseparable friends
Arlington, Virginia. They are about the same age, both wear glasses and have known each other for a quarter of a century. Two long-time friends; two women with almost identical name.
Susana Isaacson was raised in Romania by Jewish parents. Susan Symington was born in California, before leaving for Latin America with her missionary parents.
Their friendship formed in the offices of a government agency in the suburbs of Washington. A relationship based on common values, an affinity for Spanish and Latin countries. A friendship of 25 years shaken by the presidential election.
Susana Isaacson is a democrat; Susan Symington is Republican.
After the election, a silence
After Donald Trump’s win, friends avoided talking to each other for a few days. A funny silence for two women who know each other well enough to effortlessly complete each other’s sentences.
“Then Susan sent me a text message and asked,” Are you still talking to me? “” The Democrat replied, “Of course.” “I was angry,” she continues, “I was very upset, but I was not going to let that ruin my friendship with Susan Symington! “
For the friendship to continue, it was necessary to recognize the earthquake, the shock of values, and to agree to speak of these political differences, of these ideological positions, sometimes very different.
“This election forced us to talk about it openly, explains the Republican, it forced us to consider the reasons why we think so. And also to see what we have in common, despite very different political ideas. “
Workshops to bring together
This desire to understand the other without hurting her and breaking a long friendship led the two women to the band Better Angels. An organization founded during the election campaign to bring together the two camps of Americans who look at each other with growing mistrust.
In the Better Angels workshops, blue (liberal) and red (conservative) citizens learn to listen and speak without hurting or denigrating.There is also a lot of talk about the stereotypes associated with the other side.
In fact, Better Angels is a kind of call to order, an obligation to take an interest in the other side. The democrat Susana Isaacson admits it. “I was one of those people in a bubble and I was in my bubble. “
The election of Donald Trump forced her out of this bubble. No need to do it every day, says Susan Symington.
“You have to want to have conversations without shouting or pounding the table. “
Even for two women who have known each other for a few decades, the exercise opened the eyes and drove away prejudices. “It was very revealing. Not a demon among [the liberals], “says Susan, before laughing a little.
“That’s exactly it,” adds Susana. It brings us all back to the human scale. She weighs her words, speaks slowly. “Nobody wants death either of the other or of their party. What we want is a conversation. “
Jon Lapham, the warrior against false news
Berkeley, California. Jon Lapham readily admits it: he eats information, but he is also a skeptic. Adolescent, his favorite book was 1984 , this portrait painted by Georges Orwell of a society under surveillance where information is manipulated by the people in power.
Of course, the 2016 election did not plunge the United States into a similar universe, but there is the false news, the twisted facts, the opinions presented as an objective reality. And a president who contradicts himself, who relays falsehoods.
” It’s frustrating. The President is expected to be well informed. He’s a man who leans a lot towards opinion [rather than facts] and I do not think many Americans make the difference. “
It is this mixture of genres that worries him. “I do not want the information to be diluted with all these biased sources and opinions.Because we start to question everything. We do not know where the truth is. “
At age 24, Jon Lapham does not know where to turn to fully understand the world.
“There is a war on journalism these days. Everyone says that the information of the other is not credible. “
A situation complicated by the attraction of the gain. A lot of the texts circulating on the web are produced by people who “only do it for clicks. That’s what brings them money. “
Jon Lapham takes a skeptical look at the information that circulates to him, especially if it comes to him through social networks. “And it often ends in baffles. There are no more productive conversations. “
Compare to find out
Since the presidential election, Jon Lapham does not inquire in the same way. He consults several sources of information online. He prefers to compare, it is a duty he makes.
Jon Lapham also spends a lot of time on Tribeworthy, a site where news is classified and criticized by readers. We mention the weaknesses of a text, it highlights whether it relays facts or opinions, a bit like Yelp or TripAdvisor.
This site is one of many methods found by Americans to try to see it more clearly in a society where information has become a political weapon and where controversial issues are used to divide, to ignite passions .
Jon Lapham was first attracted to Tribeworthy because he knows his creators. He also contributes to the site by offering his evaluations of information texts. One way to correct a weakness, to break an old model in which “information flows in only one direction”.
He believes that these evaluations make it possible to see more clearly, to refine shared information. “As an engineer, I communicate information to people who do not have the same technical knowledge as me. I can see that we do not always understand each other. “
Curious and open
This way of getting information also influences his conversations with his parents, two supporters of President Donald Trump who sometimes argue with their rather progressive son, who supported Bernie Sanders. An informed, critical son who wants to build bridges.
At the beginning of this year – and in this era of false news – Jon Lapham makes two wishes: that Americans “be more curious about the information” they consume and that they are more open to the opinions of others.
He hopes the Americans will stop seeing everything with partisan glasses, “open up to the other, realize that the majority of people live in gray.”
Joanna Smith, a Mormon who resists Trump
Salt Lake City, Utah. Joanna Smith, 35, was struck by the election of Donald Trump. This mother of four was scared like never before.
“When I knew that this man was going to be our president, I went to my 11-year-old daughter in her room in the middle of the night, and we cried a lot. “
His state, Utah, is one of the most religious and conservative in the United States. Republicans reign there as kings and masters since 1968.
Joanna Smith had always voted for Ronald Reagan’s party before the 2016 presidential election.
“I did not think Trump was going to win,” she said. I did not see in him any quality to govern or to bring the country together.Americans have underestimated its vulgarity, some of its policies and the accusations of sexual assault that still weigh against him. “
According to Joanna, many women in Utah already regret having voted for Donald Trump.
Militating against Trump
This Mormon woke up after the election determined to fight against Donald Trump. Joanna has become an activist overnight and is campaigning to counter the billionaire’s right-wing policies.
She formed the Utah Women Unite group, one of the 6,000 resistance groups in the United States, born out of Trump’s election.
“The people around me did try to convince me to give him a chance so he could change the country for the better, but his anti-immigration and anti-women policies convinced me that we should not wait to act. “
Since that year, this energetic woman, who taught her four children at home, is from all the galleries. Sometimes in the midst of a demonstration against the Republican tax reform, sometimes supporting the Dreamers, these undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors, who are now threatened with deportation.
Joanna also broadcasts live on Facebook.
Mobilize to change things
“Donald Trump is dangerous and terrifying,” she says, “not just for Utah, but for the entire United States. He is president because he wants attention, which makes us all very vulnerable as US citizens. “
She sees, however, in Donald Trump’s election a positive aspect: women came together and took action. “I realized that I was not alone. And that is a very powerful engine to change things. “
But there is a price to pay in Utah to get out of the ranks. And Joanna Smith is paying for it right now.
“My political activism has made me lose friends for a long time. I broke ties with my family who do not share my political ideas. It’s difficult. “
She spent Thanksgiving, an even bigger party than Christmas in the United States, alone with her four children and her husband.
“The story was written by people who dared to speak and get involved,” says the mother. Women must stop being afraid. This time is over. “
Yanik Dumont Baron journalist, Christian Latreille journalist, Marie-Pier Mercierillustrator, Catherine-Amelie Meury research journalist, Marcel Calfat director, Mathieu St-Laurent developer