After the election of Donald Trump, Aditi Juneja realized that staying informed on how the country was changing was going to be challenging but critical.
An NYU law student, Juneja decided to track everything she could about the new administration’s proposed policies and actions affecting issues such as immigration, health care, policing, and reproductive rights.
“Policy can seem like a thing in DC that has nothing to do with your life,” she said. “What I wanted to draw attention to is that regardless of who you are, policy does impact your life in some meaningful way.”
Her efforts turned into a Wikipedia-style, open source guide called the Resistance Manual, where the public can contribute information about state and local elections, proposed legislation, executive actions, rallies, resources, and events.
As one of the main editors of the Resistance Manual, Juneja oversees a diverse team of volunteers who keep issue-specific pages up to date. I spoke to her on how she’s creating an inclusive, intersectional movement and why she believes democratizing the organizing process is the key to progress.
This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell me about the origins of the Resistance Manual? Why did you think something like this was necessary?
[After the election,] I was trying to track in a spreadsheet all the policy stuff that Trump was saying and what was going to happen in health care and immigration, etc. I shared this with Sam Sinyangwe, the co-founder at Campaign Zero and Stay Woke. He worked with a team of technologists and volunteers to create a platform to share the information. We decided on creating a Wikipedia-style platform. I was thinking about the audience, content, and approach, kind of something like what Vox does, to make policy accessible to people and also, more importantly, to make it impactful.
Policy can seem like a thing in DC that has nothing to do with your life. What I wanted to draw attention to is that regardless of who you are, policy does impact your life in some meaningful way. The Affordable Care Act is not just a piece of legislation. Who gets appointed in the administration is important. It’s not winners and losers, it’s not about Yay, my side won. It allows people to live, allows them to work, allows them to participate in society, and that matters.
We’re writing for people who have limited vocabulary either because of education or for non-native English speakers. For example, we have a page on Supreme Court nominations, and we explain what cloture is. We have a page on impeachment, and we explain how the impeachment process works and what kind of offenses there are. In our current news and media environment, especially with Twitter, a lot of nuances are lost. This is not to dumb down the information in any way. We don’t want to miss out on the nuance but rather explain it.
Why make it open source?
Partnering with Campaign Zero and Stay Woke, their ethos is crowdsourcing information, so that was embedded in the partnership. I like that as an approach particularly for something like this because, one, it’s practical. The information is coming very fast, so if it’s open source and allows other people to contribute, then it doesn’t fall on one person to do that.
Two, I have limited expertise. I’m a law student, so I have legal expertise, but I don’t know all the ways to resist. I’m a new activist. I’m not an expert in the environment or housing and construction. This allows us to draw on lots of different kinds of people.
More importantly, it’s the fact that in a democracy, everyone should get to participate. If you are resisting a person who has authoritarian tendencies, that quashes dissent, it is important that the resistance is as democratic as possible. The way a movement is structured and operates informs the outcome you’ll get. If the movement is racist, you will have a racist outcome. If the movement is ableist, you will have an ableist outcome. For what we are opposing, it’s particularly salient that we have an open, democratic platform for organizing. It’s not just about the ideology; it’s about the process.
How do you ensure that the Resistance Manual remains truthful and accurate and can be seen as a credible source when there are so many concerns about media bias?
We have content guidelines within the community that are posted on the main page and every subpage, but what we tell our volunteers is for every factual piece of information, we include a citation. We have citations for everything. I’m a law student, so I have citations after every sentence. We live in a hyperpolarized environment, so I try to encourage content contribution and people to source from sites that are considered nonpartisan to the extent that’s possible.
Even if we’re sending an opposition to a Republican president, it would be better to source from Republican news sites like the Heritage Foundation as opposed to a left-leaning foundation. We also try to source from think tanks rather than news outlets. I encourage contributors to not take straight from the news outlet but use the sources from the news outlets. News outlets have limited amount of space so you don’t always get to the nuance. Things get glossed over. We have space, so we don’t have those kinds of constraints.
I really try to encourage people not to be afraid to be critical of any political party of people on the left. We can hold competing ideas at the same time. The way you get to the best kind is by debating the solutions. We should learn to be able to hold conflicting notions and ideas. Policy is inherently complicated. The reason these things haven’t been sorted out yet is because they come with emotional and moral questions. We have this ethos of justice and equity. It’s not what is right and wrong but more about how we get to what is right and what is wrong. We can hold two competing notions if they are both based in fact.
My personal view on this election was not everything was based in fact. Like abortion access, there is absolutely no evidence that access to abortion or choice makes women unhappy. That’s a lie that women’s mental health suffers. There is no evidence to back that up. If there was, I would be fine to include that in the manual. We’d say, “We believe that access to abortion is important, because it’s safe and it’s a choice, however this study says this.” ... We’d allow readers to read that and decide on the information that is presented to them. Where there are challenges and issues, there should be caveats.
For Trump’s executive order on entry to the country, there was no competing narrative. The seven countries that he put a ban on, there was no competing narrative to say there was any kind of safety concern. There was nothing there, no alternative. If there was, it would have been fair to share that information, but that information does not exist. So I think from my viewpoint, again, it’s not party-based. We’re nonpartisan. When we talk about elections, there are Democrats not running for office because of scandal or corruption, and we’re happy to share that information. If you follow our ethos of justice and equity, and your idea does, then we’re happy to share it.
What role does intersectionality play in the Resistance Manual’s design and approach?
For us, the creation of the Resistance Manual was an exercise of intersectionality. The goal was to try to demonstrate how all of these seemingly different issue areas are related and are important. What we try to do in our team and team leads wasn’t intentional. I was only looking for who was the most actively engaged, but I’m glad to see that, statistically, we’re almost perfectly representative of America across age, LGBT, race — we’re super diverse, and for that I’m really glad, because it brings in all people.
The point isn’t diversity but inclusion. The point is to bring in different viewpoints. What can be challenging as someone who is trying to champion inclusion and intersectionality is that I still see things through my viewpoint and intentions. It takes some humility to be responsive to concerns people bring to you and not be defensive and be responsive, and realize if something is important for a group’s advocacy or activism, then it’s worth listening to, even if I feel it’s being accurately represented.
It’s a challenge having as many voices at the table as possible. We’re fairly representative, but because of the nature of our work, we have a liberal bend. And because it’s policy, we have an educational skew where our people have higher levels of education. I’ve tried in terms of language to be accessible to all educational backgrounds and then in terms of ideology.
I have been recently been making an effort to read more about moral and political psychology and share that with people on the manual and say this is the kind of value message that appeals to conservatives and the kind of value message that appeals to liberals, or these are traps we might ourselves fall into because we think they are important. It’s not to change the information, but if we frame it with certain value messages, it might appeal more to a broader variety of people, such as emphasizing fairness and those politically neutral values.
I think one of the big things is really about trying to make it about ideas and not individuals. The policy ideas we’re seeing in this administration have existed before Trump and will be there after Trump. The Affordable Care Act was a Republican idea. Before Obama, it was Romneycare. If Trump doesn’t get elected after four years, or doesn’t last his term for whatever reason, the ideas will outlast him. They are embedded in his administration and our political system. So it’s important to focus on the ideas.
How do you account for people not able to engage in activism either for safety or because it’s hard on their mental health and well-being? How important is that to address in envisioning effective activism and an inclusive resistance movement?
I think that’s important. One of the things we try to do in our “Ways to Resist” section is to give lots of ways to resist. I have a disability. I am nervous attending a protest because if I was to be arrested at a protest and not have access to my medication, that would be a problem. That would be a tamer end of reality for many people.
There’s no one way to resist. Some of them are political actions; some are not. We have a link for technologists who want to work on tools. We list protests and town halls but also online events. Resistance has to be accessible not just about language or ability. That’s hugely important.
We have a number of people with disabilities working on the manual, and they have expressed to me that it’s empowering to have a way to participate because oftentimes online activism or hashtag activism gets made fun of or looked down on. There’s no doubt that an important part of activism is making sure people know what’s happening.
In our Slack channel, we have self-care ideas where people can share or scream and vent. If you’re a team lead, you have to keep up with the news, but it’s okay to not read for the day. There’s a balance between being informed and being saturated. We also have a place for self-care resources on the site because we’re mindful that this work can be emotionally, physically, and intellectually draining in various ways.
What are the issues that activists need to be more aware of?
One issue I think people aren’t paying attention to is voter rights and the laws that create more voter suppression and make it more difficult for people to vote. If you look through the Cabinet and administration appointments, they don't have a lot of things in common, but many of them have assaults on voting rights in common, which is a thread that I have not seen explored.
I know it’s maybe a less exciting topic, but I think it’s a fundamental topic. Your vote is your voice. A handful of calls to a state legislator might make a big difference. We have tools about that in the manual, and we have information on the bills being proposed.