He’s a force, a fundraiser like they’ve never seen before.
In one weekend, President Donald Trump helped raise $24 million for the American Civil Liberties Union, right after it took a stand against his proposed travel ban in February.
Other progressive nonprofits - Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Watch, the Natural Resources Defense Council, even the tiny, D.C.-based La Clinica del Pueblo - have all seen big spikes in fundraising from people eager to protest Trump’s policies.
He has not only inspired folks to open their wallets, he’s also helped raise a small army of newbie activists. Folks like English teacher Natalie Rebetsky, who never thought of herself as a political person or partisan activist. Until now.
Before Trump, Rebetsky was known as the colorful chair of the English department of Linganore High School in Frederick, Maryland, whose only involvement with the White House was a mild obsession with the annual White House Easter Egg roll – the largest annual public event at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., with 35,000 people attending last year.
She has almost two dozen commemorative White House Easter eggs on display in her kitchen. You can touch anything in her Easter egg collection. Just not the White House ones.
When her kids were little, she’d wake them up before dawn, get them in their Easter best and drive them to the White House.
There, they’d wait hours to get through the gates to the South Lawn for the Easter Egg roll. That’s how it was done back then, before tickets were handed out through a lottery system.
“And you get there, and it’s magical. We were always in awe, to be at the White House,” she said.
Year after year they did it, and each year she loved adding whatever colorful, wooden egg the White House designed to commemorate the event. Pastels, primary colors. Elaborate, minimalist. Republican, Democrat, didn’t matter.
“I didn’t care who was president when I went on the White House lawn. You just always knew the person in the White House is looking out for us and our children,” she said.
“I just don’t feel that with this administration,” she said. “Donald Trump has broken that trust with families and children.”
When March came around, the time folks usually start making their Easter Egg roll plans, the White House had yet to announce they were holding the event. The folks who make those commemorative eggs began egging the administration on over Twitter, begging them to submit their plans. They even began to worry Trump wasn’t going to hold the annual event.
Rebetsky looked at the egg collection, wondering if there would be a 2017 egg. And that was the first time she realized she would have political feelings about a Trump egg. Would she even want one this year?
That gave her an idea. What if she made an alternative egg? And her life as the alt-egg lady began.
“You’re not doing this nutty thing,” he husband told her, when she proposed raiding her own family’s nest egg of $5,000 to fund making her own egg.
“It’s really hard for all of us to jump out of our armchairs and be activists,” she said. But she wanted to make a point.
So she talked to a marketing guy the family knows. Her heart was pounding in her chest when she called him with her scheme: What if she sold an alternative Easter egg to raise funds specifically for PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts, two organizations on Trump’s budgetary chopping block?
“I can’t stand to imagine a world where there is no federal support of the arts,” she said. “It’s a first for me to put myself out on this issue.”
The guy loved the idea. So she called the woodworkers in Maine, Wells Wood Turning & Finishing, and they agreed to make a batch of 1,000. She took a deep breath and put $5,000 down.
She would ask people to send $15 for the eggs – $5 to cover the cost, $10 to donate to the arts. That should raise $10,000.
She went to teens she knows to ask their help in launching her gofundme.com page. She went to the post office to get advice on how to handle a huge mailing. And she waited.
A month after she started the campaign, the White House announced they would be holding the Easter Egg roll on April 17. And the wood workers had to work flat out to make the massive White House order in time.
“Our team has hopped to this year’s production requirements,” said Simon Varney, one of the owners of Wells Wood. “Manufacturing the eggs is a multi-step process that involves turning each piece from yellow birch on a high-capacity lathe machine, trimming the ends for shape, sanding, barrel painting with various colors and then rapidly printing images and signatures, in different ink colors, on each side of the eggs.
Before the White House order, they finished Rebetsky’s eggs.
Her kitchen filled with 1,000 wooden eggs. Then the orders started rolling in. She and her sister now spend evenings at the kitchen table, packaging and addressing the little wooden eggs, which say “Protect Our Children’s Future 2017,” with a cute sketch of dancing Easter bunnies.
One idea, one kitchen table, and more than $13,000 raised so far as of Monday.
“I may be one person,” Rebetsky said, “but I hope that this campaign will help to deliver my message.”
Mission accomplished, alt-egg lady.
Petula Dvorak is a columnist for The Washington Post.