If Jeremy Tjhung has learned anything after a year and a half of immersing himself in Rochester's politically-engaged crowds, it's that smart activism is about efficacy and usefulness.
Since arriving in Rochester in 2018, he's been a fixture at protests and community actions, and has worked with a variety of artists and community groups to boost voter registration.
- Photo by Josh Saunders
"A lot of what I do is not skilled or experienced volunteering and organizing," he said. "I show up and do whatever they ask me to do — phone calls or knocking on doors or stuffing envelopes, whatever it is they need me to do, I'll do."
Tjhung recalled growing up in Akron, New York, the only gay Asian kid in town. He moved to New York City where he enjoyed a career in fashion and retail. But after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, he resolved to get involved in the fight against gun violence. Seeking to channel his feelings of anxiety and despair into something productive, he joined the grassroots organization, Gays Against Guns.
He said he moved to Rochester because he saw in it the potential to have a greater impact, bolstering progressives in a conservative region.
He became involved with the local chapter of Moms Demand Action, a national organization that pushes stronger gun laws, and approached Wall\Therapy about working with the group on a gun violence-themed mural. The result was Brittany Williams's painting of a young man on a wall at Rocky's Pizza, titled "Through Tragedy, There's Hope."
Tjhung also volunteers with the Coalition to End Gun Violence, and is an active member of the local chapter of Indivisible, which works year-round to increase voter registration.
"I really respect the fact that they found a channel for people to put all of their energy and their rage and their dissatisfaction," Tjhung said. "It's one of those things where you get a quantifiable sense of accomplishment when you leave, say, MCC and you've got a fat stack of voter registrations."
He figures he has registered more than 200 people since September of 2019, and plans to continue this push in 2020, focusing on college campuses.
In July, he led a group art-making project as part of "Depatriarchalizing Women/Femmes Bodies," an event in the "At the Crossroads: Activating the Intersection of Art and Justice" series held on the grounds of Planned Parenthood in Rochester. He was also a guest programmer for the Memorial Art Gallery's pre-Pride events and sits on the committee for the museum's coming AIDS poster project. Tjhung will speak on January 23 in The MAG's Passion Projects lecture series.
After a flurry of actions and protests, Tjhung said he wants to focus more on connecting with individual people.
- Photo by Josh Saunders
"If we can get 300 people in Washington Square Park together, chances are we already know each other," Tjhung said. "Chances are, we're already on the same team. But it's going out and having these little interactions with people one-on-one that are not there for the purpose of demonstrating their dissatisfaction, that means more."
Tjhung is also interested in finding effective ways to convey the importance of local elections to young adults, and said he intends to be a regular at monthly meetings of the Monroe County Legislature.
"What I do know is that the Republicans in the County Legislature need to be watched like hawks," Tjhung said. "So I'm looking forward to the second Tuesday of every month. I'll be there to clap or hiss or whatever so that they know that the public is watching them."