Valparaiso residents Sheila Sweeney and Julie Biggs had different reactions when Donald Trump was elected president nearly two years ago.

Sweeney said she was sickened and Biggs said while Trump was not her first choice, she was relieved Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton did not win.

But one thing the women have in common is that they have joined others across the nation in ramping up their political involvement in what has become an increasingly partisan nation in the wake of the 2016 election.

"It was red-alert time when Trump got elected," Sweeney said. "This is not a drill. This is an emergency."

Sweeney, 47, said she grew up in a union family in Chicago and has been politically active enough in her life that she volunteered to knock on doors in Indianapolis 10 years ago in support of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

But like many other people, her political activism took a back seat to her job, until Trump's victory and the hope she was given by then-presidential Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.

Sweeney stepped up her activism and joined Progressives in Action NWI and is now a leader in the group. She then co-founded NWI Medicare for All in November, which has the aim of establishing single-payer healthcare coverage.

"If nothing else, I guess I can thank Trump for my increased civic participation, as well as others," she said. "I'm no longer asleep."

Biggs, 71, said she also has been politically active for most of her life, but recently left her native state of California primarily because she felt powerless there as a Republican.

"We have no say in what is happening in California and in the future of California," she said. "We felt politically and economically disadvantaged."

The state is far more left-leaning than Biggs was comfortable with and has a tax system that she said is geared to take money way from the people.

Biggs moved in October to Indiana, where her son lives and feels more at home in a mostly red state.

Having retired as an attorney, Biggs said she now has more time to be politically active, which she is doing by helping out the Porter County Republicans. She took over the production of the group's newsletter and serves on the executive committee.

"I'm doing more," she said.

Young people feel more empowered

There also has been a small, but significant surge in the number of young people who say they feel politically empowered, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV.

The poll targeted people ages 15 to 34, a group that is typically the least likely to vote, and found that 46 percent believe they can have at least a moderate effect — which is a significant increase from two months earlier, when 37 percent said the same.

Gary resident Ruth Needleman, who has been fighting for a variety of human rights causes here and abroad since college in the 1960s, said she has noticed an increase in activism across the Region.

"What I'm seeing is more activism in pockets, particularly among women," said the former professor of labor studies at Indiana University Northwest in Gary.

Needleman led a recent "Keeping Families Together" protest outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Hammond decrying Trump's immigration policies and the city of Gary's mayor not taking a harder stance against the Gary/Chicago International Airport deporting undocumented immigrants. Needleman also leads near-weekly protests at the airport. 

The #MeToo movement has recently brought greater attention to the problems of sexual harassment and assault among women.

Needleman said women also have been activated by gun violence, school shootings and environmental concerns, such as the recent lead poisoning discovery in a residential area of East Chicago.

Black Lives Matter has helped pave the way with the awareness it has brought to police violence, she said.

Backed by BLM's local chapter in Gary, a grieving mother is fighting the courts for more information about her 15-year-old son Kemonte Cobbs' shooting death by police in August. 

Cobbs was the youngest of five suspects accused in a string of violent cellphone store robberies and was allegedly armed and fleeing arrest when he was shot last summer. But critics of the Gary Police Department argue police used excessive force when they shot at him. 

There also is the Green Party, progressive Democrats and local groups such as the Blue Valpo Facebook group ramping up efforts. 

"This is pulling people into activism," Needleman said. "This is a wonderful thing."

Countless environmental groups have increasingly organized protests in the Region, too, particularly in heavily industrialized, urban communities such as Gary and East Chicago to call attention to local and national issues.

Many of the rallies have decried the scaling back of air, water and soil regulations, along with budget and program cuts, under former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, who resigned July 6 in a mire of controversy. 

In Gary, young students from Steel City Academy, a charter school, and environmental attorneys from the Hoosier Environmental Council also have spearheaded rallies this year. 

The rallies have largely protested a former East Chicago city councilman's plans to build a waste/recycling facility next door to the school in the city's Glen Park section.

And in recent weeks, a Gary city councilwoman has repeatedly refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance during meetings, a direct response to Trump's decision to dis-invite the Philadelphia Eagles over disagreements on NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. 

Activism taking different forms

Hebron resident Lisa Beck said she formed Northwest Indiana Supporting Women during the summer of 2016.

The group supports female candidates, but Beck wanted to get even closer to the action, so she threw her hat in the ring last summer as a Democratic candidate in the District 19 Indiana House race against incumbent Republican Julie Olthoff.

"How can I ask other women to run if I'm not willing to run?" she asked.

She is aware of the challenge she took on, but said Democrats need a hand in the Statehouse.

"Republicans can have a quorum without even having a Democrat walk in the room," Beck said.

She sees an uptick in local activism, particularly among progressives, which she counts herself among.

"If progressive means I want change," she said.

Valparaiso resident John Cunningham said he has regularly voted, but it was not until his close friend Cyndi Dykes decided to run as a Republican for Porter County coroner that he became much more involved in the political process by heading up her campaign committee.

"I like being behind the scenes," he said.

The experience, which is ongoing as Dykes goes on to face Democrat Randy Wilkening in the fall, has been eye-opening, Cunningham said.

"There's a lot more to it than I would have thought," he said.

Whiting resident Loren Whitman, 26, said she was kicked into high gear as an activist as a result of Trump's targeting immigrants.

The issue is personal for her, because her parents are immigrants, she said.

Whitman helped organize NWI Resistance, which works to end deportations from the Gary/Chicago International Airport in Gary and to combat the development of private prisons in the area.

While busy working on her doctorate degree in Chicago, Whitman plans to keep up the fight on behalf of others.

"I don't think I'll ever stop activism," she said.

Times Staff Writer Lauren Cross contributed to this report.

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.