When President Donald Trump tweeted that Baltimore was “a disgusting rat and rodent-infested mess,” Americans erupted with the usual torrent of opinions. Scott Presler, however, was determined to do something about it. He organized a cleanup day in the city to pick up trash. It went so well that he has scheduled another one for Sept. 9.
On today’s episode of The Daily Signal Podcast, Presler shares why he decided to take action in Baltimore and how locals responded to his efforts.
Listen to the full episode or read a lightly edited transcript below.
Virginia Allen: I am joined on The Daily Signal Podcast by conservative activist Scott Presler, who, after President Trump’s tweets about Baltimore’s critical condition, launched a number of cleanup days to better the city of Baltimore.
Scott, thanks for joining me.
Scott Presler: Thank you, I’m a big fan of The Heritage Foundation. Glad to be here with you, Virginia.
Allen: Oh, that’s great.
Well, three weeks ago, President Trump took to Twitter to highlight the gravity of the situation in Baltimore. The city has one of the highest crime rates in America and is struggling economically. You responded to the president’s tweets, not with words, but with actions. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about the work that you have done in Baltimore over the past few weeks?
Presler: Sure, President Trump, I’m thankful that he brought national attention and discussion to Baltimore. We live in the greatest country in the world, but we have to be pragmatic and we can’t look at the world through rose-colored glasses. We have to say, “OK, cities like Baltimore do need love and attention.”
After President Trump tweeted about Baltimore, everybody was doing a whole bunch of talking and nobody was doing. I was fed up and, … Virginia, I tweeted out on social media, I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time, but I tweeted out, “I’m going to go to Baltimore, even if it’s just me standing on a street corner alone picking up trash.”
I had not known that I unleashed the flood gates at that moment, and people all across the country were saying, “Scott, what can I do? How can I contribute? How can I be a part of cleaning up Baltimore?”
Within six days, literally less than a week, I organized over 170 volunteers from all across the country, including West Baltimore, to go out on Monday and we picked up 12 tons of trash in 12 hours in West Baltimore.
Allen: Wow, that is absolutely incredible. What was people’s response as you were walking around their communities picking up trash?
Presler: Oh gosh, it was incredible. Within five minutes, I’m telling you, we’re still setting up the darn canopy to have all of our water station and people sign-in and this woman comes over, Lisa, with her chihuahua because she was dog sitting, and she said, “What are you guys doing?” I said, “Well, Miss Lisa, we’re out here, we’re going to pick up trash for the next 12 hours.”
She was blown away. She says, “After I’m done dog sitting I’m going to come back.” And she did.
We not only spoke to Miss Lisa, we spoke to Grace, who told us about the problems in her area. We spoke to Louise, an 81-year-old, 4-foot-10-inch resident. It was pretty funny having her stand next to me because I’m 6-foot-5-inch. And then we talked to Miss Dupris and Mr. Lawrence.
The entire community came over to talk to us. In that moment, we were a family. They wanted help and we were there to help them. It was a good bonding community experience.
Allen: That is so powerful. I think it’s encouraging that you were boots on the ground actually talking with the local people there.
As you had those interactions, what are the residents of Baltimore concerned about? What is on their hearts and minds right now?
Presler: One of the women I talked to, who’s a grandmother, a big concern for her is the hazardous building materials, the dilapidated, abandoned buildings, the fact that there was a dead rat right outside of her home in her backyard. There are needles, there are drug dealers, there’s violence.
She said, “My grandchildren can’t play safely out here.” Every resident has their own angle, but for that grandmother, it was her grandbaby.
For 81-year-old Louise, it was the fact that all of this jungle and all of the overgrowth is growing into the property, growing into the foundation.
For Miss Grace, same thing with her. Roots were growing into the foundation, causing a water leak onto her property due to negligence.
For Mr. Lawrence, he wants somebody to clean up the alley, which we did.
Every resident has their own problem. But one of the biggest things that I’ve heard is that people don’t feel safe with the violence. They don’t feel safe with the gangbangers and it was just fascinating to hear from Miss Louise that I was there, but Mr. Cummings, Rep. [Elijah] Cummings, who has been in office for decades, she says that he has never, ever once been to her neighborhood, never has she seen him before.
This was an opportunity for, instead of talking, we came in to listen. We came in, we shut our lips, and we wanted to listen to the residents of truly how we could affect change.
Allen: Yeah, and now the response from this has been that so many people in other cities are reaching out to you and saying, “Hey, come organize a cleanup day in my city.” Where are you headed next? If our listeners want to join you in those cities, how can they do that?
Presler: Oh, it’s been incredible. Again, I didn’t realize what I had done because people all across the country want to help. I’m like, finally, finally, Virginia, people aren’t going to sit at home and complain, but they’re going to do something.
I’m working with a gentleman named Darius who lives in Newark, New Jersey, and on Sunday, Aug. 25 he’s going to go out in his local community and pick up trash. I’m working with Tyler and Anthony in Los Angeles, California, who are organizing a trash pick up day.
Actually, today, after I’m done with this radio show and the second one right after, I’m traveling back to Baltimore from D.C., when I just got in from Iowa today, to go organize our second Baltimore cleanup.
Yes, you heard that right, Baltimore Sun. We are coming back even after the scathing article that you wrote about us picking up trash and I’m here to say that we are unintimidated and we’re going to go back because it’s the right thing to do.
I made a promise to Miss Louise, that 81-year-old, and I’m going to come back specifically and say “Hi” to her and help her fix her problem, but if people want to get involved, you can go to scottpresler.org … or you can visit me on Twitter.
Even though I have 329,000 followers, my DMs, my direct messages are open and I do take time to read as many messages as possible. Shoot me a message if you would like to start a trash cleanup. Let’s see what we can do.
I’m already traveling all over the country teaching voter registration, but I guess I’m going to add “professional trash picker-upper” to my resume as well.
Allen: That’s great, so exciting.
Now Scott, I want to shift gears for a second and ask you a little bit about your journey to conservatism. What caused you to embrace conservative principles and ideas?
Presler: Well, I’ve always been conservative-leaning. My dad is a retired Navy captain, so he instilled in me values like responsibility, accountability for my actions, and I am very proud to be an Eagle Scout.
I’ve lived a life of service to my community and giving back and my Eagle Scout project was even a gathering thousands of nonperishable food items for charity for a local food bank.
My dad and my family and my experience being an Eagle Scout I think has taught me conservative principles because that’s what we’re about. We are about service, we’re about giving back. We’re about love of community.
I have to say it was President Obama, you inspired me, sir, to become a community organizer, but not on the left, on the right side. I created my Twitter account the very day, that night that he was reelected as president in 2012 because very much like the Baltimore cleanup, I told myself, “Scott, you can sit at home, you can complain, you can whine, you can sit on the couch, you can be an armchair Facebook warrior, or you can do something.”
So, I did. I actually started volunteering for Ken Cuccinelli for governor of Virginia in 2013, who’s now, it’s kind of weird to see him be a part of the Trump administration and he’s doing a great job, to see my life go full circle.
In 2014 I told myself, “Scott, you’re going to get a job in politics.” So, I did.
Allen: … You now travel all over the country talking with groups of people about voter registration. How exactly did you get started doing that?
Presler: Gosh, it just came to me. Like everything else, it just, I guess it’s divine inspiration because six months ago I was thinking, “Gosh, what am I going to do? I’m completely independent. I’m jobless right now.” And I just decided, “You know what? I’m going to take my destiny into my own hands.”
I just said, “Hey, I’m going to create a voter registration guide because I see nobody else in the country talking about voter registration. I’m just going to start telling people about how important it is.”
I went to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, did my first training. Went to Connecticut and did my second training. Went to Raleigh, North Carolina, did my third. And after North Carolina, that’s when it really started to spiral because every training I was doing, I was getting more and more people.
I think people were saying, “Wow, I think Scott Presler’s onto something and look at the crowds that he’s bringing out.”
I’ve been to, in the past five months, 15 different cities and the majority of them in Florida. I’ve been to Deltona, West Palm Beach, Miami, Doral, Tampa, Sarasota, I’ve just been all over the state of Florida.
I was just in Reading, Pennsylvania. Yesterday I was in Iowa. This Saturday I’m going to Ohio. Then I’m going to Memphis, Tennessee; Virginia Beach, Virginia; Nashville, Tennessee. Going to St. Louis, Missouri; Hawaii; New Hampshire.
I basically am spending the next year of my life helping to register new voters because I know how critical it is. Basically, I’m trying to tell you, Virginia, that I used to be a very unbusy man and now I’ve got no time and I don’t know what to do with myself, which is a good thing.
Allen: That is a good thing. Scott, as you are traveling the country and speaking with Americans about the state of our nation, what are some of the consistencies that you see people are talking about and really concerned about?
Presler: I think people are very worried about our immigration system right now. …
A big thing that hit me, and just a year ago, she was murdered, Mollie Tibbetts. Many of our American children are, unfortunately, suffering the results of illegal immigration and some of them have been killed by illegal aliens and that is a very big concern for people.
We have a booming economy right now, thanks to President Trump, and people want to keep those jobs. They want to be able to support their families, put food on the table. I just spoke with a farming community in Iowa. They’re very concerned about the negative, detrimental effects of a possible Green New Deal, which would kill jobs across Iowa and the heartland of our country.
I think those are three of the biggest issues: immigration, jobs, and protecting capitalism, and not making these socialist policies like the Green New Deal [that] kill jobs. I think those are three of the most important issues that people brought up while I travel.
Allen: Scott, we want to thank you for your work, not just in Baltimore, but all over the country encouraging Americans to not just talk, but to take action.
Now, how can people keep up with what you’re doing?
Presler: The biggest thing is, the best part about my life is my life is an open book. Literally everything I do is on social media.
If you want to find out what Scott Presler is up to today, then please go to my Twitter, @ScottPresler … or my Facebook, also Scott Presler, or my Instagram, @ScottPresler. You kind of see a theme going on here, and if you would like to contribute to support the work that I do, please go to scottpresler.org.
The main thing that I want to encourage to people is with all of this negativity and this kind of cloud of despair that’s surrounding politics right now, the only thing I ask of people is stay positive and, despite everything, say encouraging, motivating, exciting, inspirational, motivational, those are all the things that I want you to think of.
Keep your chin up and, like Virginia just said, take action where others are only going to talk cheaply. I want you to actually put your words into actions and to do something, to be a change and make the world a better place. That’s it.
Allen: That’s great. Scott, thank you so much.
Presler: Absolutely, any time Virginia, I’m a big fan of The Heritage Foundation, whatever I can do and thank you for this opportunity.