Scott Presler— aka #ThePersistence on Twitter—hasn’t stopped cleaning up trash.
“We did a cleanup in New Orleans about two months ago,” said Presler, a conservative activist from northern Virginia who also registers voters and teaches people how to run for office.
More recently, he led a cleanup at the South Beach Boardwalk on Staten Island in New York.
Presler’s cleanup efforts began a little more than two years ago following a fateful post on Twitter.
In July 2019, after then-Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said that children at the U.S.–Mexico border were “sitting in their own feces” and unable to shower, Trump responded on Twitter by calling the border “clean, efficient, & well-run, just very crowded,” while calling Cummings’s home district in Maryland “a disgusting, rat- and rodent-infested mess.”
The resulting conflagration on social media caught Presler’s eye. But something didn’t sit right.
“I was really disappointed, because I saw that everybody was quick to post on social media,” he said. “They wanted the likes. They wanted the retweets. They wanted the attention from posting about the problem of trash in Baltimore. But nobody was offering a solution.”
So, Presler made an announcement on Twitter to his followers: He was going to Baltimore to pick up trash.
The message spread far and wide, thanks in part to Presler’s existing reach—he estimates that he had about 250,000 Twitter followers at the time. A few days later, Presler and 200 volunteers arrived in Baltimore, ready to help.
“We picked up 12 tons of trash in 12 hours on the most dangerous streets of America in West Baltimore,” Presler said.
Local media sneered at his efforts.
“We assume it was pure motives that led a Trump supporter to launch a cleanup in Cummings’ district, right?” The Baltimore Sun stated.
But Presler persisted.
“I thought to myself, ‘OK, I’m a private citizen. I don’t have millions of government resources at my disposal. And yet, I was able to do a job that the government failed to do, despite having unlimited resources to get the job done.’
“I figured, why can’t I just do this across the country? And so I did.”
Presler’s cleanups have taken him everywhere from Denver, where he removed graffiti from the Colorado State Capitol following the George Floyd riots and protests, to a homeless encampment in Van Nuys, California, where he said he cleaned up 50 tons of trash.
Where else has he been?
Presler rattled off the names: Chicago; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; Miami; Portland, Oregon; and Austin, Texas—and the list goes on.
During the violent summer in 2020, he cleaned cities hard-hit by “mostly peaceful” protests.
“After the riots that burned down several businesses in Kenosha, Wisconsin, we went to Kenosha, and we did cleanups,” Presler said. “We spoke to several members of the community who saw their businesses burn to the ground—which, by the way, were minority-owned businesses.”
He conservatively estimated that he and his fellow volunteers have cleaned up hundreds of tons of trash. Although Presler wears his heart on his sleeve, he said he didn’t make his cleanups political.
“When we went to Baltimore, it was just about Americans helping Americans,” Presler said. “I didn’t go in there with any political shirt. I went in there just as an American citizen.”
Presler said the Baltimore Sun’s negative coverage actually got him more attention. Of course, it wasn’t the only time that bad publicity backfired in his favor.
“I have been protested for picking up trash,” Presler said.
In San Francisco, a group of picketers chanted at Presler, telling him that he should “go home.”
What was Presler’s take on the situation?
“I love living in a country where we have the freedom to choose—where I’m choosing to spend my time as a private citizen volunteering my time to pick up trash and make America a cleaner and greener place. How wonderful is it that other people can choose to spend their time as private citizens protesting?”
Even after cleaning up tons upon tons of U.S. trash, Presler hasn’t given in to cynicism about the American people.
“My sense is the majority of people want to help,” he said. “And I think the majority of people also don’t know how to help. That’s where I see my role.
“What we really need is more leaders to step up in society who are going to be able to delegate and who are going to be able to teach people what actions they can take to actually make a difference. You don’t have to wait for government—you don’t have to wait for anybody else.”
Presler believes that his positive example has resonated.
“I now get messages from people all across the country who say, ‘Because of you, I went out with my son, or my daughter, and we went and picked up trash,’” he said.
The stories of those he’s met along the way also stick with him.
“It’s the people like Miss Louise—who was an 80-year-old grandmother, who came out of her home to find out what we were doing in Baltimore and was so thankful that people were actually showing attention, showing that they care, whereas so many people had just overlooked their situation,” he said.
Presler’s motto is simple: “Stop Talking, Start Doing.”