Our society is about to topple from the perch of a grinding, unjust stability into uncertain chaotic territory, led by unpredictable liars whose few discernible policy promises threaten the well-being of tens of millions of people. Trump has already done a great deal of damage, and he doesn’t even have any structural power until January 20th.
It’s natural to begin eagerly looking for people and organizations who will be ready to resist, who will be capable of building a constructive political project that can win power and build the society we want. Fortunately, those people do exist, and they’re easy to find. They’re us. We’re them. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
In this time of dire possibilities, we have to follow in the footsteps of the abolitionists, the early labor organizers, the women’s movement, and the civil rights movement. Like all of these, we currently have the political power of the state, the economic power of concentrated wealth, and the social weight of ingrained ideologies stacked against us. Like all of these movements, we will win anyway.
How? We will commit to doing the work. We will make ourselves visible and our ideas impossible to ignore. We will stand together across lines of difference because we know that all our struggles are interconnected. We will demonstrate our togetherness in public, as at the Day of Resistance rally and march this January 20th (5:30pm, City Hall). We will take direct action when we can effectively hinder the operations of oppression, as by joining the efforts of the Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition to stop deportations in our community. And we will win structural power through elections, electing a progressive County Commission in May 2018 and striking back at Republican control in the November 2018 midterms.
Powerful, disruptive social movements have always been the key to winning real progressive victories in democracies. They focus the public’s attention on problems that those in positions of structural power would rather ignore. They reframe the discourse around those issues. They organize and struggle until it becomes less costly to meet their demands than to resist them. They fight for what is called impossible until it becomes inevitable.
In the 1930s, radical labor unions, organizations of the unemployed, and the Socialist and Communist Parties challenged the established power structure with strikes and marches. Within a few years, policies like Social Security, unemployment insurance, and the minimum wage that were previously laughed off were enacted and soon came to be seen as common sense. Critically, these were not gifts bestowed upon the masses by enlightened leaders. Rather, they were strategic concessions meant to ameliorate the surging discontent that lead to these movements’ growth. The then-centrist New York Times endorsed FDR in 1936 arguing that “in a very fundamental way the President’s re-election will provide insurance against radicalism” and that if he were to lose “the more radical elements would thereby be strengthened in their appeal to the masses.” And so the spectre of powerful mass movements leads elites to favor moderate reforms they would otherwise staunchly oppose.
The monumental reforms of the 1960s were likewise the product of organizing and disruption by social movements. LBJ and the Democrats passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and more because the civil rights movement, student organizations, and others made the oppression and suffering of African-Americans and the poor impossible to ignore.
In 2016, the establishment found itself incapable of defending itself against attacks from political movements appealing to people’s discontent with the status quo. Bernie Sanders nearly won the Democratic primary with a hopeful, anti-establishment message from the progressive left. But in the absence of powerful enough social movements galvanizing the public in a progressive direction, Donald Trump was able to rouse enough people with his dark, racist, sexist, and xenophobic posturing to gain control of the world’s most powerful office. Democrats are, at least for now, powerless to stop him and have shown inconsistent commitment to progressive goals when they’ve had power.
We need to build the strength of the social movement left more than ever. In Athens, we’re coming together on January 20th (5:30pm, City Hall) for the Athens Day of Resistance, in coordination with groups around the country . It’s a day to gather and feel our collective power as we ready ourselves to resist the coming onslaught. We can do to the new administration what the Tea Party did to Obama’s, and at the same time prepare ourselves to be the guiding force in the wave of progressive victories that will follow. I’ll see you on J-20, and again and again after that, as we resist the bad and build to win the good. Trump wants to take America back to an imagined Golden Age, but we’re looking to the future. ¡Hasta la victoria siempre!
January 18, 2017