Rebuilding Community as a Means of Resistance
In the weeks (has it really only been weeks?) since the inauguration of the new US President, there has been a newfound burst of energy directed towards organizing and advocacy. People, who might have never otherwise done so, took to the streets or attended meetings around the new political landscape. While all of these are positive developments, it still feels like something is missing from the broader picture.
Former President Obama (let that sink in) spoke about the importance of community organizing in his farewell address. I think many people got the message about organizing (it seems like there are Organizing 101-type workshops happening all over — also a good development), but less have absorbed the significance of community. This is less about the social media circles you frequent and more about the physical space you inhabit in the world. Is your community white? People of Color? Immigrant? Rich? Poor? What are the issues that are affecting your neighbors? Your bartender? The bus driver?
These are all questions that could lead to political initiatives, but they are also important because they are aspects of your community, a reality that you share with people regardless of political position. No amount of social media filtering can change who your neighbors really are.
Don’t get me wrong. The internet and technology as a whole has provided us with incredible ways to build communities out beyond national boundaries. These broader communities can be leveraged to advocate for and create political change (one recent and personally inspiring example being the Quipu Project). Technology can (and has) been used to connect people in meaningful and powerful ways.
But that doesn’t mean it should replace localized ways of staying connected.
This is especially important because much of the information defined in the earlier questions about community can be found out without organizing, and that’s perfectly fine. It may be easier to find out what’s really bothering your neighbors if you invite them over for a dinner as opposed to if you’re knocking on doors looking for petition signatures. Maybe they agree with you on some political issues; maybe they don’t. Regardless, by making the conscious effort to be a more connected part of your local community as a good in itself, you inevitably will be better at doing organizing. Why? Because connecting with people is a major part of what organizing is all about.
Granted, I’m not saying you invite your racist/sexist/homophobic neighbor over for coffee this weekend, but I am saying that we acknowledge the argument about “getting out of our bubbles.” Pundits have attempted to frame this in a “liberal cities vs rural countryside” dichotomy, but, perhaps unsurprisingly for 2017, they are wrong. Just as there are Trump supporters who live in major cities, there are Trump detractors in the rural parts of the country. The simplest evidence is the state-by-state breakdown of votes. No state won by a candidate was 100% in their corner.
Even if a candidate had pulled that off, remember that less than 60% of eligible voters actually voted in 2016. Therefore, you are likely to find people of your political persuasion in your community. It just comes down to a numbers game.
The importance of political organizing in the current moment cannot be overstated. It’s precisely because of the stakes that it is crucial to build a movement that lasts for the long haul. Issue-based campaigns can be won or lost; politicians can win or lose at the ballot box. In the end though, politics is about people. If we keep a focus on that and commit to being connected to our community, we can do more than build meaningful relationships and inform our politics with first-hand experience; we can create the political power needed to really influence change.