¡Nunca Mas! People Powered Strategy in the Time of Trump

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them” — Albert Einstein

My mother was in Buenos Aires during the dirty war of the 1970s. She was stringing for an international wire service and began reporting on the disappearances of student leftists, Jews, and the intellegensia. She began making lists of people. Gathering facts. Her office was firebombed and she went to Rio and continued. She told me about those times, and the underground railroad that stretched across the Americas for dissidents fleeing Argentina, Pinochet’s Chile and elsewhere. She told me about how when she returned to New York her apartment was burglarized, with everything over turned. The only things that were missing: film, documents, appointment books. In the late 90s she was participating in a study on PTSD and was finally talking to therapist about “What happened in Argentina.” Was she detained, tortured, witness to her comrades being snatched by the secret police? I can only speculate because she died with those secrets. In these dark days I miss her more than ever. I now carry on the legacy she left me with even greater urgency: A commitment to fight fascism.

My mother and I in Washington, Easter 1983.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it was Kissinger who backed Pinochet and the coup in Argentina, and Kissinger who Hillary Clinton looks to as a “mentor.” I’m no fool when it comes to the dangers of the Democratic establishment and the horrors of neoliberalism, but even I was lulled by the smooth NPR voices telling me that Nate Silver said that everything was going to be OK.

IT.IS.NOT.OK.

The first step here is admitting we screwed up. Royally. Epically. Tragically. Monday morning quarterbacking is not helping right now. There is a time and place for analysis, and there will be a lot of it, about why and how this happened. Right now we are coming to grips with the fact that it DID happen. There are a lot of reasons (white supremacy being chief among them), and plenty of blame to go around. But lets be clear: We all played a role in this. Especially those of us white folks who were cocooned in our NYT reading, NPR listening enclaves and not getting our hands dirty defeating Trump in the rust belt like Van Jones told us to. Those of us who styled ourselves as too radical to door knock for Democrats. Those of us in our nonprofit jobs carrying out our workplans as planned. Those of us burned by Bernie’s ouster who retreated into facebooking. Those of us who wouldn’t let go of old paradigms of campaigning and adapt to the rapidly shifting reality around us over the last 18 months. Those of us, all of us, who assumed Hillary was an inevitable winner and acted accordingly. Those of us who “stayed in our lane.” Those of us, like myself, who thought “other people” were going to handle this for me…the DNC machinery or whoever. I walked away from conflicts about strategy in the movement instead of leaning in harder. I abdicated my responsibly. I checked out and cheered from the sidelines. I was wrong. Dead wrong.

This is not about guilt or blame, but about getting real that we (I’m speaking to white progressives) did not collectively take this threat seriously enough, even though People of Color were urging us to do so. Without some humility and grace in this moment, we will not be able to see clearly how to move forward.

Popular protest in Atlanta, GA — 2016

The second thing we need to admit is that we are in a paradigm shift. That means we need to not just shift gears, but actually reimagine, and risk, more than before. When I say paradigm shift, I’m not denying the material realities of the U.S. government and the history of racism, sexism, genocide, homophobia, etc. in our country; these tendencies are hardwired into the very foundation of the American project. Indeed, this regime is the logical conclusion of the trajectory of the nation’s last 250 years or so. All the hate we are seeing was already there, but is now just more emboldened by the political conditions and publicized by social media. But, we must recognize that this regime’s rise to power is an historic and qualitative shift, and for those of us living through it, we haven’t been here before. Not like this.

Trump broke all the rules. In fact, he made up his own rules, working off the 20th century playbooks of Mussolini and Franco and injecting 21st century technology and media spectacle dynamics. He is not a Republican just like Bernie is not a Democrat. He is a different animal — a fascist — and we all know how that story ends.

Legitimizing his rise to power is lethal. Running any script about “what we’re supposed to do” right now (issue policy platforms, make conciliatory statements, figure out how our people can get some of the infrastructure dollars he says he’s going to throw around…) is dangerous and a total distraction from the fight ahead. We cannot give him a single centimeter of legitimacy. We must not cooperate. We must not consent. And we must not play by the old rules.

The calls by Hillary and Obama for the “peaceful transition of power” are aimed squarely at us, the angry rabble: Sit down and play nice. The system will work for you. The constitution will protect (some of) you. We can have another go at this in 2020.

We cannot swallow that syrup. It has curdled and right now it is poison.

Its time to look to movements that have actually brought down dictators with strategic nonviolence and mass non-cooperation: The Philippines, Serbia, Egypt, etc. (See the work of Gene Sharp for some excellent resources). While institutional left groups and NGOs play a vital role in building infrastructure for people powered movements these movements are much bigger than any organization (See This is An Uprising for a great discussion of the dynamcis of “momentum”). People Powered movements are made of vast organic networks, connected by, among other things, 1. Shared values 2. Symbols, and 3. Coordinated acts of daily resistance.

Serbian student movement Otpor! marching with their slogan “He is Finished.”

Here are some very early thoughts on those three elements of a people powered movement operating in a Trump-regime:

  1. Shared Values: The movement must intentionally work to define and align the values that we-who-oppose-the-Trump-regime share, and reinforce them to animate and guide the resistance forward…where to start? A commitment to democracy not dictatorship; to love not hate; to economic fairness; to ending racism, mysogony, homophobia, transphobia, ablism; to upholding human rights; to defending the planet from pollution; etc. These values must be explicit and hold the moral center of the movement and the country.
  2. Narrative, Symbols and Memes (See Re:Imagining Change — How to Use Story-based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements and Change the World): The meme that is rapidly spreading right now is the Safety Pin. Inspired by the resistance to Nazis and to Brexit, the safety pin is spreading fast, and also getting pushback from POC communities as not accomplishing a whole lot other than soothing white guilt. But it shows that the hunger for some kind of symbol of resistance is there, and in my own community, its already viral. Let’s build on it. Let’s make it mean something. And make more symbols, artwork, music, and memes that breathe life into that resistance.

3. Acts of Daily Resistance:

— “I’ll go with you” grassroots organizing programs: NYC organizers are already implementing plan for networks of trained people to accompany vulnerable people and communities (walking with people who are at risk of being targeted; maintaining a presence of protection outside of mosques and other targeted locations, etc.)

— Self Defense: Many communities are seeing a spike in sign ups for self defense classes from groups targeted by Trump’s hate — Martial arts, boxing as well as “women’s self defense.” This is political action in times of targeted repression — make no mistake. Organize around this.

— Basic Needs: Things are getting very real for a lot of folks with marginalized identities. There are viral posts going around about getting IUDs before they are banned, getting health care procedures before the repeal takes effect, getting hormone meds before they are banned, getting marriage documents in order for same sex couples, getting passports for children in case your family has to flee, etc. This is all political action and the movement can support people in getting these needs met, as well as meeting the emotional needs of processing the mass anxiety and fear from Trump-trauma in this moment.

- Protest: Spontaneous protest is happening in many places. Support it. Start gathering contact info and pulling together smaller meetings for people who want to plan protracted campaigns in the coming months. Prepare for mass popular education and mass-based organizing training. There is organizing afoot for a mass strike by migrants. Prepare and support.

- Inauguration Day: There are vague calls already and organizing is afoot for a massive protest in Washington, including a Million Woman March which already has pages coordinating action in all 50 states. There will be massive protests on January 21 — Think a million people or more in Washington and coordinated shut down I-5 and I-95 and every where in between.

—The Party question: Longer term, we need to deal with the Democratic party — to abandon it, or to take it over from the top, or to create a left-wing from the bottom up that outmaneuvers the leadership, or to invest in building the Working Families Party, etc. This is not the post that addresses those imperative questions, but I’m here to say, we need an actual popular social movement outside of any party structure too, and there is appetite to build it a hybrid political-social movement like we’ve never seen in our lifetimes.

If we want no business as usual, the progressive establishment must also upend notions of business as usual. Harnessing and keeping the momentum is crucial.

If they start a new House Committee on Anti-American Activities, we will surround the US capitol and we will not leave until they stop.

If they target journalists who aren’t towing the line of Trump TV, we will create viral online broadcasts and podcasts to get the stories out.

If they target leaders in the Movement for Black Lives, we will surround them with round the clock volunteer bodyguards, an army of lawyers, and a mass movement that pushes forward the platform for Black Lives.

If they try to create a registry for Muslims and Arabs, we will flood the system with non-Muslims and Non-Arab people and do everything we can to gum up the machinery of racial profiling.

If they try to carry out the threat of deportations for 10 million people filling busses and planes and trains full of migrant families, we must occupy those roads and runways and train tracks and not allow it to happen.

If they try to drill, and frack, and destroy the land, we will show them that there are 1,000 Standing Rock-style encampments ready to deploy to stop them.

If they try to build that wall, we will be there with our bodies to not let them lay a single brick.

If they they outlaw being gay, we will hold massive queer make-out sessions in their halls of power.

If they try to end title IX in our schools, we will occupy our schools and universities until women and girls are safe and equal.

If they outlaw abortions, we will hold a Polish-inspired women’s strike that will last for as long as it takes.

We must do all of this, and more — and we must do it fast, and always with an ear listening to the leadership of women of color leaders in popular movements (Our 100 is a hub for organizing and action in the first 100 days. Sign up).

As I write these things, my heart begins to race and my palms begin to sweat, because I fear that if we don’t build a powerful and visible resistance, we could be heading for 1970’s Argentina scenario. Indeed, when Trump’s vigilantes advertise that they will be lynching journalists, and the Trump regime now has all three branches of the federal government and trifectas in 25 states, the threat cuts very close to home.

We are in early days yet, and grief, terror, rage and regret are real — and we must not fall into a self-defeating narrative that “‘They’ have won.” We cannot let this regime get any more power or momentum, and so the story we tell really matters. Now is the time to act in visible, powerful, risky ways, with strategic nonviolence and a narrative that projects power, resilience, and the inevitability of victory for the forces of justice. Trump does not represent the majority of this country. He did not even win the popular vote. We can not yield and we can not fail. As the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo implore: ¡Nunca Mas! Never Again!

Doyle Canning is a co-founder of the Center for Story-based Strategy and co-author of Re:Imagining Change — How to Use Story-based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements and Change the World. She provides strategy and narrative development to social and environmental justice movements (doylecaninng.com) and is currently coping by organizing students and parents in her community, and lovingly preparing meals for her family and friends. Opinions expressed are her own.