First Mile of a Marathon: Responding to This Election

Our President-elect has a 40% favorability rating. He just agreed to pay $25 million to settle multiple lawsuits against him for defrauding budding entrepreneurs and other students who attended his for-profit college. His Administration appears poised for corruption on an epic scale. Speaker Paul Ryan wants to use this moment of unified Republican control to privatize Medicare.

But there is some good news. We have a path forward. To pursue it, we’ll need a movement structured more closely to align with the federal system of government enshrined in our Constitution, with power decentralized throughout the country. Only such a movement can craft, test, and scale the solutions we’ll need not just to beat back the reactionary government coming into power but to advance our own values of a more just, more sustainable country.

Organizers and members of Chicago Votes prepare to engage folks at Pride.

Where We’re Going

Already, a rough consensus is emerging on goals for an opposition movement:

  1. Protect against state and non-state violence—Immigrants may soon face deportations, more Muslims may soon face expanded registration, folks are already facing increased hate crimes and limited terrorism aimed at protesters.
  2. Unify opposition to bad policies — When possible, we must stop or slow passage of bad policy. When bad policy passes, we must work to limit the damage through state or local options and legal strategies.
  3. Develop a credible alternative — Our progressive movement must be capable of securing a governing majority, including real power both at the federal level and in a large number of states.

We can absolutely do these things. There are millions of us willing to put our bodies on the line to protect our fellow Americans. Our unpopular President has only thin majorities in each chamber of Congress. His colleagues in the House and Senate don’t see eye-to-eye with him or his advisors on priorities and many individual Republicans will be loathe to tie their long-term political fortunes to a divisive and unpopular President.

Why ‘We’ Has To Be A Lot Of Us

But we can’t accomplish these aims with a movement whose leadership and infrastructure is located almost entirely in just a few cities: Washington, New York, San Francisco, Chicago. What’s wrong with this structure for a progressive movement? Consider:

  • The greatest threats of violence are elsewhere. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reports 701 hate crimes since Donald Trump’s victory, highlighting incidents in Tennessee; Spokane, WA; Danville, CA; and Kentucky, but with reports from across the country. SPLC also reports that “Incidents of ‘hate group recruitment ticked’ up in after [sic] the weekend, with 11 of the 17 total incidents reported since Monday.”
  • Federal policy victories are impossible without a broad geographic coalition. Any chance of stopping legislation in the US Senate or holding President Trump accountable will require involvement by Democratic Senators in states Trump won like Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) (for example, Machin is already backing Jefferson Sessions for Attorney General, despite Sessions’ history of racial discrimination and the backing he’s receiving from leading White Supremacists); Republican Senators who have voiced concerns about Trump like Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Susan Collins (R-ME); and Republican Senators who represent states Trump already lost like Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Dean Heller (R-NV). Some of these Senators will need support and cover, others will need pressure, to do what’s right.
  • The Constitution and our decentralized government require geographic diversity. Between the US Senate’s deeply undemocratic structure, the electoral college’s ability to deny the White House to the winner of the popular vote, and the gerrymanders of the US House, simply winning functional federal power requires incredibly broad-based organizing. Federal power can also be easily undermined by state governments, as evidenced by states failing to fully implement Obamacare and repeatedly suing the Obama Administration on a host of issues from the new overtime rule to Trans*-inclusive bathroom policies.
  • Nothing beats the power of face-to-face. Advances in technology should allow us more than ever to operate remotely, yet exactly the opposite is happening. Industries are consolidating in our most expensive cities despite the high costs. Nearly all progressive power-brokers operate out of DC due to the advantages of being present IRL at meetings, strategy sessions, and fundraising opportunities. We need to show the communities that make up our country the same respect by being present and engaging face-to-face everywhere year-round, rather than relying on media, remote phone- and SMS-banks, and parachuted-in organizers at the eleventh hour. In the closing weeks of the campaign, Van Jones visited Trump voters in Pennsylvania, creating a video showing the transformational power that can come from real engagement. These interactions become even more powerful when repeated regularly over time.

In the wake of this year’s election, a false characterization has been constructed questioning whether more focus should be given to white working class voters who historically provided the Democratic Party with their majorities or to Black, Latino, Asian-American, Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Native Alaskan voters who today are the backbone of the progressive movement. The reality, as outlined by Steve Phillips in Brown Is the New White is that there is no path to victory for a progressive movement without both people of color and progressive whites.

So in order to accomplish our goals to protect vulnerable Americans, to unite in opposition to stop the worst policies that are coming for us, and to build a real alternative, we need people and institutions tackling each of those projects in nearly every corner of the country. We’ll need churches in Michigan opening their doors to provide sanctuary for undocumented Americans. We’ll need organizers in Alaska ensuring that Sen. Murkowski stands strong against privatization deals that will hurt all our communities — rural or urban. We’ll need to develop an economic agenda that is credible and persuasive in Los Angeles and Atlanta, Youngstown and Fargo, Raleigh and Dallas. We’ll need real leadership pipelines, for elected officials who will represent our communities and also for organizers and advocates who will hold them accountable.

These projects are too big to be coordinated or managed by a single set of individuals or institutions. Each state has thousands of elected officials, varying election laws and timelines, and unelected powerbrokers generally unknown to outsiders. The benefits of local relationships and expertise and the passion that comes from meaningful control and ownership overwhelm any advantages that come from top-down management.

How to Put the ‘U’ in ‘Us’

So how does each of us play a role in such a large and daunting project? Here are a handful of immediate steps:

  1. Attend or organize a meeting. Join or help organize an emergency community meeting organized by the Working Families Party, MPower, 350.org, #AllOfUs, Center for Popular Democracy and more. These meetings will occur all over the country and will create spaces to identify how to take action.
  2. Write a check. Support grassroots organizing all over the country through Movement2018.org. This website lists dozens of local organizations so you know your dollars are getting to the ground where impact is maximized. The team at Movement 2018 is happy to connect directly to help you maximize your impact.
  3. Pick up the phone. Start calling your Senators and Representatives — a helpful directory is here — with the message that you expect them to: a) investigate our new President’s financial conflicts of interest and b) dig in deep on any proposed infrastructure bill to ensure that it’s actually the right plan for America, not simply to serve as a rubber stamp for this new leader. Start building the habit of picking up the phone and contacting these offices. They’ll need to hear from you routinely in the coming years.

In the medium-term, few things will be more important than people everywhere finding venues to continue their activism and organizing. The most potent of these spaces will be local, so it is important to identify and attend or help organize something locally. If you want help to do that, hit me up on Twitter.

In the long-term, we need to build bolder strategies to tackle growing economic inequality and the destruction of opportunity it entails. But as first steps in a long journey, let’s keep it simple: attend a meeting, write a check, pick up the phone.

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