It’s Time to Choose Sides, and We Can Not Allow Trump to Draw the Line
Faced with fascism, a reactionary and false unity will get us nowhere.
Like 3 million others across the world, I attended a Women’s March on Saturday, January 21, the day after Trump was inaugurated as president. Like a strong minority of those who attended, I was disappointed, though not shocked, by what I saw.
In Denver, I saw a sea of pink pussy hats and signs about abortion and reproductive rights, but not one sign about immigration. I saw dozens of Hillary signs, and only one sign about refugees. I spotted only two Black Lives Matter signs and fifteen (I counted) $900 Canada Goose Jackets.
I was torn between cynicism at an about 98% white crowd whose median income I would pin at $100k/year, and feelings of extreme urgency to support any efforts at bringing down our current fascist administration.
Since the march, I have seen my own internal battle clearly mirrored on social media. My activist and organizer friends, as well as public figures whom I respect, are separated into two camps: those focused on calling out the racism of White Feminism, and those calling for a difficult but necessary unity with all well-intentioned people given the current sky-high stakes that we are facing.
I propose what I will call Option C. Instead of unifying with those who are not truly on our side or spending our energy being spitefully critical of their shortcomings, we must put all of our love and energy into strengthening our anti-capitalist movements. Only if we are strong and unified among ourselves will we be able to strategically call in those well-intentioned anti-Trump liberals and, hopefully, gain new sisters and brothers in our struggle.
First, we have to establish who “we” are. It is entirely necessary to distinguish the anti-capitalist Left from the centrist-right Hillary supporters who are not actually on our side. Those of us who fight against gentrification are now expected to hold hands with the techies putting anti-Trump signs in the windows of their new market-value condos. Those of us who fight against police violence are expected to march with ‘All Lives Matter’ democrats. And those of us who fight against white supremacy are supposed to don impossibly-baby-pink pussy hats (seriously, whose pussy is that color??) and shut up about white supremacy because the most important thing right now is that we be united.
Not only is this painful, but it is not strategic. It will not work.
In their Sixth Declaration, the Zapatistas stated that the entire Mexican political system had moved so far right, that all that remained of the Left was a vacuum. To subvert and distinguish themselves from the political elite, by whom they as indigenous people were never considered relevant, they created a new socio-political category; They deemed themselves and all those poor, oppressed, and marginalized peoples fighting for justice and against capitalism as below and to the left.
The same distinction is necessary in Trump’s America. The bourgeois liberal agenda and the anti-capitalist social movement agenda are not one in the same. Those of us who spent the last eight years under Obama fighting against the liberal elite that incarcerated, deported, and attacked our friends and family must not allow ourselves to be subsumed by a reactionary unity defined only in its opposition to Trump.
As fascism takes hold of our country’s throat and the battle lines begin to be drawn, we must take the pen into our own hands. We must not submit to a pro-Trump/anti-Trump dichotomy wherein the values of justice and liberation that we have spent centuries fighting for are waved away as unrealistic or divisive. If we pretend that our goals are the same as theirs, our values will only be co-opted and our movements weakened. The anti-Trump liberals are the ones who must be forced to choose a side.
However, I am not advocating that we hole up in our ‘leftier-than-thou’ corner and spend our time criticizing the bourgeois liberals for not being radical enough. Not only is this is a complete and total dead end, but, just like striving for a false unity, pours all of our valuable energy upward. We need that energy down here, below and to the left.
After the march, I called my parents, who are ardent liberals, and expressed my disappointment at the liberal values and vision that dominated the crowd. They not only did not understand why I was upset, but knowing that I was also describing them, expressed how activated and inspired they felt to join a movement and make a difference. They, like so many others at the march, want to join the resistance. And they should not be turned away because of their inexperience or their liberal ideologies. Neither should they determine our course of action. This is not their movement, it is ours. But we need them.
This brings us to Option C. It is, indeed, time to unify. With global catastrophe looming, we officially have no choice. I am referring, however, to unifying below and to the left. Only when we are truly, solidly unified behind our values of justice and liberation for all can we hope to collaborate. Then, we can strategically call in those well-intentioned liberals who are itching to make a difference but have never formed part of a movement, through a structure that is able to hold them accountable for their actions. This way we are neither discouraging their participation, nor allowing our goals and values to be corrupted by theirs.
We have the movements, we have the organizing experience, and we have the people power. We must not get caught between two dead ends.
Creating a united movement below and to the left, however, will take some serious work.
The water defenders at Standing Rock showed us how to call in eager and willing allies without allowing our movement to be co-opted, or turning them away. Because of their clearly defined collective norms and values, they were able to receive thousands of non-Native allies at their camp, where they not only were able to support the anti-DAPL fight, but were given a political and spiritual education. All of my friends who were able to make it to Standing Rock at some point came back completely transformed.
This, hopefully, is what we can achieve on a broader scale in the current fascist overhaul. With united, uncompromised, and radical movements calling for immigration as a human right, we can strategically call in white “good-respectable-immigrants-should-be-allowed-to-stay” liberals to block the imminent onslaught of ICE raids and, hopefully in the process, transform their views about immigration.
If we solidify a reproductive rights movement that centers poor women, immigrant women, and women of color, then we can call in all the white feminists while requiring them to leave their White Feminism- which, as Native activist Sydne Rain points out is really just a brand of White Supremacy- at the door.
Now is the time to create a unified movement against capitalism and for humanity. We must not put aside our differences, but rather embrace them as what makes us strong. We must allow our personal interests and dogmas to melt away into the collective interest of our communities and our world. We must remember what it is that we are fighting for, and not stop fighting until we get it.