By Javier H. Valdés and Daniel Altschuler
Progressives across the United States are confronting a terrifying reality this week: Donald Trump has won the presidency, and he will lead this country with a majority in the House and the Senate. The next four years will force progressives into an intensely defensive posture from which millions of people will be fighting for their families, and, for many, their lives.
The attacks from Washington and Trump's alt-right supporters across the country will be dramatic and swift. They will include attacks on the rights of immigrants and Muslims to remain in this country, efforts to destroy labor unions and undo economic justice victories like the expansion of overtime pay to working-class people, attempts to defund public schools, an onslaught against women's reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights, further criminalization of and violence against black bodies, campaigns to undo the modest progress we have made to mitigate climate change, and much more.
It is hard to over-state the danger we are confronting: whole communities will be faced with imminent threats to their safety, and virtually every national public policy that progressives care about will be threatened. This includes matters of economic justice--as a President who rose to power through inchoate economic populist appeals will move quickly to transform the economy by taking rights and power away from workers and serving his wealthy cronies.
How, then, should progressives conceive of the path forward? And, more specifically, how can we wage a strategic movement of resistance to block President-elect Trump's agenda while also building momentum towards a more promising post-Trump America. The latter piece is critical. Now is surely a moment for intense resistance. But this resistance must build momentum and power to wrest back control of our democracy.
Here are five key elements of the concerted effort we must undertake to stop President-elect Trump from wreaking havoc on our communities, while building the alternative economic vision and power we need to win in the future.
First, we must wage sustained collective action. Within 24 hours of Trump's victory, thousands of protestors had taken to the streets. Their statement was powerful and immediate. And it should be clear to every progressive that the next four years will require sustained collective action--and, often, action that means putting our bodies on the line to defend ourselves and others. Social movements from the abolitionists to the suffragettes to the civil rights movement to the immigrant rights movement have time and again changed the course of American history. Now we are called to come together again to demonstrate the moral dimension of the imminent attacks on immigrants, Muslims, women, LGBTQ people, indigenous people, and more.
This collective action will, and should, be led primarily by those who are directly affected by the dangerous rhetoric and proposals of Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell. But it will also require solidarity and engagement from all progressives--when called upon to stand with, and sometimes get arrested with, our brothers and sisters, those with privileges like whiteness, US citizenship, maleness, and economic security must be willing to put ourselves on the line. Hashtag solidarity will not suffice--nor will simply coming to a protest every few months after a particularly horrific event. Progressives need to show up--in person, and with regularity.
Those with financial resources will also need to open their wallets to help support grassroots efforts--whether it be philanthropists writing checks or middle- and working-class people giving monthly contributions to organizations that are building strong memberships to wage strategic campaigns.
Mass action should also be channeled out of, and into, existing social movement organizations as much as possible. Spontaneous "movement moments" like this week are inspiring and important. But to be effective in the medium and long term, they must build engagement and membership in grassroots organizations that can sustain mass action.
Second, we will need expert legislative maneuvering. The scariest ideas of Donald Trump and his alt-right idea factory will quickly become legislative proposals. Progressives will need to ensure that their champions, as well as courageous moderates, are prepared to use every tool at their disposal to prevent these reckless bills from becoming law. Many are rightly pointing to the tool of the filibuster in the Senate, which will be a critical tool for blocking legislation that will put communities in danger. And surely, there is no Democratic figure more critical than Charles Schumer, the leader of the Senate Democrats, right now. But there are myriad other parliamentary procedures at legislators' disposal to slow down the legislative process--both to provide more time for public scrutiny and debate and to simply block dangerous ideas.
And progressive legislators and progressive organizations must use whatever openings they have to invite our communities into the process. This will, no doubt, include efforts to have constituents make phone calls and send emails to their legislators. But it needs to go further. Resistance on Capitol Hill must be rooted in the lived experiences of the people who Mr. Trump and his acolytes will attack. Progressive organizations and legislators must invite these people to be at the forefront of hearings and targeted actions.
And, where Republicans try to prevent these fora from emerging within the halls of Congress, progressives must create alternative fora outside formal committee hearings to elevate people's stories. To re-frame the debate on issues like immigration from the toxic terms that Mr. Trump will seek to deploy, progressives must elevate the moving stories of our communities--and let our resistance emanate from there. Similarly, in response to the anti-worker agenda that is surely coming, progressives must put working-class and low-income people's faces and experiences at the forefront of legislative resistance.
Third, progressives will need to flex our legal muscles and undertake aggressive litigation. The next four years will bring a torrent of attacks on civil liberties and basic rights that progressives hold dear. While mass action will be critical for changing the public conversation on policy debates and confronting lawmakers with the consequences of their votes, and legislative maneuvers (particularly in the Senate) will be critical for blocking the worst of Trump's agenda, it will not be sufficient to prevent all of his bad ideas from becoming law.
Here, legal tools will be critical. Progressives must use all the tools at our disposal to challenge the legality of clearly unconstitutional proposals that will emerge from President-elect Trump's White House, including the expansion of the surveillance and national security state that he will seek to deploy. Already, Anthony Romero of the American Civil Liberties Union has made this strategy clear, posting a statement titled, "If Donald Trump Implements His Proposed Policies, We'll See Him in Court." Other prominent progressive legal organizations are similarly girding themselves up for the fights ahead.
The legal path will, of course, be made more difficult by a Supreme Court that will almost certainly tilt conservative next year. But that does not make litigation less important. In recent years, progressives fought back successfully against the worst attempts by legislatures across the country to attack immigrants, women, and labor unions. Our side has some of the best legal minds in the country, and we need them now more than ever.
Fourth, progressives must play offense at the state and local level. We must avoid being on permanent defense. Particularly in states, cities, and counties controlled by Democrats, progressives must assert ourselves and show the promise of our ideals and the policies that stem from them. Part one of this strategy must be to protect those who are most vulnerable to the effects of Trump's domestic policy agenda--immigrants, Muslims, women, and the poor. The litmus test of a truly progressive city, county, or state will be whether it develops a comprehensive strategy for protecting its people from an out-of-control immigration and law enforcement infrastructure and attacks on the social safety net that keeps millions of Americans alive.
But, to win the next decade, progressives must also articulate an alternative vision for our country. While we hold the line against an agenda framed as economic populism. This cannot be a Clintonian pitch to the "middle class," which embraced much of neoliberal ideology and trusted technocrats to solve our economic problems. Instead, it must be rooted in a radical critique of power, a commitment to working-class and low-income people, and the dedication to use government as a vehicle for grassroots democracy.
In practice, that means policies that, for instance, rein in corporate power and the stranglehold of large corporations and the wealthy on our politics while empowering workers to assert their rights and police and criminal justice reform that protects the constitutional rights of all people while dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. And it also means bold policy experimentation that deepens democracy by inviting residents into new participatory spaces with real decision-making that incentivize engagement. In the next four years, our municipalities and states must be vibrant laboratories for democracy and spaces from which we can begin to imagine a more inclusive economy--one that prioritizes the rights and needs of working-class people and offers a strengthened safety net that protects us all.
Fifth, we must build grassroots political power. As we take to the streets and organize, progressives must also plot a path forward to channel all of the incredible grassroots spirit of resistance into actual political power building. Part of that will be achieved through the work of building larger bases of membership in grassroots organizations across the country--particularly those with political arms that can endorse and support candidates who share our values. But it must also include a concerted effort to build the ranks of truly progressive candidates and elected officials--and more progressive party institutions.
Some have reflected in recent days about the need for the Democratic Party to reinvent itself. Surely, the Democrats must learn that part of the enthusiasm gap that plagued the Clinton candidacy stemmed from the failure to articulate a vision that highlighted how our system has failed working people, how we must take on the role of big money, how we must invite people back to democracy at every level instead of relying on a neoliberal technocracy, and how black lives must be at the center of our politics.
Others are reflecting on the need to challenge the two-party system in this country. On this front, the best source of hope is the Working Families Party (WFP), which now operates across ten states and the District of Columbia and lent considerable grassroots muscle to the remarkable candidacy of Bernie Sanders. In states like New York, the WFP has identified, cultivated, and bolstered progressive stars running for office at every level of government--from town councilmembers to county legislators to the Mayor of our nation's largest city. Growth in the geographic reach, membership, and resources of the WFP will be critical for continuing to build this leadership pipeline and holding Democrats accountable to the truly progressive vision that we need to win the next decade.
One key battleground for this political fight will be the issue of voting rights. On the national level and in red states, we will see concerted efforts to restrict access to the ballot for communities of color, immigrants, and low-income people. We must defend against this wherever it occurs--through all of the tactics mentioned above. But progressives must also go on offense where we can to expand suffrage and make registering to vote and casting a ballot as easy as possible. This is intrinsically the right thing to do. It will also prove instrumentally valuable, as we seek to build progressive political power.
Finally, it bears mention that some of these tactics may bear a resemblance to those that conservatives have deployed over the past decade--after all, litigation and legislative obstructionism have been the hallmark of efforts to block President Obama's agenda since 2009. But there is a key difference: our way forward will, and must, be rooted in radical empathy--that is, a commitment to try to put ourselves in the shoes of others who are under attack. Put differently, radical empathy in this context means that we understand attacks on the lives and livelihoods of others as attacks on ourselves. It means that we will put our bodies and our professional lives on the line to protect our neighbors and their families.
Such empathy also means listening to and understanding the pain and alienation in communities across the country that tilted towards Donald Trump--especially white working-class people who voted for him because they have seen their livelihoods crumble and come to conclude that the system is rigged against them. Progressives must, of course, forcefully call out hatred and the attacks on our communities that will become a fixture of the next four years, and there is a moral imperative to prioritize the safety and well-being of those communities under imminent threat of attack. But we must also seek to understand those whose votes have endangered us--and, where possible, both listen actively to, and articulate a vision that can build bridges to them.
There are no shortcuts to diffusing the worst of what a Trump presidency could become. The next four years will undoubtedly bring intense fear and pain for people around this country. Many progressives feel right now like they are in the wilderness, and that we may be there for some time. But if we can respond strategically to this moment--and harness our capacity for collective action, legislative maneuvering, and aggressive litigation to block as much of the Trump agenda possible, while identifying opportunities to make local and state progress and building our political muscle--then we can still win the next decade.
Javier H. Valdés and Daniel Altschuler are, respectively, the Co-Executive Director and Managing Director of Make the Road Action, a grassroots immigrant organization. Follow their work: @MakeTheRoadAct @Javierhvaldes @altochulo
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