A New America Must Be Born
Toward a Season of Resistance and Organizing to Eradicate “Trumpism”
The Second of Three Essays on the Impact and Consequences of the 2016 Presidential Election
In my first essay, Trump Will Be Like Reagan on Steroids, I attempted to demonstrate that “elections matter,” particularly in moments of grave crises and danger– that the consequences of apathy, inaction or misdirection can be devastating in terms of the impact on the lives of ordinary people and the direction of the nation. Nothing that we have witnessed thus far persuades me that Donald Trump and Trumpism is anything short of one of the most radical rightwing, reactionary political viruses in the history of this country. While the nation’s political leaders and the establishment prepare for the obligatory celebration of the peaceful transfer of power under the U.S. Constitution, the hard, cold reality is that the pomp and circumstance will sanction a vile and ugly “minority” regime which poses a threat to the emerging “culture of rights” fought for by African Americans, other people of color, women, Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Trans-Gender persons, labor, environmentalists and others. It was not just the tone of the campaign that propelled Trump into the White House, but the retrograde white nationalism and overt appeal to a kind of laissez-fare Capitalism that is directly counter to a progressive vision of the “new America” which must become if the flaws and failings of the “founding fathers” are ever to be refashioned to achieve a “more perfect union.”
We who believe in a different vision of America are not obliged to accommodate, acquiesce to or accept Trump or Trumpisms in the name of Constitutional continuity or political stability. While we may vigorously debate the substance and ultimate outcome of a progressive vision for America, back in the day, as an Independent Candidate for President in 1992, I campaigned on a New Covenant for a New America based on the following broad tenets: repair of the damages done to the indigenous inhabitants of this land, enslaved Africans and other exploited people of color as the foundation for the creation of an inclusive, multiracial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, political and economic democracy free of discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. While the tenets of such a vision may be debatable, they are a far cry from the dying gasp of white nationalism, patriarchy and unbridled Capitalism epitomized by Trumpism. The task of progressives of all tendencies is to eradicate the virulent virus of Trumpism as a pre-condition for advancing a transformative vision for a new America!
We who believe in a new America cannot rest until this task is done. Accomplishing this task will take more than brilliant analysis, profound punditry, lofty declarations, radical rhetoric or just wishing it to be so. It will require relentless struggle with a premium on coordination and collaboration among progressive movements, organizations and institutions. We should begin this epic struggle confident of one paramount reality: Trumpism does not represent the will of the American people. The Trump administration is a “minority regime” which lost the popular vote by nearly three million ballots, and carried “battleground states” on the Electoral College Map by razor-thin margins. Some 100 million potential voters did not bother to cast ballots in the 2016 election. We must believe, have faith and act on the conviction that there are more Americans who believe or can be persuaded to believe in a progressive vision of a new America than those who desperately want to turn the clock back to the good of days of white male dominance and privilege. Our challenge is to educate, cultivate and activate a decisive majority, committed to the vision of a new America.
This protracted struggle for a new America must begin with some basic steps. First, we must work to strengthen and deepen the collaboration between the Moral Monday Movement, Black Lives Matter, Movement for Black Lives, reparations, immigrant rights, gender equality, LGBTQ, movement to end the War on Drugs, mass incarceration and police violence, labor, economic justice/living wage, environment, any and all progressive movements. Second, we must make a serious commitment to popular civic education and engagement and heed the words of the late Kwame Ture, “the people must be organized.”
If we are to activate a majority committed to a new America among the millions of inactive, alienated or disillusioned people whose lives are nonetheless affected by this system, we must work in creative ways to encourage people to join an organization, to participate, to become engaged in the struggle beginning at the local level – building block clubs, joining civic associations, attending school board and city council meetings, participating in protests and voting in elections. We must prioritize organizing the unorganized! Strengthening social movements and engaging millions of more people in the struggle is crucial to achieving short, medium and long term victories along the road to a New America. As the venerable Jack O’Dell once put it, “the people organized is democracy’s greatest guarantee.” Social movements are the indispensable foundation to the quest for a New America!
While social movements are foundational, progressives must necessarily also engage the American electoral system and process, but we must do so with our eyes wide open. The great fallacy of the American Capitalist political-economy is the myth that elections equal democracy. It is my contention that elections do not equal democracy; participation is the essence of democracy. Hence the vital importance of social movements and the commitment to civic education and engagement/participation. For progressives, engagement in electoral politics should be viewed as a crucial component of a multifaceted tactical and strategic approach to achieving the objective of a New America.
With these provisos, we must mobilize/organize to maximize electoral engagement at all levels. We must be committed to seizing the reins of electoral power to counter the right and enact progressive policies. But, seizing the reins of electoral power will not be possible without day to day, people to people organizing around issues and concerns of importance to communities and constituencies. Beyond the theory, it is through our praxis, our work, our actions that progressives will persuade the unengaged, the alienated and apathetic that elections matter. The traditional ritual of gearing up to meet, greet and mobilize the people prior to elections is futile. It must be replaced by ongoing, consistent, participatory engagement with the people as a matter of principle and sound practice. Participation is the essence of democracy!
Inherent in this approach is the notion that for elections to matter there must be an agenda that matters to the people. It is out of the day to day engagement in the struggles of the people that an agenda of concerns becomes evident. Indeed, progressives would be wise to devise methods for engaging communities and constituencies in agenda-building processes. The agenda, not style, rhetoric or personality should be the basis for running and endorsing candidates. This commitment will require a challenge to the kind of traditional political electioneering that has produced such massive apathy, alienation and non-engagement/participation in the electoral political process. Vibrant progressive movements must challenge the status-quo by cultivating, training and running servant leaders committed to advancing the concept and practice of participatory democracy. We cannot just condemn the deficiencies of the system, we must take over the system with the goal of transforming it. Progressives must run for elective office and win!
To eradicate Trumpism, progressives must prepare to march on ballot boxes with a fury and passion in 2018 unprecedented in recent history. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the 2014 mid-term and 2016 presidential elections. In 2014 liberals and progressives nodded off to sleep, opening the door for the rightwing reactionaries, spearheaded by the Tea Party to capture control of the House of Representatives, reduce the Democrats margin in the Senate and equally important win a wave of state legislatures and Governors. Though the reactionaries are in the minority, they were energized and committed. It is axiomatic that an organized minority can always overcome or defeat and unorganized majority. Liberals, left, progressives are the majority in terms of public sentiment on virtually every major public policy issue. But, our side, the majority succumbed to the ambitions of the reactionaries because of dissatisfaction with President Obama, indifference, apathy, disorganization and most of all the failure to clearly assess the dangers of the rising tide of rightwing extremism.
The consequences of the failure of the majority to organize to defeat the minority was the creation of “super-red” states with the power in the hands of the reactionaries to redraw electoral districts to protect their new-found power; a power that has been systematically used to implement voter suppression schemes and to drastically reduce state funding for social programs perceived as beneficial to Blacks, people of color and the poor. In 2016 the demographics decisively favored the “Obama Coalition,” but the vocal, energized forces of reaction surged to victory where it mattered most – the battleground states on the Electoral College map. Our side, the majority side, suffered from an “enthusiasm gap” and the eclectic, reactionary forces of Trumpism exploited it to propel their leader into the presidency. Elections matter!
Massive voter education, registration and turn-out mobilization for the 2018 mid-term elections are absolutely essential, and the effort must be cast as a critical dimension of the resistance movement. No matter what the obstacles, progressive forces must march on ballot boxes like a tidal wave, a tsunami, to sweep away ballot suppression and other impediments to voting. We must not be deterred. In states with so called felony disenfranchisement laws, we must redouble campaigns to overturn them; where voter identification laws exist, while we are working to repeal them, we should contact potential voters one by one and assist them to secure the required papers; if the number of days for early voting are shortened, we must make an all-out push to mobilize the maximum number of willing voters possible to cast their ballots on the available dates; and, if the forces of reaction, the minority remove polling stations from nearby neighborhoods to distant, hard to reach places, let us organize freedom rides to these locations, singing out, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around,” and “we shall not, we shall not be moved!”
Massive electoral engagement as outlined above is necessary to contain and eradicate the virulent virus of Trumpism, but this life and death struggle for the soul and future of this nation will require much more. We must obstruct, disrupt and discredit Trumpism as we galvanize and growing majority committed to a New America. Massive marches, rallies and demonstrations are already underway as liberals and progressives organize to express resistance/opposition to the reactionary agenda of the right. These must also be educational, consciousness-raising and movement-building events with the kind of popular/understandable messaging that will expand the progressive majority. But, it will take more than marches, rallies and demonstrations. Massive, creative civil disobedience actions and campaigns are the order of the day. The Moral Monday Movement and Black Lives Matter/Movement for Black Lives may serve as models for the “creative tension” required to turn the tide at this critical moment in history.
But, it will take more than civil disobedience to eradicate Trumpism. We must strike blows at the heart of the Capitalist political economy. We must disrupt business at the local, state and national level. I maintain that educating and organizing communities and constituencies to utilize targeted boycotts/economic sanctions is essential to an overall strategy of resistance and transformation. We have witnessed states like Indiana that adopted policies that would inflict harm/pain on targeted constituencies flinch, recalibrate, reconsider when economic sanctions/boycotts were threatened to, in the words of Martin Luther King, “redistribute the pain.” To eradicate Trumpism, we must be prepared to massively redistribute the pain.
This critical season of resistance and mobilizing/organizing can change the course of history. We are the majority. An organized majority can defeat this retrograde, minority regime that has come to occupy the White House. Our growing majority coalition, a re-imagined, revitalized Rainbow Coalition, can eradicate Trumpism and clear the path to the creation of a New America. “The arc of the universe bends toward justice.” Let us resolve to bend it!