How impressive were those protests across the U.S. on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after Trump won? And he hasn’t even deported anyone yet. Imagine what will happen when he does.
I say this not just as someone moved by any political activity that looks beyond casting a vote. Impressive because they have already answered a question that hung in the air once the result was known: What kind of opposition or resistance makes sense for the Trump years ahead?
That question floated up instantly, like a Macy’s balloon, because Trump’s forces now control all the levers of formal political power: presidency, congress and courts. His cabinet — Giuliani, Christie, Newt — will be even more of a clown car than the Republican primaries. They’ll have the means to roll back every advance in minority rights, abortion rights, gender rights, health care, climate change — with nothing in the formal political processes to hinder them.
The only answer I can think of is a popular resistance movement coming from the ground up, mobilizing huge, diverse numbers in the streets and ready to engage — this is crucial — non-violently, in civil disobedience, if necessary. It may find supporters in the formal system, like Sanders or Warren, but they’re shackled in what they can do in those roles for two years at least.
Why nonviolent? Because it’s idiotic to imagine taking on U.S. state power in the forms of police and military — not to mention overarmed right-wing militias and survivalist groups, who are significant forces there. But the difference is: militias consider themselves a permanently besieged minority.
A mass movement of the — I don’t even know what to call it: left, progressives, people of good will — has to assume it implicitly represents or can win over the large majority of its fellow citizens. That was assumed by every great mass movement in U.S. history: civil rights, anti-Vietnam war, union drives in the 1930s, even the abolitionists of the 19th century. And they eventually did.
In fact, there is majority support for most advances the Trumpians want to destroy. So the appeal to the broader society will be based on a moral challenge, as it was on issues like slavery, women’s suffrage and civil rights.
Does this mean denying the legitimacy of the democratic voting process? Less its legitimacy than its limits. Clinton won a majority of votes, though not the presidency. The majority doesn’t deserve to have its views trampled on because of a peculiar electoral system. For that matter, minorities don’t deserve to be trampled on by misogynists or racists, no matter how the vote went.
I mentioned this to a despairing American friend who called the day after. Yes, he said bleakly, but I don’t see the experience or vision needed to organize a campaign of mass resistance. He’s right, civil rights didn’t just spring from Martin Luther King’s head; it developed over many decades. The antiwar movement of the 1960s drew on the 1930s.
But today’s protesters have also been gathering insight, through Occupy and Black Lives Matter — or from the Chicago Teachers’ Union, which allied with parents and others to literally fight City Hall on school closures and privatization. “Even when we lose, we win,” said Madeleine Parent, Canada’s pioneer labour feminist, “because we learn something.”
What have they learned? Take the role of social media, which one of them says “will be crucial” in building a mass anti-Trump movement. “They’ve learned you don’t achieve much by signing online petitions but you can find like-minded others and fix a meeting with them, to talk or march, quickly and flexibly.”
Political alliances matter too. King played off Southern racist governors against a liberal president, JFK. That obviously won’t apply with Trump; he’s the racist. But there are elected officials to ally with, like mayors in cities such as New York.
At its best what could emerge is a revitalization of U.S. politics in a sense beyond mere elections. Everyone in the U.S. likes to talk about making a revolution — from Reagan to late night infomercials — but this one might prepare for the “political revolution” that Bernie Sanders promoted: getting money out of official politics and democracy back in.
You have to start somewhere. As anarchist labour leader Joe Hill said before his impending death by firing squad: “Don’t mourn, organize.” There’s really nothing else to do at this point anyway.
This column was first published in the Toronto Star.
Photo: Gregg Brekke/flickr