“Get a job!” jeered a dude donning a red “Make America Great Again” hat in the passenger’s seat of a taxi driving down U Street. We were sitting on the sidewalk queuing for Jacobin Magazine’s “Anti-Inauguration” event on the evening of January 20.
Half-focussed on a game we had begun playing to distract us from the brick sidewalk pressing against our thighs, we looked up to briefly lock eyes with the guy in the taxi. None of us could muster a response. We blinked. The taxi disappeared down 13th Street.
Several hours later, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Anand Gopal, Owen Jones, and Jeremy Scahill took the stage at Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Theatre to collectively construct their blueprint for an invigorated left. A left cured of American lockjaw, with a global pulse and circulatory system. A left with a fast metabolism, where the catabolic processes that render our political discourse accessible occur in a perfect, delicate balance with the anabolic relationships required to build radical inclusivity. A left with a craving for systems change, whose first word is no longer “no,” but “yes.”
Within the impossibility of January 20, Friday’s speakers made room for critical aspiration and a sense of movement, grounding the audience’s palpable frustration in nuanced political analysis. How do we move forward? The new left’s organizing principles, the speakers suggested, lie in a careful dissection of what went wrong not just in the 2016 electoral cycle, but also during the eight years of Obama’s administration, which effectively hardened neoliberal norms behind a smokescreen of hope and change.
Taylor, Princeton African-American Studies professor and author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, noted that “embedded inside every rightwing backlash is the failure of the liberal establishment to deliver a better way.” She argued that given the “deep anger and disgust with the political status quo in the United States” as witnessed with the rise of the Occupy movement, Black Lives Matter, and the Standing Rock pipeline resistance, the way forward cannot, and will not, be a retreat towards traditional Democratic institutions, but a grassroots resistance that rejects the failing logic of capitalism and neoliberalism.
But how do we construct such a movement? Friday’s speakers argued that organizing an internationalist, inclusive and decentralized Left will require not just politicization en masse, but a refusal to accept the system’s divide and conquer tactics. Mainstream media, Taylor suggested, is instrumental in painting the symptoms of the status quo as discrete, as separate. The backbone of our new left, and certainly the key to any movement poised to resist corporate interests and reactionary policies, is our unity.
Millions and millions strong
The next day’s Women’s March on Washington brought nearly a million and a half demonstrators out into the streets of Washington, D.C., and it is nearly impossible to regard the March as anything other than the birth of the new left, articulated the night before at the “Anti-Inauguration.”
Its first cry bellowed around the world, throughout 673 sister marches on all seven continents. In Washington, the official march permit was scrapped when demonstrators filled the entirety of the planned march route down Independence Avenue. Heading down Pennsylvania Avenue instead, marchers cried “shame” outside of the recently built Trump Hotel; chants of “welcome to your first day, we will not go away” shook the windows. The dozens of large iron stands that lined the street, which had remained empty for the previous day’s inauguration, spilled over with demonstrators.
Like all newborns, our new left has not quite yet learned how to speak, to express itself, to listen, or to share. From the thousands of signs equating gender with genitalia to the marchers’ embrace of white feminism, the first iteration of the new left reveals its immaturity.
But, as Taylor reminds us in a recent Facebook post, “movements do not come to us from heaven fully formed and organized. They are built by regular people.”
Indeed, our new left will be decisively heterogenous. And within the movement, well-seasoned organizers and radical communities will open up space for learning, for dialogue and conversation. Those of us who benefit from the very real, very tangible effects of white privilege, upward mobility, and institutional access will take the burden of education upon ourselves.
We will show up for racial justice, we will stand up for the climate, we will safeguard the rights of all marginalized and historically oppressed communities. Our solidarity will run far and wide, nourishing all. We will not reject folks who do not already understand radical frameworks and histories of oppression, we will work hard to ensure that we can all say “yes” together to demand change.
Most importantly, we will start asking for more. We will demand more. All of us will stand together to demand affordable, comfortable housing for all. We will demand liveable wages for everyone. Access to child care. Public transit. We will demand healthcare. And we will demand it be entirely federally funded, without barriers to access.
We will demand access to education, yes, even higher education, for all. And we will demand that it too be federally funded. We will demand responsible, sustainable climate policy. We will demand that our governments fund the arts, the humanities, the sciences.
It doesn’t matter whether you have been awake for years or just rolled out of the bed. Here we are. Welcome.
Sophia Reuss is a Toronto-based writer and editor. She was rabble’s 2016 news intern.
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