Web Only / Features » November 14, 2016
Our Movements Are Powerful, the Institutional Left Isn’t the Solution. Here’s What We Should Do Now.
We can’t let the failure of the Democratic Party and the liberal establishment confuse us into thinking that our grassroots movements are losing—they’re not.
Trump's victory is a backlash that proves the grassroots movements on the Left are winning.
I’ve been in the progressive and movement Left for a number of years.
How did Trump happen? It’s been a long time coming. Many of us on Tuesday night were not surprised. But those in the institutional Left were—and that’s where the problem starts.
The institutional left has the wrong leadership
This problem goes far beyond the DNC. Poor leadership on the progressive Left is responsible for Trump. The Left has been celebrating its own intelligence and talking almost only to itself for quite some time now.
This has had serious strategic repercussions. It’s created an over-reliance on tools like big data, tech, inside connections, and experts. The Left spends way too little time on what actually politically motivates people: values, feelings, and community.
So when Trump showed up this Left didn’t take him seriously for months. Don’t believe me? This was the first article the Huffington Post posted about Trump. It took six months before this progressive beacon stopped covering Trump’s campaign in the entertainment section.
When the Left finally did realize how resonant and popular Trump was it responded in the only way an institution that prides itself on being correct and superior possibly could: it fact-checked him. Rather than engage with the true emotions of those drawn to him, they ridiculed people who connected with Trump’s message and ignored their emotional reality. Meanwhile, Trump spoke to feelings and values and painted a picture of a world that genuinely resonated with people and soothed their fears. You cannot fact check a feeling. Hopefully, the lesson will sink in now.
The Left that got us into this situation will not solve this problem. This Left’s obsession with its own ego and righteousness makes it out of touch with the day to day lived realities of even its own self-professed base of Black, Immigrant, LGBTQ+ people, Muslims, sexual assault survivors, and people with disabilities and other vulnerable demographics in this country.
Our communities recognized what Trump was from the outset—we have experienced violence and hatred in our lives and recognized it in his campaign. And now it's our same communities, the communities that knew that Trump’s ideas were powerful and not to be taken lightly that are the most at risk.
So, to the “it could never happen” institutional Left: it may take you a while to fully understand what happened here. Please get out of the way, and pass the baton to those who already do.
Our movements are winning—they are changing the world
This also happened because our movements are winning. This critical to understand.
Trump’s victory is a backlash that proves the grassroots movements on the Left are winning. The Movement for Black Lives, the environmental movement, the LGBTQ+ movement, the immigration movement. They are making gains that are changing the world. If they weren’t there wouldn’t be a swell of people fighting against it.
Our movements are still powerful. Do not let the failure of the Democratic party, which has never truly respected a single one of these movements, or the last few days confuse you into thinking our movements are losing—they’re not.
In fact, this is what happens when movements start to win. The opposition gets organized. Trump’s campaign proves this. It is a near-perfect vehicle for the opposition of each of our movements combined in one.
That does not mean that the people who were seduced by his campaign are necessarily also the opposition to our movement. It means change is hard and uncertain and they cannot visualize themselves in the future our movements are proposing. Most likely many of them do not fully understand, or desire, the violence that they voted into power.
We are standing at a tipping point and the world we’ve been trying to build lies just beyond it. The United States where we can all flourish, where people are safe, have dignity, and are intrinsically valued as people is around the corner. This is the true destiny of our nation and it cannot be stopped. In this moment the pendulum has swung, but it will swing back even harder—that’s already started too.
Now is not the time to withdraw. It’s the time to double down.
What we do next is really important.
Come January 20 Trump will have control of the House, Senate, and the highest office in the country. The inside game is dead. Business-as-usual is a trap.
We cannot pretend for a second that things just get ugly during elections, that elections are just always nasty. This was not a normal election campaign and this is not politics as usual. This country just validated a bigoted, racist, misogynist, who ran a hateful campaign founded from day one on limiting the rights and freedoms of the majority of the people in this country. People are scared and in real danger. Anyone who is trying to reach across the aisle right now was never on our side.
This is a call to action. We have to do three things at once: we have to show up for each other, and protect each other; we must model the country as it should be, and we must make the violence of Trump’s America unable to be ignored.
Immigrants, Black people, LGBTQ+ people, Muslims, women, anyone who believes Trump’s America is unallowable we must come together and not allow it.
When ICE come to tear apart families we must stand in the way. When the FBI and police crack down on Movement for Black Live Matter organizers or Muslims, we must grind the system to a halt. When trans folks are feeling isolated and alone we must be there for them. We need to show up for each other. We must make the violence of Trump’s America so visible that even those who were seduced by Trump’s rhetoric cannot stand with him.
We must become more organized and coordinated. We must resist collectively and non-violently on a scale that we have not seen for decades. This moment calls us to come together and summon the courage and love to express solidarity on a whole new level.
We must show we are here, and here for each other, and we’re not going anywhere—not one of us.
The Left needs to support new leadership that understands the dangers of the moment and the power of the systems that are against us, and also has the vision to see and articulate that the future we’ve been waiting for just around the bend.
We need a bold new Left that paints a visionary picture of what this country could be: a place where everyone can thrive. We need a Left that nurtures everyone who wants to be a part of making that future happen.
This is a scary moment. The stakes are high, but we have our future to win.
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Activist, Organizer, Lead trainer at Momentum, suffering on the left since 2012. Born and raised in Atlanta.