Don’t Deride Liberals Who Attended the Women’s March—Recruit Them to Radical Politics

The fact that 3 million people took to the streets to protest President Trump shows that the possibility of a mass Left movement in the U.S. is now very real.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor January 23, 2017

Revolutionary socialists have a long and rich tradition of building united fronts, which seems more real now that 3 million people were in the streets this weekend. (Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

This piece first appeared at Social​ist​Work​er​.org

The women's marches were the beginning, not the end. What happens next will be decided by what we do.

The Unit­ed States has just expe­ri­enced a cor­po­rate hijack­ing. If Don­ald Trump’s inau­gur­al speech did not alert you to the fact that they intend to come after all of us, then you are not pay­ing attention.

The scale of the attack is as deep as it is wide, and this means that we will need a mass move­ment to con­front it. To orga­nize such a move­ment nec­es­sar­i­ly means that it will involve the pre­vi­ous­ly unini­ti­at­ed — those who are new to activism and orga­niz­ing. We have to wel­come those peo­ple and stop the arro­gant and moral­is­tic chastis­ing of any­one who is not as woke.”

The wom­en’s march­es in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and around the coun­try were stun­ning, inspir­ing and the first of a mil­lion steps that will be need­ed to build the resis­tance to Trump.

But look around social media, and you can read cri­tiques and even denun­ci­a­tions of the marchers: Where were all of these peo­ple before? Why are they only get­ting involved now? Why does­n’t the march have more rad­i­cal demands? Why did march orga­niz­ers, who are polit­i­cal­ly lib­er­al, allow only lib­er­als to speak?

All this is a sign of a polit­i­cal imma­tu­ri­ty that con­tin­ues to stunt the growth of the Amer­i­can Left.

Were lib­er­als on the march? Yes! And thank god. The move­ment to resist Trump will have to be a mass move­ment, and mass move­ments aren’t homo­ge­neous — they are, pret­ty much by def­i­n­i­tion, polit­i­cal­ly het­ero­ge­neous. And there is not a sin­gle rad­i­cal or rev­o­lu­tion­ary on earth who did not begin their polit­i­cal jour­ney hold­ing lib­er­al ideas.

Lib­er­als become rad­i­cals through their own frus­trat­ing expe­ri­ences with the sys­tem, but also through becom­ing engaged with peo­ple who became rad­i­cal before them. So when rad­i­cals who have already come to some impor­tant con­clu­sions about the short­com­ings of exist­ing sys­tem mock, deride or dis­miss those who have not achieved the same lev­el of con­scious­ness, they are help­ing no one.

This isn’t lead­er­ship, it’s infan­tile. It’s also a recipe for how to keep a move­ment tiny and irrel­e­vant. If you want a move­ment of the polit­i­cal­ly pure and already com­mit­ted, then you and your select friends should go right ahead and be the resis­tance to Trump.

Should the march­es have been more mul­tira­cial and work­ing class? Yes! But you are not a seri­ous orga­niz­er if that’s where your answer to the ques­tion ends. The issue for the Left is how we get from where we are today to where we want to be in terms of mak­ing our march­es Black­er, Brown­er and more work­ing class. Sim­ply com­plain­ing about it changes nothing.

There will no effec­tive move­ment against Trump that does­n’t direct­ly con­front the issue of racism. It has to be front and cen­ter, and it seemed to me that the march orga­niz­ers took that ques­tion seri­ous­ly and made gen­uine efforts to shift short­com­ings in their orig­i­nal approach.

The orga­nized turnout of unions for the Wash­ing­ton demon­stra­tion was much small­er than it should have been. But at least some sec­tions of the labor move­ment did feel the pres­sure from its own mem­ber­ship to devote greater resources to mobi­liza­tion in the final weeks, and plen­ty of union mem­bers got them­selves to the march as indi­vid­u­als and with rank-and-file mem­bers. That’s some­thing for the Left to build on in mak­ing labor cen­tral to the anti-Trump resistance.

The wom­en’s march­es were the begin­ning, not the end. What hap­pens next will be decid­ed by what we do. Move­ments do not come to us from heav­en, ful­ly formed and orga­nized. They are built by actu­al peo­ple, with all their polit­i­cal ques­tions, weak­ness­es and strengths.

If the Left does­n’t engage with the aim of con­tend­ing for lead­er­ship and influ­ence, we just con­cede these forces to the Democ­rats and lib­er­als, who will cer­tain­ly try to con­fine the new upsurge of oppo­si­tion to the polit­i­cal lim­its they want to define.

The point isn’t to bury our argu­ments, but to learn how to make them while oper­at­ing in polit­i­cal are­nas that aren’t just our own if we want to win peo­ple to more rad­i­cal pol­i­tics. Rev­o­lu­tion­ary social­ists have a long and rich tra­di­tion of build­ing unit­ed fronts, which seems more real now that 3 mil­lion peo­ple were in the streets this weekend.

We must do a bet­ter job at facil­i­tat­ing debate, dis­cus­sion and argu­ment so that we talk about how to build the kind of move­ment we want. But end­less social media cri­tiques with no com­mit­ment to div­ing into that strug­gle for the kind of move­ment we want is not a seri­ous approach.

There are lit­er­al­ly mil­lions of peo­ple in this coun­try who are now ques­tion­ing every­thing. We need to open up our orga­ni­za­tions, plan­ning meet­ings, march­es and much more to them. We need to read togeth­er, learn togeth­er, be in the streets togeth­er and stand up to this assault together.

Keean­ga-Yamaht­ta Tay­lor is a writer, pub­lic speak­er and activist liv­ing in Philadel­phia. She writes on Black pol­i­tics, hous­ing inequal­i­ty and issues of race and class in the Unit­ed States. She is the author of the forth­com­ing From #Black­Lives­Mat­ter to Black Lib­er­a­tion, pub­lished by Hay­mar­ket Books in Jan­u­ary 2016. She is an Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of African Amer­i­can Stud­ies at Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty. Fol­low her on Twit­ter: @KeeangaYamahtta.
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