This article appears in the Spring 2017 issue of The American Prospect. Subscribe here.
Every day since Donald Trump’s January 20 inauguration, Hetty Rosenstein gets up at 6 a.m. to write an email to activists throughout New Jersey about upcoming rallies, marches, meetings, and other events to protest Trump’s agenda. The list began with 80 names, but by the end of February, the 62-year-old Rosenstein, state director of the Communications Workers of America union, was sending her daily email blasts to more than 2,700 people.
Her missives include information on protests at town meetings sponsored by Republican Congress members, weekly vigils to defend the Affordable Care Act, training sessions of burgeoning activists, rallies for immigrant rights and transgender students, a talk and rally at a Trenton church by activist Reverend William Barber II, reminders of upcoming marches like the International Women’s Day strike (“Wear red in solidarity”), and an “Evict Trump-Kushner” rally at a Jersey City office building owned by Jared Kushner’s real-estate company.
Rosenstein’s daily emails have helped strengthen the “resistance” movement against Trump and the Republicans in Congress. Even Rosenstein was surprised that more than 1,000 people showed up, with hundreds of protesters outside, at Representative Leonard Lance’s town hall at a community college in suburban Branchburg, demanding that the conservative Republican vote against repealing Obamacare, oppose Trump’s travel ban on Muslims, get Congress to investigate Russia’s interference in U.S. elections, and push Trump to release his tax returns.
“I’ve been organizing for over 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” says Rosenstein. “Lots of people went to the Women’s March who hadn’t been to a demonstration before. Now they come to the health-care vigils every week. The folks who show up at the town halls include some longtime activists and some new people. I go to two or three demonstrations a week now, and there are many others I don’t get to.”
Many established liberal organizations as well as the dizzying array of new upstart groups are discussing how to sustain this burgeoning anti-Trump movement. They face three key challenges:
- How to stop Trump and the GOP-led Congress from inflicting significant harm and pain through executive orders, legislation, and appointments to key positions in government.
- How to translate the rise in activism into a powerful electoral force to help progressive Democrats take back Congress in 2018 and the White House in 2020. Democrats also need to reverse Republicans’ domination in governors’ seats (the GOP now holds 33 of 50 positions) and state legislatures (the GOP controls both legislative chambers in 32 states and has total control—both legislative chambers and the governor’s office—in 25 states outright) in order to play a role in the next redistricting so as to challenge GOP-friendly gerrymandering.
- How to keep a grassroots progressive movement alive for the long haul that trains new leaders and candidates, advances a progressive policy agenda, and links people concerned with specific issues (i.e., women’s equality, immigration, workers’ rights, environmental justice, public education), transforming the movement into a broad ongoing crusade for a more inclusive and equal America.
Over the past few years, efforts like Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, the Dreamers immigrant-rights movement, the battles against the Keystone pipeline and for marriage equality, and the Fight for 15 generated a new wave of activism, but nothing has inspired more protest than Trump’s election.
A constituent asks Representative Leonard Lance a question during a town hall meeting in Branchburg, New Jersey, on February 22, 2017.
“Lots of us woke up the next morning wondering whether we understood the country as well as we thought we did,” says Gara LaMarche, president of the Democracy Alliance, a network of wealthy liberals that supports progressive candidates and organizations. “We spent some time trying to absorb it.”
But it didn’t take long for people to recover from the shock and begin a resistance movement. “I can’t overstate how unprecedented the grassroots energy of this resistance is,” said Anna Galland, MoveOn’s executive director. “This is far beyond anything I’ve seen, even at the height of the anti–Iraq war movement.”
The new mood of both frustration and urgency is sparking a new level of political activism. According to a Washington Post poll released in late January, 25 percent of Americans—including 35 percent of Democrats, 40 percent of Democratic women, and 43 percent of Democrats under the age of 50—say they plan to be more politically active this year.
“If we’re going to succeed, it won’t mainly be people like us,” says Dan Cantor, national director of the Working Families Party, a group that mobilizes voters and supports progressive candidates in 17 states. “We’re not nimble enough. That’s why we need the resistance. We’re running to catch up. That’s great.”
Many existing progressive groups have seen an upsurge of new members and contributions since the election. The ACLU’s dues-paying membership jumped from 400,000 to one million, with another million on its email list. Within three months after Trump’s election, it raised more than $50 million.
“We’re going to invest much of it to do grassroots organizing,” explains Faiz Shakir, a former staffer for Senator Harry Reid, who was hired in January as the ACLU’s first political director. In March, the ACLU held the first of a planned series of what it calls People Power “resistance training” workshops—conducted in Miami but livestreamed to more than 2,000 house meetings around the country—for its growing membership.
MoveOn.org saw a surge in the number of people on its email list, which now exceeds eight million. The number making a monthly contribution more than tripled to 75,000 within a few months after Trump’s election.
The Sierra Club saw a spike in donations, while its membership and supporter base climbed to 2.7 million. Trump’s election produced a large bump for Planned Parenthood, which faces defunding from Trump and Congress because it performs abortions at its health clinics. The group now has 9.5 million people on its email list.
The day after the January 21 Women’s March, Planned Parenthood co-sponsored a training workshop for 800 people in Washington, D.C. Most of them had never been involved in political activism before, says Kelley Robinson, the group’s deputy organizing director.
“The Women’s March gave them an opportunity to express their feelings,” says Robinson. “But what happens next is equally important. Our message was: Don’t make this a one-time thing. Go back home and be an organizer.”
Within a month after the women’s march, Planned Parenthood had recruited 50,000 volunteers—called Defenders—who pledged to take some action—a phone call to Congress, attending a rally—at least once a week to oppose defunding Planned Parenthood and Obamacare.
Even the Democratic Socialists of America has gained new members and donors, thanks to socialist Bernie Sanders’s growing prominence and the fear incited by Trump. A legacy of the Socialist Party that began in the early 1900s, DSA was languishing in early 2016 with only 6,200 members. Now it has nearly 20,000 members and 121 local chapters, according to national director Maria Svart.
“When everything is at stake, and with Republicans in power, we’re going to lose much of the time, [so] we need a framework to decide what fights are most important to fight,” explains LaMarche of the Democracy Alliance. “On some issues—like immigration, abortion, and health care—we have no choice. But we also have to attack the sources of the right’s power. We have to protect voting rights and reform our campaign-finance laws. We have to defend the courts and the independence of the media. We have to fight fights that weaken Trump and drive a wedge between him and his base, like defending Medicare and safety-net benefits.”
THE ANTI-TRUMP movement doesn’t speak with one voice or agree on an overall strategy. It is composed of well-established groups and new upstarts, seasoned activists and political neophytes.
A new group, Indivisible, began as an online “how to” manual for people frustrated and angry by Trump’s victory, and in just two months spurred the formation of nearly 6,000 confirmed local activist groups in all of the nation’s 435 congressional districts.
Members of the Orchard City Indivisible Group of Campbell, California, raise their hands in support of a fellow member who spoke before the city's council against Trump's policies on March 7, 2017.
Its instigator, Ezra Levin, is a 31-year-old former staffer for Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas and, since 2013, the associate director of a D.C.-based anti-poverty group. After the election, he and his wife (Leah Greenberg, another former congressional staffer) invited friends to their living room for what he called a “grief counseling meeting for progressives.” Visiting Austin, Texas, over Thanksgiving, they met with some local “resistance” groups and discovered “lots of energy but a lack of direction about where to focus.”
When they returned to D.C., Levin and Greenberg met with others who had all worked on Capitol Hill in 2010 when the Tea Party emerged to thwart Obama’s presidency and push the Republicans further right. In a few days, they produced an easy-to-read document, “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda,” based on lessons they’d learned from the Tea Party, including sections on “How your Member of Congress thinks, and how to use that to save democracy,” and “Four local advocacy tactics that actually work.”
Levin sent it to his 650 Twitter followers on a Wednesday night with this message: “Please share w/ your friends to help fight Trump’s racism, authoritarianism, & corruption on their home turf.”
Word spread quickly through social media and within a few hours the Google document crashed. “So we started a website,” Levin says. “Within eight weeks, the site had about 16 million views and two million downloads. About 270,000 people signed up to be on our email list. They wanted to know, ‘What can I do? Is there a local group in my city?’ So we added a registration function to the website. Twenty people would get together in someone’s living room and the next week 500 people would show up at a community center. Within a few days, 700 people showed up at a meeting in Fargo, North Dakota! Some folks in Alaska started a new group called 49 Moons—the length of time Trump would be in office.”
Indivisible sponsors weekly conference calls—some with 60,000 participants—that link its members with the ACLU, MoveOn.org, the Working Families Party, and other groups. After Trump announced his ban on immigration from seven Muslim countries, Indivisible hosted a conference call cosponsored by the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU, the International Refugee Assistance Project, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, with 35,000 people on the line, leading to thousands of phone calls to Congress and participants in protest rallies against Trump’s policy. Levin says they will do future conference calls with other groups around taxes, health care, reproductive rights, and other issues.
Indivisible joined with People’s Action and the Center for Popular Democracy (both nationwide networks of local community-organizing groups), MoveOn.org, and the Working Families Party to start #ResistTrumpTuesdays actions at Congress members’ and state legislators’ offices, to demand they publicly denounce Trump’s agenda and Cabinet appointments.
After Trump’s victory, Meetup added a new network under the hashtag #Resist. Within a few weeks, more than a thousand new groups were created to engage in political action.
Laura Moser started Daily Action, a text message service that makes it easy for users to call their member of Congress. Since its launch in December, about 100,000 users have signed up, generating almost 10,000 calls per day against Trump’s agenda.
Brad Lander, a former community organizer who represents Brooklyn in the New York City Council, instigated Get Organized BK! to mobilize Brooklynites around progressive issues and to pressure the state’s congressional delegation—including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer—to oppose Trump’s initiatives.
The number of coordinated nationwide protests has also escalated. The January 21 Women’s March—the largest protest in American history, with three million to five million participants in cities and suburbs across the country—was followed by an International Women’s Day strike on March 8. The spring begins with a nationwide Tax March on April 15 in Washington, D.C., and more than 50 cities to demand that Trump release his tax returns. Other protests—a Science March (April 22), a People’s Climate March (April 29), an immigrants and workers march (May 1), and a Children’s March (May 13), among others—are already scheduled. Several new websites—including WhatDoIDoAboutTrump.com—keep people abreast of all the anti-Trump events.
Although many of these marches and rallies have a single-issue focus, the level of mutual support has increased significantly. Many unions and environmental groups, for example, mobilized large contingents to the Women’s March in January.
“Trump’s been a great organizer for us,” explains Peter Colavito, chief of staff to Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union. “There’s a higher level of collaboration across movements and issues than I’ve seen in a long time. Now we are seeing a period of unified opposition, led by grassroots activists, that we need to harness into elections.”
Demonstraters march for the "Day Without Immigrants" in Chicago on February 16, 2017.
In response to Trump’s effort to ban Muslim visitors and increase deportation of immigrants, a coalition of religious, immigrant-rights, and labor groups led a campaign to fight back, protesting at airports, initiating lawsuits, and persuading dozens of cities, universities, and churches, as well as California’s political leaders, to pledge to resist cooperation with the federal crackdown.
“The popular upsurge is stiffening the spine of the Democrats,” says Cantor of the Working Families Party. The problem, however, is that if Republicans continue backing Trump, he will prevail legislatively. So one challenge for the activists is to raise the political costs for Republicans when they walk the plank for Trump by backing unqualified or corrupt nominees and unpopular policies.
NEXT YEAR'S POLITICAL map makes it almost impossible for Democrats to gain a majority in the Senate. The Republicans only hold 8 of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs in 2018. To gain a majority, the Democrats would have to hold on to all 25 seats and topple Republicans in at least three states.
Immediately after Trump’s victory, it seemed almost equally implausible for the Democrats to regain control of the House, where they need to win a net 24 seats. But the number of “swing” districts has grown in the wake of the Trump meltdown. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has identified 59 GOP-held seats it intends to target, hoping to take advantage of Trump’s historically low popularity, the upsurge of activism, and the growing local protests against House Republicans. (See “Will Suburban Activism Pave the Democratic Way to the House?,” by Justin Miller.)
A challenge is how to win back white working-class voters who supported Trump, and to increase turnout among African American, low-income, and young voters who, if they go to the polls, are more likely to vote Democrat.
Color of Change is one of several groups that are working to mobilize black voters.
The civil rights group is best known for its successful 2009 effort to get advertisers on Glenn Beck’s Fox News show to pull their ads after the right-wing talk show host called President Obama “a racist,” and for its campaign to get corporations to withdraw from the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative lobby group that pushed state legislators to support voter-ID and stand-your-ground gun laws. This year, it led a petition and social media campaign, along with the Grab Your Wallet campaign, to push corporate chieftains to resign from Trump’s business advisory council; the first to quit was Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Next target: Disney CEO Bob Iger.
Over the past year, however, Color of Change, with 1.2 million members, has primarily focused on fighting racial bias in the criminal justice system. Its primary strategy has been to mobilize black voters to elect progressive local district attorneys, prosecutors, county-level officials, and judges whose decisions shape voting laws, the number of polling places, whether to prosecute rogue cops that kill black residents, whether to plea bargain, how much bail to set, and what prison sentences to seek in court.
“For black communities, these are day-to-day, life-and-death decisions,” explains Arisha Hatch, executive director of the Color of Change PAC, which uses the campaign hashtag #VotingWhileBlack. “These are issues black voters care about. It is a way to translate resistance to Trump in a very concrete way.” Their strategy is not only to help elect more progressive local district attorneys, prosecutors, and judges, but also to increase voter turnout among African Americans, which helps Democrats running for other offices.
Last November, it helped six of seven targeted candidates win races in Florida, Texas, Illinois, North Carolina, and St. Louis. It enlisted more than 3,000 volunteers who sent text messages to more than three million voters, according to Hatch.
Trump won Pennsylvania by about 44,000 votes. Higher turnout by black voters would have delivered the Keystone State to Clinton. This year, Color of Change is working with a coalition in Philadelphia to get candidates vying for city district attorney to adopt a progressive agenda on bail, juvenile sentencing, and other issues, and to increase voter turnout in the May primary. The coalition enlisted Becky Bond, who ran the field operation for Bernie Sanders’s campaign, to help organize the voter-registration drive.
Progressives have added some new gadgets to the political machinery used to identify and support candidates.
A Swing Left house party for New Jersey's Seventh District on March 4, 2017
Swing Left is a website that allows people to plug in their ZIP codes to find the nearest competitive House district. It was started by Ethan Todras-Whitehill, a writer in Amherst, Massachusetts, who hadn’t been politically involved before November.
“I live in a safe Democratic district,” says Todras-Whitehill, “but we’re not far from New York’s 19th Congressional District, where [Republican] John Faso beat Zephyr Teachout by just 26,000 votes.
“I posted a message on my Facebook page that I’m going to work there in 2018 to flip it to a Democrat. Then I asked myself: Why isn’t there an app to do this for me—to find a closest swing district? I called my best friend from high school, an entrepreneur in the Bay Area, and said, ‘Dude, we need to build this.’ He talked with his wife, who is a brand strategist. … It blew up faster than we could have imagined.”
Soon after the website went public, comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted, “Start thinking mid term elections now—this makes it CRAZY easy,” and linked to Swing Left’s website.
By early March, Swing Left had 300,000 people on its list, and information about 53 districts, researched by volunteers, on its website. It organized an initial conference call with 17,000 people, put together more than 500 teams, and organized local house meetings. Like Color of Change’s PAC, Swing Left partnered with Becky Bond’s Knock Every Door group, to help train volunteers in the art of canvassing, voter registration, and recruiting volunteers.
“I don’t think the existing infrastructure can meet the moment and scale up grassroots participation on its own,” says Bond. “We need new things.
“Most of the mainstream liberal groups think that people can only do one thing at a time. Sign a petition. Give money. Make phone calls. But when people are angry or hopeful, they can do multiple things. They want to do something every day with other people. There are tons of people ready to get to work. They’re not waiting for national organizations to tell them what to do.”
Bond started Knock Every Door in January to enlist experienced organizers to train local volunteers in the skills of grassroots organizing, running campaigns, and recruiting progressive candidates. Bond’s approach resembles the Camp Obama training, which helped the Illinois senator win the White House in 2008, and similar efforts that catapulted Sanders from an obscure Vermont senator into a strong contender in the Democratic primaries.
“Democrats can’t depend on candidates who can self-finance,” Bond says. “If you have the charisma to be a leader and are good on issues, you’ve got a shot. We can train them. We can help them organize their campaigns.”
Many people engaged in various resistance activities were part of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. Since November, Sanders has attended meetings and rallies across the country to keep his campaign’s momentum alive and make sure his followers have a strong voice within the Democratic Party. The group built out of his campaign, Our Revolution, has the benefit of Sanders’s volunteer and fundraising lists, and 900 local affiliated groups. It has supported progressive candidates for local, state, and congressional offices, like Pramila Jayapal, a community organizer and state legislator whom Seattle voters sent to Congress in November; Monica Kurth, who was elected to the Iowa state legislature in a special election in January; and Jane Kleeb, a leader of the fight against the Keystone pipeline, a founder of the progressive group Bold Nebraska, and a Sanders delegate to the Democratic convention, who was elected chair of Nebraska’s Democratic Party. But some activists have criticized the group for not investing its resources to hire field staff.
“Our goal is to build sustainable local groups that can work inside and outside the Democratic Party in all 3,143 counties in the country,” says Larry Cohen, the former president of the Communications Workers of America who was a senior adviser on Sanders’s presidential campaign and is now chair of Our Revolution.
“We have to be clear what we’re fighting for, not just what we’re against. We’re not just fighting against the repeal of Obamacare. We’re fighting for Medicare for all. … We’re fighting to get big money out of politics,” Cohen notes. “We will never succeed unless we build a movement for real democracy.”
Sanders’s followers played a key role in Representative Keith Ellison’s campaign for Democratic National Committee chair, a post he narrowly lost to Tom Perez, Obama’s labor secretary and a seasoned progressive who was unfairly characterized as the candidate of the party’s “establishment.” Perez immediately asked Ellison to serve as the DNC’s deputy chair, a bow to the Sanders wing and an effort to unite the party for the upcoming election cycle.
AT THE DNC'S February meeting in Atlanta, delegates elected Maria Elena Durazo—longtime leader of the hotel workers’ union and champion for immigrant rights—as the party’s vice chair. As the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Durazo helped transform Los Angeles and California into labor-friendly and Democratic bastions.
“The party’s bad habits won’t just disappear,” she says. “We have to change the party’s culture. We have to focus on organizing.”
“If we’re going to think about building a progressive movement for the long haul—not just the next election cycle—we have to turn these new activists into leaders, we have to invest in them,” says Durazo, who is the daughter of immigrant farm workers. “They know they need more training so they can strengthen their organizations and increase their numbers. They want to develop their skills, not be told to show up at the next action.”
The Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017
“We have thousands of talented organizers in our movement,” she adds. “They know how to develop leaders, recruit candidates, run political campaigns, build sustainable organizations, and engage in nonviolent direct actions that win results. But that takes resources and a commitment to movement-building. That’s what the DNC should be doing.”
A big dilemma for the progressive movement and the Democratic Party is the weakened labor movement. Unions’ ability to bankroll elections for friendly Democrats is tiny in comparison to money that corporations and wealthy reactionaries like the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and the Waltons provide conservative Republicans. Labor’s steady pummeling and resulting decline in membership—now only 10.7 percent of the workforce, one-third what it was in the 1950s—means it has fewer people to mobilize for campaigns and to turn out on Election Day. In 2016, union households represented only 18 percent of all voters.
Even so, unions remain the largest constituency in the progressive landscape, with close to 15 million members. Unions still provide considerable funding for Democratic candidates and progressive coalitions, but their political budgets are much slimmer than they were only a decade ago.
Unions are in a fight for their very survival. Trump has declared war on organized labor, although the construction unions—whose leaders met with him at the White House in February, praising him for greenlighting the Keystone and Dakota pipeline projects and for pledging to push Congress to adopt a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan—didn’t seem to notice. The number of Republican-dominated states that have passed anti-union “right to work” laws has increased from 22 in early 2012 to 28 today, including once-union-friendly states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. Republicans have designed these laws to weaken unions and remove one of the progressive movement’s key pillars. Public employee unions also expect court rulings, initiated by right-wing groups, that will ban automatic dues payments. Unions will be prioritizing several governors’ races next year in order to thwart and reverse the right-to-work momentum.
Without the labor movement as the Democrats’ fulcrum, there’s no key power player that can bring all the core constituencies together to strategize about targets, resources, recruiting and training candidates, policy, voter registration and turnout, and message. Perhaps the Perez-Ellison team at the DNC can play that role, but they have not yet been tested.
When progressive activists are asked to identify how they are coordinating their efforts to challenge Trump and build momentum for the 2018 and 2020 elections, they talk about the different “tables” they are invited to. The mosaic of liberal and progressive groups—including unions, Planned Parenthood, Demos, the Working Families Party, MoveOn.org, the Center for Popular Democracy, the Center for Community Change, Color of Change, EMILY’s List, Next Generation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Human Rights Campaign, People’s Action, the NAACP, PICO, the National Council of La Raza, United We Dream, the ACLU, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Wellstone Action, Mijente, and Caring Across Generations—join forces in overlapping meetings, conference calls, and coalitions.
But some activists resist the notion that the progressive movement needs a centralized war room, which they disparage as “top-down” planning. In the wake of Trump’s election, longstanding groups are still figuring out how to work with the many new players and activists around protest actions, lobbying efforts, and elections.
Democrats and their progressive allies are also divided between those who feel the necessity of cutting deals with Trump on issues such as trade and infrastructure, and those who insist that any compromising with Trump results in “normalizing” a man they view as an authoritarian, or even a neofascist.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, one of Trump’s fiercest critics, is in a tricky position. An estimated 44 percent of union households voted for Trump, a higher margin than they have given past Republican candidates. Trumka has tried to walk that tightrope by saying that he’d work with Trump when the president did the right thing, while broadly hinting that this was vanishingly unlikely. But when Trumka went on Fox News and said, “Will we partner with him? Absolutely. Will we partner with him to try to rewrite the immigration rules of the country? Absolutely,” his comments had the progressive blogosphere in an uproar.
Progressives were also upset when any left-leaning Democratic senators voted to confirm Trump’s cabinet nominees. They even criticized Senator Elizabeth Warren—many progressives’ favorite candidate for president in 2020—when she cast her vote in favor of Ben Carson to be the next secretary of housing and urban development.
In contrast, Planned Parenthood won progressive plaudits when it rejected Trump’s proposal to restore its federal funding (almost $500 million a year) if it agreed to stop providing abortions. “Offering money to Planned Parenthood to abandon our patients and our values is not a deal that we will ever accept,” said Dawn Laguens, the group’s executive vice president. “Providing critical health care services for millions of American women is nonnegotiable.”
But the reality was that Planned Parenthood rebuffed the offer in the midst of its discussions with the Trump administration. They were, in fact, negotiating with Trump. But they couldn’t reach an agreement.
As part of the resistance to normalizing the man and his policies, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, John Oliver, and Alec Baldwin mock Trump on television on a regular basis. Meryl Streep spent six minutes condemning Trump at the Golden Globes without mentioning his name, which nevertheless triggered one of Trump’s Twitter tantrums. The mainstream media have begun using the word “lie” in headlines and news stories to describe some Trump statements. Sleeping Giants, a social media campaign, successfully pressured more than 1,000 companies to stop advertising on the white nationalist website Breitbart, which was run by Trump’s closest adviser Steve Bannon. Members of Super Bowl champions the New England Patriots announced they’ll refuse to meet with Trump at the White House, while the vice president of the Baltimore Orioles said that if it were up to him, he wouldn’t let Trump throw out the first pitch on opening day. This year’s Super Bowl featured commercials for Coca Cola, Budweiser, and other sponsors that promoted diversity and tolerance—a not-very-subtle dig at Trump’s attacks on immigrants, Muslims, and others. In one ad, hair-product company It’s A 10 warned viewers that we’re “in for four years of awful hair.”
INDEED, MANY AMERICANS—not just liberals and progressives—view the prospect of four years of Donald Trump in the White House as frightening. He has already inflicted much suffering on vulnerable Americans, and more pain is in the offing. It is uncharted territory. Nobody has a clear road map. But the upsurge of protest in the streets and political activism in the precincts is promising—not only to win back the House next year and put a progressive Democrat in the White House in 2020, but also to build an ongoing movement for change.
Containing Trump, and using that energy to rebuild a persuasive progressivism, is a challenge unlike any other we’ve faced. Looking back on a century of organizing, there were periods when large numbers of ordinary people were mobilized for years, even for decades. But the struggles to build unions, the anti-war movement of the 1960s, and the fights for civil rights, women’s rights, disability rights, LGBT rights, and environmental justice were each about a reasonably well-defined project with concrete objectives.
The movement to resist Trump is in a whole other category. Its goal is nothing less than to save American democracy, and then to use that mass mobilization to resume the project of creating a humane America that is more like social democracy than corporate plutocracy. The challenges are on multiple fronts, but never has the need for solidarity been so urgent. To succeed, this movement will require a permanent increase in the level of popular engagement—a reinvigoration of democracy to save democracy.
The stakes have never been higher. Trump is too dark a threat to use words like “blessing in disguise.” The best response is to defeat Trump’s fake populism and his appeals to fear and bigotry by showing the world that the American people are more decent than he is.