This is Donald Trump’s America.
With the ceremonial Electoral College decision behind us, now is the time to face the reality of a Trump regime head-on. That is the first step.
Now it’s time to do something about it.
You’ve come here for different reasons — some of you were politically awakened for the first time during this election, some reawakened and others are just more enraged. You might be here because of Trump’s comments about sexual assault and the women who came forward to confirm he acted on his claims. Or maybe it’s Steve Bannon’s appointment as “chief strategist” and the rise of explicit white supremacy and nationalism all the way to the cabinet that set you off. While it matters what brought you to this point, what’s more important is that you’re here, and you’re ready to sign up for the resistance.
Trump, his cabinet and his platform catalyzed outrage across the country. You don’t need to be told how terrifying his statements about a Muslim registry are, or convinced that his attacks on the press and private citizens alike are unacceptable. What you want to know is what the hell to do about it.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have most of them. And you’re bound to disagree with some, or even a lot, of what I’ll lay out.
I do have some insights, gleaned from years of experience as an organizer — both paid and volunteer — in widely divergent efforts. Some were much more successful than others. I studied history and minored in community & justice studies as an undergrad, focusing on social movements whenever possible, ranging from local organizing around public schools to armed coal-miner uprisings almost 100 years ago in West Virginia. I once managed a city council campaign. I’ve spent years covering protests of different stripes and many hours interviewing organizers and participants. I talked to a few more after Trump’s election about what can be done.
All of that is to say, I have some experience but it is by no means authoritative. In my quest to understand what’s happening in our country right now and what can be done, I’ve been reading voraciously. I’ve yet to find one great piece that says it all. And that’s why I’m pulling this together — not to be any sort of definitive guide, but to try to pass along the best advice from what I’ve found.
You can find links to some of the best readings in the online version of this article. It includes an incredibly detailed guide filled with lessons from the tea party’s success that could prove very useful. There are tips for journalists, a link to get on the bus to DC for the inauguration protests, some more general reading and a well-sourced guide about how to organize against Trump.
Hopefully something in here speaks to you. I’m sure parts of it won’t. Write your own guide, or send us an 800-word guest column about what should be done. Continue the conversation with us, or with your friends or comrades. The important thing is to take action.
Check out the list of 10 things to do right now, especially if you’d consider yourself new to the resistance. Then, read on.
Read more below:
The resistance will take many forms, and that’s a good thing. Regardless of your skill level, familiarity with organizing, or how comfortable you are in different settings, there is a place for you here. You belong, and you can help.
You’ve already taken the first steps, by coming to terms with our political reality and resolving to do something about it. The next move is to figure out where you want to start. Assess the existing organizations in the area. When I first got involved in activism, I spent a while just going to different groups’ meetings and checking them out, learning more about how they did things, what they believed, and where I thought I could fit.
Juan Miranda, a labor organizer and a member of the International Socialist Organization in Greensboro, agreed. He suggested that people find a group that fits with them, join it and be open to learning. Miranda, who is helping to organize the bus from Greensboro to the DC inauguration protests, suggested other ideas too, including more forums, public assemblies and other ways to demonstrate resistance such as yard signs.
Being public about your resistance can be uncomfortable, and it’s not for everyone. But there are such varied ways to do it that it is worth thinking about how you might be more public.
My grandmother who lives in small town Ohio is wearing a safety pin as a signal that she wants to be an ally. Around the time of North Carolina’s so-called Amendment One against gay marriage, signs of inclusion popped up all over the place in people’s yards and windows. Being more public could mean wearing a shirt with a slogan or speaking up when a coworker says something racist. (If there’s a particular coworker who’s said offensive or oppressive things already, consider talking to them privately before something else happens.)
Being more public could also mean convincing your place of worship to vocally condemn religious persecution of Muslims or giving part of your business’ profits to a grassroots organization. Whatever it looks like, consider the risks and encourage yourself and others to speak up more when possible.
It’s necessary to understand that this isn’t just about Donald Trump. It’s not just about his regime, or the white nationalists he’s emboldened. Opposing his agenda can be done on local, state or national levels, but regardless of your target, it probably makes the most sense to start at home. That doesn’t mean you have to focus on the Winston-Salem City Council, but it does mean connecting with neighbors, friends and strangers to work together for a common cause.
There is bound to be tension around where to draw the line, because chances are you care about more than just a single issue. Consider where you can have the most impact — winnable goals aren’t great just because they accomplish something concrete, but also because they prove to you and others that success is possible. Find some specific, small things you can change and do that. Build from there.
If your goal is to prevent a Muslim registry — a weighty challenge that is one of the most important targets — you need to think about strategy and tactics. In fact, any good campaign or effort takes both into consideration.
Tactics are the small stuff that further the strategy. For example: Activists once held a sit-in at then-Sen. Kay Hagan’s office — a tactic — as part of a strategy to get her to be more supportive of the Dream Act and immigration reform (with comprehensive reform as the goal). Some people and groups are all tactics — Let’s protest without a specific goal in mind! — with no strategy, while others have great theories about their goals but don’t figure out the steps to execute a plan. Those meetings are filled with lots of hot air.
The key thing to remember is that no one tactic or strategy will win on its own. Street protests or the 2018 midterm elections by themselves will not save us. That doesn’t mean that either isn’t worth it. What it does mean is that it will take all of us, in all kinds of ways, to win. (Keep that in mind before you condemn someone else’s approach.)
Want more tactics? Google “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action” and read the list by famous writer Gene Sharp that includes everything from “humorous skits and pranks” to strikes.
Want more strategies? Here are a few specific ones.
- Disrupt and boycott all of Trump’s businesses. If he’s going to keep his hands in his companies, that makes them easy leverage points that can draw his focus away from devising horrifying and authoritarian new laws.
- Sue to stop new laws from taking effect. You could potentially be a plaintiff in a case.
- Don’t overly focus on his personality. Instead, target the things that will erode his support, such as his inability to bring back manufacturing jobs or his corruption and nepotism. (And don’t get too distracted by his media sideshows.)
- If a Muslim registry were created, come up with tactics to interfere with it and a strategy of making the registry unworkable, whether that’s signing up non-Muslims, occupying any registry office or accepting the legal consequences of destroying such a list (much like anti-draft protesters did during the war in Vietnam after removing the rolls from a local draft office).
- Convince local city councils to adopt stances similar to those taken by the mayor of New York or the San Francisco City Council about noncompliance with deportations or hateful, unconstitutional legislation.
One of the most important lessons of organizing is to avoid over-committing yourself. It’s easy to be energized by a new issue or fight and throw everything you have into it, both for first-timers and movement veterans. But this is a huge mistake — it isn’t sustainable, and when you inevitably pull back, there’s a good chance that you’ve committed to doing specific tasks and that people are counting on you. Burnout destroys momentum.
It is paramount to ease into something and gradually increase your involvement (think of any healthy relationship) rather than sprinting into something new. Do that for yourself, and to avoid causing harm to the very causes and organizations you are trying to breathe life into.
Instead, find a way to increase your involvement over time. Organizations like World Relief High Point, which resettles refugees from places like Syria, offer a really wide range of ways you can help.
At a basic level, World Relief needs toiletries like soap and shampoo, Office Director Jennifer Foy said. But you can also volunteer, and plug in to help set up an arriving family’s home, meet them at the airport and share their first meal in the US with them. People can volunteer once or repeatedly, Foy said, doing everything from driving a parent without transportation to their kid’s school to meet a teacher, taking different families to a partnering thrift store or doing something less interpersonal but nevertheless valuable such as data entry.
Foy also said people can call their representatives and express their support for refugees and the resettlement agency. Gov.-elect Roy Cooper has been supportive in the past, the state legislature less so, Foy said. She doesn’t know what to expect from a Trump administration.
Most of the people who they help are Syrian and Congolese families, many with young children, she said. And all of them arrive with a path to citizenship and the intention to stay, which makes welcoming them all the more important.
You’ll find out quickly, if you don’t already know, that most groups and causes are fractured. There’s a divide between organizations seeking to meet immediate needs and those focused on longer-term objectives. There’s a gap between those doing electoral work and those organizing street protests or sit-ins. And there’s often no communication between reformists and revolutionaries.
Don’t feel obligated to pick a lane and stay in it. Just because things frequently happen in silos — something people routinely gripe about in Greensboro in particular — doesn’t mean they should stay in them. Look for opportunities to build coalitions and alliances. Get to know all different sorts of people. Find ways to connect the dots.
There’s a real need for a unifying strategy that bridges the individual tactics, parent organizer Valerie Warren said. Warren was arrested last week while protesting the state legislature’s emergency session aimed at limiting the governor-elect’s powers, and she spent considerable energy on the United Against Hate campaign to stop Trump’s election. She argued that there’s a deep need for electoral strategies that are built out of power organized on a local level first, with grassroots activism tying into electoral politics rather than being separated from them.
“Every moment, our compliance with this system is a choice,” she said, “and we don’t feel like it’s a choice. There’s real reasons people feel they can’t get arrested or miss a day of work, but it’s still a choice.”
As you go forward, maybe you’ll find that you fit best in a political party. It would be hard to deny after this election that there’s plenty of work to be done there. Regardless of party, there’s plenty to do to reclaim or improve local parties from factions that don’t serve the needs of their constituents or don’t boldly stand up to Trumpian politics. You can be a part of changing that.
Find a mentor and other people you can look up to. For journalists, it might be someone like New York Times’ columnist Charles Blow. For Valerie Warren, its Civil Rights Movement icon Ella Baker. Study their words and actions. Find a flesh-and-blood person who’s been doing this for a while and ask for help understanding a term or an organizational strategy. Connect with people more experienced than you and learn from their successes and failures.
To that end, study history. Read books like A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn for inspiration. Feed your thirst for knowledge and don’t accept terse answers to big questions. One friend recently read the Quran to gain a deeper understanding. Another is consuming Hannah Arendt’s book The Origins of Totalitarianism. Broaden your scope beyond our national borders and learn about how people are reacting to similar situations around the world.
Study some bigger ideas — not the obvious stuff like the Communist Manifesto, though you can read that if you really want to (I’ve tried and didn’t get very far), but rather theories of social movements or change. Look up everything from human-centered design to relative deprivation theory. If something doesn’t work for you, don’t get hung up on it — move on.
The same could be said about any of this. If something doesn’t resonate with you, or you try something and feel you’ve failed, do something else. What’s important is that you keep thinking, then acting, then reflecting on how the action went and then taking modified action. That’s a praxis put forward by Paulo Freire who wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and maybe it will stick with you. Or maybe you’ll find you prefer anti-colonialist Franz Fanon, or the writings of Saul Alinsky. Maybe you’ll reject all three, and send me a list of some rad women theorists I should’ve put here instead. I’d love that.
The important thing is that you stay engaged, that you don’t burn out and that you find ways to deepen and grow your participation in the resistance. Because we need everyone we can get to turn this around, and you’ve already taken the first steps.
Hell, if you’ve survived this long through my ramblings, you’re ready for your first activist meeting!
Click below to read more:
For the more seasoned participants
Plenty of you have been doing this work for a long time. Some for longer than I’ve been alive. Chances are you could articulate this section better than I can, but here are some things to consider.
Now is a time when people can become depressed or give in to fear. As organizer Juan Miranda put it, the alternative is to mobilize them, and it’s the job of folks who have been involved in the struggle for longer to help with that. Do we turn people away because of assumptions we make about their experiences and intentions, he asked, or do we help them become agents of change?
To that end, do not demand ideological purity. This doesn’t mean accepting toxic behavior or allowing someone’s racism to go unchecked. But it does mean seeking to find common ground with people, trying to grow together and staying focused. There’s a tremendous opportunity for Muslims and Jews to come together to resist religious persecution (be it a Muslim registry, Islamophobic or anti-Semitic platforms), but if they demand an agreement on Israel/Palestine as a precursor to working together, the alliance will crumble.
Take this a step further. Try to welcome anyone who shows up in good faith and wants to be involved. You do not have the luxury of turning these folks away. Having various opportunities for people to get involved and plug in immediately is key. But so is hanging in with folks through the tough conversations. Maybe you’re not the one to have that talk with them, but if you’re part of an organization, someone needs to be ready to do that.
This may mean that your organization will have different sets of meetings, say one designed to welcome new members and teach them about what you do and another for the vets to make decisions. This can be really productive because you intentionally think about how to welcome new people but you also don’t spend half of a business meeting catching folks up.
From Jesse Singal’s recent New York magazine article on why some protests succeed while others fail: “Other than wanting to help, there should be almost zero prerequisites. If someone doesn’t speak the lingo, or doesn’t know what intersectionality is, or anything else — it doesn’t matter — they can still contribute. And the more you can make activism part of their social life, the more of a meaningful role you can give them, the more likely they will be to stick around and to spread the word.”
Failing to do this is one of the single greatest reasons that people drop out of movements. They don’t feel welcome, and it could be as simple as the fact that everyone at the meeting already knows each other and nobody is talking to them.
This isn’t to say that creating safe spaces isn’t worthwhile. Not every group is designed to welcome all comers, and that’s fine. But at the very least, be ready to redirect folks to other resources and organizations so that they don’t feel entirely rejected and unwelcome.
Some of you no doubt are at a loss for what to do, scoffing at some of the ideas laid out already as too basic or reformist to have the kind of impact needed at this historic juncture. Here are some things that might help you figure out a way forward.
A meaningful resistance movement builds relational power between individuals and organizations to meet a larger aim. It’s perfectly possible to work on disparate subjects as long as there’s an ability to unite on certain issues, or at the very least stand by each other and avoid being picked off one by one. Figuring out a way to create and strengthen those connections is no easy task, which is no doubt why Miranda, Warren and others spoke who about the need for it don’t have all the answers for how to make that happen.
In addition to thinking about ways to build relational power (as opposed to hierarchical power — think power with rather than power over), also think about the various fronts that the resistance requires.
Some people frame it as offensive versus defensive. The guide outlining the lessons from the tea party (linked in the online version of this piece) is primarily defensive. That’s also what many folks are focused on when thinking about reacting to Trump and Trumpist policies.
Defense is crucial, of course — “Obviously we have to react,” Miranda said. Without it, the resistance most certainly loses. But it isn’t enough on its own, he said. What does offense look like, and what falls in between?
If there is a more concerted campaign to take down Breitbart, one that targets its advertisers to decrease its revenue, that could be considered defensive — defending against a white nationalist megaphone — or an offensive against a clear threat. The ambiguity about where it belongs likely underscores the need for strategies that encompass both, but it could also highlight the shortcomings of an offensive/defensive framework.
Consider the concept of dual power. Here’s a crude definition — picture two types of resistance, one that is focused on creating an alternative outside the confines of the current system and a second that defends the alternative and aims to weaken the opposition.
For some people in the resistance, the goal is likely a return to “normalcy,” the type of life that they anticipated under a Hillary Clinton presidency. That requires a very different strategy — one that aims to minimize damage and then wrestles control of Congress and then the presidency — than one that doesn’t just pontificate about an alternative, but builds it.
If you fall into the latter camp and are considering writing off the more liberal or moderate folks, consider organizer Valerie Warren’s argument.
“I don’t see the different things that groups are doing as in conflict with one another,” she said. “We need to find ways to be in solidarity. People who work to build power in an electoral context and those who do active resistance are not in conflict. What’s lacking is a unifying strategy, and we need to build onto each other’s work and find points of leverage instead of draining each other’s resources.”
No matter where you fall on the experience or ideological spectrum, there are some lessons that are worth emphasizing for everyone. Consider this the TL;DR for the article:
- The resistance must be a sustained effort. It cannot succeed if it’s sporadic and occasional. Several smart folks have argued that the Moral Monday movement deserves credit for creating the context in which Gov. Pat McCrory would lose by applying regular pressure and tarnishing his image. The concerted boycott against North Carolina after HB 2 built on that foundation. How else could McCrory have lost statewide while Trump won?
- Regardless of where you stand, what’s required of you is deeper, more routine participation. You’ll need to be willing to give up some things if your resistance is going to have a real impact.
- Many of us failed to fully imagine a Trump presidency, assuring ourselves first that he’d disappear during the primaries and later that he didn’t have a path to the White House. We must not again fail to imagine the scope of what a Trump presidency could mean. Stop talking about Republicans impeaching Trump and start formulating a real strategy and tactics.
- That means preparing for the worst. Even if you don’t think it’s going to happen, and even if it doesn’t, we must think and talk about what that looks like. You have one month to get ready.
- Things might feel bleak. “The level of authoritarianism we’re facing now is one I’ve feared my whole life, and I hoped we’d have more time before it was here,” Warren said. But she and organizer Juan Miranda agreed there’s a “new wave of energy” to fight back against Trump’s agenda and what he represents, making this a potent time to increase the scope of who is part of the resistance beyond the regular players. Trump is polarizing, Miranda argued, which could mean a broader possible pool of who might be interested in some sort of pushback.
- Read things written on this and related subjects by people who are smarter than me, people like Toni Morrison and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Comment on the online version of this article with links to other helpful readings. Discuss this stuff offline with people.
- Get comfortable with the word “comrade.” It doesn’t have to be a communist thing — and I’m no commie — but thinking about camaraderie and solidarity with people who aren’t your kin or friends is going to be essential. This is not about unifying punk subcultures or just getting feelgood nonprofits together — this is about all of us.
- Take care of yourself, and work on yourself, too. That means taking a break, and it can also mean things like going through an anti-racism training or taking a self-defense class (there are occasionally free women’s self-defense classes taught around here).
- Take care of each other. There’s a reason the message of “Be careful with each other so you can be dangerous together” is popular.
- Do not dismiss or idolize groups of people. There is no proletarian working class anymore. The white working class is not a uniform “other.” You do not have the luxury of refusing to form alliances with the liberal do-gooders or the militant antifascists. You cannot tell trans people (or anyone) to sideline their struggle because “class is more important,” or some other such garbage.
- I know normally the idea of ranking people is pretty gross, but consider this union organizing technique: Rank people or organizations from 1 to 5, with 1 being strong resistance supporter, 2 being mild/casual supporter, 3 being neutral, 4 being mildly opposed and 5 being staunchly opposed. The goal is to always move people up the ladder, convincing mild opponents to be neutral or encouraging somewhat passive supporters to be more engaged. (This piece is aimed primarily at making 2s into 1s and 3s into 2s, for example.) But don’t worry about trying to win over the hardened 5s — it’s a waste of your time and you will probably just inflame them. Your time is better spent elsewhere. As Warren put it, “Make an assessment about people’s willingness to be moved. Find common values that they’re willing to do work around and basically understand that the way we’re able to meet those mutual goals is working together.”
- There is no tactic that will win on its own, no one group that can succeed alone. Be open to trying new things and to respecting other approaches. Fail and learn, and then get back out there.
- Do not give up. You are not alone. You can take breaks, but we need you with us. Channel your anger, your fear, your sorrow, your hope into the resistance. No hero is coming, and there is no time to waste. We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for.
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