After a Trump Month, a Few Thoughts…

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The outpouring of anger and frustration in the present period is understandable, and necessary. It provides a sense of solidarity that, one hopes, will help people for the long march through the institutions that lies ahead.

The success of the Right is not new, nor is it particularly American. We need to understand why that is. To blame it on xenophobia, racism, sexism or any other “ism” is insufficient. Why are people voting against their economic interests? Why are people voting against government programs that often serve them, their neighbors and their children? Why are people enthralled with the visible display of wealth rather than considering it morally repugnant?

— As I understand the election results, a majority of white women voted for Trump. What does that say about the historic women’s movement? And if a lot of them didn’t vote, what does that say about the fact that Hillary–whatever her deficits–was the first woman to run with a real shot at getting elected?

— As I understand the results, the stay-home vote in the African-American community was as large, and perhaps even larger, than the number of those who voted. Yes, I know about all the voter suppression activities taking place in many red states, if not all, but in most cases I doubt that would have restrained those who stayed home when Obama ran.

That Hillary Clinton got close to three million votes more than he doesn’t tell us anything, especially when we consider the fact that conservative Republicans have been winning elections all over the country for the last dozen or more years.

— Why haven’t people taken the problems of white working class people, males in particular, seriously for the past 50, or at least 40, years? Yes, I know about white privilege. But it’s pretty hard to convince someone whose job has been shipped to some low-wage market, who sees on TV news (however erroneous it may be) what he believes is “everything is being done for women and minorities”, that he’s “privileged”. And it’s even harder to convince those who never had good union jobs–like Appalachian, whites where there is now a decline in life-span, and rampant drug and alcohol abuse, that they’re privileged. Plus, unlike women, GLBTQ and racial/ethnic minorities, these “whites” had no social movement of which they could be a part so they would have a feeling of solidarity about their circumstance, as well as solidarity with others. Unfortunately, Trump provided that.

— Why aren’t these new movements digging in to the constituencies for which they claim to speak? Martin Luther King’s SCLC was rooted in the black church. SNCC sought to organize low-income blacks by going door-to-door, much as ACORN later did. People who were students dropped out of school to become full-time organizers and rooted themselves in “the base”. Who’s doing that now?

–We can complain about media, money and other benefits the establishment/status quo has on its side (though Trump doesn’t!), but won’t we be better off assuming those as givens and then figuring out how to respond? After all there are examples of both ballot propositions and candidates who were outspent by large amounts (in the case of the defeated a PG & E initiative in California 30:1), yet still winning? What did they do that was right? I don’t see a lot of people carefully examining that question.

The answer to all these questions requires more than demonstrations, whatever the number of those marching. The fact is that Trump did get elected. He campaigned in states where the Electoral College votes he needed were to be found. That Hillary Clinton got close to three million votes more than he doesn’t tell us anything, especially when we consider the fact that conservative Republicans have been winning elections all over the country for the last dozen or more years. They now control both houses of Congress, and a large majority of state legislatures and governorships. And there’s no discrepancy in these between popular vote and election result.

My major point: The “movements” haven’t deeply rooted themselves in the constituencies for which they claim to speak. At its heart, that requires building human relationships, one-by-one; listening to people and their interests rather than “educating” them about how they should think; fostering relationships that bridge historic lines of division among “the people”, rather than creating ever-increasing silos of particular interests (each legitimate in its own right) that use invidious distinction to separate themselves from others–particularly with the foundations or wealthy patrons upon whom they depend for their financing.

Membership-based fundraising is required because nothing has more debilitated promising movements and organizations than dependence upon foundation, corporate and government funding for their core organization budgets. The means for accomplishing this kind of fundraising are well known. In fact, their use can contribute to solidarity and organization building. Contrast this with the self-perpetuating board of directors non-profit that has a narrow agenda and its own particular patrons whom it jealously guards against encroachment by other, similarly constituted, “community-based nonprofits”!

We need multi-issue organizations that are membership based. Multi-issue because different people experience different problems at different times in their lives. The way relationships are initially formed is when they negotiate how to support each other in relatively small, but important to them, issues that may not be important to others, but they aren’t opposed to them. These are called “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch your deals.” As solidarity forms among diverse groups it is possible to join in larger, and longer-term, campaigns that address issues more deeply embedded in the status quo.

All that is proposed here can be framed in a small “d” democratic language that is the language of A MAJORITY of Americans. It is a strategy for reversing the present dangerous times in which we live.

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About the author

Mike Miller

Mike Miller’s organizing background includes the early student movement at UC Berkeley, field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (1962-end of 1966), directorship of a Saul Alinsky community organizing project (1967-68), and a number of subsequent organizing projects. His articles on organizing have appeared in Social Policy, CounterPunch, Dissent, Socialist Review, International Journal of Urban Planning and Reseearch, Organizing, and The Organizer. He is author of Community Organizing: A Brief Introduction, A Community Organizer’s Tale: People and Power in San Francisco, co-author of The People Fight Back, and co-editor of the recently published People Power: The Organizing Tradition of Saul Alinsky. He directs ORGANIZE Training Center, www.organizetrainingcenter.org View all posts by Mike Miller →

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