Tips for Joining the Movement

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Protestors outside of Trump Tower in Chicago. Photo Credit: The Chicago Tribune

Thousands of protesters—many of them youth, students, workers—have taken to the streets since the election of Donald Trump, rejecting the instating of a president who ran on a blatantly racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-Muslim platform. Many of them report this to be their first time protesting anything–taking new political action outside of the predetermined channels.

This is an exciting development, and worthy of celebration. Movements aren’t movements unless they are able to grow, to incorporate new voices and bodies that were previously uninvolved. The incredible spreading of direct action in response to the fear and violence spurred by the Trump campaign is encouraging, necessary and welcome. It also means that many of those in the streets may have never before thought about what the purpose of direct action is, how they hope to impact the systems they are protesting, and who has been in the streets before them.

Here are some tips on how to enter the ongoing movement—not just against a fascist president, but for the total transformation of our society:

  • Rallying is great—if it helps us get organized. Actions like marches, rallies and large assemblies are crucial for demonstrating numbers, showing solidarity and helping those around the country who are under attack feel less alone. But from the Iraq war to immigrant justice, record-breaking demonstrations have often failed to halt militarization, deportations and poverty on their own. We know that large numbers of us oppose the austerity, destruction of the environment and bigotry upheld by those in power. Organizing means we can’t just show up in numbers. We have to show up with strategy, too. The time has come to develop concrete plans for challenging the actual mechanisms that lead to violence, not just stating our opposition. Rallies can be great places to start these conversations, and build our networks.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of political education. The political landscape is rapidly changing. Structures many of us have trusted are revealing themselves not just to be flawed, but incongruous with justice. Laws that we’ve relied on may disappear. Laws that are already disregarded may be even more so. There is much for every last one of us to learn, and we need political education to help us reexamine this landscape. We must be students both of what tactics have worked and are working in the movements against racism, capitalism and xenophobia, but we must also stay engaged as those tactics are called into question, are tweaked, or replaced with new forms of action. Join community organizations that have been leading these conversations, seek out knowledgeable folks who are already in struggle, and organize a workshop of your own.
  • Reject mainstream political parties. Any way we cut it, all mainstream political parties and the entrenched structures they rely on have caused this moment of crisis. They have all been complicit in the strengthening of the systems and values unveiled for many in this election, and are doing little to oppose the tide of fascism as it continues to rise. Building people power means flexing our political strength outside of the bodies that have let us down, organizing within community around the values we determine instead of trying to force established parties to reflect them.
  • Don’t work with police. Recognize, in the short term, how many communities you automatically alienate when you organize with police and the military. Recognize, in the long term, that these are the very forces that will be called upon to enact whatever new measures target and brutalize oppressed communities. Recognize that the reason Black, Brown, Muslim, Native and immigrant communities have been resisting the police system for so long is because it was created solely to enforce the racism at the foundation of US empire, and has never kept us safe. Keep us safe now by committing to working against militarization, not for it.
  • Center the leadership of the most impacted. Listen to women, youth, elders, trans and queer people of color. Organize teach-ins with the input of Muslim, immigrant, undocumented, Arab, Desi, and Persian communities. Support events led by Native, Black and Brown organizers. This is not just about keeping leadership consistent, but centering the needs, demands and wisdom of those whose very existence is resistance, and who already have a deep knowledge of what effective interruption of state and interpersonal violence looks like. Trust their judgement, and take action based on their instructions.
  • Actions that don’t center the impacted endanger them. Centering oppressed voices isn’t just about lifting up the most radical demands–it’s also about safety. As protests continue, both the tactics used and the force called in to suppress them tend to escalate. This puts the most impacted communities in danger of violence, a call which those communities should be allowed to make. Actions that don’t center disabled folks may unintentionally leave them behind in moments of escalation, making them easier targets. Actions that don’t center people of color may purposely agitate police, leading to attacks on protesters that will inevitably single out Black and Brown participants. Follow the lead of impacted communities, so that they can decide what type of action is called for, and more privileged participants can back them up.
  • Support existing campaigns—and stay on message with them. Not only do movements already exist that have been combating these structures for a long time, they’ve also developed their own strategies, messaging and goals, crafted over generations with dedication and forethought. It’s crucial that we see current protests as a continuation of the long struggles against neoliberalism, racism and empire, not a singular response to an isolated event. Continuing the struggle means understanding the work that has already been happening, adding to it instead of undermining it, and galvanizing the calls led by Black, Native, immigrant and undocumented movements, not erasing them with new slogans.
  • Don’t limit yourself to one form of action. In movement moments there can often be pressure to protest, to take action in the most visible ways. We don’t need everyone to be in the street, but we do need everyone to take action. Participating in and facilitating political education, joining or starting a group, opening your home or work space to those who are organizing, and donating time, resources and money to trusted organizations (see the following bullet point) are all valid action steps. Pushing against bigoted legislation, attending community hearings, and having hard conversations with family members and coworkers can make the work of those in the streets much easier and safer. The point is not that we all take the same action–it is that we take aligned action. Stay in conversation with others in the movement, and be sure the steps you take reinforce the larger visions articulated by impacted communities.
  • Donate directly to resisting communities. A mass redistribution of wealth–including reparations for slavery and genocide–is needed to heal the wounds of the US colonial legacy. While we fight for that future, you can engage in an immediate redistribution of resources by donating directly to grass roots organizations in oppressed communities, instead of the mainstream political parties and corporate charities that profit from our struggles. If you’re someone with money, here are a few trusted organizations in the Chicago area–get linked up with organizations in your community!
  • Abolition now, always and forever. The systems that have failed us in this election cannot be amended. For many of us currently under threat–immigrants, people of color, trans and queer folks–these systems have failed us consistently for generations, not just this month. This moment must be a reckoning of the inherent violence of capitalism, militarism and the US empire–a violence Muslim, undocumented, Black and Native communities have always called to our attention. Lifting up their voices and experiences means lifting up their demands. The time has come for deep social transformation, not reform. For those of us feeling shock, there are many more for whom the federal government and racist violence have always been synonymous, who have never been protected or prioritized by the state. It is time to release the systems we have finally recognized as destructive at their core, and use our movements to imagine and create entirely new ones.

I am reminded of the March for All Black Lives, hosted by Assata’s Daughters this past July. After the brutal murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling in the same week, many Black community members came out into the street who had never participated in a Black Lives Matter protest. In a march organized by Black women and femmes, some of those present expressed confusion and even rage at having to lift up the names and needs of women, trans and queer folks at a protest they perceived to be about the violence facing Black cis men, and only Black cis men. Education was needed, both to prevent violence against Black women, femmes and queers in the moment, but also to lay the foundation for a longstanding movement, sustained by the knowledge that all state violence is connected, and the most marginalized voices must be the ones directing the battle.

We are in a similar moment now, on a much larger scale. We’ve already seen the viral videos of those in current protests shaking hands with riot police to thank them for their service, heard stories of folks expressing anger at slogans like #NoDAPL and #BlackLivesMatter being used at events they understand to be about the single issue of the Trump presidency. This cannot happen. Not only is it imperative we see all current struggles against racist, misogynist, anti-Muslim and capitalist violence as tied, but that we commit to fighting unjust systems–systems that will be in place after this presidency, and regardless of who occupies the oval office.

If the election of a bigoted fascist has ignited our desire to move, wonderful. But with a different candidate in office, or a new election on the horizon, all the same violence would be before us, all the same barriers in need of confronting. As our collective consciousness grows, let’s commit to confrontation, and look to those who live in confrontation with the state as our guides.

11 responses to “Tips for Joining the Movement

  1. Thank you for this great education piece.
    I’m wondering how we go about working against the militarized police?

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  5. hi there,
    i’m compiling a zine called “Strategies for Living and Loving in the Times of Trump.” i think this is a really useful primer for folks who are newer to movement work and i’d love to include it in the zine. would you be okay with that? i’d direct people toward your blog & make sure to attribute it to you (& even send you a copy if you wanted one).

    thanks so much
    kelsen

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