Don't Just Mourn. Organize.
Before going to sleep early this morning, I wrote (borrowing the legendary last words of union organizer Joe Hill): “Don’t Mourn. Organize.”
On a few hours sleep, I’ll amend that: Mourn. This is a nightmare, with very real consequences. But then, seriously, organize.
That’s not some polly-anish advice. Just sad and practical reality.
It was so hard to wake up and have to tell your kids the news that Donald Trump won. Far worse, of course, in families that include immigrants, Muslims, women, and other groups who were the targets of Trump’s attacks … and are now rightly worried about what the future holds. The disappointment in the eyes of our daughters was heartbreaking. And the results make us question many things about the country we thought we live in.
So a little mourning is necessary. Mourning is rooted in love and compassion for others, so it’s a good place to start.
But not to stop.
We have an obligation to do all we can to defend the things we know are right, protect those who are vulnerable, stand together in organized resistance, and to fight for the future we believe in.
We’ll need to do some reckoning about why we lost and what we should learn from it. I thought this clip from Van Jones was pretty good last night, on the elements of this that are a “white-lash” against change and our first African-American President. Some other good starting-points for me are posts by Peter Dreier and Dylan Matthews. How can we confront the racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigrant xenophobia that fueled Trump’s campaign, while also speaking to the genuine challenges facing white working-class voters (e.g. good jobs, college affordability, drug addiction), to offer opportunity and (maybe) help turn some people away from angry, nativist responses and toward a recognition that we are stronger together? How can we do better to turn out the voters of the “Obama coalition” to keep pushing for change? I don’t know the answers, but we’ll need some good thinking.
Regardless of how you understand that analysis. here are a few things I’m pretty sure about:
1. Assuming that Donald Trump and the GOP Congress try to enact the policies they proposed during this campaign -- building a wall, deporting the DREAMers, banning Muslims, defunding Planned Parenthood and trying to overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminating Obamacare -- we will fight them tooth and nail.
We have to accept the results of the election. But we should not accept responsibility for policies that go against our core American ideals.
We have some tools. Our neighbor, Senator Chuck Schumer, knows how to lead a filibuster that can slow things down and try to prevent them from doing as much damage as possible.
We will call on the “checks and balances,” the institutions of American democracy. They are far from perfect, but they are real. When Trump and the GOP propose changes that are unconstitutional, we will fight in the courts. Other times, we will focus our fight on administrative agencies, independent panels, state and local legislatures.
We know how to turn out millions of people for rallies, protests, marches, civil disobedience when necessary ... rooted in love and compassion rather than anger, but still fierce and resolute.
We will, very likely, lose some of those fights. And people will genuinely suffer as a result. But we will not lose them all. And we can slow them down to limit the harm.
We will be organizing some local events -- building on the Town Hall for Racial Justice we held a few weeks ago, with the Muslim community in Kensington, and with our progressive, labor, and community allies -- to start getting organized.
2. The long-term demographics of our country align well with the better angels of our nature.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Today, we are reminded of two important things: Sometimes there are kinks in the arc. And it doesn’t bend on its own.
But still, the demographic trends in our country are toward a more diverse, more pluralistic, more inclusive country -- and that aligns well with a more inclusive politics. If we organize.
We will have a woman POTUS in my daughter’s lifetime. That glass ceiling will be shattered. And that more diverse country not only offers a winning political coalition. It also gives us a real change to confront the ills that plague our society, and build a country and a world where, as the young people at the Morris Justice Project taught me, “it’s not a crime to be who you are.”
3. We can do a lot at the local level. Cities around the country -- including NYC for sure -- are leading the way in the cause of opportunity, inclusion, compassion, and justice.
Some pundits are already saying that last night’s results were a repudiation of the “progressive urban agenda” -- but that’s just not true.
First, remember that so many people did not turn out to vote -- disproportionately low-income, people of color, and young people. If they had voted, Hillary would have won. As Peter Dreier writes: “The American people, overall, are better than the people who voted.”
So many of the policies we have been pushing at the local level -- fighting income inequality through the Fight for $15 and a fair work-week and paid family leave, expanding access to Pre-K and summer youth jobs and affordable college, strengthening next-generation manufacturing -- are the ones that speak to a broad majority of Americans, of every race and gender and background.
So I look forward to banding together with my colleagues from Local Progress (a national network of progressive local elected officials) -- both to fight back against hate, and to advance policies of opportunity.
Just yesterday, there was a good article in The Nation about our “American Leaders Campaign Against Hatred and Anti-Muslim Bigotry.” And that is so many of the same local leaders who have adopted policies to raise the minimum wage, reduce mass incarceration, improve policing, expand educational opportunity, and so much more. It’s a strong network to build on -- and I’ll try to connect our local organizing to that national work.
Back at home: Here’s what my sister-in-law -- a psychatric nurse practitioner who works every day with veterans coping with PTSD, and Aunt Beth to Marek and Rosa -- wrote to my kids:
“I could not be more proud of your formal and informal work on the campaign, on behalf of equality and justice. Please try not to give into the rage and disappointment about the outcome of the election. Try to be still with your anger and shock. Lashing out and spewing, while so justified, will ultimately drain us. Funnel your anger into being a guardian for equality and religious freedom, for diversity and safety and respect. This devastating loss is an opportunity for us to become stronger in the broken places.”
And if you want to help your kids engage in some organizing like that, one suggestion: encourage them to come to “Girls Read for Girls” this Sunday, 3 - 5 p.m. at the Brooklyn Museum (an event organized by my daughter & other young women, inspired by Malala Yousafzai). It’s about global girls education, but also an inspiring way to remember that -- even in the face of getting shot by the Taliban -- there are way to stand up for what’s right and make a difference all around the world.
Last night (in the early hours, when we were still so hopeful), at an Election Night watch party with Bangladeshi Muslim young people at a public library in my district, I asked the students for their definition of democracy. And a boy in middle school raised his hand:
“We look out for each other.”
That may be the best answer I’ve ever heard.
So let’s get busy.