Social Self Defense, Part One

brecher-titlegraphDonald Trump and a powerful collection of anti-social forces have taken control of the U.S. government. They seek permanent domination in service of their individual and class wealth and power. Trump’s presidency threatens immigrants, African Americans, Muslims, workers, women, children, the elderly, the disabled, LGBTQ people, and many others. Indeed, it threatens all that holds us together as a society. We the people—society—need to defend ourselves against this threat and bring it to an end. We need what resisters to repressive regimes elsewhere have called “Social Self-Defense.”

“Social Self-Defense means we’ve got each others’ backs.”

The term “Social Self-Defense” is borrowed from the struggle against the authoritarian regime in Poland 40 years ago. In the midst of harsh repression, Polish activists formed a loose network to provide financial, legal, medical, and other help to people who had been persecuted by the police or unjustly dismissed from their work. Calling themselves the Committee for Social Self-Defense (KOR), they aimed to “fight political, religious and ideological persecution”; to “oppose breaches of the law”; to “provide help for the persecuted”; to “safeguard civil liberties”; and to defend “human and civil rights.” KOR organized free trade unions to defend the rights of workers and citizens. Its members, who insisted on operating openly in public, were soon blacklisted, beaten, and imprisoned. They nonetheless persisted, and nurtured many of the networks, strategies, and ideas that came to fruition in Solidarity—and ultimately in the dissolution of repressive regimes in Poland and many other countries.

From the day Donald Trump was elected President, thousands of people began to resist his agenda. Demonstrations against Trump broke out in American cities; police chiefs, mayors, and governors declared they would not implement his attack on immigrants; thousands of people signed up to accompany threatened immigrants, religious minorities, and women; technical workers pledged they would not build data bases to facilitate discrimination and deportation. Discussion of how to resist the Trump regime broke out at dining room tables, emails among friends, social media, and community gatherings.

It is impossible to know whether the Trump regime will rapidly self-destruct; successfully impose a reign of terror that dominates the U.S. for years or decades to come; or deadlock indefinitely with anti-Trump forces. We do know that the future of the planet and its people depends on resisting and overcoming Trump’s agenda. The struggle against Trump and Trumpism is nothing less than the defense of society—Social Self-Defense.

Social Self-Defense is the protection of that which makes our life together on earth possible. It includes the protection of the human rights of all people; protection of the conditions of our earth and its climate that make our life possible; the constitutional principle that government must be accountable to law; and global cooperation to provide a secure future for people and planet.

In the face of the Trump assault, protecting individuals, groups, and society as a whole go hand in hand. The attacks on individuals and groups are a threat not only to those directly targeted, but to our ability to live together in our communities, our country, and our world. It is a threat to all of us as members of society. Protecting those specific constituencies who are most threatened is crucial to protecting our common interests as people. Social Self-Defense means defending those who are threatened as a way both to defend them from injustice and to defend our common interest as people—as members of society. Social Self-Defense means we’ve got each others’ backs.

The manifestations of Trumpism did not start with Trump’s election; recent years have seen denial of rights ranging from mass incarceration to police militarization to soaring expulsion of immigrants to restriction of the right to vote. The struggle for a more just society has also been intense—indeed, the emergence of Trumpism is in substantial part an attempt to quell the rising tide of Black, Latino, low-wage worker, LGBTQ, climate protection, and other movements. Social Self-Defense represents a continuation as well as a reconfiguration of those movements. If Trump’s election has a silver lining, it could be the emergence of a Social Self-Defense strong enough not only to defeat Trump but to implement a long-term vision of how to protect and restore our planet and its people.

The First Responders: Social Self-Defense has begun

Less than 24 hours after the election results were announced, there were 350 protest gatherings around the country in response to a call by MoveOn and allies. In the succeeding 5 days, thousands demonstrated daily in the streets. 8,000 people filled Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. In New York, thousands more demonstrated outside Trump Tower. Protesters also turned out in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dayton, Las Vegas, Providence, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Oakland, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Oregon.

Donations poured in to organizations that would protect Trump’s victims. The American Civil Liberties Union received $7.2 million from 120,000 people in the week after the election to defend the rights of “immigrants, transgender individuals, Muslims and reproductive rights groups,” and to fend off any plans to expand stop-and-frisk nationwide. Planned Parenthood received 128,000 donations—30 times the normal rate —in the week after the election, and reported an 8-fold increase in applications to volunteer. Eleven thousand people signed on to donate monthly to the Sierra Club, nine times the previous record. On November 9 the Anti-Defamation League received 50 times its normal donations.

Kayla Santosuosso, deputy director of the Arab Association of New York, launched an effort to recruit escorts for people who might be affected by hate crimes and threats. “In the back of my head, I thought I’d make this Google Form and at the very least we’ll have this list of 50 people that I can connect.” Within a few days, more that 5,500 people had signed up to accompany vulnerable individuals—people of color, Muslims and LGTBQ New Yorkers. More than 30,000 non-Muslims pledged to register themselves if Trump’s proposal to require all Muslims to register is implemented.

In response to a call by Brooklyn City Council member Brad Lander, more than 1,000 Brooklyn residents gathered November 12 for the first of a series of #GetOrganizedBK meetings. The organizers said, “We must show up for New Yorkers facing hate-speech and hate-crimes welling up in our streets, subways, and schools.” Groups involved included Planned Parenthood, NY Immigration Coalition, 350 Brooklyn, and the NY Civil Liberties Union.

The resulting #GetOrganizedBK Facebook group described itself as “a hub for individuals, activists, organizations and community leaders to join together in our resistance.” Actions listed in early December included hosting a letter writing dinner for 12 friends who sent 100 letters to elected officials opposing Trump appointments; a petition to the New York Times asking that the euphemism “alt-right” be replaced by more accurate terms like Neo-Nazi, White Supremacist, and fascist (days later, the Times did so); donation of 38 boxes of Kellogg’s cereal to a women’s shelter to help people in need and to support Kellogg for pulling ads from Breitbart; initiation of a Sister District Project to reach out to red districts around the country; organization of social workers and attorneys to help vulnerable immigrants; a “Kids Speak Out Against Hate” event; and a Candlelight Vigil to Resist Intolerance. At another community meeting, Mayor Bill De Blasio vowed that the city would block a Muslim registry, provide abortions if they were outlawed by the Supreme Court, not comply with any new federal stop-and-frisk directives, and protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. Similar self-organization happened across the country. In Los Angeles, according to Armando Carmona of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, a 500-strong popular assembly was held just days after the election. “Folks shared testimony, personal experiences and their understanding and analysis of what’s happening.” There were “breakout groups to think about how to do more assemblies in our own communities, how to organize know-your-rights workshops, how to develop legal defense strategies and how to generate awareness” of the challenges ahead. In Montpelier Vermont—a city of less than 10,000—140 people showed up for an emergency community meeting organized by the Green Mountain Labor Council, AFL-CIO “to affirm values of tolerance and social, economic and climate justice” and discuss “actions we can take to protect our communities, defend democracy, and build a Vermont and country that works for everyone.”

“When they come for one, they come for all of us”

On December 1, World AIDS Day, 11 activists backed by demonstrators held a sit-in at the office of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. “Paul Ryan and Tom Price’s corporate health care dreams are a nightmare for people with HIV,” said Bryn Gay of the Treatment Action Group. “Their deadly budget plan is an unprecedented attack on people with HIV” and “we won’t accept millions of people having their access to health care cut off in exchange for a tax cut for billionaires.”

On November 29, workers in 340 cities joined “Fight for 15” actions to demand a $15 minimum wage and the right to organize. They included McDonalds employees in more than 300 cities, other fast-food workers, home health care workers, Uber drivers, and baggage handlers and cabin cleaners at nearly 20 airports nationwide, including 500 who went on strike at Chicago’s O’Hare. Fight for 15’s Scott Courtney said, “15” has become “bigger than a number.” It’s “a symbol of opposition and resistance now  to Trump and his ilk.” (Shortly thereafter Donald Trump announced that his secretary of labor would be Andrew Puzder, head of the fast food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., who has opposed raising the minimum wage even to $10.10.)

As Trump announced climate change-denying cabinet appointees and plans to dismantle climate protection programs and accelerate fossil fuel development, climate protectors organized to circumvent his plans from below and above. In the aftermath of the election, the Illinois General Assembly voted to approve a Future Energy Jobs Package, proposed by grassroots groups in the Fair Economy Illinois Coalition; the bill invests $500,000,000 in new and targeted low-income solar programs, low-income energy efficiency programs, job training for work in the solar industry, and community solar programs. The U.S. Mayors’ National Climate Action Agenda (aka #ClimateMayors), representing 31 million constituents, wrote Trump calling for support for climate action at the local level. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed that if Trump withdraws the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, the 100-plus mayors who have pledged to implement the accord should seek to join it in place of the U.S. government. When Trump’s transition teams proposed to eliminate NASA climate research, California Governor Jerry Brown replied, “If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.”

The People’s Climate Movement organized protests, demonstrations, and rallies for the first 100 hours after Trump’s inauguration to tie together climate protection and protection of those Trump plans to attack. “We will not allow climate deniers to threaten the planet. We will not allow attacks on immigrants, communities of color, women, LGBTQ and workers to become the new normal.” 170 university presidents urged Trump to take action on climate change. At the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, hundreds of scientists, answering a call to come “out of the labs and into the streets,” demonstrated to protect climate scientists and climate policy against Trump’s climate change denialism.

Within a few weeks after the election, more than 80,000 people had listed themselves on Facebook as planning to attend the Women’s March on Washington, on January 21. Rev. Al Sharpton announced plans to lead a protest on the grounds of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial on January 14, six days before the Inauguration. Rev. Dr. William Barber, initiator of the North Carolina Moral Mondays actions, launched a campaign for a nationwide boycott of the state to oppose its legislature’s attacks on minimum wage and employment rules, gerrymandering, discrimination against transgender people, and snatching away of the powers of the newly elected Democratic governor. As technology CEOs met with President-elect Trump, community, faith-based, and labor organizations that represent tech industry service workers formed Silicon Valley Rising, warning that “Trump’s policies present a dire threat to the lives and well-being of workers and contractors across the tech sector…be they immigrants, women, workers or Muslim Americans,” and are calling on tech companies “to play a leadership role in resisting unjust policies if they are put forward by the Trump Administration.”

Canada, France, and other countries are considering sanctions in response to Trump’s impending climate-destruction juggernaut. “A carbon tariff is an option for us,” said Mexico’s environmental secretary Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo. “We will apply any kind of policy necessary to defend the quality of life for our people, to protect our environment and to protect our industries.”

In the lead-up to Trump’s inauguration, a group of prominent environmental, trade union, civil rights, progressive, women’s, gay, and other groups initiated a United Resistance Campaign based on a Pledge of Solidarity and Resistance Against Trump. “We pledge to stand together in support of racial, social, environmental, and economic justice for all, and against Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, sexism, and all those forces which would tear apart a democracy of, by, and for ALL the people.” Signers pledged “to act together in solidarity” whether in the streets or in the halls of power. “When they come for one, they come for us all.” A national #Earth2Trump Resistance Roadshow “building a network of resistance against President-elect Trump’s attacks on the environment and civil rights” left the West Coast heading to the inauguration promoting the pledge. Senators Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders and Representative Nancy Pelosi asked Democratic members of Congress to organize rallies around the country on January 15 “to vigorously oppose the Republican plan to end Medicare as we know it and throw our health care system into chaos.” Meanwhile, forces too numerous to list lined up to fight Trump’s cabinet nominations. For example, organized a “Day of Denial” and called demonstrations in 50 states to tell Senators to vote against Trump’s climate denier cabinet appointments. The Working Families Party began holding weekly “Resist Trump Tuesdays” actions at every local congressional office to demand that they publicly denounce Trump’s cabinet appointees. More than 1,000 law professors issued a statement opposing Senator Jeff Sessions’ nomination for attorney general. NAACP president Cornell Williams Brooks and others were arrested, handcuffed, and hauled away in a police van when they sat in at Sessions’ Alabama office.

Less than a week after the election, thousands of students staged walk-outs on more than 80 campuses nationwide demanding their schools refuse access to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, continue to support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and protect students regardless of documentation status. Less than a week later the presidents of 180 colleges and universities issued a statement in support of DACA. “To our country’s leaders, we say that DACA should be upheld, continued and expanded.” This is “both a moral imperative and a national necessity.” A score of universities—including the entire California State University system, Portland State University, Rutgers, Yale, Brown, Pomona, Reed, and Columbia—pledged non-cooperation with immigration enforcement, specifically prohibiting immigration agents from entering campuses and refusing to share information about students’ status without warrants or court orders.

More than 500 counties and cities already have policies limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Despite Trump’s threat to defund “sanctuary cities,” Politico was unable to find a single city that is reconsidering its sanctuary policy as a result of the election. On the contrary, at least 37 cities have reaffirmed their positions and at least 4 cities have newly declared themselves sanctuary cities since Trump’s election. Jim Hart, the County Sheriff of Santa Cruz County, wrote an open letter that was sent to parents saying school children are “expressing concern about being detained and deported at school.” He assured the community that “Sheriff’s Office personnel do not and will not investigate immigration status.” It is the job of local law enforcement “to make sure our community members are safe and our children can attend school without fear. This is our job and this is what we will continue to do.”

Some 450 congregations of diverse denominations have offered to provide some form of sanctuary, ranging from living space to financial help to transportation to school. The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles passed a resolution calling for “holy resistance” to Trump’s immigration proposals and declaring itself a “sanctuary diocese.” In Brockton, Massachusetts four churches pledged to take in immigrants fearful of being deported.“If you need a safe place, once you enter the doors of this building, you are safe,” said the Rev. Abraham Waya, pastor of Central United Methodist Church, which can shelter 100 people. “We will host you and take care of you for as long as it takes.”

Volunteers for Philadelphia’s New Sanctuary Movement, which includes 17 churches and 2 synagogues, increased from 65 to more than 1,000 in the 2 weeks after Trump’s election. “We have an emergency hotline that people can call if ICE shows up, and it is staffed 24/7,” said director Peter Pedemonti. “Our plan is to have an alert system so that if ICE comes to get someone, everyone shows up at their house as soon as possible to pray, sing and film ICE. The purpose is to accompany and show solidarity with the family and to pressure ICE not to do this.”

In the U.S. Congress, Senate Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are crafting a bill to shield children living in the country illegally from being deported if they grew up in the United States and have stayed out of trouble. California state Senate President Kevin de Leon has filed legislation to prevent state and local law enforcement agencies from working with federal immigration officials to deport undocumented immigrants. It would also prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from enforcing immigration laws in public schools, hospitals, courthouses, and other “safe zones.”



Jeremy Brecher is an historian, author, and co-founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability. A new edition of his most recent book, Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival, is available for free download at his personal website. His previous books include: Save the Humans? Common Preservation in Action; Strike!; Globalization from Below; and, co-edited with Brendan Smith and Jill Cutler, In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond.