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What just happened? Liberation, certainly not. Justice triumphant? Not that either. Exit a nasty nightmare. Enter a desirable dream? Nope.
So far, it’s more like escape an impending apocalypse. Enter a nasty nightmare.
And what next?
Restless, ugly acceptance? A poison parade over our supine selves smiling upward to unify with establishment vipers? Hopefully not.
Outraged, sustained, combative, wakefulness while we snarl at the vipers but mainly fight for better lives? Hopefully.
There is certainly no shame and undeniably plenty of joy to be had in watching the orange gargoyle depart. Smile at that. Laugh at that. Dance at that. Strike a pose. Share a joint. Smile wide. All is warranted.
But to let our joy at Trump’s forced exit morph into thoughts that see Biden as beknighted, Democrats as saviors, or winning the election as itself guaranteeing the dawn of truly great or even just good days—there would be some shame and also a lot of misery in that. Less bad is not inexorably great nor even significantly good. Those aims require more struggle.
Four years ago one reason for voting for Clinton over Trump was that to not do so would mean four years of grim losses followed by being in a position to elect essentially just another Clinton. And then having to reverse the horror left by Trump. And only then being able to pursue sustained, informed, militant campaigns to win seriously positive changes.
And, indeed, here we are. Stuck with reversing excesses, not just rushing to seek positive gains.
But—and this is a big but—we are here with some new positives. We not only have Trump’s legacy to reverse to get back to where we were, but we also have outsized stores of anger, enriched and enlarged experience of grassroots activism and overflowing eruptions of positive desires. Arguably more important, we even have newly developed and greatly enlarged organizational vehicles of program and struggle. And we have all of that oriented to winning new change regarding systemic racism, rampant sexism, structural inequality, political inanity, and market/corporate ecological suicide.
Yet all is not rosy. First, there is a huge citizen contingent that mainly just wants to breathe easy, restore business, as usual, shop as usual, and angst as usual however much that would objectively mean false breaths, profit-seeking, and pollution-spewing business, alienated shopping, and outsized angst. And we don’t have in mind only the third of the country that didn’t vote at all plus the largest portion of Trump’s voters who aren’t neck-deep in fascist fantasy. We also have in mind a large part of the third that elected Biden.
Second, there is a lack of shared clarity on what our positive desires ought to encompass and even more so, a lack of informed agreement as to how we might best formulate our desires so as to widen their support and orient them toward winning still grander aims in the future.
And last, there is the nasty reality that a third of the country voted for Trump, much of whom are supposed to be, ought to be, are absolutely needed to be, and certainly could be allies in seeking fundamental change—but who are not, at least as yet.
And, oh yes, there is establishment Joe now at the helm and likely looking to ally with a still Republican Senate to submerge progressive Democrats.
What to do? What to do? No one really knows, not confidently, unless they are parroting past pretenses. And yet, maybe we can agree on some early steps we ought to undertake to get to the point where growing numbers of citizens not only know what is worth doing but take on the associated tasks. And perhaps we can even agree on one giant step, too.
Okay, first there is the obvious. We have to battle Biden. This includes forcing him to elevate and not marginalize Democrats to his left. It includes forcing progressive Cabinet appointments and a first hundred days of real substance including rousing support for and forcing as just a few possible initial aims:
- Deal with Covid sanely and simultaneously hugely aid lockdown recovery for those most hurt.
- Pursue climate and ecological sanity by reversing Trump’s damage to each and then moving aggressively forward with a Green New Deal.
- Tackle racial injustices from police violence and border/immigration insanity to broader issues of systemic, institutional racism, including disbanding ICE and re-conceiving security and law as well.
- Pursue a wealth tax, a reduced workweek, a $20 an hour minimum wage, labor law reform, debt forgiveness, and full employment.
- Pursue electoral reform including an end to the electoral college and a start to ranked-choice voting.
- Enlarge the Supreme Court.
- Pursue international talks with Iran, China, Cubam, Venezuela, and Russia including seeking nuclear disarmament, rejecting regime change, and cutting back overseas bases.
- Recognize the International Criminal Court (ICC) and International Court of Justice (ICJ), open discussions of massive cuts in military expenditures, and so on…
Then comes what may be less obvious and what is certainly long term. The election maps are incredible. It isn’t red states versus blue states that jump out. It is rural regions versus urban regions in nearly every state, red or blue. There is diversity in each realm, of course. But there is no denying, at least to our eyes, that rural working people are more likely to support reactionary formulations than are urban working people.
Sometimes we who want positive change, and especially fundamental positive change, are content to rally those who agree with us, saying yay for our side and essentially ignoring or even dismissively castigating those who do not agree with us. But if we actually want to win not only an election between reactionary fascism and business as usual but a steady flow of positive change seeking a new world, we need to understand what in the lives of rural America tends to warp sensible and courageous and even radical or revolutionary anger at their undeniable travail and pain into suicidal support for a reactionary. We need to understand not only the economic travail and pain which ought to have had the opposite effect—but also the cultural and familial and daily life conditions that play a role.
How can organizers and even just neighbors learn how to listen to and talk to Trumpist rural Americans unless those seeking change seriously hear their complaints, pains, and preferences and sincerely address them—without, however an iota of pandering to anti-social biases or confusions? Don’t change-seekers need to discern the structural elements of rural life that are presumably different from the structural elements of urban life, and that contribute to their having the views they do? This does not require curbing the progressive wing. It requires elevating it.
The rural/urban difference isn’t just closed factories, the opioid plague, devastated infrastructure, and the like (which urban America has as well and which, in any case, should on its own generate left-leaning not right-leaning anger). It must also be other more prevalently rural and less prevalently urban factors. Is it a lack of rural racial and ethnic diversity? Is it that low rural population density creates a little option for escape and incredible pressure to conform to family and church as the only vehicles sustaining survival? Is it a lack of rural cultural options? Whatever it is, shouldn’t a strategy for change be attuned to and learn how to address the relevant factors without polarizing rural constituencies? Shouldn’t a strategy for change welcome and empower workers, both rural and urban, even while not jettisoning but only expanding and deepening progressive program—albeit communicated more clearly and effectively?
Put differently, a third of the voting age stayed home. A third voted for trump. And a third voted for Biden which meant voted mostly against Trump. For those of us who ultimately want fundamental change, and indeed in the shorter run even want just seriously discernible change, this is not a winning hand. How do serious leftists who want serious or especially fundamental change arouse more of the absent voters, cause defections by more Trump voters, and simultaneously radicalize the commitment and agendas of Biden supporters and the country’s most progressive constituencies?
What change in our approach might simultaneously aid all those necessary tasks? Part of it will certainly be battling Biden for the kinds of gains mentioned earlier.
But beyond that, figuring out how we might better interact, what we might better say and demand, how we might better demonstrate, and especially how we might better sustain and organize lasting involvement is a big task with no overnight answers. But maybe there is one big step we could consider at a moment like now despite that it is ordinarily far from our perception.
Imagine we had more left unity, more left mutual aid, more left scale. Imagine we could un-silo many of our efforts. Imagine we could entwine them yet also not have any of them lose their separate priorities and agendas. Imagine we could un-silo, entwine, and have all of the component efforts each only gain more sway and more power. Wouldn’t that be a big step forward? One big left with many dynamic parts.
Is there a way to attain that kind of solidarity with a diversity of unity and autonomy without undercutting what exists and without submerging each current facet of the left into a weakened compromised stance?
Suppose some major forces—say DSA, Black Lives Matter, the Movement for a People’s party,and numerous other national, regional, and local voices and vehicles—put forth a call to unify left efforts into a larger than ever before structure within which each component would retain its own integrity and agenda, but for which the encompassing whole would be the sum of all its parts. It would not be a coalition with a least common denominator focus. It would be a massive amalgam of all its member movements, organizations, and projects, with its combined focus being the sum of all its components’ focuses. Call the whole thing, for the sake of discussion, The Left Bloc or TLB.
The idea is that TLB’s component groups would pledge to aid one another’s endeavors, to respect one another’s campaigns and programs, and to lend support to them. The agenda of the whole would be the sum or the agendas of the parts. It would be a massive manifestation of activist mutual aid and collective organizing. A movement of movements. Perhaps it could even include agreeing to a common vision/manifesto for a better world that they signed up to and committed to achieving.
Yes, if TLB or something like it were to strive for the widest possible left membership, it implies there would be contradictions. But the differences would be openly present, freely admitted, and respectfully explored. With opposed views represented, the most supported would persist and also predominate in a shared program, but so would different minority options persist and be explored and even tried alongside more supported options, when possible. The usual terminal friction between disagreeing parties would, in The Left Bloc, due to its pledges and rules, due especially to the mutual benefits of its maintenance to all its participants, and perhaps even due to agreeing on an overarching broad vision/manifesto, wouldn’t evaporate but would also not explode. It would instead be the focus of on-going discussion.
Multi tactic, multi-issue, multi-focus, the whole would have the back of and aid the efforts of each of its components. Each component would seriously listen to, learn from, and engage with the whole and its other parts. Single issue struggles and groups would still exist, but they would be supported and supportive, and so there would be no more single-issue silos. No more competing as if we are opponents. No more reflexive hostility toward others. Both/and, not either/or. Disagreements, yes. Growth entails disagreement and resolutions. But disagreement would disavow dismissal and antipathy. Disagreement would pursue joint progress, the advance of the whole in the interests of all involved. Each member would have an interest in that goal. The means would be mutual support, mutual aid, serious sober self and joint assessment, and respectful experimentation including opposed approaches. TLB in whatever precise form such a thing might take would learn to win.
I won’t babble on about this wild dream further. There are more left organizations, memberships, campaigns, struggles, and desires than in decades. Can these many manifestations combine into one lasting structure of a new sort even as they each maintain their own definitions. Wouldn’t that help us seek to not only escape corporate business as usual but also activist business as usual? Could such a transformative and trusting step work? Is such a transformative and trusting step needed? These are issues for assessment and hopefully, for action—aren’t they?
Markets and culture and our upbringings and habits make us on the left silo and atomistically compete with one another even as we demand that society should become participatory and cooperative. Is it time to get our own house in order even as we keep reaching out? Can we? We certainly can’t if we don’t try. So, let’s give our best. If something like TLB isn’t the way, okay, then what is?
INITIAL SUBMISSION: Michael Albert | AUTHOR: Collective 20 (Andrej Grubacic, Brett Wilkins, Bridget Meehan, Cynthia Peters, Don Rojas, Elena Herrada, Emily Jones, Justin Podur, Mark Evans, Medea Benjamin, Michael Albert, Noam Chomsky, Oscar Chacon, Paul Ortiz, Peter Bohmer, Savvina Chowdhury, Vincent Emanuele.
Collective 20 is a group of writers located in different places throughout the globe. Some young, some older; some long-time organizers and writers, others just getting started, but all equally dedicated to offering analysis, vision, and strategy useful for winning a vastly better society than we currently endure. The members of Collective 20 hope their contributions concerning social, political, economic, and environmental issues will generate more useful content and better outreach through a collective publication effort as opposed to individuals doing so on their own. Collective 20’s cumulative work can be found at collective20.org, where you can learn more about the group, see an archive of its publications, and comment on its work.