Evaluating the US from afar, one may sense a political crisis that has scattered an already fragmented radical left. Of a society priding itself in human rights and other liberal values while escalating death and destruction across Iraq, Ferguson, Standing Rock, and elsewhere… And a liberal “opposition” that now embraces Starbucks, silicon valley ceo’s, and donations to ngo’s as bastions of so-called democracy. The crisis was deepened as it became apparent how many obama era policies were actually aligned with trump’s initial wave of executive actions – mass deportations, expanding surveillance of Muslims, fossil fuel investments, endless support for Israel…
For the moment, the legitimacy of representational politics (and the capitalist system it preserves) has reached another crisis. In such a context however, new connections are being forged between bodies constituting the radical left in the US. These cross-linkages are significant as many groups were previously isolated due to the divisive impact of identity politics, the academicization of radical politics, and the professionalization of previously autonomous “activists” via grant funding and institutional support.
Such shifts are rooted in the struggles of the past, and economic forces intensifying precarity, marginalization, and violence under another presidency. This text will give a brief overview of the political context in the US pre/post election, and conclude with analysis on potential trajectories for the radical left. Lastly, we hope that ongoing conversations and actions will elaborate on these discussions in subsequent texts.
1) The election revealed (to the more privileged) what so many had been confronting under Obama – that the american state structure was, and remains dependent upon racism, war, debt, and other modes of exploitation in order to sustain economic growth. As a result, even under a progressive president, the US witnessed the resurgence of large scale actions (Occupy Wall street, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock) not seen since the 1960’s.
2) The issue with grant funding. During the last four decades of neoliberalism, Academia, NGO’s, and other grant funded institutions have attempted to coopt the discourse and practices addressing inequality – claiming to ‘advocate’ for the needs of the marginalized, but in fact preserving an ambiguous relationship with precarization rather than contributing to a true liberation of political desire and creation of forms of life disruptive to- and autonomous from capitalist relations.
And from these institutions, a new wave of “professional” activists have created a highly contentious, territorial, and hierarchical brand of politics hollowed of any anti-capitalist analysis, while crafting the impression of promoting an autonomous, horizontal, and inclusive political sphere. Though some spaces and individuals have sustained important projects and conversations, for the most part, resources, spaces, and networks are shared selectively with other radical bodies. Without any transparency regarding funding sources, salaries, and grant requirements, their presence within truly autonomous radical networks has diluted more radical potentialities. Again – Occupy, Ferguson, Baltimore, Standing Rock, and so many other situations were initiated by those suffering the worst forms of economic and political violence – not from NGOs.
3) The Urban-Rural drift. With neoliberalism, DE-industrialization, and the loss of locally owned farms, poor whites were ridiculed and broadly labeled as “red-necks” incapable of any emancipatory politics. Such overtones are especially pervasive in core liberal institutions (universities, media) who have exacerbated the urban/rural cultural divide without considering the plight of local farmers wrecked by factory farming and mono-agriculture, to the struggles of landless farmers’ movements across the Global South. Claims by the alt-right of “returning back” to the era of industrialization and a prosperous white middle class, christian values, etc. have lingered for decades – and now more than ever appeal to a growing number of unemployed and indebted white population. Urban social movements have yet to articulate a more inclusive politics connecting with the plight of rural farmers and collectivizing around food production, distribution, and environmental justice.
4) This is not nazi germany. This president is not hitler and such analogies simplify the historical and obscure the future. The US was and remains a machine whose very existence relies on the escalating destruction of bodies and environments. Its reliance on ever expansive modes of surveillance and individualization of precarity will only assume more violent modes of functioning in order to sustain productivity and profits. Electing a bernie sanders could only soften its impact.
The power America now holds, is far more diffuse, expansive, individualized, and requires a more developed response among the radical left. And the economic spheres of the US are far more complicated than Germany’s industrial machine prior to world war 2.
The cliché fascist cries of “Buy American, Hire American!”, or “build that wall!” exist. But white america’s cultural and economic hegemony extends beyond the confines of one president, political party, or industry – and persists at the individual, urban, and global spheres. The self-clowning in hipster aesthetics (see gavin mcinnes and the proud boys), white-washing urban space (in tandem with gentrification, stop and frisk, and evictions targeting primarily Black and Latino residents), NGO’ization and “humanitarian” military invasions globally in the name of human rights and american values, are all processes that are culturally and economically interwoven with liberal institutions (media, foundations, NGO’s, universities, silicon valley) as much as they are with their conservative counterparts (oil, military, religious). And most importantly, are both (liberal and conservative elements) subservient to the whims of finance – the banks, hedgefunds, mortgage companies, who are the most core force in US politics.
It wasn’t the Russians. The majority of young, Black, Latino, formerly incarcerated, undocumented, and poor are either ineligible or lack interest in voting. Elections remain a toss up for older, non-incarcerated, white men to choose from. Thus, understanding politics only within the electoral framework (rather than the collective) reinforces centuries-long racist legal constructs that effectively deny political subjectivity to those who are the most exploited for America’s economic growth (Blacks, Indigenous, Migrants) in order to exclude them from entering capitalist flow. This reality was blurred under the guise of a Black president, political correctness, multi-culturalism, etc, and is perhaps why so many liberals were shocked at the lack of non-white turnout.
J20, Women’s Strike, Immigrant walk-out, Mayday, and beyond.
The week following the November election culminated in protests erupting nationally without any central coordination. High schools and colleges participated in walk-outs, and meetings among various social milieus of liberal and radical left discussed next steps. Liberal circles concentrated mostly on fundraising and supporting platforms (particularly legal, electoral, and the media) that could challenge trump’s “unconstitutional” policies. The approach of the radical left built on networks active prior to the elections to coordinate the following strategies:
1) electing far-left candidates to local offices
2) being in solidarity with communities directly affected by state violence (Women, Undocumented, communities of color) through protests, walk-outs, strikes, developing rapid response networks, and direct legal/medical support
3) demanding seemingly neutral or progressive institutions (universities, museums, hospitals) to declare support for marginalized individuals (primarily undocumented), divest from corporations impacting already vulnerable communities, and remove trustees and administrators with any political or financial ties with the president and it’s circle of corporate elites
4) disrupting alt-right and pro-trump speakers or events (milo yiannopoulos@UC Berkeley, gavin mcinnes@New York University)
5) Develop more in-depth awareness around walk-outs, strikes, and other worker based actions against exploitation and marginalization
6) and perhaps most importantly, form linkages between previously disconnected networks in order to challenge the instruments of capital and power directly resulting in precarization and violence.
To this last point, we’ll begin with the post-election protests in November that were initially peaceful with slogans contained to “Not my president” or “where’s my vote”, that then escalated to “Black lives matter!”, “Fuck your wall! We’ll tear it down”, “We Protect One Another!”, “Pussies Grab Back!”, pro-LGBT, pro-choice, and many others. Marches were initially limited to the front of Trump’s hotels, federal buildings, or public plazas, but often led to unpermitted marches occupying streets and highways. Though not covered in the mainstream media, turnout among young, LGBT, and people of color was especially strong. High school students walked-out days after the election and recently declared a city-wide student strike if any classmates are detained and deported by immigration agents.
Young women gathered at public squares, facilitating open-mics where traumatic experiences of sexual violence were shared to incredibly empathetic listeners, declaring that their struggle against rapists, misogyny, and racism would only escalate post-election. And across the city, numerous meetings were called by an array of various liberal and radical groups to discuss next steps.
The Black Lives Matter movement has continued to mobilize after the elections and initiate linkages with other movements. Building on the policy platform released by a coalition of nearly 30 BLM groups (m4bl.net), the movement has continued to resist against the targeting of Muslims, Black, Brown, Women, LGBT, and Indigenous people. Solidarity actions against the “Muslim ban”, the Affordable Care Act, and anti-LGBT policies have increased. The BLM Global Network also raised $14,000 in support of Standing Rock. In the last month, the Movement for Black Lives has declared “Beyond the Moment, May Day Planning call: Join a broad multi-racial, cross-sector coalition of organizers from around the country as we build momentum for a day of resistance everywhere this May Day!”
January 20th, 2017
The #DisruptJ20 organizing committee brought together various groups to organize teach-ins and disrupt the presidential inauguration. Their call to action stated how the “#DisruptJ20 organizing committee rejects all forms of domination and oppression, particularly those based on racism, poverty, gender & sexuality, organizes by consensus, and embraces a diversity of tactics.”
Black Lives Matter groups organized numerous protests, “Know your rights” trainings, and teach-ins the week of the inauguration. Their pledge of resistance stated “days after Martin Luther King Day, we’ll witness the inauguration of a President who is the antithesis of everything Dr King stood for. The threats of mass deportation, the dismantling of Obamacare, the registration of Muslims, and the criminalization of Women’s health, are loud and clear. Black people and other people of color are being targeted… and the promise of more ‘law and order’ policing leaves us even more vulnerable to police terror.”
On the day of the inauguration, Palestinian solidarity, Black Lives Matter groups, Environmentalist, and Anarchist collectives blockaded Trump supporters from passing through entrances to the inauguration ceremony. Afterwards, groups came together in various marches and rallies. An Anarchist block organized a breakaway march that was met with stun grenades, pepper spray, and mass arrests by police. A People’s Inaugural Ball was also organized by #StayWokeAndFight with Howard University to call for racial justice.
January 28th, 2017
Protesters swarmed airports during several days marked by the detention of over 100 refugees and travelers arriving from Middle Eastern countries by customs agents. In New York’s JFK airport, taxi workers announced an hour of work stoppage in solidarity. Trump’s Muslim ban further polarized opponents to the president and was eventually relieved after several courts overturned the executive order.
February 2nd, 2017
The Day Without Immigrants rallies and boycott was organized in over 50 cities in response to legislation that would criminalize the over 12,000,000 undocumented immigrants and exclude any route to citizenship. Over 1,000,000 protesters participated in the action, and included immigrants rights groups, undocumented and documented migrants, students, and workers.
March 8th, 2017
The International Women’s Strike on March 8th brought together a large network of Women and allies in over 50 countries. Per womenstrikeus.org, “In the spirit of that renewed radicalism, solidarity and internationalism, the International Women’s Strike US continues to be a national organizing center by and for women who have been marginalized and silenced by decades of neoliberalism directed towards the 99% of women: working women inside and outside of the home, women of color, Native women, disabled women, immigrant women, Muslim women, lesbian, CIS, queer and trans women. We see our efforts as part of a new international feminist movement that organizes resistance not just against Trump and his misogynist policies, but also against the conditions that produced Trump, namely the decades long economic inequality, criminalization and policing, racial and sexual violence, and imperial wars abroad. We aim to build relationships of solidarity between diverse organizations of women, and all those who seek to build a global feminist, working class movement. We come from many political traditions but are united around the following common principles.”
The IWS network has been crucial in bringing together labor, university, social justice, among other spheres, into organized working groups. And leading up to May 1st, IWS has been crucial in articulating a cohesive analysis around race, class, and gender, and overcoming years of divisive identity politics.
“To those who want to narrow down feminism, we say feminism cannot be narrowed down only to demands over reproductive rights and formal gender equality. Feminism is a struggle against poverty, racism and immigration raids. The women who are part of or aspire to be the 1%, rely on the rest of us, especially immigrant women and women of color, to do the caregiving and service work for low pay or no pay. This is why we will strike on May Day.” IWS May Day platform – https://www.womenstrikeus.org/may-day/
The next few weeks.
From afar, these actions may appear small in scale and disconnected politically and with regard to the networks responsible for each. However, the networks that formed prior to these actions persist and are finding one another. This broader affinity between various sectors of the radical left is now crucial for the upcoming May 1st actions. Unlike many countries, the radical left is often constrained by internal divisions based on race, gender, labor, documentation status, and so forth. However, IWS, BLM, Standing Rock, among other movements, have formed cross sector coalitions and continue to plan larger-scale actions. And more important than the scale of these recent actions, is the creation of networks, communities, and spaces that will persist beyond the protests.