by Bill Quigley
Never in living history -- not even when Ronald Reagan won the White House -- have activists been so visibly distraught. The author has gathered some suggestions for coping with post-election trauma. “We need to stay centered, to foster actual human connection and build a shared commitment to struggle together.”
Twelve Ideas Post-Election from Front Line Organizers
by Bill Quigley
“Now is the time to stand up around what is right and what's wrong.”
When you find yourself in a suddenly darkened room, what do you do? Some rush blindly to where they think the door might be. Others stand still, let their eyes get adjusted to the different environment, re-orient themselves, then cautiously and sensitively, move forward. Some search out people who might be able to show the way. Post-election, a lot of people are re-assessing and searching for the best way forward. Here are some ideas on where we should be going and what we should be doing from experienced, thoughtful people who are organizing on the front lines.
One. You Were Born for This Time.
My friend, Cherri Foytlin, a mother who lives in rural Louisiana in a deeply Republican area, gives her life organizing to protect our earth, water and the rights of indigenous people. For that she has been arrested and is subject to death threats. Right after the election she wrote: “Fear no evil. Joy and Love still live, and it is up to us to build the shelter for the Hope that they provide. Lower those pointed fingers, we will need them to grasp the hammer and forge the nails. Do not give in to your righteous anxieties. Our heroes have never left us. All the good that ever was, it is still here. You were born for this time.”
Two. Join Allies.
Marisa Franco, one of the founders of Mijente, calls on Latinos and African Americans to join together with whites who didn’t go for Trump. “No one is going to build it, no one is going to give it to us. Positioning folks like the people in Arizona who built resilience and strength, positioning people who have been survivors to teach others. People in the South, in Arizona have been doing that for years,” she said. “We’ve got to build bridges across communities.”
Three. Fight and Dig In for the Long Haul
Jaribu Hill of the Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights, "At a time when Black women and men are murdered under the color of law, as the great Medgar Evers said, we cannot let up now!" she said. "At a time when trans peoples are murdered by homophobic hatemongers, we cannot let up now! At a time when thousands of immigrants are targeted for exploitation and deportation, we cannot let up now!"
Patricia Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, insisted “You don’t negotiate with hate. I don't think now is the time for diplomacy. Now is the time to stand up around what is right and what's wrong.”
Dave Archambault, Tribal Chair of Standing Rock, challenges us to dig in for the long haul. In honor of our future generations, we fight this pipeline to protect our water, our sacred places, and all living beings…. “We’re about protecting our future. And that’s what he should be about. He should think, How can I protect my future so that 50 years from now, 100 years from now, there’s something there? And that if we continue to do what we’re doing at the pace that we’re doing it, in 50 years we’re going to see mass destruction because Mother Earth cannot sustain herself with all the activity that’s taking place.”
Four. Humility, Grief and Hope.
Equality Louisiana’s message the day after the election began with “We’re not sure what to say either.” Humility is a starting point for knowledge. Like Socrates said “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
Likewise, it is OK to grieve. That said, neither humility nor grief is an excuse for paralysis or inaction. May Boeve, of 350.org: “It’s hard to know what to say in a moment like this. Many of us are reeling from the news and shaken to the core about what a Trump presidency will mean for the country, and the difficult work ahead for our movements. Trump’s misogyny, racism, and climate denial pose a greater threat than we’ve ever faced, and the battleground on which we’ll fight for justice of all kinds will be that much rougher. The hardest thing to do right now is to hold on to hope, but it’s what we must do. We should feel our anger, mourn, pray, and then do everything we can to fight hate together.”
Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network stated, “Fear has been the driving force of this presidential election. A fear which has spurred hatred, promoted violence and created an environment where families worry about their future, about their loved ones. Fear won last night, but this type of fear can only be defeated by courage and action.” Likewise, Justin Hansford wrote, “Woke up this morning, mind stayed on freedom. Stop acting like we never took a loss before, then won. My ancestors stared slavery in the face.”
Six. Listen to and talk face to face with people.
Social media is not a substitute for human to human communication. As Dream Defenders suggests: “We know it can be tempting to use social media as a way to engage in this moment, to understand where our people are at and to tell people what we think they are doing wrong. But right now, we need to stay centered, to foster actual human connection and build a shared commitment to struggle together.” Listening is part of our orientation. We listen to pick up clues from our fellow seekers about what is the best path, the best next step.
“Solidarity is our protection,” urged the Reverend Deborah Lee, of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity in California told David Bacon. “Our best defense is an organized community committed to each other and bound together with all those at risk. … We ask faith communities to consider declaring themselves ‘sanctuary congregations’ or ‘immigrant welcoming congregations.’”
DRUM (Desis Rising Up & Moving), an organization of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean immigrants, most of whom are Muslims and most of whom are undocumented, called for action. “In the words initially chanted by working-class youth of the British Asian Youth Movement against neo-Nazi fascism, we are “here to stay and here to fight” in solidarity with our Black, Latino, LGBTQ, women and worker communities.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights election statement was stark. “The dangers of a Trump presidency go beyond the attacks on people of color, women, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, LGBTQI people, and people with disabilities. His campaign was marked by the strategies and tactics of authoritarian regimes: endorsing and encouraging violence against political protesters, threatening to jail his opponent, refusing to say he would accept the results of the election if he lost, punishing critical press. Together with all those who value freedom, justice, and self-determination, we must resist and prevent at all costs a slide into American fascism.” They concluded “Resistance is our civic duty.”
Nine. Continue Building Local and State Power.
Sergio Sosa, director of Nebraska’s Heartland Workers Center, reflected on their 20 year history of community and workplace organizing. "People here have to remember the power they've built on a local level and use it," Sosa says, "even in the face of a national defeat."
Ten. Look Outward Globally.
Kathy Kelly, of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, an activist in the US and Iraq and Afghanistan, insisted on renewing our global connections. “Many U.S. people awoke this week with a new understanding of the dangers facing our common life together. These battles we fight are not a game, and they can escalate into even direr realities. I look to Afghanistan, I look to the simple facts faced by the Standing Rock protesters, and I know we must look back to the sorrows which so much of the world will commemorate today. These sorrows, so painfully real, can help all of us yearn above all for an understanding by people worldwide, and here in my own frightened, divided country—an understanding that we live in a real world, beset with multiple wars, and must at last turn to each other, prepared to live more simply, share resources more radically, and abolish all wars in order to build a real peace.”
Eleven. Working People.
Adolph Reed demands that organizing has to address the concerns of working people. “Defeating these reactionary tendencies will require crafting a politics based on recognition that the identity shared most broadly in the society is having to or being expected to work for a living and that that is the basis for the solidarity necessary to prevail and, eventually, to make a more just and equitable society.”
Twelve. Organize. Organize. Organize.
No doubt we have to organize. But, a note of caution. We are called to organize intelligently. Unless we organize in a thoughtful and humble way that understands the dynamics of race, class, gender, and place, as my friend Ron Chisom of The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond likes to say, “We will not be organizing, but disorganizing.” There is no shortcut. We cannot organize for peace and justice if we do not model peace and justice in our organizing.
Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer who teaches at Loyola University New Orleans.