It is said that the Chinese word for "crisis" is a combination of two characters: one representing danger the other representing opportunity. The election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States certainly represents danger, especially to African Americans, Hispanics, members of the LGBTQ community, Muslims, Jews, women, and for everyone who is poor.
This is why he was rejected by a majority of the voters who cast ballots in this past presidential election. However, given the Electoral College system, he is president-elect now and it is important that we do not become paralyzed or overwhelmed and sink into despair. There is also great opportunity to organize and take advantage of America's great diversity, making it a liberated and safer country for all of its people.
Fear was at the heart of Donald Trump's campaign. He successfully exploited the fear and anger that many white Americans feel over changes, both demographic and cultural, that seemed threatening to a way of life they expected to last forever. He used fear to fan hysteria that Mexicans, other Hispanics, Black people and nonwhite people in general are subverting American values and undermining the nation's "greatness." He coupled fear to his most blatant lie: that he was a man of the people willing and prepared to take on the moneyed interests that sent jobs overseas causing lost jobs and income here at home.
He also used the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and hyperbole about Islamic terrorism to create great fear of Muslims (and now as his administration comes in, discussion of internment camps for Muslims has begun.) Trump also used similar hyperbole about Black communities to create fear in white America about crime and their safety.
Donald Trump's slogan, "Make America Great Again" especially sold hope to white male America that people of color would not be political or economic players of any significance; that women would return to the kitchen, gay people would remain in the closet, and that immigrants would come mostly from Europe. He breathed new life into the Ku Klux Klan. So now, what is to be done?
Thousands of people across the country have taken to the streets to display their anger and frustration at the temperament, the policies and the pronouncements of Donald Trump. While all of this is understandable and important, we must now turn our attention to the kind of organizing that will put forward policies and people at the local, state and national levels to make sure that America represents all of its people.
We can do this. Hillary Clinton received 7 million fewer votes than Barack Obama in the 2012 election. Aside from low turnout, Clinton's poor campaigning and alienation were undoubtedly important parts of the reason for this loss. Now we see media falsely steering post-election analysis into discussion of how to reach the white working class male as if that is where her failure lay. So part of what is needed are efforts to turn the discussion toward the real issues of democracy that have largely been obscured and avoided. Topping this discussion is surely the issue of economic justice, an issue to which Secretary Clinton offered nothing new.
Our main point here, however, is that there is work to be done over the next two years-between now and the mid-term elections-that will shape the Congress, and local and state offices. Indeed, in the final analysis, when we talk about what impacts our lives day-to-day, it is the kind of decision-making at this level that most immediately affects us. Legislators at the state level, for example, drive voter suppression.
Police violence, to give another example, will not be contained until we who are most affected by it gain the levers of power to restrain and end it. And, at a higher level, we have the numbers to end Republican control of the Congress and to put fear into those who do manage to retain their seats. The energy we see on the streets in protest can be most effectively used at the grassroots in the kind of day-to-day organizing that uproots the old order in cities, counties and parishes. This is difficult but necessary work.
Anger is understandable but not sufficient to generate the kinds of changes that are needed; or to mobilize the kind of effort that is needed now. We want to repeat and emphasize what we think is urgently needed: hard, diligent grassroots work; the kind of organizing that will put forward policies and people at the local, state and national levels to make sure that America represents all of its people-the kind of deep community organizing that we of SNCC and the Freedom Movement engaged in to defeat Jim Crow segregation and win voting rights for people of color across the nation.
We can change state legislatures, and city councils, and congressional seats. We acknowledge that this will not resolve every issue confronting us. And the very large question of how best to hold accountable people we put into office through our work, remains. But we can put fear into the minds of those like Trump and his cohorts who think they have been mandated to start this country down a road leading to what amounts to fascism.
November 22, 2016
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