2016 was a crushing disappointment as calendar years go. We’ve lost luminaries and visionaries who showed us things about themselves that gave us courage and hope or at the least, a poetically accurate picture of our own humanity. The losses of David Bowie, Prince, Lou Reed, Muhammad Ali, Merle Haggard, Phife Dawg, and the Field Commander Cohen and others have rocked many of us. These have left us wondering who we can now look to for the kind of beautiful courage and honesty they inspired through the example they provided. At the same time, we’ve seen horrors rising, as if all of the long dead nightmares we have believed could no longer reach us became not the walking dead, but ghostly dead without corporeal form we could wrestle and properly defeat. No matter how apparent that they stood in front of us, reaching out to grab them was as effective as grabbing a fistful of water.
These apparitions, like a thing out of fiction, described as only being seen out of the corner of the eye, moving slightly through the shadows, have been there haunting us the whole time. We’ve felt them, caught the occasional glimpse. Also like the spirits of our horror stories, they’ve been emboldened by our desperate attempts to convince ourselves they don’t exist. Now they come howling out of our closet, from under our beds, having fed on our fears for decades. Instead of being full and satiated as one would expect after that decades long feast, like the ghostly nightmare things they are, the more they’ve been fed the hungrier they’ve become. Damned to an eternal hunger beyond understanding, the need to create further terror to feed on until our destruction reached its apex.
Some of these ghouls were born in real places, out of real things. Economic deprivation. Hopelessness. Communities devastated. The loss of health or any way to address illness or the ravages of age or the interconnected effects of their fellow ghouls. Greed, corruption, and exploitation have been waiting as their own demonic soldiers, the fantasy terrors they’ve created to hide themselves behind like racism, sexism, classicism, homophobia and their various demonic brethren bore enough fear, ignorance and indifference for their full restoration to be complete, and all along we’ve ignored them because we have had to. The burden of attending to anything like what we believed, understood and wanted a life to be was often almost impossible in itself. Battling these ghouls and demons has seemed too much, and we have little understanding of how to do so should we even want to. When we couldn’t find the motivational or aspiration to fight them, they have continued the long, slow, wrenching process of possessing us.
The whispers have been there. Like the apparitions we catch glimpses of, we shoo them away with admonishes that they aren’t real. We hear them all the time. Eventually, we hear them often and long enough that we can no longer distinguish these filthy, manipulating intruders from ourselves. They creep deeper and deeper, intertwining themselves with us, squeezing us for all of the fear and uncertainty they can. Eventually, they feel as much a part of us as any real part of ourselves ever has.
After they’d fed for decades, draining us of our ability or energy to muster enough resistance, reaching a fever pitch in their gorging, an avatar called and out they came.
We’re searching for blame. Some certainly deserve it more than others, but in all reality, the list of those to blame is long and so many of them are already dead, becoming ghouls to haunt our history themselves. That list reaches all the way back to 1776, and further should you not take nationality as a beginning. It began with The Constitution and The Bill of Rights. As noble an attempt as it was to rid themselves of their own apparitions, they helped to enshrine the ones we face today. We often look on our history as a success in progress, but there is another perspective. The Civil War had to be fought, the 13th Amendment had to passed, and a century later, the Voting Rights Act had to be passed. Suffrage had to be won. These are bittersweet successes in progress that should never have had to exist. It’s often argued that we can’t judge our past history based on current understanding. We can and we should, because it is our current understanding that helps us not to repeat the past, and part of the reason these ghouls have been able to survive has been that we have too deeply venerated our heritage, without significant enough perspective given to the lessons we have learned. Discrimination and racism, against people of color, Native Americans, women, the poor and the LGBT community have been with us since the inception of this nation.
Through this combination of rose colored lenses through which we look into history and the inability to squarely face the reality of discrimination as an inextricable part of that history, mass incarceration, police brutality, homelessness, the lack of adequate and affordable health care, an ever more corrupt political system, The War on Drugs, The War on Terror, Mcarthyism, Japanese internment camps, slavery and so on have allowed us to continually create today, history we can not be fully and unequivocally proud of tomorrow. They have reached all the way through to modern times where variations on these same ideas lead from slavery to segregation and northern ghettos to modern voter suppression and the Southern Strategy that laid the foundation to secure Donald Trump the nomination of the Republican Party, and then the Presidency itself.
It’s easy to say, “That’s just politics.” It’s harder to admit that this so called “real politik” is anything but practical minded, as it is often sold. It’s myopic, dead of mind in it’s lack of imagination, dead of heart in its lack of compassion for our fellow Americans, and we’re now realizing it’s consequences are harrowing and without discrimination.
Another, ancillary part of the laying that foundation came in 2008, with The Great Recession. Aside from the loss of prosperity, dignity and security for billions world wide, there was the obvious, blatant and now well documented corruption that never found accountability. The depth of this corruption has been exposed. The fact that we don’t have a single system for justice, punishment and the reconciliation that should have resulted at least in prosecutions, resulted instead in taxpayer funded bonuses, taxpayer funded corporate acquisitions, and going from Too Big To Fail, to Even Too Biggerer To Fail. Where the Kaleif Browders of the world can spend three years imprisoned, two years of which were in solitary confinement, before seeing the charges for stealing a backpack dropped because he was very clearly not the perpetrator of this threat to the very fabric of civil society, being part of the international banking cartel means you can crash the world economy, cost millions of people their homes, livelihood and savings, walk away with a bonus for your efforts and employed by an institution in control of a larger portion of the economy than they were before.
The Democratic Party saw fit to attempt to exploit the very real outrage caused by systematic fraud and exploitation. The often healthy and useful seeds of distrust of government, that have existed within the American character since 1776, took long drinks of that exploitation as if it were life giving water. It wasn’t life giving water though, it was a tainted source of further illness. Ghouls creating feed for other ghouls.
They so deeply, incorrigibly ignored the warnings they’d been handed in the decade prior, that the only explanation is willful ignorance born out of arrogance. The majority of the country wants to see these vampiric apparitions expelled and exorcised. They’ve grown tired of being the bearers of the burden of this sickness. They demanded a symbol of nearly all the things people have been railing against be their nominee. Their seats of power were so comfortable, things couldn’t possibly be that bad.
All of the distrust, the tribalism, economic deprivation, lack of accountability, the hopelessness, the fears, the racism, sexism, homophobia and classicism have been there, bubbling up, fed on the greed and corruption we’ve all let run rampant as it exploits us all, and when the avatar for these horrific possessions, Donald Trump, called them to come out, they did.
It’s not exactly a silver lining but that does leave us all with an opportunity. Those that have been fortunate enough to find actual opportunities, and not just experience privilege (although opportunity is more likely with privilege), know that the only way to take advantage of a genuine opportunity is through hard, long, exhausting work and ingenuity.
All of those horrific, ghoulish apparitions are out in the open now. They can be and have been named. We can see them for what they are. We must always, at every turn be ready to search ourselves for the vestiges of the possession of us they have had individually, and be willing to listen to those who attempt to tell us that those vestiges are coloring our actions or words. Being able to identify them in the open makes it easier to identify them in ourselves where we are willing. We should be willing, if not for ourselves than for our fellow citizens.
The other opportunity we have is to begin to respond to them all with a resoundingly unified, “You are not welcome.” Where these things have become systematic, we can use every tool at our disposal and create more tools to rend them from those systems or to destroy those systems in favor of creating others. We have the opportunity to show where racism, sexism, homophobia and the like further allow the economic deprivation and the exploitation of the people who harbor them. “These people, these politicians have been lying to all of us, for all of our lives. The lies they are telling you are about other people so that you will support the kinds of policies that in turn exploit you. You know they’ve been lying to all of us, for as long as any of us can remember, about everything they’ve told us they would be able to solve. Why do you think they wouldn’t lie to you about these people so that you would give them power? Why do you think they’re not lying now?” For those who refuse to let go of these horrific apparitions, we must tell them are not welcome. It must be clear that if they are unwilling to stand down from their desire and plan to harm our brothers and sisters, they will be utterly left out. We must defend each other from this illness, at all costs.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia must receive no quarter. We have failed our fellow human beings who have been harmed by our allowance of them for so long. We can not expect to make any kind of actual progress that will not be attacked at every turn until we understand that this is non-negotiable. We will spend another half century defending any progress we make, as we have seen with The Voting Rights Act only recently, we may lose that progress as well. Within a week of the election, this is what was brought to our collective doorstep. Before just the month of November was finished, the number of reported incidents of hate had reached 900.
What is the prescription to solve these problems? How, after 240 years can we even hope to change any of this?
The approach and perspective are simple. These are not “problems.” This is a single problem. Anyone who is a person of color, LGBT, poor, working class or otherwise deemed inferior is denied the fullness of their humanity, citizenship and opportunity. A faceless, nameless bureaucracy recognizes nothing but what we lack in our attempts to secure justice, equality, opportunity and prosperity for ourselves. Employing a strategy that uses legislation, rhetoric and media to suggest we are all against the rest of us separately has left the impression that we are fighting different battles. This is in no way true. The details of discrimination are different, most definitely, but discrimination based on skin color, sexual orientation, gender identification, class or most any thing else is rooted very specifically in denying someone the fullness of their humanity. They are not enough to deserve consideration equal to that of our most privileged citizens. All discrimination is related because of this. When one of us can be denied our humanity, it is only a matter of time before any of us can be denied our humanity, and this is exactly why we have to stand together. There is a line of reasoning that suggests all discrimination is at it’s base, ableism, as for one reason or another any population discriminated against is said to be lacking in some ability, general characteristics or senses our most privileged citizens posses. They are essentially broken, and therefore, not fully human and deserving of the total treatment befitting someone who deserves their full human dignity.
Standing together now, in this place at this time is going to mean we are going to have to listen to what it is we have to lose. In order to understand how people who live across town or “the other side of the tracks” are threatened by the rise of this horror, we’re going to have to be able to hear what it is they have to lose and what is on the line for them. We’re only going to make ourselves, our strategy and our resolve stronger by having a better understanding of what everyone in our community has on the line.
What most won’t realize is that The Left, as a whole just demonstrated an amazing amount of power. In two days, different factions took to the streets to send a very similar message. “We are not going to be cowed and we are watching.” It was done in two waves, on on January 20, and then again on January 21. On January 20, the Black Bloc rolled into DC in an attempt to disrupt the inauguration to any degree possible. One heroic soul even managed to punch notorious silver spoon Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, and let’s face it, there might not be anything more truly American than punching a Nazi. On January 21, the Woman’s March on Washington and it’s many, many sister marches proceeded. Over the course of the two days, close to four million people took to the street to demonstrate that they would not be cowed and are ready to act if these thuggish ghouls now in power continue to call out and draw power from these dangerous apparitions that threaten us.
These two days, whether or not we have recognized it yet, present us with an opportunity to strengthen and bolster our resistance in a way we have not seen in decades. Those two days and two waves of this very similar message, serve as an excellent example of what can possibly come to be under a unified Left.
What may be the hardest part of all of this is that what for generations have been the “establishment Left” and the “radical Left” are going to have to realize they need each other. The radical Left needs the ability to reach the mainstream, which the establishment has. The establishment Left needs the radicals to be able to give them a direction, a message people will respond to, the fire that they’re going to need to achieve it, and something they hopefully will not need, actual strategy and practice in resisting a fascist government with the most expansive and invasive surveillance apparatus in human history. Historically, the establishment Left has represented the carrot, and the radical Left has represented the stick. If the stick and the carrot actually begin to develop strategy together, we can get a whole lot more done than we have separately. Racism is the issue where the example is most straightforward and simple. Substitute any issue, and basically all of the following remains true.
The establishments incrementalism and the malaise it has allowed has now been proven disastrously insufficient. Authors and journalists who are minorities have been quick to point out that the racism and bigotry that has helped install an actual real life autocrat in the most powerful elected office in the world, is not in any way new. What many of them aren’t taking into account is that the norms of that establishment may have tolerated a system of that privileged white supremacy, but in a whole lot of this country, until 11/9, the norms of that same establishment kept individual white supremacists from acting on their ideation. The white moderate has been the most surprised by the results of the election, as a result. Part of that surprise, and part of the reason that result came to be is that the simple and easy path of incrementalism has allowed the establishment Left to lean back where issues of racism and bigotry have been concerned. No one has been more willing to bring out the quote that “The moral arc of the universe is long and it bends toward justice.” It is a function of the reality of privilege and white supremacy, where the radical Left has at least continued to attempt to stay absolutely vigilant. This isn’t to say that issues of systematic racism are not still a part of the radical community, but their fire to find it and eliminate it within their ranks should be the example, not the exception. The establishment needs the fire of RIGHT NOW, and right now, it needs it DESPERATELY. If the worst predictions do come to pass, they are also going to need the people who have that fire and the ability to help protect you. If the establishment, in a comfortable malaise, underestimates that possibility as badly as it did the possibility of Trumps election, it’s going to be very, very ugly for everyone. The radicals are way more well prepared for those worst possible outcomes than the establishment is, by exponents in the thousands. The establishment left has no serious ability to conceive of operational or digital security in the world we currently live in. Though that may sound alarmist, let’s all think back to 18 months ago, when absolutely no one, including the establishment Left could conceive of the possibility of Donald Trump winning a general election. Do not be so arrogant as to think the small orange man with the giant ego and his cadre of rabid ghouls wouldn’t use the power of the state in a way that would surprise everyone as much as a man who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy winning the presidency. None of us is allowed to be taken by surprise now. We have to consider that the worst possible outcome may actually come to pass, and set ourselves to preparation. The establishment Left is unprepared for that possibility to a degree that would be comical if the outcomes weren’t so dire.
Radicals need the access to the mainstream the establishment has. Radicals have a more complex and nuanced understanding of the reality of racism and white supremacy, because by nature, the fire they bring to the table creates a higher powered conversational microscope. While the establishment has been gliding along on the intoxicating convenience of “political practicality,” platitudes and incrementalism, radicals have been putting boots on the ground in cities across the country to attempt to address the problems that mindset has conveniently ignored. They are rightfully angry. Radicals need to take into consideration that their goals don’t happen tomorrow, even if they were to somehow have the chance to seize all the levers of power. Self governance, community care and genuinely effective community involvement that takes the whole community into mind, even the basic skills of deescalation are all things that need to be taught to an entire nation of over 300 million in order to achieve those goals. The mass of the American populace is in absolutely no way prepared for that, white or otherwise. The combination of network and media assets the establishment has are absolutely key to starting to change that, and starting to change the way people are educated about all of the issues we care about. That is a long, hard process, probably multi-generational but it would be sped up exponentially with access to that network and those assets. Tear down the system now, without having educated people as to what the alternative is, and it’s not going to be the kind of anarchy and leaderless society so many of you have dreamed of, it’s going to be the kind of anarchy that comes from the popular definition. Chaos where the ruthless and psychotic rule by the gun and the subjugation is absolute and total. The foundation isn’t there to build that world you see possible, yet. Access to what the establishment has will help lay that foundation, more effectively and more quickly.
What collaboration offers beyond access to the strengths that both ends of the spectrum offer is strategy. There has been no successful social movement in this country that did not benefit from having a range of actors, from the radical to the moderate. It gives the opportunity for the carrot and stick variety of strategy. When the carrot and the stick are connected through a central strategy, more can be achieved. The powerful will turn to deal with the moderate in every case. If the moderate is collaborating with the radical on matters of strategy, the moderate can both ask for and win more from the power structure. Martin Luther King was made stronger by rioting in American cities, and by the emergence of Black Nationalism. In contrast, a man who had been labeled a radical, a Communist, considered a genuine threat to national security became the moderate with whom the powerful were forced to negotiate or take their cues from. Without the emergence of these other, more radical elements, whites in the North and in the West and Mid-West would have been able to continue to turn a blind eye to Southern Segregationists beating and murdering civil rights activists and black citizens.
That collaboration can begin with some basic understanding in place, and it starts with understanding that we all have something to lose, but we may have different things to lose. Get out in your community in places you wouldn’t have otherwise gone, especially if you’re white. If there’s an organization willing to help out, start trying to get people from as many different parts of the community to show up to events where talking about this is the central idea. Try to get as diverse a group as possible. If you have Trumpkins show up and try to disrupt, show them the door. If that means finding people willing to provide security, do it.
We can spend the next ten years screaming at each other online about how to create a resistance and keep watching the establishment Left and radical Left attempt to incinerate each other with sarcasm and self righteousness or we can get people together, put them in front of each other, and let them actually see and hear what it is people in their own towns and cities have to lose. Want an inter-sectional resistance, that’s how we’re going to get there. More screeds and think pieces aren’t going to do it if the thousands already written haven’t already. Get people together, specifically because they are worried and afraid about these hateful apparitions taking control of the United States government, and let them talk about what it is that they are afraid they are going to lose. Center them in community and commonality. Get them talking.
This is something both establishment Left and radical Left can cooperate on. The establishment Left can reach a wider audience faster than the radicals can. The radicals are most likely going to have training in facilitation and be able to make sure that if the crowd is majority white, it doesn’t just become a session for white people to air there grievances, but a genuine chance for every part of the community to speak to the rest of the community.
If this isn’t the best idea you’ve heard or can come up with, try something else. It may all be a failure. Maybe the establishment Left and radical Left will never be able to cooperate, even in the face of abject horror that’s about to be reigned down on all of us. If we succeed, we create a more powerful, effective and efficient resistance than we had before. If we fail, we lose nothing. We continue the way we’ve gone for generations. We must try though. What we’re facing now is far too dangerous not to.
What we face is horrible, disgusting, terrible and terrifying. In this though, we have the opportunity to create and leave a history that we can all be proud of.