If there’s one thing we’ve excelled at during the first fortnight of Trumps presidency it’s placard prowess… among notible pieces of political power posturing
“I’d call Trump a c**t, but he lacks both depth and warmth”
Creatively representing the depths of humankind’s anxieties for the new president are given disapproving gusto on global newsstands this month. On February covers of The New Yorker and Der Speigel appear punchy visual statements about loss of liberty and the terror threat…
…but is this really the way to do political discourse?
Surely these public protestations will only galvanise the great divide in American society rather than further democracy?
I believe the response of the UK and US political classes to Trump and BREXIT have been pretty much the same; in both cases the authentic voice of the voter and the issues motivating their vote have largely been ignored. What’s more if the vast majority of people who voted for Trump did so due to a lack of alternative political solutions to the issues that confront them… then bashing Trump is only likely to tighten those voters grip on their president. In a vacuum of other options Trump voters have nowhere else to go… the divided society remains and the status quo of the two party situation continues.
“Resistance persists, acceptance changes”
The two party democracies in the UK and US currently feel like they largely benefit the privileged few. As unexpected as many felt BREXIT and the Trump presidency was, I believe the wheels are already visibly in motion to ensure both events largely benefit those same few! Until we accept that the system is broken, change is unlikely to come.
What does BREXIT mean…
In the UK the political process doesn’t feel any healthier. The phrase “BREXIT means BREXIT” pretty much sums up the evasive approach Theresa May has taken to ignoring the electorate. Greater parliamentary sovereignty and tackling the state of the NHS, workers rights and public services formed the mood music for the BREXIT vote, but instead of taking note of Leave voter concerns the PM has been trying to prevent parliaments involvement and austerity measures continue without opposition.
It’s fair to say there are lots of very important reasons to produce a placard and protest at the moment! Trump’s reported comments alone that accepting asylum seekers into America would be like accepting “the next Boston bombers” is an incitement to violence towards refugees enough to get me out on the streets with a “Refugees Welcome” banner.
In Germany the rise in terrorism since the acceptance of large numbers of asylum seekers comes from terror towards refugees and their homes.
So we’re agreed that protest is an important part of a healthy democracy! The scale of the global Women’s March made my heart skip with joy.
However protest marches are only part of transforming politics… an important opportunity to create a new narrative will pass the US by if Trump sees out his term with the only opposition coming from protests marches alone. If we head home from the protest thinking “job done” then ironically the act of marching could take potency away from creating much needed new narratives; allowing the cycle of terms to play out, the party in power to change but the narrative for many communities stays the same.
What the last 12 months has revealed for me is that the political parties that dominate some of the most celebrated democracies in the world aren’t capable of radically changing direction… thoughts that I’m sure have crossed the minds of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn over the past year.
In the UK instead of seeing the major parties change, we’ve seen a small right wing party shift the political discourse and the course of European history. UKIP was founded 24 years ago… and it has changed the face of UK politics with a radical right agenda.
So where are the other radical offerings to pull it all back in the other direction?
In America a seasoned presidential campaign strategist called Zack Exley has started a movement called Brand New Congress which is targeting the 2018 congressional elections with over 400 headhunted candidates who currently serve their communities up and down the US as teachers, nurses, charity workers and alike. It’s an ambitious plan but looking at Zack’s background you’d be a fool to completely write him off.
We’ve known for a long time that technological advances are making crowds easier to mobilise. In Rules for Revolutionaries written by Zack and Becky Bond they share “the story of a breakthrough experiment conducted on the fringes of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign: a technology-driven team empowered volunteers to build and manage the infrastructure to make 75 million calls, launch 8 million text messages, and hold more than 100,000 public meetings—in an effort to put Bernie’s insurgent campaign over the top.”
It’s a whole lot easier to inspire a population with the potential of something “brand new” if you can show them it in action.
In the days that followed the inauguration of Trump there were many blog posts shared offering solutions and one stood out to me. George Lakey’s ten point plan to stop Trump and make gains in justice and equality presents an important list of actions for communities fuelled by the fire for protest to ensure that those protests escalate into the desired change. A list of actions with connection, ambition and vision, here are a few of my favourite points that he raises:
2. Strengthen civic institutions and their connections with targeted populations – urging them to strengthen their connections with scapegoated groups like Jews, immigrants and African Americans
3. Play offense, not defense – activists need to design campaigns that deliberately increase their base through building relationships “beyond the choir.”
5. Link movements to create a movement of movements – Daniel Hunter — in his book “Strategy and Soul” — reveals how a neighborhood-based movement forced politicians to come to the campaigners, instead of the campaigners seeking help from the politicians.
9. Make the vision more real by extending new economy institutions and coops – People who are active in campaigns and movement development need to honor the development of economic infrastructure that reflects the values of our united vision.
“Great minds discuss ideas; small minds discuss people”
According to the Resolution Foundation’s predictions we stand on the cusp of the biggest rise in inequality since the 1980’s under Margaret Thatcher in the UK.
In the US there’s a danger that with every challenge to Trump’s presidency, whether that be a march, a protest placard or some sharp edged satire, the divide in society grows wider and the political landscape keeping the two party system circulating is strengthened. To quote George Lakey “Simple protests, no matter what the issue, essentially signal to Trump that he is winning”. It’s important we don’t forget the failings of democracy that characterised the EU Referendum and this presidential race and brought us to this point in history… because our response needs to be clever!
Let’s create our own thing… a movement of movements that cannot be ignored
The limelight and opportunity for connection created by challenging Trump and the focus of BREXIT negotiations have to be more than just actions on the defensive; we have to turn them into platforms for a vision that can build solidarity across communities… putting ourselves on the offensive.
2016 can either be viewed as a car crash or a road map to the root issues that animate the populations of the UK and US, and so in a spirit of “nothing about us without us” let’s seek a discourse united “around a vision for justice, equality and freedom” rather than escilating division and hate.