Organizing Principles

Friends,

I’m certain the past week has been trying for all of you, I know it certainly has been for me. Despite this I hope that my letter finds you in better spirits and renewed vigor, because right now there is much work to do.

The coming Trump presidency represents an existential threat to our Republic. It is obvious that it will challenge aspects of our civil society that were long considered sacrosanct. The protection of democratic institutions and the continuation of a progressive agenda will require a robust and sustained grassroots response of us all. The conversation as to how we achieve this is already beginning and I would like to contribute to it. It is my hope that these points can help frame a larger conversation between all of us as we move to organize our local response in preparation for the next four years.

I) Recognize that Plan A has Failed

I, like many of you, was not initially a Hillary supporter. I ultimately supported her because I believed that the best path towards positive, progressive reforms was to be found in continuity and incremental change. That possibility is no longer tenable. With a Republican controlled Congress soon to be joined by a (nominally) Republican executive we no longer have time to wait for change. Our response cannot solely be one of resistance and obstruction. We cannot simply try and weather these next four years. By necessity our response must be far more activist, radical, and aggressive. The sooner we recognize this, the sooner we come to terms with the reality of it, the better off we’ll be. To say this is one thing, but to follow through will require resolve. It will require all us to rid ourselves apathetic thinking. It will force us to stop thinking in terms of what’s “possible” and “realistic”. It will require a level of political risk that most of us are not accustomed to.

Plan A has failed and with it so too has that 20 year old brand of safe, centrist, Wall Street friendly Neoliberalism. There is no going back. Neoliberalism is dead. Its arguments are no longer persuasive, its practitioners no longer electable. In our current era it is an Albatross around the Democratic Party’s neck. Attachment to it will only lead to more elections like this past one. In Neoliberalism’s place we must align the platform of the Democratic party more closely to the issues that the core and future of the party are passionate about. We must push for a truly inclusive and progressive Democratic party; one that speaks to the interests of the middle and working classes over the interests of Wall Street and Corporations. This is not without risk, there is still much debate as to whether a truly progressive agenda would pass muster in more typical election cycles. To that I would contend that we live in strange times. If there were ever a time to take such a risk it is right now.

I believe that we have an opening. As I write this, protests across the US continue to organize. Countless allies continue to write and vocalize their opposition. People are afraid, they are angry, and they are showing themselves ready and willing to fight back. We need to capture the energy of this moment into a realized movement. We already have the numbers, the thinkers, and the impetus. Now we need to push and shape the agenda. We need to find and encourage talented candidates to run on progressive platforms. We need to foster the type of activist representation that we’ve seen in Senator’s Sanders and Warren and we need to start immediately.

II) Disengage from the Echo Chamber

The thing that I found remarkable, in the wake of the election results, was just how aggressively Facebook was filtering my news feed. I scrolled and scrolled and found not a single post celebrating a Trump presidency. I knew, apparently, not a single person who voted for Trump. This obviously cannot be true. Frankly, I understand that this was as much Facebook’s fault as my own. Facebook might be filtering events, but I’ve engaged in my fair share of unfollowing and blocking. I am realizing the folly in that now and am willing to contend that this self-imposed isolation is not only bad for America but has also directly led to a Trump Presidency.

In order to lead, in order to heal, we need to get out of our echo chambers. We need to start to listen, really listen to our fellow countrymen whom we disagree with. We need to understand their concerns and not immediately dismiss them out of hand. I know that right now that seems difficult. I know that common ground seems scarce. But we need to remember that not all of Trump’s supporters are screaming racists and bigots. Let’s be clear, there are many of those among his number, but there are just as many if not more genuinely disaffected people who were and are desperate for someone to hear them.

What Trump’s election should demonstrate is that people are willing to vote for someone who purports to hold the answers. Trump’s credibility with the working class stems from the fact that he had no prior involvement in their decline. He didn’t sign NAFTA, he wasn’t personally sending their jobs abroad. He walked in, said “I feel your pain” and for once that didn’t seem like a line. Just as we all pointed out that no living president was supporting Trump’s presidency with alarm, to those on the other side of the aisle that lack of endorsement was seen as proof positive that this man was the real deal. We can argue for days about his sincerity, but it is no longer relevant. If it was a con it worked. He will reveal whether or not he was sincere as he proceeds, in the meantime we must be there to support the people who come to realize that they’ve been had.

While there is no doubt that the Racists and Misogynists were a part of his coalition, to assume that all Trump supporters are Racists and Misogynists is not a constructive exercise. We assume people’s motivations at our own peril. Now more than ever we need to have the patience to listen and engage with those who voted for Trump. I know this will not be easy; this election has left deep scars. Still, we cannot write people off as unreachable because of a singular decision. The more we engage the other side, the more we converse and reach out, the more we can both understand one another. After that though it’s on us as progressives to regroup, rethink, and put forth a more compelling argument. I am convinced of the strength of our message, convinced that progressive economic policies will resonate, convinced that there are minds to change. Ultimately these same disaffected working class voters that delivered the election to Trump are our allies in waiting. We simply need to reach out and convince them.

III) “Make Racists Afraid Again”*

Given events since the election it is clear that racists have been emboldened by this election in a way I’ve never seen in my lifetime. While I don’t believe that Trump created these people, he certainly encouraged them to show themselves in the light of day. Having done so however it is now on us to make it clear that they are not able to say and do hateful things with impunity. While expressions of solidarity and support for marginalized groups are a necessary component of this, the true remedy is confrontation.

Racists and misogynists will only thrive so long as the culture at large tolerates them. Right now these people are emboldened, they are vocal, and we must use the opportunity of this moment to identify the racists and bigots within our communities. Once so identified, we need to be prepared and willing to confront them when they say hateful things and challenge them in the moment. By not doing this, by walking away when a coworker says something hateful, by hitting the block button on Facebook, we enable. We create an illusion of implicit agreement. We need to be willing to take a stand, to engage, to be fearless and defend those that might not be there to defend themselves. Most of all we need to remember that we are not the thought police. People are more and allowed to think awful things; our goal is not to censor but to convince them otherwise. Our goal is to change minds, how we do this however… that will have to be part of a much longer discussion.

These points, as I said at the outset, are by no means intended to be complete or authoritative, and there is much I’ve left unsaid. These points are merely intended to serve as a framework by which to continue this conversation. So let’s do that, let’s continue this conversation by whatever means as we are able. If there is interest I’m willing to locate a venue and organize a meeting, if not we can continue online. Either way, I feel strongly that this is a conversation worth having and I hope that you do too.

Yours,

John Riccio

Notes/Further Reading:

  1. The first assumption I’m making in this argument is that it is far more politically expedient to organize from within the Democratic party, rather than break off to a third party. My reasons for this are many and perhaps not germane to the spirit of this letter, but I would of course be open to further discussion on the subject.
  2. To be very clear, I am not advocate compromising on the progressive social platform that we’ve already built. Quite the contrary. What I am advocating is building a coalition based on similar economic interests. Social values, societal norms, these things are fluid and there is plenty of room for each on all sides. But people people need to eat, need to support their loved ones, and need to believe that the hustle was worth it in the end. I firmly believe that a Democratic party pushing platforms that address the economic needs of these voters will be successful in winning them back.
  3. If you have not already please read Michael Moore’s frighteningly prescient piece, “5 Reasons Why Trump will Win”.
  4. With the cacophony of opinions being shared it is inevitable that some if not all of these points will seem derivative. So to hear someone make many of these same arguments with 100% more British charm please see this video (https://youtu.be/GLG9g7BcjKs).
  5. Bernie Sanders also lends a much needed voice to the conversion: http://nyti.ms/2epRZVl
  6. Dan Carlin of the Hardcore History podcast has also released a thoughtful response to the election. Dan’s take is nuanced, logical, and an interesting alternative to many of the other breakdowns of this election I’ve read recently. The episode is titled “Trumped” and can be downloaded here.
  7. I originally wanted to have a fourth bullet point titled “Make America Smart Again” which would outline a response to the pseudo-science and conspiracy theories being bandied about on social media. Unfortunately I’m completely at a loss as to how we should respond to that other than to identify it as a problem and grouse. Clearly we need to begin having conversations around an agreed upon set of facts rather than about what the facts are, but how we get there is your best guess. So at any rate if you haven’t seen Neil deGrasse Tyson’s interview with Colbert on the subject, it’s certainly worth a watch, and if you have better thoughts on this subject let’s talk. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBNzuCjlwec)
  8. * With due apologies to B. Dolan. Go buy one of his hats or something. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/b-dolan/the-hat-making-trump-supp_b_10824872.html
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