Why solidarity can trump hate
To build the resistance we'll need against the Trump administration, we have to revive the idea that working people have a common interest in standing up for one another.
"LOVE TRUMPS HATE."
That was the theme of hundreds of rallies and vigils across the country in response to Donald Trump's shocking election victory in November--and for good reason. No mainstream U.S. politician in recent decades has openly displayed as much hate--toward immigrants, women, Muslims and anybody else who dared to disagree with him--as the incoming president.
Not only that, but Trump is assembling around him a rogue's gallery of bigots. Vice President Mike Pence has given coded public approval for the anti-LGBT torture known as "gay conversion therapy," National Security Advisor nominee Michael Flynn is a raging Islamophobe, and Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions has a long history of making racist comments about African Americans.
Then there's Steve Bannon, Trump's senior counselor and the former head of Breitbart News, the infamous far-right website known for poisoning the Internet with sexist diatribes and racist conspiracy theories.
Meanwhile, the Republicans in Congress have their wish list out and are vowing to ram through legislation to repeal Obamacare, eliminate protections for LGBTQ people, further restrict abortion rights, privatize Social Security and overhaul Medicare.
Facing an incoming president and Congress which displays such open contempt for what most people consider to be common human decency, it's natural that many people's initial reaction to Trump's election was to rally around the themes of love and humanity.
But if we are going to mount a strong resistance to Trump's plans to divide and conquer, we will need to promote not just love but solidarity: The idea that ordinary people have a common interest in defending one another from attacks on our rights and well-being.
LET'S NOT pretend that the pre-Trump United States was a society based on love either.
It was a country of skyrocketing inequality, alienation and hopelessness, live-streamed police murders and unseen drug overdoses, a country that reflexively bombs impoverished Muslim countries, but shrinks from the historic task of ending deadly climate change.
Hillary Clinton, running for president as the guardian of this increasingly miserable status quo, claimed to be campaigning for love versus Trump's hate.
But that claim rang hollow coming from a former senator who had voted for the Iraq War, a former Secretary of State who authorized a coup in Honduras, and a former First Lady who backed her husband's policies that helped to create the current system of mass incarceration and deportations.
Trump and fellow right-wing nationalist figures across the world have risen in prominence and power precisely because establishment figures like Clinton are tarnished and discredited by their hypocrisy. The rising right's message is that the cruelty of 21st century capitalism is inevitable--and that the way forward is not halfway "politically correct" measures put forward by liberals, but full-throated racial tribalism and wall-building.
We reject this bleak vision of the right--but not with the empty "everything is fine" lie projected by Clinton and the Democratic Party. Instead, we have to fight for our own vision of a different world that is actually based on love--starting with ending poverty in the richest society in the world.
To do that, we need more than abstract love. We need to build concrete solidarity among the majority of people who have a common interest in defeating the right and fighting for a society based on equality and justice.
THE CONCEPT of solidarity is based on the idea that people can unite across their differences not just because they are good people (or "allies"), but because they have a common interest in not allowing themselves to be divided and conquered. As the old Industrial Workers of the World slogan puts it: "An injury to one is an injury to all."
We're taught that the only way to get ahead in this society is to outcompete your neighbors, but while that might be true for businesses, it's never been true for ordinary people. The biggest gains for workers have come not through stabbing one another in the back to get ahead, but by uniting into unions to raise everyone's standard of living.
This isn't just true among workers in the same union, but among ordinary people across different occupations and life situations--and among people who suffer different oppressions and are divided against each other.
The times when African Americans won their biggest victories--ending slavery in the mid-19th century and ending segregation 100 years later--didn't take away rights from other people. On the contrary, they led to further struggles to increase rights for other groups like women, immigrants and workers. That's why Alicia Garza, one of the creators of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign, was right to say, "When Black people get free, everyone gets free."
It follows from this that solidarity isn't just an abstract concept, but a real thing built on networks of trust and reliability.
A strike can't happen if one worker doesn't know if her co-workers will also walk off the job with her. Undocumented youth can only come out of shadows unafraid if they are connected to organizations they can count on to defend them.
In Trump's America, whether or not targeted groups like Muslims and undocumented immigrants have the confidence to protest depends on the tangible solidarity we start building right now--through everything from forming response networks to hate crimes and deportations to creating spaces for political discussion and organizing.
At times like this, when the right is on the rise, it's easy to be skeptical about solidarity. That skepticism is often expressed in online articles or social media posts that dismiss people's efforts to show support for oppressed groups as little more than trying to make themselves feel good.
But that distinction misses the whole point: Building solidarity does feel good because we have mutual interests.
There is no better demonstration of the strength of solidarity than the movement that blocked--at least for now--the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe won this victory because it was able to count on solidarity--from hundreds of different Indigenous tribes facing their own struggles to defend land and sacred sites, and from thousands of non-Native supporters who made the journey to North Dakota because they see a common interest in both defending Native sovereignty and preventing oil companies from continuing to destroy the planet.
All of the people involved in the struggle who weren't likely to be directly affected by, say, pollution from a pipeline spill in North Dakota responded nevertheless to the call for support, and their growing presence at Standing Rock--especially of military veterans--sent a message to the company and the state that it had a fight on its hands.
SOLIDARITY ISN'T just a strategy for resistance. It can also transform those involved.
There are two common ideas about racism and other forms of oppression. The first is that these are outdated, ignorant ideas that are gradually disappearing. The second is that they are an unchanging element of human nature that will always be with us.
Both views are wrong. Oppressions are a product of a deeply unequal society, where the minority at the top maintains its grip by keeping the majority at the bottom divided so it won't unite against them. But oppressions can be fought by movements of solidarity. Whether they are challenged and eventually overcome depends on the struggle against them.
Donald Trump's message may seem like pure hate to those he is targeting and many more besides, but to the ordinary people whose votes he got last November, he's putting forward a sham vision of solidarity--solidarity with only some people, not all.
Socialists have real alternatives to offer--not the empty rhetoric of love and unity coming from politicians funded by Wall Street bankers and military contractors that profit from our evictions and our deaths, but the strength of working people to unite in a common interest that is the opposite of Trump's message of hate and greed.
That may seem like a long way off, but getting there starts now, with people who already want to fight Trump joining together in protests like the Inauguration Weekend demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and around the country. Socialist Worker urges its readers to take part in the Inaugurate the Resistance protest on January 20 and the Women's March on Washington on January 21, or in actions in your own cities if you can't get to Washington.
And the fight will go on after Inauguration Weekend--as we continue organize resistance in all the struggles to come in the Trump era.