From breaking the silence to building resistance

October 24, 2017

Simmering discontent with U.S. society is finding new ways to bubble to the surface. The question is whether the eruptions will be connected with an ongoing resistance.

DONALD TRUMP just wants us to shut up.

He made that message loud and clear to NFL players protesting during the national anthem when he told owners they should "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He's fired."

But instead of shutting up, dozens of players took up the take-a-knee protest--both to show solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and others who started the anthem demonstrations, and also to raise their own voices around the original issues of police racism and violence.

The symbol of protest spread throughout the sports world and well beyond: college football players, cheerleaders, women's volleyball teams, swimmers--they all have taken a knee in defiance of Trump.

There's a similarity with the women who had been silent for decades about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and his sickening record of sexual assault and harassment--and who stepped forward to tell their stories in October.

They ranged from well-known Hollywood actors and celebrities to lower-level staffers at Weinstein's company, but they shared a common experience of violence and humiliation. When the call went out for other women to tell their #MeToo stories of sexual assault and harassment on social media, more than half a million did so in the first 24 hours, and many more after that.

Protesters take a knee at the March for Racial Justice in Washington, D.C.
Protesters take a knee at the March for Racial Justice in Washington, D.C. (Anne Meador | cool revolution)

As Jen Roesch wrote at, "This is how a dam bursts."

#MeToo was a public expression of what women endure in isolation. For many, this spontaneous outpouring was an act of solidarity with others like them who have faced sexual assault--and an act of defiance against a society that often treats survivors with indifference and even suspicion.

Though #MeToo has been largely limited so far to individuals speaking out on social media, the left would be missing something if it discounted the significance.

DEEP ANGER brews just beneath the surface of U.S. society around issues like sexism and racism--and the Trump administration does something almost every day to stoke the bitterness.

Even before he took office, Trump showed his utter contempt for women by calling his taped comments bragging about being a sexual harasser just "locker room talk."

And after the far right's horrifying rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer--which culminated in a white supremacist murdering an anti-racist protester and injuring many more in a car attack--Trump expressed sympathy for the white supremacists and their cause of defending Confederate statues.

Trump's nonstop stream of insults and right-wing prejudice can sometimes make it feel like the resistance will never be big enough or happen fast enough to slow down the steamroller.

But the fact remains that people have spoken out against Trump and the right--and they will continue to do so. Along the way, strategies need to be developed and tested to see if they make the resistance stronger.

As Karl Marx famously wrote, people "make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past."

The resistance developing under Trump isn't just shaped by one hateful bigot, but by the struggles that took place before it--and those that didn't take place. By and large, the left is in a process of rebuilding today--and while the prospects are encouraging, there is a lot of work to be done and many lessons to be learned.

The Trump administration isn't about to let up on its attack on a number of fronts, from immigrants to Muslims to women, and there are certain to be more explosions of opposition and anger--some organized and others not.

On Day One of Trump's administration, the largest day of demonstrations in U.S. history took place. The Women's Marches weren't called by large established organizations like unions or women's rights groups, but by concerned individuals who found each other, often on the Internet, and decided to take action.

The vastness of the Inauguration Weekend demonstrations spoke to the willingness of people to go out and protest Trump. But doesn't mean the organizations and ongoing tradition of resistance that we'll need to push back Trump developed automatically.

FOR MANY Black NFL players, taking a stand against police brutality is personal--you only need to ask those who have spoken out about being humiliated and brutalized by the police. But it was a movement beyond the players themselves--Black Lives Matter--that opened the way for them to take their message to the field.

So while many people may be inspired by the NFL players' protest--or at least their defiance of the despised Donald Trump, with his racist scapegoating--they may not immediately connect this with the influence of the Black Lives Matter protests or the importance of making sure anti-racist activism continues beyond the playing field.

As Dave Zirin wrote in the Nation, "If players are going to keep up the fight, it will only be because we are doing the hard work of building anti-racist movements in the streets. This is one instance where watching pro athletes absolutely cannot be a spectator sport."

Likewise, in the absence of an activist movement for women's rights, it's little surprise that opposition to injustice takes the form of individual expression like #MeToo. So #MeToo reflects the potential for people to form the networks and organizations we need to push back against the Trump administration and the wider climate of sexism--but also the fact that those organizations have yet to be built.

As Jen Roesch writes:

It is not a small thing that millions of women are finding their voices--and that millions of men are starting to listen. This is particularly true for a form of oppression that is experienced individually and often in secrecy and silence.

But if this is to be a beginning, then it can't stop at the level of individual behavior--even if that is where we so often experience it. We need to find ways to raise our voices against the institutions and entrenched inequalities that shape and distort our lives--and to demand that they change.

WE CAN say something more about these eruptions of struggle: Each of them reveals something bigger to a growing number of people, including how removed the supposedly democratic political system in the U.S. is from the majority of people.

In many ways, the fact that someone like Trump could barrel his way through to the very top of the so-called "world's great democracy" reveals how little democracy there was to begin with.

In the Trump era, people are yearning for ways to speak out against injustice and have their voices heard. Taking a stand is an important first step. From there, we need to build the kinds of organization and engage in the political dialogue that will both strengthen our struggles, but also defend our side from attack.

We can build on each of these current struggles by having a sense of how fights for justice have unfolded historically. For example, what can we learn from the experience of the lunch-counter sit-ins of the early 1960s, when the action of four students in Greensboro, North Carolina, was copied across the South by tens of thousand of people in a matter of months?

What can we learn from past workers' movements that challenged and overthrew state authority, like the Russian Revolution of 1917?

The publisher of, the International Socialist Organization, is sponsoring regional Marxism Conferences in nine cities across the country to bring people together to learn from this history and tradition.

You're invited to join us in a city near you--and be part of building opposition to the Trump onslaught today, but also a long-term vision for a different kind of society: socialism.

Further Reading

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