The left can’t be dismissive

January 25, 2017

Artist and activist Sarah Levy contributes to the discussion about the women's marches last weekend--and whether those marching against Trump weren't radical enough.

THOSE MILLIONS of people who took to the streets on January 21--many chanting, "We won't go away! Welcome to your first day!"--they're on our side.

We're going to need them--and, frankly, even more than just them--if we want to stop Trump from whatever racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti-LGBT, anti-disabled shit he tries to push through, let alone to fight for and win all of the basic social reforms we deserve: a living wage, not to mention a universal wage for those who can't work; health care for all; clean water and air and healthy food; great schools with multicultural and relevant curricula; disarming, and eventually disbanding, the police, opening the borders; ending wars abroad; and more.

Yes, not all of the people who marched on Saturday are already as "woke" as you, but if we are real revolutionaries, we believe that the vast majority of these people can be won to more radical and even revolutionary ideas--especially as circumstances get more and more dire each day.

Women from all over the country converge on Washington to stand against sexism
Women from all over the country converge on Washington to stand against sexism

The question has to be: How do people's ideas change?

That woman who hugged and thanked the cop at Saturday's march--not because she wanted to thank him for killing a Black kid, but because she honestly believed that he was helping to protect the march, maybe even that he was "on our side" and supported women's rights, maybe even that this "must mean" that he, too, was against Trump. Remember that she was demonstrating, maybe even for the first time in her life, against what she saw as an evil that must be stopped.

Is she really our enemy?

That woman--who saw the need to take a stand (even in the pouring rain and cold if she was in Portland, Oregon, where I live) and join others to resist a presidency and policies that must be resisted--wants change and she is willing to act toward that change.

Maybe she hasn't thought before about the question of whose side the police are on. Maybe she wasn't at Occupy Wall Street when so many people across this country simultaneously came to the same conclusions about the police, when the myth of "serve and protect" was brutally beaten down with rubber bullets and tear gas against thousands of peaceful protesters.

And she was excited about and inspired by Saturday's protest.

Is the way to bring her out again--and maybe even get her to an educational or an organizational meeting, maybe even help her come to the conclusion that the cops are not on our side and are not going to help us fight Trump or win liberation, that the cops are a major force that both defends and brutally hammers through the racist status quo in this country, and they need to be abolished--to poo-poo the protests as "liberal" or "bourgeois," and to write her off as racist/backward/conservative?

(And, side note: Do we actually believe that it was the 1 Percent who was out protesting? Remember, "bourgeois" is not synonymous with "white.")

Is that how you think we're going to stop Trump, by shaming the millions of people who came out to protest or refusing to march with them again?

Of course not.

IF WE'RE serious about fighting Trump and actually winning, we should be thrilled that these people came out. Yes, we should find the people who are close to us and try to get them to join our organizations, but we should also aim to talk and debate with, as well as mobilize again and again with, the others whose ideas right now might be further away from ours, but whose ideas can change through struggle.

These are people who will be won back or further into the Democratic Party or possibly won to revolutionary politics--but only if the revolutionaries are there to engage with them and their ideas. And that's not just once, but over time and actively, through the course of struggle.

We want future marches to be more diverse and to take up the cause of each oppressed group that is under attack, but the way to get there isn't to disengage because the march or the marchers do not have "perfect" politics. It is to engage, raise questions and argue what we think is needed to win.

If not every struggle against each separate (though intersecting) oppression is mentioned the first time, this doesn't mean we should write off the entire platform--or worse, assume that those struggling to end one form of oppression are simultaneously "down" with other oppressions.

Rather, especially in this moment--this new context of Trump and a majority of the population's hatred and fear of him--we should assume good intentions and raise what we think was missed, what struggles we think need to be taken up in order to bring in more people and help our side become stronger and less able to be divided.

I want the movement that stops the attacks on Roe v. Wade to include not only women and non-binary folks, but also men. I want the fight against police brutality to include not only Black people, but whites, as well as other races. And I want the struggle to end the deportation of immigrants in this country to not only include undocumented immigrants, but everyone else. This is what solidarity means.

As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, put it, "Even if you don't experience a particular oppression it doesn't matter because you understand that, as ordinary people, our fates are tied together, and that one group's liberation is dependent on the liberation of all the oppressed and exploited."

This means acting from the recognition that you have been pitted against someone who is not your enemy--by someone who is.

This liberation will not come if we try to exclude people who want to fight, but might not yet have our same revolutionary analysis. That's just a good way for our side to get smaller and smaller, and continue to lose.

I want to be part of a movement of millions of people who can envision, stand up for and organize a revolution in this country. Today, especially when so many people are new to protesting, they are willing to talk, listen and think about new ideas--they might even be up to coming to a meeting to talk and learn more. We should see this as a beautiful and critical development.

We can't dismiss people because they aren't as "woke" as we are. That might be a way to feel good about your own political development, but frankly, it's not a way to actually win.

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