Organizing for the long term in the age of Trump

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On January 28th, 2017, Solidarity Halifax was invited to offer remarks during a community gathering aimed at encouraging movement building and organizing in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the USA. The following is adapted from a speech delivered by Solidarity Halifax member Jackie Barkley at the North Memorial Library for this event.

Greetings and solidarity with all the panelists and all the people here willing to listen and participate. Unless you are here to support fascism, in which case I think I can speak for all of us in the room – leave!

Yes, we are on unceded Mi’maq territory, but let’s all avoid this assertion becoming a cliche, a self satisfied often guilty white concession to history, and rather use if as a commitment to solidarity in practice – which is the hard part.

Let’s also take a moment to recognize that this library has been the Black community centre of the North End for more than 30 years.  Let the tone of our debates and discussions recall and honour all the Black family meetings, the Black history month openings, the songs and plays of struggle, the largest public collection of Black literature and history east of Montreal, and the launch of Lindell Smith’s campaign a year ago.  And, if the first task in the fight against racism is learning and listening, let’s all get a library card, and go to the next room over.

I’ve been invited to speak on the topic of anti-racist and long term organizing.  I’ve got 5 to 7 minutes.  So, I give up. I will instead try to focus on some ideas to guide the discussion. For the anti-racism part of this presentation, I’ve brought  our detailed, but work in progress, guideposts for how Solidarity Halifax holds ourselves accountable and tries to guide our anti-racist work.  It took a year of work to develop this small document, so have a read.  I think those efforts at anti-racist organizing that are useful to share are because of, not in spite of, the long term organizing part of what I want to talk about next.

What is effective resistance? What are the key elements? And who is “we?”
I suggest the key elements are:

  1. First, the incredibly difficult work of working together, of agreeing and disagreeing, of independent organizations and coalitions and united fronts, of building well organized collective locations and groups for debate and action, and for accountability.  Individuals can be shamed for our racism (and white people must not get so defensive in our fragility that we reject shame…..if the shoe fits.)  But shame is an emotion that fears accountability, so we need to organize ourselves so that we are publicly accountable for ourselves and our actions. We must organize ourselves so that shame becomes action – trustworthy, reliable action and not flash-in-the-pan pop up politics, however self righteous and noble the latter makes people feel.
  2. The second key element is fighting the individualism, which is at the core of Capitalist ideology and infects our movements.  It’s about my struggle and yours, about my personal location and yours, and how we can bring these together, not fly apart like exploding buckshot.
  3. The third key element is to reject ideological, as well as material (in action), white supremacy in those aspects of linear Eurocentric thought that require us to always choose the “or” rather than the “and.”  It’s not about “you’re right and I’m wrong,” or better yet, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” It’s about creating organizational structures that can sustain disagreement and criticism and take the partial truths in all our radical, left and progressive traditions.
  4. The fourth key element is showing up and sticking around – not with our friends alone, but with allies and comrades who work together. We cannot avoid taking positions, ideological and practical.  That’s not the hard part. Critiquing our enemy is not hard – that’s why so many people have been sending around awesome placards from the marches and rallies last Saturday. The hard part is actually staying for long meetings, waiting our turn, not taking up all the space (a particular weakness of mine I should mention), being at the meeting whether we feel like it or not, meeting our commitments, saying I will and then doing it, not getting bored with analysis and history, listening, not assuming our personal group culture or style or dress or timing or location is actually meaningful to the persons we want to work with, ethical compromise, examining the difference between selling out and cashing in…

Who is “we” in any particular time and place? It can be a dangerous term if not contextualized.  Are we progressives? Or the Left? The Left might be seen as the white activists, or the white feminists, or the white working class, or the Left of the G20 protest, or white trans comrades.  Or the Left might be seen as the landless peasants reclaiming public land in Brazil, or the radical Black activists of the civil rights movement, or the miners of Cape Breton who supported the Communist, J.B. McLachlan, in the 1920s or the fishermen from Canso who built the fishermen’s union, or the Mi’kmaw defending their rights in Burnt Church or now in Sipekne’katik. We have to both name who we are as individuals and how we choose to organize ourselves.

Who I am is a 69 year old, white, cis gendered woman, with two grown sons, a long time activist, of French background, white privilege, of the  working class, but that part of the working class with a home worth a fortune because of the displacement of African Nova Scotians and poor white persons from this community, and that part of the working class that had a good salary and a pension.  I have the privilege of time, health and enough energy to keep on keeping on. I am a very proud member of Solidarity Halifax, an organizational work in progress. And I hope the space I’ve taken today has helped build a movement because I’m afraid we are not ready yet, but have no time to lose in our resolve to fight fascism.

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