Beyond Resistance

On January 21, 2017, my hand held an umbrella up against a steady rain on San Francisco's Market Street. Like millions of others across the country, I was marching the day after Donald Trump began his term as president determined that it be his last. The election's results sparked a wave civic engagement unprecedented in my lifetime that began with marches like the one I bolstered. As the new president assumed the tools of a powerful office, lawyers prepared to defend the trenches of hard-won rights and core ideals. People who would have never normally protest rushed to airports to demonstrate against a hastily put-together, immoral, and unproductive executive order.

That the stakes are high should escape no one. The Republican Party's domination of politics in these United States is pervasive. They occupy our White House. With multiple Supreme Court justices on the verge of retirement, they may create a durable majority. They control our Congress. They hold a vast majority of state houses and governors' mansions.

But, there is hope. The resistance is here. Whether it's here to stay and here to make a difference is up to us. These initial steps of dissent are important. They form patterns, patterns that will determine our resilience and efficacy. We need to develop a playbook for the resistance — and beyond.

Of paramount importance is that we put love first. By love, I don't mean something weak or uncritical. In an enriching conversation with Krista Tippet, civil rights leader John Lewis's reflections serve as helpful signposts to what love can mean in the context of social justice:

The [civil rights] movement created what I like to call a nonviolent revolution. It was love at its best. It’s one of the highest form of love. That you beat me, you arrest me, you take me to jail, you almost kill me, but in spite of that, I’m going to still love you. I know Dr. King used to joke sometime and say things like, “Just love the hell outta everybody. Just love ’em.”

In that love we hold the promise of repair. Lewis directs us to reflect on why those that harm us do so and inquire into the roots of their abuse of our common humanity. In doing so, Lewis pushes us:

So you try to appeal to the goodness of every human being and you don’t give up. You never give up on anyone.

Importantly, Lewis stresses that love is a "way of being" and a "way of action" that can both "bring peace out of conflict" and "stir things up in order to make things right."

Van Jones echoes this sentiment in an interview:

We have to build a massive Love Army that can take the country and the government back in a better direction. . . . So we have to start there [with the character of the country], and reassert that we want to be an inclusive country where everyone gets treated with dignity and respect. I'll tell you this: If you believe that "love trumps hate," you can't be marching around saying that and looking more hateful than Trump.

The point here is that we cannot walk away from this presidential election with hate in our hearts. With that said, no clear-eyed observer should falsely pretend that this campaign did not reveal deep fissures in our society. Racism, sexism, and bigotry were drawn to the surface. Out of the woodwork came hate many thought had been long extinguished.

That hate can only exist in its own vacuum. If hate meets the current of what Martin Luther King Jr. called agape, it will suffocate itself:

Agape is not a weak, passive love. It is love in action… Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community… It is a willingness to forgive, not seven times, but seventy times seven to restore community…. If I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community. I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love.

Those still stinging from what the 2016 election said about the character of our country undoubtedly will cry out that love doesn't seem to be enough these days. That too many cast their ballot for a man that either unthinkingly condoned hate or, worse, purposefully emboldened it, and for that great injury they are irredeemable. That our organizing should leave them behind as we set ablaze the old country and raise a new one from its ashes because, after all, we won the popular vote by a wide, resounding margin. That the system, through increasingly sophisticated gerrymandering and an outdated Electoral College, unfairly hands the keys of power disproportionately to our political opponents.

If that is where this moment has left you, then I can promise that the despair will only keep coming. The truth of that promise is revealed if we reflect for a moment on the 2016 campaign. There's no shortage of election post-mortems these days. I'm wary of the danger in over-learning from 2016, though the circumstances demand careful introspection because we lost. This piece — f-bombs and all — navigated it well enough. The author concludes:

You don’t have to like it or excuse it, but you have to understand it. If, indeed, there can be no hope for Trump voters; if the divide is unbridgeable; if no politics exists that can reach even a few percent of them and turn them toward a project of mutual, shared well-being, justice, and fairness, then there is no hope. They’re lost, and we’re fucked forever. If the people who stayed home are offered nothing but some vague promise of innovative jobs in an endlessly new economy, then there is no hope. They’re lost, and we’re fucked forever. Politics is at its most basic level transactional. A vote is purchased with a promise. Hillary Clinton: “America is already great.” Donald Trump: “I am your voice.”

At the end of the day, politics is competition and power the reward of the victors. No matter how right we are, if we want to advance the ends of our politics, we need the means, and that necessitates that we win. So, a relentless agape has to meet the hard work of politics. When noble resistance creates a crack, we have to be ready to advance a bold, revitalized vision for tomorrow. It is not enough that we play defense against the onslaught of Trump and his Republican allies' overreach and destruction. We have to block those attacks and then counterpunch.

The message can be deceptively simple, this one borrowed from Freddie de Boer:

It’s not about red state vs. blue state or rural vs. urban. It’s about building a country where everyone has their basic necessities, where everyone is free from poverty and despair. Yes to affordable housing and health care, yes to public education, yes to food for the hungry and warmth for the cold. No to poverty, no to racism and sexism, no to exploitation and greed. They stand with the comfortable and the rich, we stand with those who suffer and need. Everywhere. Because we’re all in this together.

The point isn't that the above is our message, it's that we have one ready. Every time we deflect a blow, we must sound our own message, whatever we decide it may be. The story must reach beyond the tight squeeze of our accelerating news cycles into the distant tomorrow, and beyond. We need a story for the next decade — and the next century.

How, then, do we translate resistance into power? Love the hell outta everybody. Embody that love in consistent, nonviolent action. Hold onto the hope that a politics exists that can both reach beyond our political tribe and underpin a bold vision for our country. And, so goes the African proverb, when you pray, move your feet.