On the morning of November 9, 2016, a tidal wave of resistance and democratic engagement was unleashed in the United States. That morning, millions of Americans woke up to the devastating reality that Donald Trump had been elected as the 45th president of the United States. In a crushing reflection upon American society, a billionaire running exclusively on the fear, anger and darkest realities of American culture had won the presidency. In the face of this, millions of citizens dedicated themselves to resistance and action.
This dedication has not ceased. And it will not cease. Right now, across the nation, citizens who never even cast a ballot are lined up outside town halls, organizing meetings with other local activists and fighting in any way that they can to take back the political landscape and establish a true, functioning democracy that dismantles the oligarchic American political system. The pieces for a movement are slowly coming into position. The question for us now must become: How do we capitalize on this moment?
The Precursor to a Movement
We must recognize, first of all, that this did not begin on November 9, 2016. This moment was born decades — potentially centuries — ago, and thousands such as Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Angela Davis have given their entire lives to change the rhetoric of American thought in order to bring us to this moment that many believe was born overnight in a single election.
Others, such as Fred Hampton, Leonard Peltier, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other radical defenders of freedom paid a far greater price in order to serve the movement that continues today. And the roots of these leaders whose prolific work our moment is built upon can be traced even further and lie in the historic resistance of W.E.B. DuBois, John Brown, Crazy Horse and countless others.
Just as the election of Barack Obama could not usher in the “post-racial” society as it was declared to, the election of Donald Trump did not usher in an era of resistance. This moment was born long, long ago. Through decades of resistance, the foundation for a movement has been building. The work of activists and scholars for centuries laid the groundwork for the rhetoric and thought that bred modern movements such as the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. Building upon the aftermath of the Occupy Movement, which forever changed the vocabulary and worldview of people internationally, a moment was readied for the Bernie Sanders campaign and the “Political Revolution.” We must be ever cognizant of this and must continually recognize that the movement is constantly building itself upon the work of past movements. We must honor this history — not only continue our “militant hope” to continue our perpetual struggle for liberation, but to conceptualize, analyze and capitalize on the movement in the modern moment.
The Modern Moment and the Greater Movement
Bearing this history in mind, we realize that this is not the pinnacle of resistance and change, but is instead a moment in the continuing greater movement. We must then respond accordingly and ask ourselves: Where do we go from here? I believe this answer lies within the thought of one of the most tireless, incredible advocates for oppressed people internationally: Angela Davis.
Davis, in her recent book, Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement, delivers the words that we all need to hear in the present moment. She identifies the key issue in today’s portion of “the long walk to freedom.” As Davis sees it, this struggle for freedom, if it is to truly deliver freedom, must be a global struggle, not an American struggle, not a Black or white struggle, not a male struggle, but a global struggle.
As Davis puts it,
You have to develop organizing strategies so that people identify with the particular issue as their issue … So you are organizing against police crimes, against police racism, you always raise parallels and similarities in other parts of the world. And not only similarities, but you talk about the structural connections.
Through this, Davis argues, we create a global connection that is necessary for any substantial, sustained movement. To state her case, she draws upon South Africa and the role that this exact type of activity played in the struggle to end apartheid. Davis argues that when people began to understand that the oppression in South Africa reflected the oppression and struggle in the United States, in Palestine and so many other places, the international discourse concerning South Africa’s struggle changed and a connection was created. Through this connection, people worldwide realized their personal battles as aligned with South Africa’s, and an international focus and participation was created that allowed for the consequential change that toppled an oppressive system.
This is a lesson that cannot be forgotten. Without this unity, we are bound to fail as individual factions of a movement up against a powerful, neoliberal machine of oppression. As Davis states, “The tendency is to approach issues about which one is passionate about with a narrow framework.” Yet, when divided in this manner, we cannot hope for liberation and freedom. We must see our struggle as one united through similarities and parallel forces that act upon us. As American bombs drop on the already decimated country of Yemen, and American guns hold Palestinians hostage on their own land, we are united in a struggle against the neoliberal attack upon freedom. We must constantly recognize this unity, create a change in our discourse and organize in ways that allow for a unified, international struggle against oppression.
The Connective Fabric of a Mass Movement
Embracing Angela Davis’ powerful insight and experience, we must refocus our aims within the movement that is currently taking place in the United States. We must constantly allow for the connective fabric of our struggle for freedom to be revealed. In order for us to be successful in claiming freedom for all, we must recognize that all are connected in the struggle for claiming freedom.
We must all realize that in South Dakota, the struggle a white, single mother experiences is deeply connected to the struggle that a Black, working-class man in New York experiences. We must see that the struggle that an undocumented Mexican-American family experience is connected to the struggle of the Palestinian people. When we remember the pain and resistance that took place in Ferguson, we must realize that it is connected to the pain and resistance taking place in Venezuela right now.
As citizens, activists and organizers, we must not only embrace this understanding, but respond accordingly. We must constantly reinforce the message of a global struggle against oppression. At every turn, we must embrace the similarities in our international struggle and create an inclusive movement with endless opportunities for involvement. However, as Davis shows, this does not begin and end with an invitation to a protest march. At every level, from the ground up, diverse voices must be included, respected and placed in leadership roles in order to create an authentic, functioning and unified movement.
The sooner we realize the connections between our struggle and organize accordingly, the sooner we may unite and fight back against an oppressive neoliberal system that restricts freedoms for citizens on a global level. Without this unity, we are destined to fail at the feet of a massive, oppressive system. However, together, we can unite with a global, revolutionary force that has been building for centuries.
Growing Perpetually Stronger, Moving Perpetually Forward
Our movement was not born in this moment, and it will not die in this moment. The current moment’s resistance is founded upon the words, actions and movements of those who have come before us. We must recognize this reality and embrace the lessons that we have learned as we continue onward.
At the same time, we must turn to the people living across the street, across state lines, across national borders, and across oceans and see that we are united in a struggle — a struggle against oppression and for the establishment of freedom internationally. We cannot forget that the struggle for freedom is a global fight that is centuries in the making. We cannot forget this and allow for ourselves to become discouraged, isolated and defeated.
Powered by those who have blazed the trail that we continue to follow today, and whose movements have come before to establish the ground that we stand upon, we must grow perpetually stronger and move perpetually forward together. It is only through this united action, informed by the history of our struggle that we can create a sustained, global movement that demands freedom for all.