Eleanor Goldfield is a creative activist, poet, singer and writer. She is the founder and host of the creative and grassroots activism show “Act Out!” which airs on Free Speech TV on Dish Network, ROKU and Amazon Fire. She is the co-founder and singer of Rooftop Revolutionaries, a political rock band born from the fight against income inequality and all the evils that stem from it. Her spoken word performances blend visual projections and politically charged poetry. Besides speaking and performing, she assists in local action organizing and activist training. She is currently based in Washington, DC.
In this interview, Goldfield discusses the recent Women’s March and the balance of optimism and hope and how actions of dissent can lead to an actual progressive path. She also discusses the media treatment that followed the event and marked the difference between the corporatized filtered news and non-filtered perspectives of the march. Goldfield gives further analysis on strategic voting, voter turnout and participation at the local level.
Daniel Falcone: What are your thoughts on the recent Women’s March? What should progressives take from the march and can you comment on how the media covered the event?
Eleanor Goldfield: My latest episode of ” My latest episode of “Act Out!” discusses this in more detail, but basically, I felt like I did the days before — hopeful, but not optimistic. I think we need to move away from this idea that if we just get hundreds of thousands of people in the streets, everything will change for the better. It didn’t work when I was in the streets in 2002 before the second Iraq War, and permitted mass marches alone won’t work now. What matters is what people take away from the Women’s March. If people hit the streets and felt inspired, I have no intention of deriding that inspiration — quite the opposite. I want them to take that inspiration home and start building in their own communities. Resist and build, that’s how we progress. Build an alternative to neoliberalism, neo-fascism, bigotry and hate — and then resist it. Become ungovernable by those who have no right to govern. Don’t ask permission. Power concedes nothing.
With regards to how media covered the event, I think alternative media did a great job of applying the necessary context. Corporate media, of course, did not. For example, corporate media largely — if not wholly — ignored the progressive platform put forward by the organizers a few days before the march. The day before, corporate media focused on broken windows, but once again, offered no context, ignoring alternative perspectives or the conduct of the police — now the subject of a National Lawyers Guild lawsuit.
Considering that Clinton was a neo-conservative with dangerous Kissinger-like foreign policy commitments and Trump is a neo-fascist buffoon, do you believe in any inherent difference in the two candidates? I happen to think the result was basically based on sex and race, and that social class/trade issues and foreign policies were in the distance. What are your thoughts?
I think they shared a lot of similarities. There were a lot of memes floating around during the election asking what version of the same thing do you want? I.e. do you want to be bombed by a Democrat or a Republican? Do you want your family deported by Clinton or Trump?
The main difference was perception — a lot of people perceived Trump to be outside the system because he wasn’t a politician. A lot of people disliked Clinton because she was so steeped in the political game. Now in reality, both Trump and Clinton are steeped in the oligarchical structures of our system — both are corrupt business people who have lied and cheated to get to where they are. They are both wildly out of touch with the American people.
And while I do think that many voted for Trump because they are sexist and racist, a lot of people voted for him because of that perception. People do see what more of the same has wrought. Obama and Clinton are Wall Street darlings. Trump looked different. Of course, he’s just a Wall Street darling without a political pedigree, but many felt he would be different; that he would in fact “drain the swamp.”
Not all Trump voters are dangerous — a lot of them are misguided and misinformed. Same goes for Clinton voters. A lot of women came down hard on me for not wanting to vote for a woman — as if my vagina makes political and moral decisions rather than my brain. A lot of people voted for Clinton because they were afraid of Trump — not realizing that acting out of fear is exactly what fuels the greatest problems of our time.
Trump is a neo-fascist demagogue. Clinton is a neoliberal shill. Many of the same communities would have suffered under Clinton, but because of Trump’s win, many neo-fascists feel inspired to act on their hate. Therefore, outside of the difference in candidates, there’s a difference in reaction.
Again, the policy might not be so different, but the social ramifications have already become obvious — i.e. the rise of the alt-right as a “legitimate” political perspective when it is just pure white supremacy and sexism. Trump is a figurehead for hate, bigotry, racism and sexism. The difference in reaction is apparent and needs to be apparent from our side as well.
Clinton would have put many a “liberal” to sleep. Trump can wake them up. As the Other 98 pointed out in a meme, Trump united the world against Trump. Let’s use that — let’s use him to build resistance. Because we know his extremist supporters will use him to build hate and violence.
I happened to advocate for voting strategically in this latest election. In my view, in toss-up states, I thought voting for the lesser-evil Clinton was the wise thing to do when taking the cabinet, Supreme Court, climate change and nuclear policies into account. Was I correct in your estimation?
I don’t think so. Lesser-evil voting is how we ended up with the two most unpopular presidential candidates in US history. Lesser-evil voting gave rise to the neoliberal policies that outwardly acknowledge climate change while perpetuating it through fracking (something Hillary was a big fan of), drilling for oil (something that Obama promoted throughout his presidency) and increased military budgets (the military being the world’s largest polluter).
As for the Supreme Court, Hillary Clinton was good friends with Lewis Powell, author of the “Powell Memo,” which essentially outlined today’s paradigm for corporatocratic control through, among other things, an “activist” Supreme Court that stands up for big business. Neither candidate was going to put a liberal in that seat. Furthermore, history shows us that “we the people” have been the catalysts for real change, not the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court stood in the way of rights for both women and Black people, i.e. Dread Scott. It took hard-won amendments (15, 19) to overrule their decisions.
Again, power concedes nothing. Hillary would have been a shift towards the right from Obama, whose track record of more deportations, prosecuted whistleblowers and bombs dropped was nothing to be proud of. Trump is already making horribly dangerous decisions, and while we can argue about whether Clinton would have done the same (i.e. approving the Dakota Access pipeline), the important point and answer to your question is that the road to Trump is paved with lesser evils and good intentions.
Finally, 41.4 percent of eligible voters didn’t vote at all in the presidential election. Millions who tried and possibly would have cast a vote for Clinton were barred due to Interstate Crosscheck. Our voting machines are archaic and easily hacked (not by Russia, mind you). Voter ID laws, the closure of polling places and voter intimidation lorded over this election cycle. The electoral college continues to stand in the way of a legitimate republic by way of its very existence.
People who want to blame third parties or Russia should consider these facts first — not to mention the assumption that a Jill Stein voter would have voted for Clinton is misguided and false. I feel that people should vote, but not because it will matter on the presidential level right now. They should vote locally, because local politics matter far more in the everyday than federal politics do. They should vote because, like using your turn signal, it’s good to get in the habit of doing it, and it’s the least you can do to be considered a good driver.
Can you talk about what you organized for January 20, and how the police treated you and your comrades?
I assisted in organizing the anti-war block. I go into more detail in this week’s episode, but basically activists with #DisruptJ20 organized in autonomous affinity groups at checkpoints along the parade route. Each group had a theme: climate justice, trade justice, the movement for Black lives, LGBTQ, future is feminist, Standing Rock, communities under attack, labor and anti-war/Free Palestine. At our checkpoint, we organized a vigil in the early morning for the victims of US imperialism, as well as the Palestinians living under Israel’s oppressive regime.
As the morning wore on, we were joined by Witness Against Torture, who joined our blockade in orange jumpsuits and black bags. Later, labor joined and we created a hard block that completely shut down the entrance to the checkpoint. Riot cops pushed us out of the way while we chanted back “This is a Peaceful Protest.” After 5-10 minutes of clearing the intersection, riot cops backed up and we took the checkpoint over again. Around 9:15 am, we marched in solidarity to join activists at the Black Lives Matter blockade, where hundreds successfully shut down the checkpoint until they left to march around 10:30 or 11 am.
In the afternoon, black bloc tactics were deployed against a Bank of America, Starbucks, some trash cans and news kiosks. Windows were smashed and a car was set on fire. Cops responded with concussion grenades, tear gas, pepper spray and physical violence.
As mentioned above, the National Lawyers Guild announced a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department for their use of chemical and “less than lethal” weapons and applying felony charges to activists. As usual, cops were indiscriminate in their use of violence and at one point proceeded to douse a disabled woman with pepper spray as activists tried to get close enough to safely help her away. Cops also arrested journalists and NLG observers, kettling them despite the fact that they showed credentials. Military vehicles along with military personnel were deployed on the streets.
Could you comment on the support that groups like Public Citizen, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center are currently receiving? In other words, these are all mainstream center-left organizations that have institutional staying power, but might draw criticism from you for not going far enough. How can these important organizations use the election to utilize more radicalism in their approach?
Naomi Klein was quoted in a great article saying that “Big green groups are more damaging than climate deniers.” These groups are mostly the ones that I lambast for not doing what’s necessary. I think that groups like ACLU are phenomenal sources of information. I recommend everyone carry around their pocket “Know Your Rights” pamphlet.
But with regards to big orgs that enjoy systemic comfort, a cornerstone of this problem is what you mentioned — institutional staying power. A lot of organizations focus on trying to gently reform the system from the inside. And while I appreciate people who want to work within the system to foment change, I don’t think we have the time to shake hands with Democrats who promise the kind of reform that their corporate overlords will allow.
Again, don’t ask permission. Embrace a diversity of tactics even if you don’t plan on using them yourself — from incessant phone calls to black bloc. Connect with community organizers and don’t try to overshadow them or whitewash their message with something that’s bipartisan and corporately condoned. I feel that if the left wants to have a chance at unity, we need to divorce ourselves from the Democrats. They’re essentially a Republican Party without a spine, and we must do better.
Big orgs can play a vital role in the upcoming days, months and years — but they should be honest about who they’re fighting and who their allies and accomplices need to be. There are tremendous activists working on small, local issues that would provide vital tools to big orgs, and big orgs in turn can do the same for small community organizers.