A Letter to My Friends, Two Days After the Election
Since some time on Tuesday evening, I have been reading your shocked and angry and frightened posts on social media about the Trump victory. Some of you I want to comfort. But some of you I want to shake. And since I have a bad habit of saying what I think, I suspect that some reading this will want to return the favor.
For folks for whom the last year or so has been their first active engagement in political work, you have my genuine sympathy. You have been doing work that felt important and good and maybe even gave you some hope for the future. Whether you campaigned for Clinton or for Stein or another third party, you gave your heart and soul to the work. It was pretty devastating to watch Trump get elected president. As you continue to do the work and fight the fight — and I certainly hope that you do — you will come to grips with setbacks and defeats and come to recognize that sometimes even setbacks come with their silver linings. This campaign cycle brought you into the movement, along with many, many other people like you. To me, you *are* the silver lining. Your energy and enthusiasm and compassion and love for the people is an encouraging sign for the future. Don’t give up.
For people who are in the communities who have been most targeted by Trump — especially immigrants and Muslim-Americans, but really all poor people and all communities of color and everyone who has the audacity to present themselves to the world as they really are — I hear you saying that this outcome is frightening, and I believe you. I can’t imagine how it feels to be the recipient of so much hate just because of your very existence. I regard it as my responsibility and the responsibility of a lot of other folks who are like me to stand with you and your communities, to listen carefully to what you say you need from us, and to deliver.
That brings me to my fellow experienced activists, the folks who work in and often lead many different struggles. I know you’re feeling discouraged right now. And angry. And maybe frightened.
But seriously, what did you expect?
We live in the center of the world imperial power — a power that holds a vast arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and conventional weapons, a standing military that is dispatched to bases in every part of the world, and that regularly uses that massive military machine to rain death and destruction on people who oppose it. We live in a country that was founded on the genocide of indigenous people and the enslavement of African people, and that has never taken responsibility for those crimes against humanity. The technology and productive might that was built on that bloodshed exists to preserve a social order in which some people — include many of its prominent politicians, like BOTH of the corporate presidential candidates — can have several luxurious houses, while there are tens and hundreds of thousands of people in this country alone who are living on the street. The social order of this country is one that imprisons millions behind walls and barbed wire — a higher percentage of the population than any other nation in the world — and imprisons tens of millions more in poverty and an endless cycle of unemployment and exploitation.
As an activist, it’s likely that every day you read about the atrocities perpetrated by this system. It is part of your job — a job that no one forced on you and that you took up because of your love for humanity — to think critically about those atrocities, to think critically about what this system is and how it works, to analyze and process information, and to thoughtfully articulate what you understand in a way that helps us collectively to continue the process (one that has gone on for many lifetimes more than ours) of tearing down this system and building a better one that is based on cooperation, dignity, and respect.
In our best moments, we understand that this system is rotten to the core and must be dismantled if people and the world itself are going to survive another century. So we ought to understand that we can’t count on politicians and political parties that are owned by the very powers that oppress us; that we can’t count on the system to save us from the system; and that, indeed, every time we build peoples’ power, the system will turn its violent eye toward us.
So take your outrage and put it to some good use. Stop blaming everyone with whom you have some shred of political disagreement for having “done this.” Blame a vile and ugly system for putting a vile and ugly man in a position of power. Stop crying over how hard the next four years will be, and decide that if those in power make it hard for us, we have to make it hard for them. Stop being frightened and be determined to become frightening.
They say that in the days before Joe Hill, one of the great crusading labor activists, was facing execution by a firing squad for the crime of fighting for the interests of his class — fighting for us — he wrote to his friend and fellow labor militant, Bill Haywood, “Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize.” Some shoes are too big to fill, and I don’t dare to say that you or I will do what Joe Hill did. But at the very least we can agree on the need to wake up tomorrow morning ready to fight for the future.