We must and will move beyond shock and despair, and toward creative action. This is what I took to be the major theme of our Post Election Teach In Workshop on Social Resistance. I helped organize the event, trying to be hopeful in the face of my own sense of hopelessness.
I had a sense that we met starting with shared deep concerns. My opening to my last post, my first after election day defined our opening mood:
“I am devastated. All of my public commitments are under attack. I thought there had been progress during my lifetime. Democracy and the positive developments of democratic culture, free speech and expression, social justice and the fight against racism, sexism, class exploitation, xenophobia, and much more, all seemed to advance, even if too slowly and far from completely. Now, I am not sure whether the progress will endure. It feels as if it were the 1930s all over again.”
But as the teach in progressed, ways of responding were revealed. First by the faculty presenters, and then with an engaged public, which included faculty, students, administrators and alumni from multiple divisions of The New School, as well as people from the community.
Here I summarize the presentations with links to key moments, in my next post I will provide an overview of the broader public deliberations.
Jeremy Varon, after noting we are approaching a pivotal moment in history somewhat analogous to the first days of the Reagan era, pointed to the most basic and essential course of action: bold action, starting with each of us taking responsibility, joining with each other in specific groups, taking on Trump era one step at a time, one piece at a time. We asserted that then and only then will we look back on this period with pride.
Ann Snitow reminded the group that there are millions of us deeply concerned about the election, and that the kind of threat posed by Trump is repeated around the world, Poland, Austria, Turkey, Hungary, France, Britain, Germany, the Philippines, Brazil, and beyond. Re-enchantment of alternatives to Trumpism, developing something attractive from the perspective of the left, is a major intellectual challenge, Snitow maintained. We need visions to describe the threats of globalization and alternatives that are attractive and makes sense,. And, drawing upon her experience as a feminist (particularly active in Poland in recent years), she also returned to the idea that it is imperative to pick a piece of the complex of problems posed, and act. Speaking for about her own likely piece, she noted ironically that she may have to once again engage in the abortion issue.
Benoit Challand offered a more explicit international perspective, looking at Trump’s victory from afar, emphasizing that to access the vitality of American democracy, we must consider not only ordinary questions of democratic procedures in the U.S., but also the relationship between the United States and the world beyond its borders. His perspective was drawn from North Africa and the Middle East, paying special attention to Iraq and Palestine. He maintained that to properly understand the dimensions of the global dangers Trump poses, we should confront more than his likely future foreign policies. The pending disaster is in the symbolic legitimation of violence against Muslims, people of color, foreigners and sexual minorities that Trump’s victory has triggered. Challand argued: “Let us not limit our discussion of the threat of Trump to only one issue. Only a few groups have understood the necessity of creating cross-cutting alliances rather than an ominous retreat to a single issue (defense of sexual minorities; of black lives; of women’s right to their body; or of academic freedom, etc.). This is where the power of organization and the power to coordinate a long-term response matter. Confronting Trump and his allies means learning from people’s struggles internationally, making allies, and working in solidarity!”
Deva Woodly continued on this theme from the perspective of her work on social movements and specifically the movement for black lives, maintaining that the way the movement operates reveals effective and strategic lessons for the long term struggle. Maintaining that we can’t do this alone, and that we must affectively connect with each other. She gave a moving talk on how we must combine civic and political engagements, be kind to each other in our differences, from pantsuit nation folks to communist. “You may be right, but that is not the point … Be kind to each other so that we can be dangerous together… Be in the habit of talking to each other.” Enlarge your on line community as you enlarge your local communities. We must listen for understanding, not only among ourselves, but also with people who are not with us. Not to empathize. Listen. Don’t cull your Facebook list. Listening helps to speak to the problems that people are actually having, from your perspective. And agreeing with Ann and Jeremy, she underscored that we must act locally, including The New School. Hers was a call for the development of a habit of active citizenship.
Challand called for a more global orientation, while Woodly, along with Varon and Snitow, called for local engagement. The first question after the presentations came from Chiara Botticci. She combined these concerns with a call for glocal engagement. She in fact started imagining how local and global engagements might enchant resistance, as Snitow earlier called for.
The presenters set the stage for a broader consequential discussion. To be reviewed in our next post.