In her 1987 book “On Boxing,” Joyce Carol Oates quotes a letter from a sportswriter friend who compared watching a boxing match to “bad love- putting up with the pain, waiting for the sequel to the last good moment,” noting that “like bad love, there comes the point of being worn out, when the reward of the good moment doesn’t seem worth all the trouble.” The same comparison might be drawn to politics, especially at a time when the stakes are high and the opposition never lets up its assault. But it’s a struggle we can’t simply choose to ignore, and though the risk of becoming worn out is real, the simultaneous risk is that any lapse in active resistance yields ground to a formidable opponent.Keeping Defiant and Keeping Sane in the Age of Trump
In the red corner, we have what activist Naomi Klein describes as an administration that will “come after everything at once” with a “shock-and-awe budget that will cut $10 trillion over 10 years, taking a chainsaw to everything from violence-against-women programs, to arts programs, to supports for renewable energy, to community policing,” fronted by an absurd series of cabinet appointments that threatens to not only push back social progress, but supports the agenda of corporate titans like Goldman Sachs, Exxon, and General Dynamics. As we’ve seen in the first 100 days, Klein’s warnings have turned out to be legitimate, though few of us could have been prepared for the full force and breadth of assaults on civil liberties, the social safety net, the environment, and even the Constitution itself. Challenges to date have included an attempted travel ban, an ongoing attack on the Affordable Care Act, a law that gives states the ability to refuse funding for Planned Parenthood, and untethered blustering on North Korea that threatens to disrupt a fragile global security. With Republican control of both the House and the Senate, threats to our nation’s institutions not only provoke anxieties but are often backed by real political force.
In the blue corner, we likewise have a formidable resistance. Just one day after Trump’s inauguration, the Women’s March drew a record attendance of over 3 million protesters in cities across the nation. The following weekend, protests swelled up at airports across the country, providing moral support for lawyers working to liberate travelers detained by an attempted travel ban. The marches keep coming, including a Tax March and Climate March in April and a global March Against Monsanto scheduled in May. The internet manifestation of the resistance includes dozens of anonymous and unofficial Twitter accounts such as the Alt National Park Service slyly fighting on behalf of federal agencies muzzled by the Trump administration. Locally, town hall meetings- once the domain of only the most politically active citizens- have drawn out record numbers of concerned citizens in Democratic districts and are being avoided altogether by some politicians in Republican districts, as evidence mounts that the 2018 congressional elections will hold incumbents accountable. Other activists are setting their sights on a knockout punch via impeachment proceedings, including former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich who recapped the established grounds for impeaching Donald Trump in March as part of his nightly Resistance Report.
Such a resistance may have prevented the worst possible consequences of the Trump administration, but the blows keep coming. All but one of Trump’s cabinet picks were ultimately approved. The appointment of Neil Gorsuch on Supreme Court tips the balance of power towards conservatives. No less than 23 environmental regulations have been rolled back in just over three months. The resistance at Standing Rock, celebrated during the waning months of the Obama administration, has given way as construction resumed on the Dakota Access Pipeline. Sometimes it seems that at best the resistance is fighting for survival, with only the question of how much damage will be sustained.
But there’s one asset the resistance against Trump has that a boxer, or a survivor of bad love, does not. At the end of the day a boxer stands alone, but successful activism builds on the strength of the collective. A veteran Chicago activist Laura Sabransky writes, the best experiences can be “to emerge victorious after engaging in large organized efforts among thousands or millions of citizens,” and her work is sustained by “friends and acquaintances reminding me that whenever I speak or act, I do so upon their behalf,” who she in turn inspires to “engage further.”
With collective action, even losses can translate into forward momentum. In 2015, Chicago Public School Teacher Tim Meegan launched an upstart progressive challenge to a machine incumbent in the 2015 Chicago Aldermanic elections. The challenge ultimately fell short, but leftover funds from the campaign supported the establishment of an independent political organization, 33rd Ward Working Families Party. As membership continues to grow, this organization carries on the work of resisting Trump locally by advocating for immigrant defense within the ward, while striving on behalf of longer-term progressive goals of advancing affordable housing, fully funded public schools, and a $15 minimum wage. Chris Poulos, the campaign manager for Meegan and now leader of the 33rd Ward Working Families Party, notes the “legitimate physical toll that activism takes on people. You’ve seen people that get so burned out.” But he acknowledges the need for the “self discipline to say, ‘I’m building something up that’s bigger than me.’ I can rely on the thing that’s bigger than me to keep moving even when I’m not there.” As Meegan has been hired away by a public school in Minnesota, the 33rd Ward Working Families continues to meet monthly, canvassing the neighborhood, pressuring the incumbent alderman on key issues, and hosting immigration defense workshops. “If you’re actually serious about building something, it should have a life beyond a single individual,” Poulos adds. “Being able to take a rest means you’ve helped contribute to something that doesn’t necessarily rely on one person.” The fight to protect and advance progressive values goes ever on, and local collective action is a way to keep sane and in the ring for the long haul.