Protesting against President Trump has become a part time job for many left-leaning Americans. And contrary to what Wayne LaPierre might think, they aren’t being paid for it. Activists have followed up the historic success of the Women’s March by attending protests on behalf a variety of causes including Black Lives Matter, Fight for 15, and the Dakota Access Pipeline. For a number of leftists, these are the first activists efforts they’ve ever attended in person. People are getting out of their comfort zones. If you go to a No DAPL protest, you’ll see middle-aged white women in pussy hats. If you stand with Fight for 15, you’re likely to find a well-off software engineer somewhere in the crowd. No matter what protest you attend, it is clear that solidarity is on the rise in the US.
Solidarity is vital to future left-wing victories. Monied oppressive interests win when the oppressed don’t rally together and get to the voting booth. This was as true in the days of union busting and Japanese internment as it is today. There is another function of solidarity that we don’t talk about as much, however, and it’s just as important to coalition building: solidarity helps us define our politics and what voters actually want from the government. There are many reasons why the Democrats were soundly defeated in November, but one that comes up again and again is, “Clinton’s campaign assumed they would show up for her simply because they were afraid of Trump.” Many groups didn’t feel listened to by the candidate or the party as a whole. Then, they stayed home.
If you go to a march of Latinx people, they will tell you that Trump is only extending the anti-immigrant policies of “Deporter-in-Chief” Barack Obama. If you go to a DAPL protest, you will be reminded of Hillary Clinton’s mealy-mouthed statement on the pipeline. If you go to a meeting of Fight for 15 activists, you’ll see a movement that feels betrayed by Democrats, who, in their view, have sold out unions, and stymied their growth. No matter which organization you support, the theme is the same: Democrats didn’t speak for us, so our people didn’t vote.
This isn’t meant to be yet another post-mortem on the election, but you can’t help but wonder that if there was this level of solidarity being built around specific-issues before the election, many of the left’s blind spots could have been predicted and addressed. Building a winning platform on the left is going to require listening to a variety of groups in order to engage their needs as well as mobilizing with them. This isn’t something that can be distilled solely through the New York Times' op-ed page or understood after binging enough NPR podcasts.
For example, in liberal California, two-thirds of voters believe illegal immigration is a problem, and a quarter believe it is a crisis. To many Americans, the problem is that too many are coming into the country. But if you attend a meeting of an immigrant rights group like NDLON (National Day Labor Organizing Network), you will hear stories of workers who were promised visas only to be denied later, employers who lured immigrant workers under false pretenses then bullied them into wage theft, and families that were torn apart by groundless ICE raids. IRL solidarity and engagement helps put a human face on issues, which can dramatically benefit a platform or political party. If more people experience a face to face dialogue with people affected by immigration, the Democratic Party position could evolve to account for communities affected by immigration policies. Attending any action on any issue that is outside of your day-to-day experience could yield a similar experience.
Solidarity isn’t just about building empathy, it is about building coalitions, political parties, and other organizations with shared values, and one that meaningfully recognizes all its supporters’ concerns. The in-the-moment value of solidarity can’t be overstated: the more bodies behind a cause, the greater its strength. And if the various groups who consider themselves part of the left continue to mobilize and remain in the streets pushing their causes, they will build understanding across its diverse factions, ensuring fewer blind spots and greater inclusivity. Solidarity is the key to building a political party that works for every member, and it’s something we need to keep in mind every day, especially when midterm elections are not too far off in the horizon.
There are a ton of ways you can get involved right now. If you're interested in showing solidarity with Black Lives Matter, check out a local BLM chapter or local SURJ (Showing Up For Racial Justice) organization. If you want to get involved in economic concerns, check out Fight for 15 or follow the organizing efforts of SEIU (Service Employees International Union). If you you want to show solidarity with immigrant groups being targeted under Trump, check out groups like NDLON (National Day Laborers' Organizing Network). If you want to find a big tent organization that can plug you into a variety of movements and actions, the Democratic Socialists of America is one of the fastest growing progressive organizations in the US. Or just research a cause you're interested in and look for ways to get involved in your area.