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The election outcome was a shock – but wasn’t something new. Throughout U.S. history we’ve had waves of right-wing populism, when people bought into explanations of their economic hardships that scapegoat other marginalized groups and reject traditional elites. This election was a right-wing populist upsurge that few of us saw coming. We underestimated the number of voters willing to accept racism, sexism, Islamophobia and immigrant-bashing in a candidate.
But we also saw a surge of progressive populism – the kind that criticizes economic systems and the rich – in the strong showing for Bernie Sanders’ campaign and the popularity of Senator Elizabeth Warren. And that can be our source of hope now, that the progressive populists could organize social movements and take over the Democratic Party.
The mainstream Democratic Party used to have more progressive populism in its platform, its rhetoric and its political actions, from the 1930s through the ‘70s. But I’m one of many leftists who started criticizing the party in the ‘90s for its turn to the right, for ignoring working class and poor people harmed by de-industrialization and making trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP. In particular, the national Democrats ignored white working class men, the only race/class/gender cluster who actually has lower income today than their fathers and grandfathers.
Democratic leaders didn’t treat falling wages and unemployment as true crises. After the crash they accepted the bailout of “too big to fail” banks and they didn’t push enough for a bailout for foreclosed homeowners. Gradually over the last 30 years the Democratic Party began to get more of its campaign funding from Wall Street, big corporations and wealthy individuals, and began to operate under the delusion that a coalition of well-off coastal liberals and urban people of color could swing national elections – which clearly isn’t always true. They took union support for granted, not realizing that the rank-and-file don’t necessarily vote with the leaders.
“We need to reach out and build personal and political ties with those Trump voters who aren’t committed haters, but whose economic woes and worries we can empathize with. Our first UU principle about the inherent worth and dignity of every person is hardest to put into practice with people we have profound disagreements with.″
Many Democratic leaders also fell into the cultural classism that some of us coastal liberals fall into, of regarding the Midwest as a flyover zone full of gun owners or Christian fundamentalists who are too stupid to have a reasoned political conversation with. It’s important to remember that Donald Trump won the majority of votes from college-educated and high-income whites as well, so we need to be on the alert for classist demonizing of white working class people. This is a white right-wing populist uprising that cuts across classes.
Those of us who didn’t see this coming need to ask ourselves whose voices we hear on a regular basis, why more of the voices of the disaffected rural and Rust Belt white people weren’t on our radio programs, in our newspapers, on our Facebook feeds – and in our personal circles. We didn’t hear them.
We need to stop huddling in our liberal echo chamber talking about how “they” got it wrong and we are right about everything.
Reach Out, Build Ties of Solidarity
“It will take a mass progressive movement to turn our country in a healthier direction.”
Instead we need to reach out and build ties of solidarity, both personally and politically: ties with people already being targeted by street harassment from emboldened bullies who are spray-painting racist slurs and yanking off head scarves; ties with those likely to be politically targeted for deportation and stripped of union rights, health coverage, abortion rights, religious freedom and affirmative action.
But we also need to reach out and build personal and political ties with those Trump voters who aren’t committed haters, but whose economic woes and worries we can empathize with. Our first UU principle about the inherent worth and dignity of every person is hardest to put into practice with people we have profound disagreements with. We may need to put aside disagreements over gun ownership and find common ground in preventing Wall Street and multinational corporations from taking over our democracy and our economy.
It will take a mass progressive movement to turn our country in a healthier direction. Only a multiracial and cross-class mass movement can limit how much damage the Republican Senate, House and President can do in these coming years. A mass movement could light a fire under the Democratic Party to nominate progressive populists like Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren.
We need a responsive party that is loudly pro-labor, that pushes for full employment policy, that will be firmly anti-sexist and anti-racist, that will tell the truth about how crucial immigrants are to economic growth, and that will treat income inequality as a national crisis. The movement and the party I’m imagining would put forward a progressive populist message that will make sense to economically struggling people of all races and regions.
It’s too early know what effective resistance will be organized to stop the rightward lurch of our country, but when it happens, when you get invitations to join organizations, to boycott, to go to protests and to speak up, please say yes. All of us will need to say yes, say yes, and say yes again.
Betsy Leondar-Wright spoke these words on a panel about race, class and gender in the presidential election, at First Parish UU Church of Arlington, MA on November 13. She is on the board of Class Action (www.classism.org) and on the steering committee of UU Class Conversations (www.uuclassconversations.org ).
By Bethany Ramirez
If all politics are local, there is currently a dust up about renovations to the park across the street from me. Plans include the removal of a tree that interferes with the community garden area. But the renovations were halted before they began because of a movement to save the tree.
And recently there have been some members of the community (certainly not most) who have made dismissive comments about the community garden in a way that makes me want to unpack some classism.
When Your Justice Collides with Ours
When we first came to look at this apartment, we were quite excited to discover that the community gardens were so close. We were even more excited to learn that there was already a fenced-in garden space in our yard, so we did not need to worry about the waiting list for a community plot. It had not been used for several years, so we invested a lot of time and money into cleaning out concrete and patching the fence.
However, our garden is struggling. Since the garden was last used, one of the trees has grown to cast shade over most of the space. And since the landlord does not want tenants wasting water, there is no water hooked up to the hose – a problem when we are approaching drought conditions.
In order for us to garden next year, either the landlord has to fix both of these problems, or we will have to use the community garden across the street. We rent. We cannot just move the garden location to somewhere else in our yard. Many neighbors don’t have space to garden at all. This is what community gardens are for. In fact, we are sharing our garden with friends from the next town who are on a waiting list for a community garden where it could take them years to get a plot.
There are class issues in the dismissive comments people have made about the community gardens. There are class issues in being able to afford to garden at all in the first place. And there are class issues in claiming a tree is more important than community gardens that have nowhere else to go. We talk a lot about how the poor can’t afford fresh produce, and we’re not letting them grow their own, either.
Bethany lives in Arlington, Mass., which, as of 2011, is 40% renter-occupied (source: http://arlingtonma.gov/home/showdocument?id=28425).
by Denise Moorehead
As I listened to the news this week – first about still more unarmed black men dying at the hands of the police and then yesterday morning about 12 Dallas policemen being gunned down – I got angrier and angrier at the hypocrisy of the newscasters and pundits. To avoid being called cop haters or Black Lives Matter apologists, everyone spoke of their shock at what happened in Louisiana and Minnesota and then said, “but how could what happened in Dallas, happen?”
It is ridiculous, even offensive, to pretend that we don’t see the connection between the seemingly unending string of police shootings of black men as well as women and children – some found to be murders – and the very cruel actions of the Dallas shooter. The Dallas shooter left five families without fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, uncles and nephews. I feel truly, truly sorry for their families. It is not fair at all that these officers were randomly chosen to die in this revenge killing.
To refuse to acknowledge the connection, however, is part of the reason that the gunman did what he did. He believed that no one in power is doing anything to stop the random killing of black men across the United States.
I can never condone what the Dallas shooter did. I have a husband, father and nephew. But I do not pretend that I do not know why he believed his actions were rational. A 2015 study by the Washington Post found that unarmed black men were seven times more likely than whites to die by police gunfire. It is not getting better.
When Class and Race Collide
Police have very stressful jobs and must make life and death decisions in the moment. I’ve been told that when a policeman kills someone in the line of duty, that death stays with him or her forever. But when a string of officers kill 100s of black people each year and virtually none of the police are found guilty of a felony crime, the anger in the black community (and that of our allies) builds and builds – and eventually explodes.
And tinder has been added to the resulting raging fire by further provocations like the recent online sale by George Zimmerman of the gun used to murder Trayvon Martin, the rise of white supremacists (who have openly said Donald Trump’s rhetoric has helped their recruitment), and the continuing demonization of (especially poor and working) black people, especially young black men.
Those of us who care about ending classism and racism see the terrible irony in all of these killings – civilians and police. People from low-income and working-class backgrounds are being pitted against each other.
While black women, men and children of all classes are being harassed, assaulted and killed, a disproportionate number of those killed are less class advantaged. They are mostly low-income or working-class men hustling to make a dollar by selling CDs or cigarettes, driving old cars that have broken down, or in driving “suspiciously” through suburban neighborhoods.
While police in some big cities can make very good incomes, many do not. And most officers have class backgrounds that are not dissimilar from those they must now “police.”
About Class and Race from the Start
It is important to understand the class and race issues underlying the creation of today’s police forces. According to Eastern Kentucky University, the genesis of the modern police organization in the South is the “Slave Patrol,” created to return runaway slaves, deter slave revolts and maintain a discipline among slaves on plantations. Of course, only owning class people had plantations.
While black women, men and children of all classes are being harassed, assaulted and killed, a disproportionate number of those killed are less class advantaged.
In the North, police forces emerged from the hundreds, then thousands of armed men hired by business moguls to impose order on the new working class neighborhoods filling with immigrant wage workers. According to In These Times, Chicago businessmen donated money to buy the police rifles, artillery, Gatling guns, buildings, and money to establish a police pension out of their own pockets.
Speak Up and Show Up
The police were not created to protect and serve all classes. But we must speak up and show support for those police departments that are trying to be a force for all citizens. For example, the Camden, New Jersey, police department was completely revamped in 2013, which has since led to a significant reduction in crime. The department began emphasizing the importance of engaging with the community and forging relationships through one-on-one contact. According to the police chief, the department is focused on “building community first and enforcing the law second.”
Attend your local town meeting, or city council meetings, or aldermans’ meeting when there are police issues, and share the story of Camden and other departments that are trying to serve all classes and races.
And speak up and show up when we see wrong doing. In 2011, the Department of Justice found that the East Haven, Connecticut, police force had engaged in discriminatory policing against Latinos after a local priests’ videotapes helped trigger a federal investigation. Just three years later, federal compliance describe the turnaround within the department as “remarkable.” One person has the potential to make huge change.
Come together with other UUs and other justice-minded people to support:
- our own people of color organizations like Black Lives of UU
- the NAACP
- and so many (below)
Refuse to become desensitized to the horror. Don’t change the channel, refuse to listen to the news or simply wring your hands. Talk to your friends and family when they say, “What can we do? It will never change.”
Educate yourself on class and race issues, and on the centuries-old fraught relationship between law enforcement and African-Americans. Refuse to refuse to believe black people when they talk about institutional racism in America.
Write letters to local, state and federal officials. Tell the Obama Administration and (especially) Congress that in a federal budget of $56 billion for police grants, it is a tragedy that only $70 million is allocated to improve police-community relations. (And much of that $70 million is for body-worn cameras, not community engagement.)
See the long list below of actions you can take and groups you can join and/or support.
And vote for people who can bring us together, not tear us further apart.
We know what it will take to end this nightmare. Now let’s summon the courage to do so.
- We Already Know How to Reduce Police Racism and Violence
- This Country Needs a Truth and Reconciliation Process on Violence Against African Americans—Right Now
- Class and The Movement for Black Lives
- Can faith communities heal racial inequality? In Kansas City, a resounding yes
- Black Lives Matter
- Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
- Campaign Zero – Solutions
- Color of Change’s petition calling for justice for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile
- Cut50.org (founded by Van Jones)
- Newtown Action Alliance
- Showing Up for Racial Justice (link to Black-led racial justice organizations you can support)
- The ACLU Mobile Justice App