The Developing Mood in the US

by John Reimann, North Star editorial board member on February 24, 2017

Women’s March.
One of the largest protests in US history.

An unprecedented ferment is developing around the country. That’s what we’ve been hearing from people we’ve talked with around the country.

New Orleans
The mood there is symbolized by the 7-10,000 that participated in the women’s march, which was the largest protest march in decades.

Colorado

Cliff Willmeng confronting a spokeswoman for Encana Energy. He helped drive her out of town.

We talked with radical “fractivist” (anti fracking activist) Cliff Willmeng in Colorado. He’s been holding trainings for civil disobedience to stop fracking. He says that six months ago about 20 would have showed up at a training. Now, he’s having to cap attendance at around 40 to 50. This increased activity is partly because – as he predicted some time ago – the legal challenges to fracking were exhausted, so people have no other avenue but civil disobedience. But he says it’s also due to the new mood that’s developed since Trump was elected.

“In five years of fighting the oil and gas industry,” he says, “I’ve never seen the same amount of enthusiasm and readiness to go after the industry. It would be hard to say that we’re not operating in a different climate from what we were operating in before.”

Rural Pennsylvania
Here, in the heart of Trump country, something similar is happening. A woman called a meeting shortly after Trump was elected, expecting maybe a dozen people to show up. Instead, some 30 or more came. Every meeting since then has been progressively larger. At one meeting, shortly after Trump’s Muslim ban, they went around the room, asking each person to explain why they’d come. The answers fell in three broad categories:

  • Some said that they felt they’d been silent too long; they had to speak up.
  • Some said, maybe mainly in relation to the Muslim ban, “This is not the America I know.”
  • Some had personal reasons. For example, some were afraid of losing their health care. another woman said she had a trans grandchild and was worried about the future of that grandchild.

As has been reported on in the mainstream media, like in many other areas, they’ve been turning out to town hall meetings of various Republican politicians to give them an earful.

Tacoma, WA
An activist in Tacoma has been going to meetings of “Indivisible”, which she says is getting attendance of some 200 people, mixed ages and mainly but not entirely white people.

Seattle, WA
A construction worker in Seattle reports a real mood swing among construction workers there. He says that in the past, for example, many of them actually opposed the campaign for a $15/hour minimum wage. “They should just get a real job,” was the excuse. (This from union members!) In the main, this is from the white construction workers, most of whom he believes voted for Trump. But now, these same workers are seeing things differently. For example, they are denouncing the homeless situation in the city – not to blame the homeless but denouncing the cost of living, etc.

New York City, Kings County Hospital Center

Kings County Hospital
“The minute we get on shift to the minute we leave we are running around trying to make it through.”

Here is what “Frankie”, a nurse at this hospital writes about the situation there:

“At my workplace the work pace and load is so frenzied and overloaded that we have difficulty having space and time to discuss politics. The minute we get on shift to the minute we leave we are running around trying to make it through. Lately we have been so short staffed that we often can’t take breaks during the entire 12 hour shift. Often we stay longer (1-2 hours). In relation to this, overtime has to be approved by managers, and we often don’t bother to chase them down. There have also been rumors that ‘there is no more overtime’. This is a chronic issue that is felt throughout the hospital, especially on the floors (not the outpatient clinics that are open only during the day). That said, there are constant grumblings about Trump and bouts of anger in the staff lounge. Especially the ancillary staff (PCAs, PCTs, CNAs) are often heard shouting in the lounge about Trump “asking for it”. People talk openly about how disgusting he is, his sexism and racism, how he is terrible for blacks and immigrants. There is a lot of sympathy for undocumented people who are being targeted now. People say, ‘They are just here trying to live,” and ‘this puts all of us in danger. We all know immigrants, or are immigrants ourselves.’ And how this is contradictory to the so-called legacy and history of America, the huge melting pot of immigrants (‘America was founded on immigrants! if they didn’t have immigrants, no one would do that hard work…White people don’t want to be doing this slave work.’)

“It is not clear what the union will be doing to mobilize the members to fight Trump.”

Fear

A serious crackdown on undocumented workers is a threat to all workers.

Along side this ferment, a fear is spreading within the immigrant community, due to Trump’s new orders regarding undocumented immigrants. Since those orders include deporting any immigrant who has done anything not in total accordance with the law, and since this would include using a false social security number, for example, it’s easy to see why this fear is spreading.

Disgracefully, some people such as Yvette Carnell, who writes for Black Agenda Report (which used to be uniformly excellent), are actually giving implicit support to this repression on the grounds that undocumented immigrants compete with black workers for jobs, etc. What do people like this think is going to happen? Do they think that this spreading repression of undocumented immigrants will be confined to just this group? Given the fact that racism and repression in the US has always tended to focus on black people, don’t they realize that the black community will bear some of the worst brunt of this in the future?

Green Party

Green Party.
At least in some areas they don’t seem to be growing very much and are still oriented mainly towards elections only. This might be different in other areas.

From New Orleans to Colorado to Oakland, it does not seem that the Green Party is growing very much. (This might be different elsewhere.) This is probably due to the fact that at least in these areas their focus remains mainly on elections, when most activists are oriented to getting out there in the streets.

The Democratic Party and their Allies
Two groups that are experiencing meteoric growth are “Indivisible” and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). While somewhat different, both of these groups are allied with the Democrats. Indivisible was started by some Democratic Party staffers who had the idea of building a “left” equivalent of the Tea Party. That explains their tactic of turning people out to the town hall meetings of Republican representatives, similar to what the Tea Party did some years ago.

The DSA is somewhat of a mixed bag. At least in Oakland, many union staffers are DSA members. Supposedly they have an “inside-outside” strategy towards the Democratic Party. This means working both inside and outside the Democrats. In the past, this has always meant claiming to work outside while, in reality, orienting towards the liberal wing of the Democratic Party inside. That is what seems to be happening now. For example, in California their main activity is mobilizing to support a state wide “single payer” health care bill that is being introduced in Sacramento. This is part and parcel of the emerging strategy of the Democrats overall to focus on the issue of “defending and improving” Obamacare.

The Socialist Left
We are also hearing that several revolutionary socialist groups are growing considerably. Unfortunately, almost all of them seem to be dedicated to building their own group at the expense of collaborating together to build a wider socialist trend within the resistance to Trump as a whole.

The Future
What will happen is unclear.

We can’t rule out the possibility that Trump/Bannon will be able to continue tightening the screws, first on the immigrant community as well as on groups like the anti-fracking activists in Colorado. There, long prison sentences for interfering with oil and gas drilling could possibly inhibit the movement. Then there is the black community. Trump has threatened to send the feds into this community in Chicago. If he does so, he will be sending in an occupying army that will act with extreme repression.

There is also the danger of a new terrorist attack or an individual-type assault on some cops. This would be used as an excuse to sharply increase the government repression, including the jailing of many thousands. It might even include calling out the National Guard. What would be the response to that? Would it create such an uproar, such a mass semi-spontaneous mobilization of millions that the government would be forced to back off?

It’s impossible to know.

Program and Strategy
The strategy of the reformers, who revolve around the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, is to go back to the situation that existed several years ago. Maybe with a few improvements here an there, but basically the same situation. Stability, in other words.

There are several different possible outcomes to this situation, but a return to the past is not one of them. In the 200+ year history of the US, there has never been a president like the present one.

In other words, the situation we face is unprecedented. Sometimes, revolutionaries are the most conservative of all and can tend to keep responding as they did in the past, despite the changed circumstances. One thing is clear: Even in the past, the direction that most socialists took did not work. The existence of Trump as president proves that, if nothing else does. In this period of increased ferment, new possibilities are opening up. We should use those opportunities to go directly to the working class on the job, in the communities and in the schools.

  • Explain that “an attack on one is a threat to all”, that today it may be Muslims or undocumented workers who are being attacked by Trump & Co., but tomorrow it will be you.
  • Call for and actually try to organize a united struggle in the streets, the communities, the schools and the work places to block ICE.
  • Link up such a campaign with one to make the unions do what they were built to do: fight for workers both on the job and off it. This means a campaign to get the union leadership out of bed with the employers and instead to fight for the members on the job; a campaign oppose the drive for “deregulation” and freeing up big business to further rape, loot and plunder the environment; a campaign to make the unions organize to defend the most oppressed; and a campaign to get the unions to break with the Democratic Party lock, stock and barrel and to join with the growing movement against Trump to build a fighting, mass working class party, one with a genuine socialist program and plan of action.

We hope readers of this blog site will send us in reports of what is happening and what is being said at your work place or school. You can either send them in as a “reply” to this post, or if you prefer to remain anonymous, send us an e mail and we’ll publish it without identifying the reporter.

Note: This is the third in a series about the Trump presidency. The first was on Trump and the world capitalist crisis. The second was on the internal dynamics of the Trump presidency and how far his administration might go. We also did one on the Trump-Russia connection.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Manuel February 24, 2017 at 1:13 pm

It is not “impossible to know” that the Trump-led capitalist class will find a pretext to enforce repression on emerging movements and the “growing ferment”. It is clear from Bush-Obama-to now that they will likely do so. The machinations of the black bloc and the likely forces of the state or their rigthist allies will increasingly lead to such a threat.
It is also true that the (mostly pretend) “socialist left” is embracing strategies that will ultimately betray the masses of working people by either their descent into ulraleftism or becoming “left opposition” to the corrupt Democratic machine.
In short, unless “we” do something different, history will maintain its seemingly unalterable course toward boom and bust in the mass movements.
This appraisal is not pessimistic, it is cleary an observable outcome based on our history, especially among the relatively more privileged centers of the working class in the imperialist-dominating nations. If large mass coalitions of veritable struggle (“resistance” if you insist)–independent of the Democrats AND the “socialist left”–are not created–and right now–there is really only one other recourse: for the masses of the imperialist-dominated world to take the brunt of the struggle, which will likely either result in an invasion by the “equivocal” nations like Russia and China of the imperialist world, a world war to divide the spoils of imperialism, including the now-weaker U.S./Britain/western Europe or their will be major revolutions in most oppressed nations that will face the possibility of nuclear or other means of destruction by the capitalist class. In short, the rest of the world will render the imperialist U.S. into a prize for the taking and, in that situation, the U.S. capitalist class will feel that it has no recourse but to bomb its enemies into oblivion.
If we do not find a way to overcome the “leftist” logjam within the potential revolutionary forces here in the U.S. life will be very bloody and we will have barbarism for many centuries.
Some of you may believe these points to be overstatement. I hope so. However, I would rather be proven wrong by the emergence of large mass coalitions created by emerging revolutionary youth–and some of “us” in their support–than by some “new equilibrium” of reformism, which will only result in the inevitable repression and barbarism, but perhaps on a more protracted “Obama-like” schedule.
Finally, no, I do not pretend to have answers as to how “we” can develop the road to a mass struggle. It is not my job to do so, but ours. Together. It must begin with creating a means of solidarity with all the emerging struggles; the 3/8 Women’s strike becoming a tribune for everything from Black Lives Matter, NoDAPL, immigrant and Muslim rights, to defending women’s rights to control their own bodies, the promise of that reformist coalition seeking to create some kind of actions around April 15th, and, of course the potential for striking out from the typically ultraleft versions of demonstrations around May Day (5/1). Every action, small or large, between and among these larger “bellweather” dates is important. Every meeting we attend, every action we join between among these MUST revolve around how we can generate coalition-building. Now. It is OK if the reformist leftists want to see such work as building to the elections. It is OK if the ultraleftists want to “educate” people to do “more” or recruit only to their ranks. If a true mass movement emerges, I sincerely believe that emerging revolutionary activists will stifle both those attempts to derail us. This was the most important lesson our generation learned during the time of Vietnam, the Second Wave of Feminism, and the Civil Rights era.
In the context of all the “ferment”, we–those of us who are actually serious both in commitment, but in thought and action–are too small to make a difference. But we CAN make an effort and that will have to be the difference we can make. If nothing we do matters, then the ONLY thing that matters is what we do.
This is not a call to fight in the streets, but to fight as strategically as we can in the time that we have. Every post, every meme we share, every writing–creative poetry or well-researched blog–we publish needs to work toward the most important of ends right now: the building of massive solidarity in struggle and the democratic means to organize that struggle. If we in North Star (and I include our comrades in Partido and on MarxMail to most extents) try our best, it is all that we can do. It will need to be enough, but we can no longer simply “observe the ferment”!!!!

Reply

Cameron February 24, 2017 at 8:01 pm

“We are also hearing that several revolutionary socialist groups are growing considerably. Unfortunately, almost all of them seem to be dedicated to building their own group at the expense of collaborating together to build a wider socialist trend within the resistance to Trump as a whole.”

This caught my attention. The U.S.socialist left appears continuously run in circles — the small circle mentality circle that is. To the detriment of the international working class socialist left groups remain a flurry of independent small circles rejecting the nourishment of struggling for organizational unity. Each instead seeking the fantasy of broad outreach and movement building on their own. This has proven a failed practice. U.S. working classes need a U.S. socialist left that struggles for organizational unity amongst all already recruited and working for fundamental social change within existing organizations. This struggle could be a turning point.

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