My thoughts as I watched the election results roll in…
We need to own that, on the Democrat/left/progressive side, the closeness of this presidential election is the consequence of our collective failure to center #NeverTrump as our shared interest and organize effectively around that. None of us – including Clinton supporters – made that a priority, and so if Trump is defeated tonight, it will be in spite of us doing a shitty job of building a coalition powerful enough to defeat him.
I’ll be completely honest: defeating Trump was never my first priority as a voter. I live in a safely “blue” state where my vote for Jill Stein wasn’t going to have any meaningful impact on the Electoral College outcome. But I also was, and frankly still am, of the opinion that a Trump presidency wouldn’t significantly change the trajectory or nature of the work I do around dismantling structural oppression – and that the shock among both progressives and anti-Trump conservatives at such a result would actually make certain aspects of my work easier. You can disagree with my analysis of the landscape, but a) you’re not viewing it from where I’m standing, and b) whether or not you see what I see doesn’t actually matter. You just need to know how I am seeing this election, and know that the end result was that not only did I not change my vote, I also didn’t devote any real energy to developing a coalition of voters from multiple perspectives who could effectively work together to defeat Trump because I wasn’t sufficiently invested in that outcome.
And this is where we come to what I do have in common with #voteblue advocates: with a VERY limited number of exceptions (which I’m assuming exist simply because there are exceptions to every rule, not because I actually encountered any of these exceptions during my experience of this election cycle), Clinton supporters also didn’t devote any real energy to developing that coalition. Like me, they were primarily concerned with how the world looked from their viewpoint, and they primarily focused on trying to get others to agree that the world was as they saw it. But arguing isn’t organizing, and no matter who wins the presidential election it will represent a massive progressive organizing failure. We didn’t respect or work from a recognition of each other’s self-interest, so we didn’t build the power we needed to avoid this mess.
We are witnessing the entirely predictable result of focusing on positions instead of interests; of not being serious enough about defeating Trump to dedicate ourselves to building the power that would lead us to achieving that end. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, and it is highly tempting to reject that analysis in favor of believing that it’s somebody else’s fault this is happening. But an organizing training I attended last month has caused me to take a much more focused approach to building power – and a much closer and harder look at the ways that our attitudes and actions in progressive organizing fall into predictable patterns the dominant system trains us in from birth in order to keep us from being able to work together toward our liberation.
The paragraphs below are excerpted from a comment I made earlier today in response to a friend’s post. The context is a rebuttal to the idea that a #NeverTrump outcome could be achieved by anything other than a #voteblue strategy, so the excerpt includes my particular feelings about that as a third-party voter. But in addition to reflecting on how one segment of voters may have responded to Democratic persuasion tactics during this election, I invite folks to focus on the segments concerning self-interest and organizing for power.
I’ve been saying this all year: the only successful way to build a coalition guaranteed to defeat Trump was to engage the interests of those you needed to persuade – not what you think their interests SHOULD be, or what YOU think their interests are, but what THEY say they want and are concerned about. Dismissing someone’s concerns as short-sighted, self-serving, egotistical Hillary hating may be gratifying to your ego, but it is IN NO WAY persuasive for your target audience. It is not only completely disrespectful, but also INCREDIBLY COUNTERPRODUCTIVE. You might want to believe that people choosing to vote for Clinton despite serious misgivings are being beatifically altruistic; they are not. They found a way to connect a Clinton vote to the things that were most persuasive for them as a voter. But that rationale is not going to be the same for every voter, so you can’t just make the same case to everyone and call anyone for whom that doesn’t resonate an immoral whiny baby who doesn’t deserve to be listened to – at least, not if the priority is organizing for a desired outcome rather than resting in one’s own sense of righteousness.
People organize themselves and their resources in their self-interest: that is, in the ways they see that they can meet both their needs and those of the others they are working with. And contrary to popular belief, being self-interested is a good thing; it means that you can clearly identify the reasons for you to continue working toward your shared goal even when your coalition faces obstacles and conflicts. Our self-interest is our stake in seeing the outcome through. Without it, when things get too difficult or frustrating, people bail, and your coalition loses power. With it, people can focus on the shared goal and find ways to overcome obstacles together.
Basically, Clinton supporters have been telling a lot of progressive voters that the things those voters care about don’t matter, or don’t matter enough to be addressed in any way, and that they should band together with a group of people who look down on them and call them names. That’s insanity; only highly-traumatized people respond to that tactic, and EVEN THEN it’s still because the person has redefined abusive behavior to represent a twisted, demoralized definition of meeting their needs. Thankfully, most of us are not residing in that psychological place (except with respect to capitalism, but that’s another diatribe), so we dissociate from people who treat us that way and go find folks who will treat us with some dignity. But again, that dissociation means you lose potential members of your coalition.
Don’t want to organize with third-party progressives because you really do think they’re whiny babies not worth your time? That’s cool; you don’t organize with everyone. There are people and organizations I definitely write off when I think about food justice organizing, because I don’t respect them and I think the gulf between our interests is way too far. But if I’m going to do that, I damn sure better make sure I have organized enough other people and resources to make up for what I lose by writing those folks off; otherwise I will fail at achieving what is important to me because I failed to do what was needed to build sufficient power. We’ll find out later today whether the Clinton electoral coalition built enough power to emerge from this nightmare with the presidency.