By Jesse D. Palmer
As Slingshot goes to press, the collective isn’t sure if we should go to press. Events are moving so fast that it feels hard to imagine that what we write now — which will take at least 2 weeks to reach readers — will still be relevant. It is also hard to write Slingshot articles right now because the level of tension and distraction in the air is so high. We’re choking on alternative facts and intentionally cruel, divisive executive actions that are designed to keep everyone off balance, dominate the discussion, and prevent opponents from having the mental space to formulate alternative narratives.
Part of me can see this as an opportunity. The world has come un-glued, and it is about time because the world before November 2016 wasn’t sustainable and needed to be re-organized. Economic inequality and environmental degradation have reached a breaking point. I had hoped that rapid change would come in a more positive revolutionary fashion, but now that we’re here, there’s no going back. We can fight with all our energy and possibly emerge from this crisis to a better place, but if we lose it is hard to say how dark things might get. I wrote an article last week expressing my hopes (see pg. 13) , but it didn’t grab the collective, who thought it was too fluffy. So before I get to what I see may be a silver lining, it may be useful to embrace fear and catastrophe because it explains why so many people are freaking out, losing sleep, and being pushed into the streets.
This moment is about fear. The authoritarian nationalist regime took power by appealing to fear of the “other” — muslims, Mexicans, mythical urban cores in chaos (read “black people”), gays, coastal elites — and it worked and won a minority of votes.
With people who hate us holding all branches of government, those of us who’ve been defined as the “other” are now living with a heightened sense of fear about what might happen, and the speed with which events are moving is only adding to this sense. But it’s important to take a step back and recognize that many people were living in fear long before November. What is new is that a lot of mainstream whites feel the threat now, too.
We’ve all known bullies like this before, but it was usually as a kid on the playground. They get off on causing pain and fear for its own sake and they’re smug and self-righteous about it. Now that these immature jerks control the nuclear codes, the FBI, the army, prisons, ICE, the park service, the EPA, etc., it is easy to imagine the worst. When they cavalierly say “torture works,” or speak approvingly of Japanese internment camps, they know it scares us, and we can’t help but imagine what it would be like. For many people the moment of “Never Again” is here right now.
We’re used to breaking the world into categories — the mainstream, radicals and the right wing — but the categories have come unglued. In some respects, what’s going on is a split between elite factions. Globalist elites are being crushed by nationalist authoritarians — and not just in the US, but around the world from the Philippines to many places in Europe. Many mainstream people supported liberal globalist elites, while radicals oppose all elites and by extension mainstream people and their soulless consumerist culture. Radicals see normal people as cogs in an elite machine even when they aren’t part of the elite themselves.
Oversimplistic generalizations can be helpful, but they are risky. Some of the people pouring into the streets are radicals who oppose not only the authoritarian buffoons, but also capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy. But a lot of more mainstream people are out in those streets right now, too — people you’ve known since grade school who’ve never been to a protest before . . .
They are motivated by fear and a recognition that the authoritarians are serious about taking down values and institutions they believe in and rely on — pluralism, democracy, religious freedom, the national park service, environmental laws, public education, science, academic freedom, abortion rights and some degree of racial tolerance. From a radical point of view, it is hard get excited about merely defending these values which have been remarkably compatible with maintaining a fundamentally unjust, environmentally unsustainable, and oppressive society.
Nonetheless radicals do have a crucial role to play at this moment. Protests against the authoritarian nationalist regime that are fueled primarily by mainstream concerns have borrowed some radical tactics and rhetoric — the people’s mic, occupations, the idea of being a member of the Rebel Alliance, etc. While the protests might not be a “radical” protest movement like some we have seen, the ungluing of normal order is shaking millions of people’s understandings of the world. The globalist elites have proven themselves incapable of protecting regular people from the very real threat of tyranny. So people are looking for alternatives.
If radicals can keep our calm and avoid the temptation to react in an isolated, nonstrategic fashion to each new outrage, there is space for radicals to help shape this ungluing so that rather than just restore ourselves to a previous unjust order, we help move the world to a new, better place.
A first step is uniting behind a slogan: Resign. My hope is that by the time you read this article — 2 or more weeks after I’m writing it — everyone will have coalesced around Resign as our united and universal demand. Such a demand means we don’t need to let the authoritarians set the agenda, leaving us to protest each new outrage in isolation. Demanding resignation has the capability to unite millions of people across single issue concerns and across demographic groups. We don’t have to all agree with each other about why we demand resignation — for people who believe in America and its institutions, it can be because he is un-American — he has betrayed the most basic ideas that underlie the myth upon which the country was founded. But you don’t have to believe in America to demand Resignation. And it doesn’t matter that Resign trades one asshole for another — because this is about seizing the narrative, exercising our collective power, and limiting the damage the authoritarians can inflict.
Demanding resignation is not a pipe dream. It is a common demand around the world and throughout history, it frequently succeeds against long odds, and it is no more unlikely than the dream-like reality we’re currently experiencing. The buffoon isn’t having a good time — it doesn’t seem like he even wanted to have the job — he’s just not sure yet how to save face and blame his resignation on someone else. We need to practice riding the waves and seeing what is possible rather than talking ourselves out of this adventure before it can really get started. As I write this, the idea of a national General Strike is beginning to bubble up — and for all I know it will be entirely mainstream by the time you read this — which would have been unthinkable and laughable just a few weeks ago. When they go low, we need to shoot high.
Beyond resignation, radicals should push with all our might so this isn’t just about one leader resigning, but becomes a broad demand for re-design of the system. It is a paradox that people who supported the authoritarian nationalists share our rejection of elites. Rather than fighting with other working people who are being played by the 1%, let’s figure out language and tactics that allow the 99% to unite and share the world we have built.
Historical moments when elites are discredited and at war with other elites have often opened opportunities for social progress — think the depression/WWII and the US Civil War. These moments didn’t create utopia — fundamental injustice remained after slavery was abolished and after the New Deal — but in such historical watersheds it was radicals like abolitionists and unionists who pushed ideas that lead to progress. We can’t know what progress might end up looking like this time, but radicals can help organize coherent demands based on radical values and vision.
Given the environmental collapse we are facing — which is in the end our first priority — we have to push to defeat authoritarian nationalism and leverage our victory to shut down the fossil fuel industry. It is no mistake that the nationalists overlap so thoroughly with extractive industry and short-term, extinction thinking. We need to transform this ungluing so that the dehumanizing, unsustainable system we’ve been stuck with is replaced by structures that allow people to live their lives in harmony with others and the earth.
As radicals in this tense moment — with so much at risk and so much which could be gained — we need to be focused and do better. Radicals typically form a circular firing squad — fighting each other and not our real enemies. We alienate people who could be our allies by demanding purity when we could seek unity. We need to look around and feel the vibe — millions of people are yearning for radical alternatives to the elites who have failed them, and the nationalists have nothing to offer but hate. Are we ready to get out of our sandboxes and share the ideas and visions we’ve been nurturing? See you out on the barricades.