From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Left Organizers Should Join the Fight for Impeachment
Date October 18, 2019 1:46 AM
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[ As Congress returns to Washington, the impeachment proceedings
are likely to gain steam. The authors argue the left cant afford to
sit this fight out, but should be a part of the broad anti-Trump front
working to protect and expand democracy.] [[link removed]]

LEFT ORGANIZERS SHOULD JOIN THE FIGHT FOR IMPEACHMENT  
[[link removed]]

 

Claire Tran and Jacob Swenson-Lengyel
October 15, 2019
Organizing Upgrade
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_ As Congress returns to Washington, the impeachment proceedings are
likely to gain steam. The authors argue the left can't afford to sit
this fight out, but should be a part of the broad anti-Trump front
working to protect and expand democracy. _

Photo Credit: Steve Rapport, Flickr // Organizing Upgrade,

 

While socialists and progressives were early advocates for
impeachment
[[link removed]],
left organizers have been recently out-paced by the rapid developments
in the House, driven primarily the Democrat’s centrist leadership,
Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff.

Over the weekend a number of progressive organizations — including
By The People, the Women’s March, MoveOn, and Working Families Party
— held rallies in more than 50 cities [[link removed]], but
the extent to which progressive organizations will engage in the
struggle around impeachment remains to be seen. Some left organizers
remain deeply ambivalent
[[link removed]] about
joining the fight.

We believe that left organizers cannot afford to sit out the struggle
for impeachment. Far from being a sideshow, demonstrating leadership
in a broad anti-Trump front is essential to any effort to win
governing power and advance a structural reform agenda.

To that end, we offer five strategic considerations for left
organizers contemplating impeachment and the broader political moment.

1. THE IMPEACHMENT FIGHT IS KEY IN THE STRUGGLE AGAINST
AUTHORITARIANISM AND TOWARD DEMOCRACY. 

The Trump administration’s corrupt political and financial
entanglements in Ukraine and their refusal to comply with the
impeachment process represent an effort to consolidate even more
expansive, undemocratic executive powers. Trump’s broad assault on
democracy is part of ongoing Republican shift towards authoritarian
rule.

The Administration’s wholesale refusal to acknowledge the House’s
authority as an oversight body make perilously clear the gravity of an
“imperial presidency” and the continued threats it could pose as
it pushes against legal constraints to attack immigrants, Muslims,
LGBTQ people, and other working class communities.

While it remains an outside possibility, even mainstream commentators
[[link removed]] are
beginning to wonder if this signals trouble for a peaceful transition
of power in 2020. A formal, military or state-backed coup appears
extremely unlikely, but it is not difficult to imagine that a thwarted
Trump could encourage his supporters to engage in acts of
non-state-sanctioned political violence, something he has done both
tacitly and sometimes openly
[[link removed]] before.

Although it is understandable that some strands of the left and the
anti-Trump resistance feel fatigued and powerless in the face of
Trump’s continued efforts to push the boundaries of an already
deeply flawed democratic system, left organizers cannot afford to
ignore the continued efforts to erode, rather than expand, democracy.
Doing so only provides proof positive of the idea that Trump is
testing; namely, that he “can do whatever [he] wants
[[link removed]].”

2. AN ADEQUATE ASSESSMENT OF THE BALANCE OF FORCES REQUIRES PROPERLY
WEIGHING EFFORTS TO DEFEAT CORPORATE AND CENTRIST DEMOCRATS WITH
DEFEATING THE AUTHORITARIAN RIGHT.

Many of the arguments against engaging in the fight for impeachment,
including from Samuel Moyn
[[link removed]] and
the Democratic Socialists of America
[[link removed]],
appear to equate the threat from the neoliberal center with the threat
from an uninhibited, authoritarian right. But while Nancy Pelosi and
Donald Trump both belong to the ruling class, they are not the same
— nor are Joe Biden and Donald Trump for that matter — and they do
not pose equal threats to the left’s aspirations for deep democracy.

As we’ve argued above, the threat posed by Trump and the
authoritarian Republican Party endangers even the limited and deeply
flawed democratic system we currently operate within. Progressives,
unions, and left organizers must participate in a popular front that
includes people with whom we vehemently disagree — be it centrist
Democrats, Republicans, corporate leaders, and even national security
state actors — to stop the rollback of existing democratic
safeguards. The term “popular front” stems from the 1930s strategy
in Europe that included a left united front but reached out to all
sectors of society to unite them in the fight against fascism.

Of course, left organizers are engaged in a two-front battle. Joining
that popular front needn’t mean abandoning the struggle against
neoliberal centrists in the Democratic Party, who seek to restore
the _status quo ante_. We firmly believe
[[link removed]] that
building political power to defeat these centrists in the Democratic
presidential primary is crucial, not only because they do not share
our political vision, but also because they are ill-equipped to
energize the electorate and defeat Donald Trump. For this reason, we
think capable of ensuring that one of the two progressives in the
race — Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren — win the primary.
[[link removed]]

Nevertheless, it is dangerous to think that the threat posed by
centrists and the authoritarian right is somehow the same. While
centrist efforts to restore the _status quo_ would almost certainly
be unstable, progressives and the left can’t leapfrog over the
near-term goal of protecting the existing democratic system, which is
required to safeguard the success of our electoral efforts in 2020 and
place a check on efforts by Trump and the Republican Party to govern
with impunity.

3. IN ORDER TO BUILD TOWARD GOVERNING POWER, LEFT ORGANIZERS MUST
DEMONSTRATE LEADERSHIP IN KEY DEMOCRACY FIGHTS THAT THREATEN A SHIFT
TOWARD AUTHORITARIANISM.

As with the Mueller investigation
[[link removed]],
left organizers would do well to see these recent developments as an
organizing opportunity. Growing portions of the electorate support
impeachment
[[link removed]].
Even a new poll from Fox News
[[link removed]] shows
a slim majority are in favor of Trump’s impeachment and removal. And
the continuous stream of testimonies, documents, and statements by
political leaders means that impeachment will continue to be at the
center of media attention, whether progressives attempt to shape the
narratives at the center of all that coverage or not.

Although many Americans are likely outraged by the latest revelations,
centrist Democrats are unlikely to mobilize or engage the broader
public, instead focusing on a narrow inside-the-beltway strategy. The
Puerto Rican Summer, of course, presents an alternative, where mass
mobilizations transformed>
[[link removed]] a
set of leaked texts into a referendum on political elites, the fiscal
control board (“La Junta”), the debt crisis, recovery from
Hurricane Maria, U.S. colonialism, and sexism. Although there has been
a significant demobilization
[[link removed]] of
the “resistance” taking street action after the summer of 2018,
likely because much of our energy has been focused on electoral work,
the impeachment hearings hold the potential to reactivate public
outrage at Trump’s manifest self-dealing, corruption, cruelty, and
lawlessness.

Of course, the ultimate success of the impeachment process is
uncertain. While it is unlikely that 67 Senators would support
Trump’s removal from office, it is not impossible. Republican
Senators, including Mitch McConnell (who is up for re-election in
2020), must be pushed to hold a full trial and stand up for democracy.
There are some reasons to believe that McConnell could be moved given
his original statement that by law the Senate would have to take up
the impeachment process. He also recently backed down from blocking
election security
[[link removed]] funding
after being named “Moscow Mitch.”

Regardless of whether or not Trump is ultimately removed from office,
now that impeachment proceedings have begun, we must join a popular
front to fragment the Republican governing coalition and weaken
Trump’s political standing. By joining the fray, left organizers
have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership inside of a popular
front, recruit new members, and raise political consciousness of the
fact that the current political crisis goes far deeper than the high
crimes and misdemeanors of the president.

4. AS LEFT ORGANIZERS, WE CAN PLAY A SPECIAL ROLE IN AMPLIFYING
NARRATIVES AROUND DEMOCRACY AND THE FACT THAT THE CAPITALIST CLASS
STANDS IN THE WAY OF GOVERNMENT OF, BY, AND FOR WORKING PEOPLE. 

In the current stage, we need to be pushing the ideological fight for
upholding and expanding democracy while pushing back on the idea that
rich people can do whatever they want, in or out of government.

The latest revelations by the whistle-blower demonstrate Donald
Trump’s continued use of the federal government as a tool for his
own political and financial gain. This is of a piece with an
administration packed with bankers, oil executives, and lobbyists
hollowing out government to serve their own financial interests.
Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the impeachment hearing
exemplifies the way that rich elites believe they can act with
impunity, whether that means running government for their own profit,
violating international law by detaining children and turning away
asylum seekers, trampling on the First Amendment by discriminating
against Muslims, rolling back women’s and LGBTQ rights while
assulting women, and disenfranchising People of Color and Native
peoples.

If progressives participate in the impeachment struggle, we can
broaden the narrative beyond the narrow focus on a pay-for-play scheme
to tarnish the reputation of an elite political opponent. Our hope
would be to make the impeachment process not merely a referendum on
President Trump, but instead a referendum on government of, by and for
rich political elites.

From a narrative standpoint, there is certainly a danger here of
spending too much time and energy emphasizing what we’re against,
instead of what we’re fighting for. But progressives and left
organizers are actually making significant headway when it comes
to painting a picture
[[link removed]] of
the sweeping non-reformist reforms needed to create a government of,
by, and for working people. At a time of both great opportunity _and
great danger_, we must balance narratives that speak to people’s
hopes and aspirations with those that activate their fear and anger.

5. AS LEFT ORGANIZERS, WE CAN’T AFFORD TO NEGLECT MASS MOBILIZATION
AND DIRECT ACTION IN FAVOR OF AN EXCLUSIVELY ELECTORAL STRATEGY DURING
A MOMENT WHEN DEMOCRACY IS AT RISK. OUR LEADERSHIP IN THE STREETS CAN
POSITION US AS KEY PLAYERS IN A BROAD FRONT NOT ONLY TO PROTECT, BUT
TO DEEPEN AND EXPAND DEMOCRACY.

We need a movement ecosystem that is able to struggle on many fronts
with coordinated efforts. Electoral strategies, where we are speaking
with millions of people at the door or on the phone, are key in
shifting the political terrain and can work in tandem with shaping
public narratives, making meaning of our conditions, and translating
the values we are upholding into courage to take action. Most
grassroots electoral organizing groups will be planning to expand
their scale of reach in 2020 and beyond with little resources to meet
that expansion.

While we think electoral efforts are key, we need to avoid falling
into the pattern of 2008, where mass movements became demobilized. We
need to keep flexing the muscle of large-scale actions with left-led
demands and narratives whatever possible outcome of 2020, namely:
Trump winning, a neoliberal Democrat winning, a progressive Democrat
winning, or Trump losing but refusing to leave office.

In all of these scenarios, we will still require powerful movement
mobilizations to hold public narratives and push politicians to do the
right thing or stop a would-be dictator in the latter scenario. If
stone-walling Congress and claiming immunity is a trial balloon for
Trump refusing to leave office or consolidating authoritarian power,
we need to start now to prepare for this scenario. Even if there is a
sweeping progressive victory in 2020, mass mobilization and direct
action in concert with legislative and electoral fights will be
essential to achieving any kind of structural reform.

_[Claire Tran (they / she pronouns) is a strategist with a background
in integrated voter engagement, community organizing, training, and
facilitation with organizations including AAPIs for Civic Empowerment
Education Fund (AAPI FORCE-EF), URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender
Equity, SOUL: School of Unity & Liberation, New Virginia Majority, and
the Right to the City Alliance. Claire currently works for the State
Power Caucus. Jacob Swenson-Lengyel (he/him) is an organizer and
strategist with a background in social movement communications. He has
worked for People’s Action and Interfaith Worker Justice and is
currently a Program Manager at Narrative Initiative. He was one of the
founding members of The People’s Lobby in Chicago and he served as
the membership coordinator for Graduate Students United at University
of Chicago. Claire and Jacob are both members of the Organizing
Upgrade Editorial Collective.]_

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