Social Justice

Gam Zeh Ya’Avor: What We Do Next

A young Jewish leftist on a post-election plan. Read More

By / November 17, 2016

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Well, the worst has happened. Now what?
Now, we live.

That’s easier said than done. We had high hopes, and they were dashed. We thought we were safe, and we weren’t. The unthinkable happened, except it wasn’t really unthinkable at all. And something many of us thought beautiful has been broken.

Stand Up, Fight Back

We have two months to prepare for a real-life authoritarian con-artist taking the helm of the most powerful country in the world. There isn’t a damn thing we can do about that but plan for it. This article is not an exhaustive list of what that future may look like or what those plans could be, but it should give you ideas of how we can support each other. I especially recommend you take a look at this, which lays out some pretty excellent tips and tactics.

There are storm clouds on the horizon, but we aren’t helpless. It is true that the Democratic minority in the House and Senate will fight to stop these rollbacks, but as the minority in the House and Senate, they are likely to fail. The next significant election is the 2018 midterms. It is absolutely imperative that everyone vote in this election. It won’t be soon enough to stop the damage, but it might be soon enough to make a difference. Two years is a long time— but it’s not that long.

In that time, we need to mobilize and organize. Hitting the streets is not enough. It just isn’t. Marches may feel great, but they aren’t enough in of themselves to create the change we need. We need to work on getting out the millennial vote now. Old people vote as a block, and that’s part of the GOPs strength. Millennials outnumber them, but consistently, our cohorts don’t show up at the polls, especially for midterm elections. That needs to change. Millennial block voting needs to be all out—ridiculous levels of all out—and it needs to outnumber the GOP, which if things go as they normally do, will solidify an even greater majority in the House and Senate. Let’s get started on that.

Beyond voting and protesting, we need to get involved in government, no matter how much some of us might disdain the institution. Write to your local officials— even if you didn’t vote for them. Write to your Senators and your Representatives. Volunteer for local initiatives. If you have the time, go to local government and Town Hall meetings. Show up, and show up consistently, and make sure your government officials know to expect you.

What we need to do is form an anti-Trump pact that will burst into mass action every time he makes a move on our civil liberties and human rights. Is he about to fuck up the environment or push forward the Dakota Access Pipeline? Blow the lids of the phone lines and send as letters as you can write. Is he making a move on abortion? Make sure he, and all your elected officials (regardless of party affiliation) know how not cool that is, and that you’re watching them. Tweet everything, every single time, especially if they’re aware of you and know who you are. Phone calls work better than letters, letters work better than emails, and showing up physically to Town Halls and meetings works even better than that. Even if these officials are in a party different from yours, this is a pressure they can’t ignore. So find out who your local representatives are, and contact them.

You can do all this a private citizen and it will work. But it will work even better if you are a public official yourself. No one ignores a government official, even if it’s just at the county level, showing up in front of someone’s office. How do you get in there? You can work in someone’s office, but honestly, just run for office yourself! If you’re over 25, you’re old enough to be in Congress! (Of course, without experience, a constituency, and a fund-raising machine, that is a tall order.) More local positions won’t necessarily have the same age limits, and at age 18, you can run for many city and state positions, which in turn will give you the background needed to make you a viable candidate for something bigger later on, in addition to allowing you to make real change for your community by having a place in the halls of power. You can start in your county’s Democratic party, and work your way up from there. The barriers to entry on that level are usually very low, because most people don’t pay attention to them. Use that to your advantage.

Another top issue is redistricting and gerrymandering. It is the number one item that causes Republican votes to have more relative weight than Democratic ones, and correcting this issue is the one way to prevent being totally hammered (again) in the House and the Senate. Gerrymandering means that the Republicans essentially steal elections by cleverly redrawing district lines so that a Democratic populace is forcibly broken up and counts for less— a process the Republicans have been hammering on since they lost the Presidential election to Obama back in 2008. In order to put an end to that nonsense, Democrats need to control at least one branch of the state government.

That is a good reason to get involved in local and state government if you’re a millennial. Pick issues, and push for them. Know your community, and fight for them. Get a mentor, and learn from them. Get involved with your local institutions, and badger the hell out of your elected officials. Remind the public officials: you are the public. They work for you. Hold them accountable. And if they don’t do their jobs, kick ‘em out.

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Pussy Grabs Back

Community building is hard work, but it is absolutely essential for our survival and success. The Left in this country was gutted long before we were born, so it’d be absurd to expect us to be perfect activists from the get-go. We all have a lot of learning to do (and I do include myself in this. Oh boy, do I ever.) And frankly, the Left eats its children. The spectrum anywhere beyond the (so broad it’s useless) umbrella of “liberal” is so fractured, chaotic, and full of in-fighting, you’d think you were at a particularly loquacious, especially obnoxious middle school lunchroom food-fight. It’s easy to call for unity, but a lot harder to actually build bridges, especially since so many of these groups hate each other. (Some with good reason.)

But we still have to do that work. A lot of institutional support is going to be eliminated. Programs that help the middle class and poor are going to be gutted, leaving more people in desperate poverty, hungry, and unable to get out of debt. A lot of people will be vulnerable. The way to counter that is by creating our own support networks. Already I see people crowdfunding for paying for medical care, relocation, support for women fleeing abuse, you name it. That’s good. We are going to be doing that a lot more pretty soon, and we are going to have to rely on each other, and be there for each other in tangible, even financial ways. And you can’t do that without a lot of planning or cooperation.

Mobilizing and organizing can look like a lot of things. It can mean community meetings. It can mean volunteering at your Planned Parenthood, and donating. Their funding might be cut drastically, no matter what President Obama tries. We have to be prepared to scrimp and scrounge— because the people they serve are the people who don’t have insurance, or can’t get any, or don’t have money, or don’t have access to healthcare options, or can’t physically get to the ones that exist. This is especially true if they are trans or gender minorities, or people of color. Consider making real efforts to protect and uphold reproductive and gender rights, which will be under serious attack with Mike Pence as VP. Remember, this is the man who caused an HIV outbreak in Indiana by slashing health spending. Late-term abortions are especially hard to get in this country, even under an Obama Presidency. Not only are there only four doctors who do the procedure, the cost is astronomically high. That is entirely to pay their insurance— the constant violence and threats of violence from anti-choice White Christians makes their jobs dangerous. If you’re in medicine, consider going into reproductive health. Consider stocking up on birth control and emergency contraception. If you’re in Law however, check out the National Lawyer’s Guild. These are without a doubt the good guys. Help them. Talk to them. Join them.

For the record, even though Obamacare might be cut, altered, or repealed, or its mandate rolled back until it might as well have axed altogether, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sign up or renew. The marketplace is open now. Even if you only have insurance for two months, those are two months of coverage. And it is unlikely that repealing will include plans that are already enrolled for the year— it’d be too complicated, and Trump is too lazy. Far easier to let the clock run down on us instead— but that buys us some time nonetheless.

Communities should strive to some form of self-sufficiency. I do not mean “be an island and cut yourself off from the whole world,” though honestly that sounds pretty tempting right now. I mean rather that the community provides for itself as much as it can, including cultural events, local co-ops, even starting some city farming. Seek to build and support each other. See what skills and trades can be swapped. There a million ways to build stronger communities, and every one of those will be important, also particularly when it comes to conflict resolution. But especially, work towards community self-policing, and keeping cops away rather than inviting them in.

If you’ve been not under a rock, you probably understand that the rate of violence by law enforcement towards people of color, particularly Black Americans, is ridiculous. Do not contribute to that if you can avoid it. If it’s a noise complaint, don’t call the cops for that. Don’t contribute to the criminalization of non-violent behaviour. Don’t contribute to Broken Windows style policing. Build bridges with your community instead! And remember, with Giuliani as likely Attorney General, police are going to get an even bigger pass on oppressive measures, and carte blanche to enact violence as they see fit. Don’t give them that opportunity.

You probably know people who voted Trump. Maybe some of them are your family members, friends, or classmates. And while over 70% of the Jewish-American community showed up for Hillary, nearly 30% did not— many of those, but not all, being Orthodox. I don’t know how to talk to these people to get them to listen. Right now, I don’t even want to try— but we might have to. And some of these former supporters might balk once authoritarian measures start to hit home on them too, or when promised prosperity doesn’t materialize, or if and when anti-Semitism reaches a fevered pitch.

Without a doubt, Jews are a target in Trump’s America. We know this, we see it, and already we are seeing it get worse. And anti-Semitism was already virulent on both the Left and Right before this election. It’s a scary time to be a member of the Tribe. And yet, many of us benefit from whiteness in varying degrees (some more than others). Many of us benefit from varying levels of class privilege (again, some more than others). Some of us fly under the radar completely. For those to whom this applies, and that is not all of us all the time, recognize how that provides “outs” that aren’t always available to all of our fellows. Be mindful of this, and be kind. Someone looking “Stereotypically Jewish” is more likely to be targeted by anti-Semites because they fit the image they have in their heads of what they think a Jew is. A Jew of color is going to get slammed with both anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. Jewish women suffer from a uniquely awful brand of misogyny coupled with anti-Jewish bigotry. Visibly LGBT+ Jews are gonna get it from nearly everyone, as if they haven’t been already. And so on, for all the various combinations and permutations of these and any other sub-types as well.

And of course, this also goes for all our fellow non-Jews who are suffering in Trump’s new world. And that’s a lot of us. Muslims, Arabs, Asians, Latinos, Black Americans, anyone who has a uterus, anyone not cis-gender or heterosexual, etc. Even being a cis-white-man won’t completely inoculate you: activists are targets, too. This is the time to build bridges. This is the time for solidarity. This is the time to have each other’s backs.

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Respect Existence, or Expect Resistance

For some less heartwarming advice: consider learning some basics of self defense. Trump’s America does not love you. It does not welcome you. And it’s energized a lot of people who would be happy to hurt you. Don’t give them the chance. Ask around for free or cheap lessons to learn the basics, or maybe start a class in your neck of the woods. This is an opportunity to both do something affirming with your community, strengthen bonds with each other, and protect each other.

Be secure on the web. Learn about security culture. Practice it.

If you are going to be protesting regularly, understand the kind of weapons that police will sometimes use on protesters, no matter how law abiding or peaceful. Learn how to counteract tear gas and pepper spray. (Always carry water, even just plain cold water often helps. Do not use vinegar, despite its popularity, as vinegar is a weak acid, and will not counteract the capsaicin used in pepper spray and tear gas.) Learn what kind of supplies it’s good to have on a long march or outdoor action. Are you willing to get arrested? Getting peaceably arrested is a protest tactic, but sometimes the police won’t be so peaceful. And criminalizing peaceful, lawful protests is the #1 play of authoritarian regimes.

Consider learning how to be a street medic. Classes are usually only a few sessions, which usually last all day. Street medics and marshals at rallies and protests are always in short supply— and very much needed in the case of injury, tear gas, or unforeseen circumstances. In general, having some practical emergency medical knowledge on hand is a solid idea, even if protesting is not your thing.

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“Should I make Aaliyah?”
That is entirely up to you. Jokes about moving to Canada aside, there are real reasons why getting the heck out of dodge is a completely reasonable choice of actions. If you decide that leaving is the best choice for you, then it is. Israel was in part set up as a haven for Jews to run to in times of unrest and oppression. If you can prove that you have at least one Jewish grandparent, you are eligible for citizenship. If you decide that’s what you want to do, check out the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh.

That being said, remember that Israel has its own problems. It is locked in a seemingly endless conflict with the Palestinians, ISIS is on the border, and there are many internal fractures along ethnic and religious lines. It is no paradise.

There are good reasons to stay and fight, beyond the principle of the thing. While people have been making comparisons to the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazi Germany (some apt, some less so), the fact remains that this isn’t Nazi Germany, and Trump isn’t Hitler. That doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous. He is. But it means we shouldn’t panic, we shouldn’t make big decisions while panicking, and that all hope is not lost. A genocide is probably not in our future here, though hardship undoubtedly is. And we stand a decent chance of success on multiple levels, even through these hard times, if we play our cards right. Trump won’t be around forever, eight years max, barring a complete dissolution of many of our key governing institutions. And that scenario is extremely unlikely.

¡Sí se puede!

None of us wanted this, but here we are. We will stand together. We will fight. We will not just survive, we will thrive. We will overcome.

Hate might have taken this country for a ride. It might even do it irreparable damage. But in the end, it will fall, and fade. This will then be but a passing shadow, and the sun will shine all the clearer.

In the meantime, if you are around the New York area, check out some of these Jewish organizations you can organize with or donate money to: Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, NYC Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee, the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, Bend the Arc, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Hazon (a Jewish social justice group that focuses on food, agriculture, and sustainability), If Not Now (an anti-Occupation Jewish movement), the American Jewish World Service, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid SocietyAvodah: the Jewish Service Corps, Manhattan Together (an interfaith initiative), and finally, Common Decency.

Common Decency deserves a special mention, as it is a new group dedicated specifically dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and Jewish intersectional alliance work. There’s no public site yet, but keep your ears open; for the past month, it has been quietly working on a specific campaign, and plans to go live to the public at a community meeting December 1.

You can join with groups and individuals on social media using the hashtag #JewishResistance.

All of these groups do different things, most locally, some nationally, and some internationally. All do good work. And all of them need you.

azak v’ematz.

Images via Wikimedia, and William Murphy and Fibonacci Blue via Flickr.