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Hopeful signs for the path forward

Logo for NC Policy Watch series "The Path Forward - North Carolina's 2017 Political Landscape" [1]Trump lights a fire under the American progressive movement; you can keep up and help

Well, this is it. The week that a sizable majority of Americans [2] have been dreading is here and, come Friday at high noon, a morally bankrupt and utterly unqualified snake oil salesman will occupy the office of Washington, Lincoln, the Roosevelts and Obama.

Add the hard truth that this character has been and will be abetted in his contemptible mission by an unholy confederation of reactionary plutocrats, hypocritical preachers and conservative politicians willing to turn a blind eye to treacherous acts of a hostile foreign dictator (and that the President-elect is empaneling a coterie of advisors and cabinet officials that resembles nothing so much as a Third World junta), and it’s enough to make a caring and thinking person fear for the republic.

At such a time, it’s no surprise that so many of us feel as if we are trapped in a bad miniseries or some kind of horrific collective nightmare. Unfortunately, our efforts to rouse ourselves and awaken from the bad dream keep proving futile. Each time we open our eyes, there he is: gesticulating and spewing a steady stream of noxious, vindictive and destructive falsehoods back at us.

The pushback begins

So what in the heck are we going to do about all of this? Is there any hope for reclaiming our nation and heaving it back onto a path of hope and progress or have we reached the stage at which it is now simply a matter of every person for him or herself?

For some people, this latter option may be all they can muster at this point. And if that includes you, then, by all means, do what you have to do for now to survive. Sometimes, one has to put on one’s own oxygen mask first before he or she can help anyone else.

For a surprisingly large group of Americans (and North Carolinians), however, one gets the distinct impression of late that there are actually plenty of oxygen masks to go around.

A few weeks ago, one sensed this surprising and encouraging level of energy and resistance when hundreds of North Carolinians spontaneously descended on the state Legislative Building with little-to-no notice to protest the special session power grab launched by conservative lawmakers against then Governor-elect Cooper.

What’s more, as was noted in this space at the time [3], the pushback worked:

And make no mistake, the protesters made a big difference. Were it not for their constant presence (as well as the outcries of so many others across the state) it is a sure thing that legislators would have gone further and done much more damage.

There is a vital lesson here for all caring and thinking Americans as they prepare for the next four years.”

This week, of course, there will be a mega-version of the Raleigh protests [4] when hundreds of thousands (and maybe even millions) of people descend on Washington and hundreds of other cities all over the nation and the world to stand in solidarity against what the Trump presidency represents.

As one of the press releases from event organizers [5] explained last week:

This is an unprecedented, organic and viral grassroots global movement that is growing every day. More than 500,000 people have already committed to march all over the country and the world in just a matter of weeks….The aggregate turnout has the potential to exceed 1 million marchers. What makes this movement even more special is that people who have never been politically active before are now mobilizing.

While each person may have their own reasons for marching, the mission is to bring people together to take a stand on issues that deeply impact all of us. The marches will seek to reaffirm the core American values of freedom and democracy for all at a time when many fear that their voices will be lost, specifically related to women’s rights, immigrant rights, worker rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights, environmental rights, rights for all races, and religious freedom.

Spearheaded by first-time organizers and seasoned activists, the marches are bringing together people of all backgrounds, races, religions, gender identities, ages and abilities, as well as communities of immigrants. While led by women, all are welcome to attend the marches. More than 300,000 people have signed up on Facebook to attend a local march, in addition to approximately 200,000 who have said they will attend the Women’s March on Washington.”

Getting organized here in NC

Happily, there are also encouraging signs that caring and thinking people are determined to carry on with this kind of vital work in the weeks and months to come. Last week, I had the great pleasure of attending an organizing meeting in the Triangle at which a remarkable group of volunteer neighborhood activists had come together – essentially out of nowhere – to commence the process of taking back their state and nation.

No national or state level organization had given them a directive to meet and yet, through the magic of social media, more than a hundred people showed up for a pair of back-to-back meetings on a Thursday night in the suburban living room of one of the volunteer event organizers. Their simple and straightforward plan:

We will take direct action to support progressive policy and politicians at the local and state levels. We will connect with organizations that are doing great work. We will turn ourselves into lean, mean activist machines who know the issues and know what to do about them.”

What was especially exciting and encouraging about this group was its recognition of the vital importance of state and local activism. While those in attendance understood that confronting and contesting every part of the Trump agenda at the national level is absolutely essential, they also got the fact that it’s at least as important for progressives to do something they’ve frequently ignored in the past – plunge into state-level politics and policy debates.

To this end, the group is forming teams to master the issues inside and out and preparing itself to lobby and organize for change – both locally and around the state.

And while cynics might dismiss such efforts because they emanate from a comparatively liberal region, reports from progressive allies indicate that similar efforts (all largely unprecedented) have been springing up all over North Carolina wherever people reject the Trumpist vision. This Saturday, marches will take place in at least nine North Carolina cities.

The path forward

Last Thursday, I urged the activists to whom I spoke to be prepared for the fact that things are going to be bad for a while. Trump and his allies in Congress (and here in the North Carolina General Assembly) will do a great deal of damage going forward, no matter how spirited the resistance.

I also told them, however, that things can and will turn around if caring and thinking people: a) batten down the hatches and prepare for a marathon battle, and b) inform themselves like never before about the issues and players and wade without fear into the “battle of ideas.”

To this latter end, NC Policy Watch will be releasing a series of news articles in the next couple of weeks under the heading “The Path Forward.” The stories (on topics like education, HB2, the environment and voting rights) will outline some of the key debates likely to take place in North Carolina policy and politics in 2017 and should serve as a valuable resource to those who want to participate in them.

So, stay tuned and in touch in the days ahead. With a new national nightmare commencing, it will be more important than ever to remain awake and as alert as possible for the battles to come.