While the nation has seen three straight weekends of passionate anti-Trump protests, activists throughout the United States are worried that these protests might be too easy to ignore, and are now calling for a nationwide strike in order to demonstrate just how many people disapprove of President Donald Trump and his growing number of controversial executive actions. Their hope is that the strike will bring government to its knees.
In a recent column in The Guardian, Francine Prose called for a “nonviolent national general strike.” She wrote: “Let’s designate a day on which no one (that is, anyone who can do so without being fired) goes to work, a day when no one shops or spends money, a day on which we truly make our economic and political power felt, a day when we make it clear: how many of us there are, how strong and committed we are, how much we can accomplish.”
That idea for a national strike has been gaining momentum on social media since, with activists setting Feb. 17 — the Friday before President’s Day — as the day for a #nationalstrike against the presidency of Donald Trump.
In order for this nationwide strike to be the least bit successful, white progressives must confront their own demons on race and make sure that this event – and the larger overall movement – is much more racially inclusive than they have been in the past and that racial justice issues are central to its platform. The problem remains that white progressive activists too often assume that people of color will fully support them, but they seldom give priority to the many different issues that people of color face.
In a recent viral photo, Angela Peoples wore a hat that read, “Stop Killing Black People,” and carried a sign that read, “White Women Voted for Trump” amidst a sea of white women at the massive Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21. She explained to The Root a common complaint of people of color about white activism: “It tells the story of white women in this moment wanting to just show up in a very superficial way and not wanting to do the hard work of making change, of challenging their own privilege,” she said. “You’re here protesting, but don’t forget: The folks that you live with every single day— and probably some of the women that decided to come to the march — voted for Trump, made the decision to vote against self-interests to maintain their white supremacist way of life.”
Peoples went on to say how much she and other black women that she talked to attending marches that day throughout the United States felt so alone in these spaces. Having attended the massive Women’s March in Madison on Jan. 21 and seeing the 75,000-100,000 people who amassed at the State Capitol that day, I can personally attest to the overall lack of racial diversity at such a historic event.
The elephant in the room is that progressives have a race problem. Representative Yvette Clarke, of Brooklyn, said this yesterday in an article in the New Republic: “I will tell you one of the things that I found most disheartening in the last election cycle was this implied distrust of communities of color. ‘We cannot vest any resources with you, but when we need you, you should be ready to be deployed,'” she said, summarizing the attitude. “We had the strategy on the ground already. We were just waiting for manna from heaven. It never showed up. And when it did, it was an insult. It was an insult. I don’t want to go through another election cycle like that.”
“As white liberals continue to plan this nationwide strike and, more importantly, how they are going to fight back long term in this weird, Trumpian world that we now exist in, they must take to heart certain facts with extreme urgency: People of color will become a majority of the American working class in 2032 and the majority of the overall U.S. population in 2043, according to the Census Bureau. Until white liberals begin to honestly and sincerely engage people of color, they will continue to meet the same dismal electoral fate. You can go ahead and start that engagement right here in white, liberal Madison where the racial segregation is stark and saddening and the racial disparities are amongst the worst in the nation.”
All of this does not bode well for the upcoming Feb. 17 national strike, the basic idea being that the entire working population, or at least a significant portion of it, stops work and engages in mass civil disobedience in order to paralyze the government – in effect, shutting society down until the objectionable policies are withdrawn.
It sounds like a good plan, but I’m trying to figure out how this will go down in real life in Wisconsin, for starters. Here in Madison, you would be shutting down a lot of great businesses – businesses that are socially conscious and very pro-worker and pro-living wage. By closing all of these businesses and restaurants, you would be punishing the people of Madison who went overwhelmingly against Trump in the election. Much worse, you’d be taking a day’s wage away from many lower-middle-class workers (and judging from Madison census and racial disparity data, disproportionately black and brown workers) who desperately cannot afford it. City and government workers and officials staying at home would be stressful on the low-income people of color, some of whom desperately need social work and/or health and human services. Madison’s many, many non-profits taking the day off – like the Urban League, Centro Hispano, Boys and Girls Club, Literacy Network, etc. – means that they are unable to serve constituents, a majority of whmo are people of color, in the excellent way that they do.
Do you see where I’m headed here? Who best can afford a day off of work? Middle-class and upper-class white Madison liberals.
Who will most definitely feel the pain? Low-income people of color.
People of color in Milwaukee, of course, will face the same problem as in Madison. Missing a day’s work for a Latino immigrant on Milwaukee’s south side working two or three jobs and living paycheck to paycheck is not a fun, social media day full of jokes and clever anti-Trump memes. And how much exactly will you shut down in Milwaukee? The white, suburban, conservative Trumpsters that surround Milwaukee in massive numbers and who consistently mobilize to out-vote the city in election after election will show up in double-force to make sure the day runs as smoothly as possible (See Chick-a-fila protests backfiring, for example).
Elsewhere across the state, four liberal activists will skip work in Sheboygan, two in Shawano, one in Hayward, and eight in Green Bay. In other words, things will run as usual.
What happens in Indiana, a state far more conservative than Wisconsin? Probably not much. What happens in the 18 states to the south of Indiana that are even more conservative? Probably even less.
What happens in Chicago? People who left Chicago to live in its dozens and dozens of suburbs for “lower taxes” and to get away from black and brown people … will they come out in force enough for one day to shut down Chicago? Will somebody not being able to get an $8 latte in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco or Austin for a day be enough to make Trump and his cabinet resign? Or even, at the very least, pause?
Here’s what will happen. Middle and upper-class white liberals will show off on Facebook on #nationalstrikeday. Working-class people of color, if they decide to risk their livelihoods and that of their children to join, will suffer. Safety pins are great, I guess, but what non-white, non-upper-class fighters in this struggle for social justice really need – besides consistent access to an actual seat at the table – is financial support and resources. Seldom do they get it.
As white liberals continue to plan this nationwide strike and, more importantly, how they are going to fight back long term in this contentious Trumpian world that we now exist in, they must take to heart certain facts with extreme urgency: People of color will become a majority of the American working class in 2032 and the majority of the overall U.S. population in 2043, according to the Census Bureau. Until white liberals begin to honestly and sincerely engage people of color, they will continue to meet the same dismal electoral fate. You can go ahead and start that engagement right here in white, liberal Madison where the racial segregation is stark and saddening and the racial disparities are amongst the worst in the nation.
A national strike sounds like fun for a lot of white people, but it is meaningless without the full support and participation of people of color. And if you don’t have the deep participation, support, and integration of people of color involved in the planning and the execution – including people of color at the top positions – then you might as well go ahead and cancel the strike right now. Without a well-planned, detailed, long-term plan that includes all races of Americans, a one-day strike is useless beyond giving middle and upper-class white people a chance to show out.
“If you’re going to plan an event to flex ‘people power’ while continuing to ignore a huge section of your people – people of color – then your national strike will be doomed to fail. ‘Cuz supercapitalism eats one-day disruptions for snacks.”
Because, in the end, Trump is carrying out the exact actions that he said he would during his presidential election campaign. Those protesting that he is a politician who keeps his promises are too late to the game. The real intense effort needed to be made (and wasn’t) before the election.
So now that the cat is out of the bag, a national general strike needs to be well thought out and well organized to have impact. It needs to be surgical and deep and cut-throat and ongoing. It can’t be hippie-dippy. More importantly, it must have core values of racial justice and inclusion instead of the usual white liberal lip service and tokenism. And it needs to be THE starting point for an all-inclusive movement that morphs into a long-term day-in, day-out general strike that calls on all of us (of ALL races) to live together, to support each other, to take care of each other, to nurture each other, and to work for each other. It must include substantial amounts of people of color and the overall acknowledgment that there are wildly different lived experiences between people of color and college-educated white liberals. And it has to be much, much, much more than just one day.
If you’re going to plan an event to flex enormous “people power” while continuing to ignore and disregard a huge section of your people – people of color – then your national strike will be doomed to fail. ‘Cuz supercapitalism eats one-day disruptions for snacks.