Skip to content

Movements, Moments and Co-optation: Autonomous Resistance to Government Policies

February 1, 2017

We are beginning to see the repressive policies that the new administration is beginning to implement. From the push to further militarize the US border with Mexico to the ban on Muslims coming from select countries.

In writing about the Kent County Airport Action in support of Immigrants, Refugees and Muslims this past Sunday, I mentioned that someone with the Democratic Party attempted to co-op the action by; 1) meeting with airport authorities to create a protest zone on their own and ; 2) by attempting to police the behavior of those marching in the road. 9781608461929-f_medium-d2b547b6d952e9f23660f36014c376c6

This type of cooptation is not new, but it is something that those of us who seek justice should be aware of and work to counter its affects.

Radical and autonomous social movements have always been impacted by elements attempting to coop their agenda and goals. In Lance Selfa’s important book, The Democrats: A Critical History, he devotes a whole chapter (chapter 4) on how the Democratic Party has coopted social movements in the 20th century.

Other writers, such as John Stauber, have focused on partisan front groups like MoveOn, which have played a major role in coopting social movements since early 2003. One example that Stauber has documented was during the US occupation of Iraq and how MoveOn was really not calling for an end of the war/occupation.

One last example worth mentioning is what the Democrats did during the Occupy Wall Street movement, by coopting the language and vision of what that movement was attempting to accomplish in cities all across the country. 

Let’s face it, political parties are interested in gaining power through elections. When political parties have power, they want to maintain it, when they don’t have power, they want to regain it.

Co-optation Right Nowscreen-shot-2017-01-31-at-2-09-14-pm

A current effort to co-opt the growing forces against the Trump administration policies has shown up in West Michigan in recent weeks. The Facebook group calls themselves Indivisible West Michigan.

Indivisible West Michigan is one of many chapters across the US that is using a guide called, Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda. This guide is essentially a mechanism to try to engage elected officials by crafting messages, meeting with members of Congress, co-ordinating phone call campaigns and setting up Town Hall meetings. While these things aren’t necessary bad, what the Invisible guide is suggesting is that we just need to be better organized so we can convince members of Congress to do the right thing. This comes as no surprise, since the entire guide was written by former Congressional staffers. 

This is not to say that the tactic of attempting to move elected officials on social policy is completely useless, but if we really want to look at tactics and strategies that will actually resist the policies of the US government, attempting to lobby Congress is an extremely weak tactic.

Looking at the former Congressional staffers who actually put together the Indivisible Guide should also tell us something about what it is they want for the future.

Ezra Levin – Ezra works for the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) as an Associate Director of Government Affairs. The CFED’s mission states in part, “We scale innovative practical solutions that empower low- and moderate-income people to build wealth.” Their Institutional Funders reads like a who’s who of corporate America, with companies like Chase Bank, Cargill, Charles Schwab and Wells Fargo. 

Leah Greenberg – Leah is an investments manager with Humanity United. Humanity United’s vision page has lots of nice words and uses images of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, but it was founded by one of the wealthiest men on the planet, the founder of ebay, Pierre Omidyar. 

Angel Padilla – Angel works with the National Immigration Law Center, specifically as a Health Policy Analyst.

Sarah Dohl – Sarah is currently the Vice President of Communications for Junior Achievement.

Matthew Traldi – Matthew is the Research Team Director for the SEIU – the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU has a long history of allegiance to the Democratic Party.

The profiles of these individuals don’t exactly inspire the kind of movements we need to resist the current government agenda.

The Need for Autonomous and Independent Movementssolidaritywithstandingrockdefendtheland

Throughout US history, grassroots social justice movements that have been effective, have primarily remained autonomous from partisan politics. Think of the Abolitionist movement, the radical labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th century, the Black Freedom movement and movements like the American Indian Movement or the South African Anti-Apartheid movement. These movements were effective, in large part, because of their autonomy from partisan politics and their use of strategies that relied on direct action and pre-figurative politics

We are in a moment right now that needs independent and autonomous movements, movements that are not swayed by partisan politics or the influences of money. These independent and autonomous movements should be centered around the screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-3-47-56-pmstruggles of people who are the most vulnerable in this society. We need to look to the Black Lives Matter movement, the Idol No More movement, the immigrant rights movement, the various movements for economic justice and anti-capitalist movements, the BDS movement, the new Sanctuary movement and the climate justice movement.

With these existing movements and whatever new ones will be created we can build power from below that does not rely on existing systems of power and oppression and actually resist the current government agenda.

%d bloggers like this: