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Beyond Impeachment: From Solidarity to Movement Building and Radical Imagination

December 23, 2019

Ever since it was announced that Nancy Pelosi would pursue impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump, this news has dominated much of the commercial media coverage and the interest within liberal circles.

Let me say that I believe that Trump should be impeached and that his administration has not only violated numerous domestic and international laws, the policies under the Trump administration have caused tremendous harm……harm to immigrants, refugees, the black community, the latinx community, indigenous communities, the LGBTQ community, women and the disability community.

Mehdi Hasan, who writes for the Intercept, has laid out a long list of reasons that Trump should be impeached in his article, The A to Z of Things Trump Could and Should Have Been Impeached For

However, even if Donald Trump is impeached, it will not move us in the direction of dismantling systems of oppression, corruption and violence, systems which got Trump elected in the first place. The brilliant Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, articles this sentiment, in the meme here on the right.

The system that produced the election of Donald Trump, is a complex and intertwining systems of systems, such as, 1) the US political system, which is so dominated by private money, corporate money and lobbyists, that few politicians can actually represent the interests of the communities they represent; 2) a commercial media system which is not only subservient to its owners, but treats journalism as a spectacle that is driven by advertising dollars and is rarely interested in holding systems of power accountable; 3) the system of White Supremacy, which permeates all institutions in the US and does not allow communities of color to threaten the wealth, land and other assets that are almost exclusively owned and controlled by white people; and 4) the system of capitalism, which also permeates all sectors of US society, constantly re-directing wealth upward and smashing any efforts from people to engaging in radically imagining life in ways that do not include the profit motive.

These systems (and their are many more) are wreaking havoc on the planet in the form of imperialist wars, settler colonialism, climate disaster, gentrification, mass incarceration and an increasingly larger wealth gap.

If Trump is impeached, these systems will still to function and will not miss a beat. So, what is problematic about our obsession (to us Arundhati’s description) with just getting Trump impeached or defeated in the 2020 election?

There are numerous problems with our failure to have a systems analysis of the current state of affairs. I want to explore three of those failures:

  • putting our faith into a political system that has demonstrated over and over again that it is not interested in challenging systems of power and oppression.
  • not addressing the consequences/harm of the existing systems of power and oppression, and
  • not focusing our energy on direct action, movement building and radical imagination.

Giving our power away

Putting our faith in the current political system means we ultimately give away our power. When was the last time you attended a Kent County Commission meeting, a Grand Rapids City Commission meeting or a Grand Rapids School Board meeting? These elected bodies often do most of their decision-making in secret or in committee meetings that the public rarely attends. At the public meetings, they often feel like an exercise in bureaucracy, where elected officials formally vote on agenda items that were already decided up at an earlier meeting. The public does get an opportunity to speak, but the 3 minutes they are granted is met with silence, since these government bodies do not participate in dialogue at these meetings, leaving one feeling as if their participation was ineffectual. At the state and federal level, the access to politicians is further diminished, unless of course you contribute handsomely to their campaigns or have lobbying groups that have deep pockets.

Electoral politics has all shifted to the right since the Reagan years, with Democratic Party administrations acting as one branch of the Capitalist Party. Think about many of the major policies adopted by the Clinton and Obama administrations, such as expanding the police state, making the prison industrial complex a growth industry, removing social welfare support for working class people, implementing NAFTA & CAFTA, punishing the undocumented community, continuing the racist war on drugs, bailing out Wall Street, expanding the Military Industrial Complex and paying lip service to environmental concerns while allowing the fossil fuel industry to destroy the planet. This system will remain after Trump is impeached and there is no indication that either party will take seriously matters like climate catastrophe, gentrification, an end to oil pipelines, dismantling the prison industrial complex or ending the detention and deportation of immigrants.

Addressing the harm done by these systems

Humans and other species suffer the harm of these systems of power and oppression on a daily basis. Instead of just voting, we need to spend more time and energy on reducing and ending the harm being caused. How many people suffer under mass incarceration? The US has the largest percentage of its population in jail, prison, on parole or probation that any other country on the planet. Most people are charged with non-violent crimes, yet they are often subjected to the violence of the prison industrial complex. What if we spent less money on policing and punishing and more on education, health care and housing that gives people the dignity they deserve? This is what good community organizers do, they work on addressing the harm that the system causes and then provides people with the opportunities to collectively organize to demand more.

From Solidarity to Movement Building and Radical Imagination

This type of organizing is an act of solidarity, not charity. It sees the inherent value in every person and then takes direct action to create the kind of change we want to see in the world. Direct Action means we use our collective power to get the results we want to see in the world. It’s one thing to be concerned about affordable housing, but direct action would mean that we provide hospitality for those who are homeless, create tenant unions, re-direct government subsidies that normally go to developers and give them directly to families and communities most affected by gentrification.

A concrete example of solidarity that has moved towards movement building is the work of Movimiento Cosecha and GR Rapid Response to ICE. These autonomous movements begin with the premise that all immigrants should have dignity, respect and be given permanent protection from arrest, detention and deportation. These movements to not wait for politicians to create immigration policy that is just and fair, they take matters into their own hands to provide mutual aid to immigrants who are being harmed by government agents, they organize those most affected by racist anti-immigration policies to fight for what they need (like driver’s licenses) and the directly confront the systems of oppression like ICE, law enforcement agencies that collaborate with ICE or companies that profit from the harm done to immigrants.

People often see the marches, the protests or disruptions these groups engage in, but they don’t see the amount of time that goes into creating a movement culture, where people are equal, where people are heard, where everyone has a say and where we look at for each other. In addition, movement culture also creates space for radical imagination to take place. This means that people are encouraged to imagine that another world is possible and to create practices and structures that are not limited to representative democracy or the non-profit industrial complex.

Another world is indeed possible, but this requires us to stop limiting ourselves to thinking that the current political system works or that by simply voting someone into office or impeaching someone out of office that it will result in the kind of collective liberation we need. As long as the political system that gave us Donald Trump is allowed to continue, we are not likely to have a future worth fighting for.

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