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We don’t need Clinton to go ‘onward together’. Fight Trump in other ways

Onward Together, Hillary Clinton’s new political organization, seeks to capitalise upon widespread opposition to the Trump administration. In announcing the group on Monday, Clinton described a vision of a clearing house for coordinating millions of people participating in protests, fundraising, and campaigning. In other words, it’s the latest attempt to corral mass direct action into avenues that are acceptable to the Democratic party.

But Onward Together threatens to dampen efforts at building solidarity and counter-power nationwide. Partially that’s because of the likelihood the organisation will exert rightward ideological pressure on wayward Democratic candidates. Mainly, though, the threat lies in the fact that it is helmed by a politician who rejects politics.

Clinton, like most prominent Democrats, is committed to a centrist and technocratic vision of leadership. On this view, politics – full of disagreement, confrontation and uncertainty – is something best avoided, or contained through triangulation and tacking to the right. Clinton’s philosophy is not one of making demands and using popular pressure to pursue them. And yet that is the very philosophy that has been vindicated since the election. Earlier this year, mass direct action, aimed at using popular pressure to secure unambiguous demands, produced the first significant victory in the fight against Trump: rapid and massive airport protests made judicial action against Trump’s Islamophobic travel ban all but unavoidable.

Meanwhile, the growth of community defence organising is renewing and strengthening solidarity in cities nationwide. Mass mobilisations such as the Women’s and People’s Climate Marches have made it clear that popular concerns have been unheard and unrepresented by national institutions. Large numbers of people are discovering that building solidarity, mass action, and challenging power are the essential stuff of politics. They are not waiting for the 2018 elections.

The current moment is a rare opportunity for mass struggle. Widespread disgust and outrage at the administration’s policies have played their part in getting people on the streets, but so have the fecklessness and inconsistency with which national Democrats have played the roles of members of an opposition party. Instead of decrying the manifest injustices of unequal access to healthcare, too many congressional Democrats have joined Republicans in regarding healthcare as a commodity and not a public good. Instead of insisting on the dignity and safety of any and all people inside the country’s borders, too many Democrats have objected to Trump’s call for a border wall on cost grounds.

Onward Together’s website cynically alludes to recent mass actions, but it should be remembered that these were not the products of Democratic leadership. Nor have we heard prominent Democrats calling for the dismissal of felony riot charges for protesters swept up in mass arrests during demonstrations against Trump’s inauguration. Clinton has not joined in the blockades of Immigration and Customs Enforcement vehicles and detention centers. Democratic politicians have been more eager to defend authoritarian institutions like the FBI than to call for anti-racist action against white supremacy.

The Democrats remain the party of centrism and managerialism in American politics. They are not – and will not be – the representatives of popular discontent. Entrusting a Democratic operation like Onward Together with influence over collective action could only serve to blunt its radicalism. Of the goals and projects that Clinton listed on Monday, most were connected either to the 2018 midterms or to fundraising. It’s clear that Onward Together will mainly be an electioneering tool for the Democrats. But staking the project of fighting Trump, and all he represents, on the electoral fortunes of the Democratic party would be a profound mistake, no matter how vulnerable he may appear to be.

In 2016, Clinton’s campaign rhetoric ceaselessly invoked themes of unity, and traded on the idea that widespread agreement on the issues at stake was both necessary and possible. She insisted on attempting to woo Republican voters by characterizing Trump as a unique danger. But authoritarianism, racism and xenophobic nationalism are all tightly braided into American political history; Trump did not conjure them into being by himself. We must not allow ourselves to believe that such oppressions can be combated at the polls, nor that an end to Trump’s power would mean an end to the government’s brutalisation of people of colour, the poor and the undocumented. No election outcome in 2018 or 2020 will be sufficient to accomplish that.

Fortunately, other tools are available for us to use, and we don’t need Clinton’s help to use them. Direct action has demonstrated its use in resisting Trump, and it is needed all the more in the continuing struggles against domination and exploitation. It is by making demands, putting pressure on institutions, and making ourselves heard in the streets that we will continue the fight – not by giving money to the Democratic party.

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