September 2019

Strike For Trump’s Resignation

For my family, friends, and neighbors, survival means standing up and saying that the rich and powerful cannot steal our democracy.

What would it take for you to strike and march to demand the president’s resignation? There are two senses in which the question is an important one. First, in the logistical sense and second, in the political.

If a strike to remove the president and his collaborators from office is to be successful, it must first address this question of logistics. What will it mean for you and millions of others to strike for democracy? What impact will this have on our ability to make a living and support our families? The most successful working-class movements in history have been able to answer that question above all others.

When enslaved men, women, and children overthrew their enslavers in the 1860s, they drew on existing networks of support they had developed both on plantation labor camps and that they had cultivated with the state. When mining, railroad, and factory workers struck in the 19th and 20th centuries for better working conditions, they mobilized resources through unions to make sure families had enough to eat. When teachers in West Virginia went on strike in February 2018, they not only mobilized resources to care for striking teachers and their families, but also sent food to students going hungry without access to school lunches.

Ticket to the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson. Johnson’s impeachment grew from a interracial mass movement to destroy the “Slave Power,” the elite moneyed interests undermining American democracy. Courtesy National Park Service.

Members of these movements stood up and said that the bosses, owners, and oligarchs could not have it all; that human life and labor is more precious than profits; and that living breathing people refuse to be treated like commodities. Their ability to mobilize resources was a key part of ensuring victory against their oppressors.

For me, striking would put my family’s well-being in jeopardy. We just moved halfway across the country and have little in the way of cash or support networks to help us weather a drawn out crisis. Nonetheless, I understand that the dangers of silence and inaction far outweigh the potential costs. For my family, friends, and neighbors, survival means standing up and saying that the rich and powerful cannot steal our democracy. It means demanding that equality must be more then a turn of phrase in our Constitution in order for us to have a livable future.

The president has repeatedly moved to suppress dissent and extend his power—and indeed even his presidency—indefinitely. This is why, for me, collective action is not optional. It is absolutely essential that we remove the authoritarian oligarchs and their collaborators from office. Failure to do so is to surrender our own well-being and that of our fellow citizens to a political system corrupted by an increasingly authoritarian Republican Party.

Textile workers demand higher wages on the picket line with their children in Lawrence, MA. “Strike in Lawrence,” 1912, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

The political sense of the question is equally important. What is the triggering mechanism beyond which the risk of hoping for a long-destroyed “status quo” outweighs the soothing allure of its siren song?

For me, this moment has long passed. Whether it was his well-documented history of racism, his clear authoritarian fantasies, or his long-established record of lying, theft, and fraud, Donald Trump has been dangerous and unfit for office since his days as a candidate.

Yet there is another, collective sense in which a triggering mechanism is required because to wage a one-person general strike is to practice vanity, not politics. The recent revelations that the president is again working to steal the 2020 election as he attempted to do in 2016, however, have created a situation in which many Independents, Democrats, and Leftists realize that waiting to vote him out of office presumes a free and fair election in ways that increasingly seem absurd. As the president continues to “joke” about violating the 22nd Amendment by running for a third term while calling the press the “enemy of the people,” we should understand that the stakes here far exceed the outcome of a single election.

Protester calling for Donald Trump’s impeachment. Paul Sableman,
“Stop the Ban Hatred Impeach Trump,” February 4, 2017, via Wikimedia Commons.

If we do not stand together and declare with one voice that the president and his collaborators are not above the law, we could very easily see the death of democracy. Unfortunately, we have seen similar anti-democratic movements succeed before. White supremacist oligarchs destroyed African American movements for equality in the 1870s, 1890s, 1920s, and 1940s, and with them, the interracial coalitions that formed around them and even our country’s birthright as a democracy.

History is not linear and we can be dragged backwards by a takeover of the state by violent extremists now as we were then.

As a historian, this antidemocratic possibility is my greatest fear, and so I have to ask, “What would it take for you to strike and march for Trump’s resignation?” and “what can I do to help?”

William Horne, Co-Founder and Editor of The Activist History Review, is an Arthur J. Ennis Postdoctoral Fellow at Villanova University who writes about the relationship of race to labor, freedom, disability, and capitalism in post-Civil War Louisiana. He is a former high school teacher, barista, and warehouse worker and is an avid home gardener. He holds a PhD in History from The George Washington University and can be followed on Twitter at @wihorne.

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