Professor Gurminder Bhambra on how taking the Haitian revolution seriously would enable us to transform our understandings of democracy in the present
There is no alternative, or is there? The historic experiment of the left-wing government in Portugal
Following elections in October 2015, António Costa formed a government in Portugal that included the support of some of the country’s radical left parties. Marco Lisi assesses how the government has performed since it took power. He argues that while the government has not achieved everything it set out to do, the successes that have been achieved in office illustrate that radical left and centre-left parties can form an effective alternative to parties on the right of the political spectrum.
What the Women’s March on Washington can learn from Black Lives Matter
Time Magazine’s February 2017 cover will feature the Women’s March on Washington (WMoW), with the caption, “The Resistance Rises: How a March Becomes a Movement”.
The WMoW has rapidly become an umbrella protest for a variety of causes, and now shows signs of becoming a movement not just for protest, but to advance women’s rights and effect policy changes. But successful social movements don’t effect change simply via polite organised marches in Washington; they disrupt the status quo and pressure lawmakers into making changes with real consequences. And unlike certain other movements at work in the US today, the WMoW marchers are in a privileged position to make this happen.
After the WMoW on January 21, President Trump took to Twitter to demonstrate his approval: “Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don’t always agree, I recognise the rights of people to express their views.” This is in stark contrast to Trump’s statements about Black Lives Matter (BLM).
Just before the election, he singled out a BLM protester at one of his rallies and said he should be “roughed up”. He has called the movement divisive. His new administration has added a new page to the White House website entitled Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community which states:
The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it … Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter.
Many in the BLM movement have read this as a threat to protesters. So why the apparent double standard?
One obvious explanation is that the women’s marchers were, in Trump’s terminology, “peaceful” – no clashes between police and protesters, no violence, no rioting or looting. Indeed, many who supported the WMoW took to social media the next day to pat themselves on the back for executing a peaceful protest during which no-one was arrested.
But unsurprisingly, many BLM activists argued that white privilege played a major role in how the protest was perceived by the public and handled by the police. The Washington march itself was attended overwhelmingly by white women and was far less radical in tone than a BLM march despite their common goals.
Clearly, the two movements are disconnected. Two viral photos from the WMoW demonstrate the distance between them.
This image of Angela Peoples has received widespread attention. It’s a fair point: 53% of white women in America voted for Trump, and while the estimated 500,000 women protesting in Washington most likely didn’t, most of their peers did.
In this second photo, protester Amir Talai draws attention to the divisions between WMoW organisers and attendees about the role of race in the protest. As some women of colour began criticising their white allies, they started to make them feel alienated from the cause – and the sometimes heated dialogue between white women and women of colour on the WMoW Facebook page is testament to the tensions that persist.
While the WMoW’s white protesters are willing to accept women of colour in support of their cause, many aren’t willing to return the favour by supporting BLM: only 51% of white Americans aged 18-30 support BLM, and far fewer actually show up at protests.
It would be a huge wasted opportunity if these movements couldn’t bridge the gap between them. We should expect more and more protests during the Trump Administration, and the time is right for action.
Clearly, WMoW has something to learn from BLM. Here are five core lessons.
1. Be inclusive
The WMoW must be inclusive of all women, regardless of race, class, religion, age, political beliefs, sexuality, or their possession of a vagina (yes, trans women are part of this movement too). BLM has done this very well: spearheaded by LGBT women, many of the movement’s leaders are to this day young, queer, and trans women of colour. If the WMoW wants to succeed as a movement, it will have to live up to that standard.
2. Act local
The key to mobilising a movement beyond one march is to organise self-sustaining sub-groups across the country. This will include local organisations coming together under the banner of one name, whether the WMoW, the “Resistance” or something else. It also means lobbying local and state politicians. Activists can do this by asking their mayors to designate their cities as sanctuary cities for immigrants, or by calling state representatives to oppose legislation that would limit women’s reproductive health options.
3. Be political, but not partisan
BLM has deliberately represented itself as “revolutionary” in political orientation, often supporting left-wing candidates but not aligning itself with a particular political party. That helps it push candidates harder. From before the primaries even began in early 2016, its protesters were highly visible throughout the campaign, making their demands a constant issue. If the WMoW wants to match its power, it will have to step away from partisan alignment and push policy demands across the spectrum – especially once the 2018 midterm elections start to ramp up.
4. Civil disobedience works
A variety of nonviolent civil disobedience and peaceful protests must be used to have the greatest effect. Civil Rights campaigners in the 1960s used civil disobedience to resist Jim Crow segregation by sitting at whites-only lunch counters, resisting efforts to remove them; today, BLM protesters have taken to stopping traffic on busy highways. In short, peaceful protests are fantastic for bringing awareness to a problem, but they don’t disrupt the status quo or bring pressure on lawmakers to make changes.
5. Keep going
Angela Peoples’ photo speaks a very particular truth: many of these white middle-class American cisgender women are new to protest politics. That is not a bad thing – but if the WMoW is going to effectively challenge the Trump Administration and Congress on women’s rights, they are going to have to keep showing up. Even when they don’t feel like it. Even when it’s inconvenient. Even when they might get arrested for civil disobedience. Successful social movements are not all sunshine and “pussyhats”; much of the work is tedious, tiresome, and thankless.
BLM protesters understand this. They show up day in and day out to have their voices heard. The Resistance, or whatever we’re calling it, will have to do that, too.
Protesting Trump: how to make it work, how to make it last
The protests that have erupted since Donald Trump’s most recent executive order was signed have been impressive. They were quickly organised and continue to be large in scale. But there is a long road ahead. So how can those opposed to Trump’s policies continue to pile on the pressure?
The latest opposition to Trump’s policies began with airport protests and quickly spread to include city centre demonstrations across the United States from New York to Washington, Los Angeles to Dallas. Then came events in the UK, largely aimed at pushing the government into unambiguously denouncing Trump’s new immigration policy.
The rapidity with which the protests came together in part reflects the increased frequency of these kinds of demonstrations during the so-called “age of austerity”. A growing proportion of the population is becoming familiar with demonstrations in public spaces as a way of sending a message to those in power. Governments have become increasingly unable or unwilling to meet the welfare demands of their citizens, who as a result have sought new and more disruptive ways to ensure their voice is heard.
Once mobilised, the longevity of protest movements are often determined by both the responses of those in power, and the subsequent further responses of the protesters. For those in power, the question is whether, and how, to respond. Should this involve repression, concessions or control of the media narrative? Once one or more of these strategies begins to succeed in containing protest movements, then the momentum of those movements starts to dwindle.
And while the appearance of success for a protest movement tends to result in a gathering of momentum, the sense that it has exhausted itself, or achieved all that it is able to, tends to result in its gradual demise.
Perhaps one of the biggest lessons that we have learned during the so-called “age of austerity” is that for protest movements to maintain momentum they need to continuously innovate. They need to find new ways in which to disrupt the containment strategies of those in power.
This raises the question of whether we should consider the recent anti-Trump protests to have been so far successful, and why.
Trump shows little sign of wavering as a result of the protests, but he has undoubtedly been pushed onto the defensive. He has denied that the ban on the entry of the nationals of the seven Muslim-majority countries was at all a Muslim ban, and reversed an initial ban on those with green cards.
The protest movement has also obviously resulted in a massive politicisation of the issue, creating a more receptive climate for the multiple legal challenges of the executive order. It has also clearly put pressure upon international leaders to condemn the policy.
Keeping it disruptive
In terms of impact, research also suggests that, in a context in which those in power are unreceptive or unresponsive, it is the more disruptive forms of protest that are more likely to have an effect on policy outcomes. So a key factor in determining the longevity and success of the anti-Trump protest movement will be the degree to which it can disrupt both the functioning of the administration and its media narrative. This also needs to be done in a way that seeks to minimise the scope for repression, or the further marginalisation of minorities.
Perhaps one of the reasons that the airport-based protests have so far been relatively successful, therefore, is that they have been disruptive. In practical terms, they have frustrated travel operations, and provided solidarity for those targeted by the ban, but they have also worked to shift the media discourse away from what would otherwise be the more controlled messages of the White House.
The protesters also seem to be enjoying the support of the general public and international leaders. It therefore remains relatively difficult (but clearly not impossible) for more directly repressive measures to be deployed, especially in response to what are ostensibly innocuous activities, such as gathering at an airport.
If and when Trump is able to get more control over the media narrative, however, to decry the actions of protesters as a threat to the security of “ordinary” US citizens, the tables could turn. At this point, there will be a greater risk of repressive measures being taken.
Especially important, therefore, is for protesters to avoid succumbing to governing strategies that divide “good” (legitimate) protesters from “bad” protesters. If Trump can succeed in depicting that latter as a threat to public safety, he can legitimise the use of repressive measures against them.
What is important in the coming weeks, months and years of contesting Trump is to continue to find new ways to disrupt both the practical operation of the Trump administration, and its media narrative. These protests will also need to continue to attract sufficient numbers, and to maintain the degree of unity necessary to minimise the administration’s ability to marginalise those who are expressing dissent.
Pussyhat power – the feminist protesters crafting resistance to Trump and his supporters
The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 21, millions rallied together across the world in a series of Women’s Marches intended to demonstrate solidarity with other women, and promote issues of gender equality in the face of the new Trump administration’s regressive politics.
Among the many images that resonated from the marches were the pussyhats which became the protest’s informal symbol. Simply knitted, brightly coloured, and reclaiming the language of one of Trump’s more heinous campaign controversies, pussyhats were handcrafted by participants to “create a collective visual statement and help activists be better heard”. This statement was arguably so effective that one week on from the protests, Time Magazine has chosen to feature the pussyhat on its front cover.
On seeing these crafty symbols of resistance, one of Trump’s aides questioned whether the hats were made in America or foreign imports, belying a scepticism both of the protesters’ authenticity, and of the very notion of the handcrafted.
But as Abbysyarns on Buzzfeed Community noted, and as anyone who crafts themselves will tell you, it is obvious from their imperfections that these lumpy and hastily-knitted hats were (hand)made locally in America – and in the other countries where protests took place. As the online comments using the community #pussyhat hashtag highlight, they were knitted and crocheted by hands furious for an outlet, and eager for a tangible way to channel their anger at the divisive politics Trump and his supporters embody.
In fact, it is not surprising that a handcrafted object would become central to a protest movement like the Women’s March. Craft has long been used to make political statements. Rozsika Parker, for example, has written about how second-wave feminist artists in the 1970s chose embroidery as the “perfect medium to give form to consciousness-raising”, and the last decade saw knitting resurge in popularity, as it was reclaimed from its grandmotherly image and transformed into a subversive craft regularly deployed for political purposes.
Stitch ‘n’ Bitch
Third-wave feminist and Bust Magazine editor Debbie Stoller led this subversive knitting trend, with the publication of her Stitch ‘n’ Bitch knitting manual, calling for a new generation of knitters to “take back the knit”.
There has been considerable scholarly attention to this type of contemporary knitting with feminist authors exploring knitting’s “craftivism” through practices like yarn bombing, knitting prosthetic breasts for mastectomy patients, and knitathons. These activities can build crafting communities which can function as sites of resistance to injustice and inequality. It is here that the PussyHat Project arguably connects.
Craft is also a slow process, and in submitting to this temporality and engaging in intentional processes of making as in the PussyHat Project, we give ourselves space to consider our position on big social or political questions, and to consider how we might each contribute to creating more resilient communities. Crafts like knitting offer the opportunity to engage with questions of global political significance in a tangible way. As Betsy Greer who coined the term “craftivism” said, “the creation of things by hand leads to a better understanding of democracy, because it reminds us that we have power”.
It’s also important to note how powerful and transformative its effects can be at the individual level. There’s a growing body of research which highlights the ways in which craft can be a powerful tool for individual mental and physical health. The WellMaking project at Falmouth University, for example, focused on the ways that craft can help people connect and reflect in therapeutic ways. A recent study by the Women’s Institute in the UK found that craft has a positive benefit on mental health. And my own research into what I call the “digital dressmaking community” has found that for many “digital dressmakers”, sewing offers an important space for being kind to ourselves and practising self-care.
But craftivism also enables us to reflect on broader questions about the very place and power of craft itself. Fiona Hackney’s work, for example, and my own research on the revival of home dressmaking, have both explored the ways in which acts of craftivism may allow for a feminist reclaiming of traditionally feminine skills. This exemplifies craftivism’s power: it offers the space to advocate for social change in a gentle way, while presenting a radical opportunity to question the meanings we associate with certain practices.
A common criticism of these revived craft practices is that they distract from supposedly “real” political issues, and that they are simply a form of “cupcake feminism”. This is arguably why the sight of pussyhats in the Women’s March was so powerful: that traditionally “feminine” crafts, which have been viewed as antithetical to radical/feminist action, are being deployed precisely for such aims. In these times of dark political shifts and considerable global anxiety, that the Women’s March participants would choose to turn to craft to send a message to Trump and his allies seems to be entirely appropriate.
The manuscript that accompanies these talks can be found here: https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/1131-the-anti-inauguration