Revolutionaries “must love America enough to change it.” —James Boggs
As Donald Trump takes office, his rhetoric on making America great again will likely take center stage. And he might be right about one thing: The United States of America does need to make a change. But Trump’s vision is headed backward.
Luckily, Trump’s vision of change for the U.S. is not the only option we have. What matters most right now is embracing creative, forward leadership. Here are some powerful ways that we can combat Trump’s tweetable, autocratic messaging right now.
Although many people voted for Trump, he does not speak for the majority of citizens. Trump did not win the popular vote, and a majority of citizens can keep choosing to create a different vision for America. When Trump sells America to the highest bidder, we the people can build another vision of hope and inclusion. When Trump stokes hatred and fear, we the people can turn to one another, including toward folks stuck in aggression and apathy, with kindness and curiosity. And when Trump, in his rhetoric, hopes that we won’t notice as he tries to recraft the American story to fit his personal ambitions, we the people can choose a more just, freer future for everyone.
To do all of this, we need to prepare to dig even deeper into compassion. We have to remember that love trumps hate, not because a positive outlook is a weapon against state power but because transformative love compels us to change the world to reflect the vibrancy, courage and nurturance of our love.
Hate can fuel our anger, but it produces an anger that also burns us up with the hate. Love meets injustice with both righteous indignation and also with understanding. Love fosters an anger that compels us to change the world, not merely burn it down. It is only when we dare to assert that we deserve to be loved and that what we are being given is not love that we start to dismantle the systems that thwart our growth and start to build something better.
Right now we can also remember that Trump’s inauguration comes days after MLK Day. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. keenly understood the need to show our love for the United States with radical acts of disruption against militarism, racism and materialism. King knew that the only way to achieve his dream of the beloved community was by abolishing the structures that perpetuate oppression and shackle the human spirit and by allowing that human spirit to transform the country.
King knew that there is a spirit of America that exists beyond the platitudes of politics, across the division and chaos maintained by war, and beyond the limitations of capitalist markets. King saw an America beyond the Fourth of July, beyond remaking some imaginary greatness and beyond the blind support of endless war. He gave voice to a shared spirit of love, of resistance, of self-determination, of community and of radical freedom.
To choose forward change, we also need to remember the shared spirit we come from. It is the spirit of community and radical hospitality that led the indigenous people of this continent to support waves of dispossessed Europeans who arrived starving on the shores of our country. It is the spirit of freedom embodied by the revolutionaries who did not want some king in England telling them how to live their lives. It is the spirit of runaway enslaved people who refused the indignities of enslavement, survived long and difficult journeys, and built communities in faraway places, and whose dangerous paths to liberation embodied the true spirit of “Live free or die.”
It is the spirit of the waves of immigrants from famine, war and persecution who have come to our shores determined to come together and organize to build a better life for their communities.
And to choose creative change, we need to deeply acknowledge what we are made of. We cannot create change without facing what truly exists. In order to build an America that can hold, support and nurture ALL OF US, we must have the courage to love the Amerikkka we live in now. And then be willing to change it together.
We as a people have to recognize that despite the promise of our great spirit, there is something profoundly wrong with the United States. There is a deep unsettled feeling that gnaws at the edges of the U.S. consciousness. For some, that feeling is a whisper that despite the assurances of President Barack Obama and the Democrats, things have not really gotten better for them or anyone they know. They have been downsized, laid off and disregarded. We all work more hours for less satisfaction, with fewer protections and less faith that we will still have a job tomorrow.
For others, that feeling is a question of when “America” was ever great for black people, women, queer folk, immigrants, people of color, religious minorities or people with disabilities. When the same Republicans, who for years have promised a smaller government, have also invaded our homes, our communities and women’s wombs with their moral legislation, right-to-work laws or militarized policing, we find it hard to believe that we are part of the “America” they want to return to glory.
That’s because that nation never existed. The United States has never been a perfect country and has never been full of perfect people. The murder and eradication of Native people, the enslavement of African people and the constant displacement of poor people and immigrants are all inescapable parts of our history.
They are, sadly, fundamental to the American story.
Yet our mistakes, as grave, devastating and impactful as they have been, are not the whole of who we are, or who we can be. There is an unfinished American project, the real promise of America, of a place where the wounds of history can be healed by restorative acts of justice and reparation so that we can, together, build a society in which each individual and community can be fully powerful. We can build a world in which our differences are seen as strengths and our vision for a brighter future pulls us forward so that we are no longer compelled by the pain of the past.
This America—this borderless vision of a truly new world that is humbled by the scars of the past and yet looks courageously toward a future more livable, more whole, and more infused with the realities of freedom and vibrancy of community—is a dream worth fighting for.
It is an America worth building. It is an America in which our freedoms are not abstract readings of centuries-old documents, but fully lived and embodied in everyday life.
It is an America in which every resident has economic, political, spiritual, physical and sexual self-determination to pursue his or her own happiness while being supported by community.
It is an America that knows that “good fences” make neighbors who can’t talk to one another or support one another in times of need, who are blocked out from one another and trapped within.
It is an America that knows it can neither escape nor wallow in its past. It is an America that knows that no war can bring the peace we seek.
It is an America in which being black is not a death sentence. And it’s an America that does not end at the imaginative borders of the United States, but accepts the shared history of imperialism across the Americas and embraces the shared reality of global community and global healing.
These past few years have seen uprisings and rebellions burning in the cities that never healed from the fire last time. These are the same black ghettos where the promise of “America,” the check that Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of cashing, has bounced because of insufficient political will. We have seen black people go from slavery to “freedom” to sharecropping, and again from segregated towns to integrated schools and straight to segregated prisons. This is the cycle of dispossession, emancipation and bondage, which black people have always committed to memory in our freedom songs.
As always, black people—especially black women—have been the canaries of our so-called democracy.
All of the Americas, whether in the streets of Flint, Mich., or the favelas of Sao Paulo, are caught in what King called a web of mutuality in which the plight of black and indigenous people is merely the deep foreboding of what awaits the rest of society. The deep insecurity and community collapse that befell the black community because of “trickle-down economics,” neoliberal school reform and the war on drugs from the era of President Ronald Reagan and the Chicago Boys are now the reality of all the Americas.
From the brutal austerity cuts in Brazil to the plight of higher education in Chile and the heroin crisis in suburban white USA, our public institutions and the fabrics of everyone’s communities have been stretched to the point of completely unraveling. Even the white middle-class communities that are normalized in the U.S. are being torn apart by the isolation of whiteness, the alienation of capitalism and the violence of patriarchy, while communities of color, especially black communities, are being displaced, erased and disposed of.
We have been sold a story that capitalism and liberalism are the same as freedom, yet we experience the same surveillance state and cold politics of fear and isolation that U.S. propaganda would have us believe was reserved for “the great enemy” in Soviet communism. The plight of unsteady employment, deep debt and rising rents in terrible conditions that have long been staples of the black Diaspora are now the norm across both Americas. Similarly, the precarious work of service and independent contracting that has long been the plight of women of color is now a standard of the gig economy.
We have dealt with elections being meddled with by a foreign nation’s strongmen rising to power and by leaders who are aligned with a particular superpower despite the popular opinion being against these types of alliances. While the U.S. may be more used to subjecting the world to its whims than to being subject to anyone else’s agenda, we also need to realize that we are just another nation in the world and vulnerable to world trends of abuses of power.
We are one of many countries in the Americas, and we aren’t always that different from our neighbors. This recognition will not lead to the U.S. being “taken down a notch” but, rather, unmasks the egoism that drives American exceptionalism and Western imperialism. The equality of nations does mean we are not special, but only in the sense that our uniqueness is not a justification for setting the world agenda and perpetrating the same crimes on others that we have also suffered.
We all, from Washington to Brasília, live in a time of political realignment in which the established political powers—out of touch, selfish, stuck in ideologies of the past, and corrupted by money and power—are obviously unfit to lead us into a new era. Whether we are promised hope and change or a return to a long-lost greatness, all we receive is endless war, endless debt and the growing animosity of the rest of the world. Our political leaders are much more interested in managing crises than in preventing them.
We live in a time of devastating inequality in which everyone is simultaneously middle class and has the latest cellphone while living paycheck to paycheck, buried in debt, lonely and scared for their children’s futures. Years of rugged individualism and pulling ourselves up by our nonexistent bootstraps have left us outside of real community, forced to face our challenges alone.
The alienation, isolation and heartbreak of our globalized market society—where everything is private except for our anger—is killing us just as surely as the destruction of the environment, the hunger of inequality, the genocide of black and indigenous peoples, and endless war. The force of domination that is limiting our natural liberty is simultaneously material and emotional. From the degradations of political shaming, scapegoating and “culture wars” to the degradations of poverty and hunger, we all languish under the boot of empire.
We cannot afford to put our heads in the sand, pretending that the current crises would have been solved by another existing political party, colorblindness or “less divisive speech.”
The incoming Trump presidency threatens to deepen all of these challenges across the Americas. His attacks on women, immigrants, Muslims, people with disabilities and rampant anti-blackness are precursors to our increasingly despotic future. His use of the politics of hate and fear will only further divide us from one another, limiting our ability to take refuge in the love and support of our neighbors—both those who live across the street and across borders.
His virulent nativism, misogyny and racism seeks to obscure the facts that he cares only about himself and his billionaire friends. Just as Reagan’s “welfare queen” rhetoric obscured the fact that the majority of people on welfare have always been white, Trump’s attacks on marginalized communities seek to divide the people of the Americas against our common economic interest. Real estate agents are not known for cutting deals that help the working class.
Trump is little more than a shady landlord now at the helm of the U.S. empire.
As Frantz Fanon said, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” Our generation has been scarred with the trauma of dispossession, displaced from our homelands, and we remain separated from one another in silos of fear, mistrust and ethnic-racial strife. The challenge, the mission, of our human generation is to realize not only that we deserve a better world but also that we, collectively, have the power to manifest that world. Our tasks as a species, as a people committed to the real promise of America, is to heal the wounds of our ancestors and planet while finding solidarity not in our sameness or similar conditions but in our shared hope for a better future for ourselves and our children.
Against Trump’s tirades of hate and shame, we must stand together. It is incumbent on our generation to fulfill its mission: to tear down as many barriers to human freedom as we can and unite around a shared vision, not of human nature or sameness, but of the generative possibilities of the human spirit; to build a world where we can be our highest selves, a world in which we are all fully powerful, a world where each of us can determine the course of our own economic, political and sexual lives, and a world capable of holding multiple worlds. We must allow the ashes of U.S. empire to be the fertilizer for the seeds of the future of a stronger, more free and united America.
Here in D.C., we are planning resistance to Trump’s agenda that is rooted in our love of self and community. Our resistance has been and will be bold, beautiful and firmly rooted in the ungovernability of blackness. We will not consent to being ruled by an egomaniac on a power trip. Because we love ourselves, we and our allies will tear down this world we were not meant to survive. Because we love our fellow Americans, from the streets of New Haven, Conn., to the indigenous communities of Peru, we will build a truly new world capable of manifesting the love we deserve.
Join us in the streets as we call this other possible world into being.
Aaron Goggans is an organizer, artist and facilitator originally from Falcon, Colo. Aaron began organizing around housing and labor on the South Side of Chicago as a college student and remained on the South Side for six years. Goggans moved to Washington, D.C., to be closer his sisters and quickly continued organizing around labor and housing in the District. After the nonindictment of Darrin Wilson, Goggans began spending all of his free time writing and organizing around #BlackLivesMatter. He is also the creator of the website and collaborative social action project the Well Examined Life. Currently he focuses on creating relationships between organizers, creating an infrastructure for movement work in D.C., and creating spaces for self-care and sustainability among organizers.