The Movement Part I: Where is the Movement?

Coming up on three weeks into the presidency of a truly unqualified man, we are starting to hear about a progressive Tea Party-like movement emerging in town hall meetings, at protests for immigrant’s rights, in solidarity around women’s rights, and in efforts to block the Dakota Access Pipeline, among other causes.

On the surface, the protests do resemble the Tea Party: a wing of the electorate is energized, they are protesting in the streets, they are demanding answers from congresspeople (and have a Google Doc to find local town hall meetings), and they are angry at a president who they feel is unamerican and who they believe undermines the very bedrock of our democracy. As further evidence of the Tea Party’s influence, many progressives are using the Indivisible Guide, a detailed tactical resource that specifically cites 2009’s Tea Party formation.

Millions of passionate and concerned people taking action is important, but it is not inherently a movement. Anti-Trump protests are fractured along issue lines and identity lines. As a result, momentum is not building from one action to the next as effectively as one might hope. For example, it is not clear how the Women’s March connects to other protests that have occurred since even though many of the march’s participants have since traveled to airports to protest the Muslim Ban or showed up at their congressperson’s office to voice support for the Affordable Care Act.

Progressives and Anti-Trumpers in general need to craft a movement that encompasses these seemingly disparate actions. A movement provides a sense of momentum and unity and, most importantly, cannot be ignored like one-off single-issue protests.

Anti-Trumers can connect their actions and build a movement by showing up under the same identity, day after day, in cities and towns all across America. This kind of determined common identity was key to the Tea Party’s success: ten people gathered in Wisconsin one day, and then 20 people gathered in Virginia the next day, and then 10 more people gathered in Oregon the day after that, and it felt significant because they all claimed to be part of the same movement. They all used the same name, espoused the same values, and used the same symbols and slogans, even as they voiced concerns about different issues. And the name, values, and symbols they used were broad enough to encompass nearly the entire conservative agenda.

This organization and discipline made the Tea Party seem bigger than it was, more important than it initially was. And this impression of significance created a positive feedback loop in which people heard about the “movement” and took up the Tea Party banner for their own actions, thereby growing the “movement” into a Movement.

Progressives and Anti-Trumpers do not yet have a common movement in response to the Republican establishment’s steady erosion of our Republic. We have effective tactics, tools, energy, and numbers. We know what we are against. But to build a powerful and enduring movement, we need to unify around common identity — even as hold different priorities and disagree on issues or approaches — and we need the discipline to adhere to and promote that identity.

Subsequent posts will explore:

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