We Have The Power We Need: A Call For a General Strike
It is a dark day in the United States, and the world.
While a slim majority of American voters chose to back the multicultural, urban, liberal party of incremental progress, enough people, in the states that mattered most, chose to throw the election to a reactionary populist who openly attacked ethnic and religious minorities, and will use the powers of the state to prosecute his enemies, foreign and domestic. There is little comfort in looking to government in the short term – the people with the power of appointment, legislation, police, and redistricting will have no incentive to mitigate their goals. They will be emboldened by this victory so much, that we will likely see a complete reversal of what modest progress has been made since the last time the world collapsed. And the snakes who revel most in this victory – the racist, anti-semitic, sexist cabal that has simmered and hidden from the media’s view will entrench themselves in the mainstream. They will poison minds and attack black and brown bodies. They will threaten and deceive and destroy what few good things there are about the United States.
The fearful and inept will gravely damage this country, but only if we let them.
This is not the first time people of conscience have been shut out of power. This condition is, in fact, the norm. The relative civility and order and excruciatingly gradual egalitarian progress we perceive is not an inevitability, and it doesn’t rise from beneficial circumstances. Every inch of progress, every institution that we value, every tradition that guards those advances and makes space for the next one, is born from people who refused to be powerless in the face of state violence and immense economic disadvantage. People of color, queer people, women, the poor, the outsiders, have always known this. While permanent change in a democracy such as ours must come with a mandate from the voting public, the majority of whom have little incentive to dismantle their own unjust advantages, there have always been tools available to claim the absolute power of individual choice and stand athwart the automatic machine let loose by a regressive population.
Voting is important. But when voting fails, direct action is the answer. There is no activity in our everyday lives that is unaffected by the outcome of this election, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. While you sit at work, or in school, or in your barracks, wondering how you can move on with your life while half of the country has answered a referendum on your or your neighbor’s humanity with a loud ‘NO’ you should know that you have the option to decline as well. You don’t have to move on. You can stop this ride, get off, and demand a refund at any time. All it takes is generosity, courage, and solidarity.
Emma Goldman, the revolutionary anarchist and feminist who said “if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal” was probably wrong about that. But she also said:
“When we can’t dream any longer we die.”
She was right about that.
Every single one of us is a part of a community, or a network of several communities, all of whom have power and influence over the part of the world we occupy. People depend on all of us to provide them with goods, services, support, and guidance. Everyone of those communities, whether it’s a workplace, a school room, a community organization, a battalion, a union, or a book club, can be activated to make a difference. Regardless of whose name is on the deed or corporate documents, those spaces belong to us. And if we pledge solidarity with each other, at home and throughout this country, we can turn those spaces into a tool of resistance to this election and show the other half of this country the vast error they have made. We can humble them, and we can stop them before they do us harm.
We still have immeasurable power.
Goldman and her fellow anarchists knew that the greatest power in the hands of regular people is the General Strike. Civilization may seem inescapable while you’re inside it. It may feel like you have no choice but to go with the flow, accept the results, give the concession speech, and go back to work. But you don’t. You have the power to stop everything and demand to be heard, to refuse, and to resist. The machine runs on human effort, and you control yours. And if we go arm and arm with our fellow American and stop the presses, even for a day, the world will tremble even worse than it did last night. The power of those who depend on our weakness and resignation will dissolve. It has a thousand times before. It will happen again.
General Strikes are not an easy task. But they are possible, and right now, while the acrid results of this election still hang in the air, we have our best chance in a generation to make it happen. If we stand together – students, teachers, soldiers, clerks, safety workers, drivers, machinists, artists, craftsmen, farmers, prisoners, and even cops – we can show those who would assume to rule us that we cannot be ruled, and that no law, no election, and no president can break the American people and force us down a path of dehumanization.
“But my boss is on our side,” you might say.
“…and so are most of my customers.” That could very likely be true. An action like this is most likely to take root in places where there is general agreement. And actions like these should be taken in solidarity with everyone, including managers, customers, investors, and commanders whenever possible. Everyone should and must be invited to join in the action. Measures can be taken to mitigate the loss of income to the vulnerable and to maintain safety. But some will not agree, and that’s where solidarity is indispensable. We strike until we find the hard resistance, and that’s where the pressure must be applied. People with the means and freedom to take part must stand up for those who can’t otherwise consider it. We have to help each other by sharing basic means while we forgo economic activity, even in small doses, because so many people depend on these systems for their survival. Organizing a movement like this is hard, and it requires sacrifice, especially from those who have a lot. But I believe that is our duty. We cannot answer with silence.
“But what good is a strike without demands?” you might ask.
“Won’t this just hurt workers without any tangible benefit? We can’t change the outcome of the election.” You are right about that. The election is over, the government will change hands, the laws will change. But while those in government might take their cues from voters in the short term, the society as a whole depends on far more than votes. The true power in this country, and in any country, comes from the workers who toil everyday to make the civilization work. And if the government knows that there is an organized resistance to their aims, one so strong as to reject a day of work, two days of work, three days of work, just to make that point, they will be on notice. They will see that people are far more motivated against them than a single day of voting can indicate, and that the consequences of repression and degradation of the people will be dire, for them and the country they seek to rule. And if such a movement catches on, they will have no choice but to listen. Their masters will tell them so.
I call on unions, activists and universities to organize a General Strike within two weeks.
Preferably on a Monday, when it will have the biggest impact. Let’s say… Monday November 21st. If successful, I believe we should do it again the following week. We do not need demands. We only need to demonstrate that there is resistance to the programme of racist and regressive reforms the new government will enact. We start with one day, then we expand. But we have to do it now.
Clear your calendars for November 21st. Spread the word. If this fizzles out, so be it. But if it catches fire, we can show the millions of people who voted to hand the powers of the state to a demagogue that America will not stand for it, and that we will be ready and willing to stop the gears of power if the need arises.
Send a message.
Strike this November 21st.