“You’re here”: A story for the age of Trump

Here is a story about coalitions and working together that seems appropriate for our time.

In May of 2012, after a winter and spring of Occupy infighting about ideology and tactics, I was pretty insecure about how other activists saw me. Back then people weren’t saying “left” and “liberal”, they were saying “radical” and “liberal”, but the arguments weren’t all that different (and anyone who thinks that people on parts of the left using “liberal” as an insult was invented in the 2016 Democratic primary is ridiculously wrong – not only has that been a thing since I’ve been heavily involved in activism, it was a thing for a long time preceding that, probably decades). I was once told by someone that I came to the wrong party, at the party of a group that I belonged to and they didn’t, for mildly objecting to two people tipsily shouting increasingly escalated tactical ideas at each other in the middle of a public pizzeria.

It was the end of the NATO Summit protests – antiwar and other left-wing protests of the 2012 Chicago NATO Summit, at which there was severe brutality and repression leading to the hospitalization of more than two dozen activists (and most of the media treated it like nothing had happened or like it was the result of some kind of equal “clash”). I was in the Wellness Center, a space staffed mostly by nurse street medics and others with office-type or clinic-type medical training that was sort of an intermediate space between the streets and the hospital. I was soaking my aching feet (I got bad blisters on my heels the first day I was there, and then temporary nerve damage, including severe pain, in my feet, from walking on my toes ten or twelve miles a day because of the blisters). I was talking to another medic, who had brought his buddy in for emotional crisis support.

I can’t remember what we were talking about or why I said anything, but at some point I looked at my toes and said self-consciously that I wasn’t as radical as many of the other people at NATO. He said “You’re here. That seems plenty radical to me.” And who the hell knows why one comment had such an effect, but my months of insecurity vanished in an instant.

I’m not saying that there aren’t real ideological, emphasis, and framing differences within the broader progressive coalition that warrant discussion. There are (though I am going to say that using Bernie and Hillary, or random media personalities, as proxies for varied and complicated differences, is not the best idea). But in the age of Trump and Trumpism, of white nationalists gaining influence at the highest levels of power, of the new attorney general pick being a guy who was considered horrifyingly racist even by the standards of the ’80s, and the American Nazi Party cheering the president-elect’s choice of senior counsel, I’m going to suggest that coalitions are made of the people who show up, not the people who are the most left, or the most pure, or the most “pragmatic” by however we are measuring that today, or whatever. Maybe there should be a little more “You’re here” going around.

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