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  • Around noon on Saturday I met up with my wife and daughter at the Women’s March sister event at the Boston Common. I had to wait for two totally crammed subway trains to get there. Earlier my wife had to let four pass by until she could join the fleshy mass of sojourners. At the park entrance a young evangelist with backpack and megaphone was haranguing the masses streaming past to come to Jesus and do God’s work, but our plan was to do dog’s work. We filtered into the crowd as far as we could, but once into the thick of things nobody was going anywhere. A march was already oozing down Boyleston Street but it took an hour for those around us, a quarter mile from the epicenter, to shove off.

    Similar scenes played out in cities across the nation and on every continent. (See also the Women’s March Flickr archive.) According to their web site, 4.9 million people turned out in 673 sister events. We had at least 175,000 in Boston and at least twice that gathered in Washington DC, dwarfing the little hand Donald Trump received at his hideous inauguration the day before.

    From no city have I heard any incidents of violence or arrests, making the Women’s March the biggest peaceful mass demonstration ever, surpassing turnout at the global protests ignited by Bush’s intentions to invade Iraq in 2003 and the Occupy movement.

    The event’s awesomeness forced local news outlets that might otherwise have ignored it to give time to it. Even NPR covered it for most of an hour, featuring an interview with a fiery Maxine Waters “balanced” by another with a rather dour Carly Fiorina. In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh and US senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey worked the crowd, all petitioning that we make this not an event but an enduring commitment.

    But a commitment to what? Well, first off, to fight for women’s respect and equality. But it was not just those who identified as feminists and womanists who assembled; both women and men bearing placards for LGBT equality, Black Lives Matter, immigrant rights, pro-choice and anti-war sentiments, support for public schools, and much more were on hand, basically any and all progressive agendas that are now on Washington’s chopping block. Nobody expects Washington to embrace any of these agendas now; the best one can hope for is for them to do no harm. But harm they will surely do, and that’s why those admonitions need to be taken to heart.
  • So what do we do next? Given that the Presidency (recalling a placard I saw, “Prevent unwanted presidencies”), both houses of Congress, and the majority of state houses are in Republican hands, we can expect a great tide if anti- women, immigrant, minority, labor, student and consumer actions to flood across this land (which as Trump and Woody Guthrie remind us, is ours). We need all manner of people to dog the power elite, of which Trump is simply a new species (the net worth of his cabinet proves the point). In the quickly coming days, Washington will seek to privatize whatever of the commons most suits its collective—oops, “freedom”—agenda, that old corporatist shell game. The rigged one that Trump railed against. Some Americans are fooled by such sleights of hand all of the time, but not the millions of marchers on Saturday. We know a rat by the stench of its decomposing body and will dispose of it properly. Just look at us! How can we not overcome?

    Easily. It happens all the time. And it will happen again if Trump’s reconstituted inside-the-beltway cabal that he says has been ruining everything gets free rein. It will first ignore, then attempt to mollify, and when that doesn’t shut us up orchestrate a counterinsurgency of Trump supporters, ignorant of the root causes of their discontent, bound and gagged by right-wing cant, slavishly worshiping rugged individualism founded on the profit motive.

    You can’t hope to run a country, a state, or a city if you assume that everything that needs doing is a potential profit center; the rivers of reality won’t overflow with manna without sufficient rainfall and someone to stock them with fish. Are those fish to be tagged with their owners’ trademarks and wrapped in invoices? The idea is noxious, but that’s what’s trending. Our new leaders want to dam our bounteous rivers and piss in the reservoirs of resources they meter out to us. They want to have their fish and eat them too.

    The instinct of the entrepreneurial class and corporatist predators generally is to see life as a giant shark tank of lucrative investment opportunities. Of course it’s not necessarily exploitative to want to make a buck, but quests to dominate captive markets are always misbegotten. The emergent power elite, just as the one it supplements, is bound to dismiss the will of the people and signal capital that it’s open season on schools, water works, bridges, highways, pipelines, and fossil fuels. (Trump’s infrastructure plans, for instance, involve taxpayer-borne tax credits for corporations to the tune of 87 cents on the dollar and would erect new tolls on highways and bridges.) They bag profits and ratepayers end up holding bags of sidewalk scrapings.
  • Again, how should we contest all this incipient exploitation?

    It’s not as if no one ever worked this problem before. At a college seminar many years ago I became a fan of activist academic Francis Fox Piven when she was a teacher of social work at Columbia and a former city planner and community organizer. Now 85, she's still on the front lines, having received her moment of dubious fame (and consequent death threats) by being repeatedly denounced by Glen Beck. In a recent article in The Nation ("When it comes to stopping Trump, petitions aren’t going to do it") amplified in a cogent interview, she insists:

    ...movements need numbers, but they also need a strategy that maps the impact of their defiance and the ensuing disruptions on the authority of decision-makers.

    She goes on to say that despite the Federal apparatus and most state houses having been captured by the Koch-inspired right:

    .... the big cities, where a majority of the population lives, have not been captured. Center-left mayors preside over cities like New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco, for example. And that fact can nourish urban resistance movements.

    For example, in Boston people organized in 2015 against a half-assed plan to bring the 2024 Olympics to town that would have put local governments on the hook for billions and sent the organizing committee packing. Minimum wage actions have succeeded in a number of cities and several states, prompting the Koch contingent to enact state laws barring municipalities from legislating minimum wage. And already, tens of thousands of voices have forced Trump and the GOP to back off from deleting Obamacare “on day one.”

    One may have other ideas for achieving change, but to quibble with Piven and thousands of anti-poverty, pro-women, and environmental activists about the importance of local organizing would be a mistake. Aggrieved people, she says, "are much likelier to risk defiant collective action if leading politicians appear accountable to movement constituencies." because political leaders, churches and educational institutions in big cities are "beginning to provide just that sort of electoral resonance and encouragement" by supporting minimum wage hikes, sanctuaries for the undocumented, code enforcement, and other leveling measures. Popular pressure on local authorities to aid and shield the vulnerable, she says, can impede crackdowns from above. How to win involves "blocking or sabotaging the policy initiatives of the regime" to "create or deepen elite and electoral cleavages."
  • Of course, it won't be easy.

    Resistance movements are hard: They must mobilize defiant collective action against formidable odds that risk triggering tough reprisals. And citizen activists often operate not knowing the weak points of the regime they confront or how to exploit its internal strains. Piven believes that at some point Trump's excesses could alienate establishment conservatives. Their disarray can fling open doors to resisters with local power bases to confront disorganized reactionary forces. I'm not sure how disorganized those reactionaries might be, but I'm more than willing to take them on, provided I'm part of a community of resistance with organic programmatic goals.

    So pick a fight for whatever cause you most care about, be it equal rights, renewable energy, safe drinking water, mass transit, universal health care, better schools, government and corporate accountability, media reform, food safety, animal rights, or communist revolution. Be a gadfly. Stir up buzz. Be as obnoxious to elites as necessary. Voice your concerns at public meetings. Link up with groups that have congruent goals and credible strategies. And be content with small victories and resolute in defeat. It will put spring in your step and give life a new meaning. They call it paying dues. Dog work.
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