The shocking Electoral College victory of Donald Trump last November reignited a central debate within progressive circles and Democratic politics: economic populism vs. identity politics.
For the last 10 months, the two positions have been debated on opinion pages and social media, at conferences and in backroom strategy meetings: How do we assemble a coalition of voters to stop Trump, win back control of Congress and state legislatures, and start passing progressive policy?
On this Labor Day, we urge progressives to take a cue from the foundational principle of the labor movement: solidarity.
Solidarity means that my fights are your fights, and yours are mine. In this case, solidarity means building a political movement that can win, one that can walk and chew gum at the same time. We refuse to choose between economic fairness and racial justice.
Economic inequality and structural racism in America are not the same, but they’ve developed in tandem, and will not be defeated without grappling with both at the same time.
There’s an old labor movement saying: “The boss is the best organizer.” Nothing mobilizes people like having a threatening adversary, and so Trump is unquestionably the best organizer. He has animated an incredible surge in civic resistance and protest that is as inspiring as anything we’ve seen since the civil rights movement.
Two questions have been contested in American democracy since its founding. One, should wealth and economic power be concentrated among a few, or broadly shared among the many? Two, who exactly counts as part of “We, the people?” Is it just white male landowners who get the full rights of citizenship? Or does it include women? Workers? African Americans? How about immigrants, the undocumented, indigenous people, or members of the LGBTQ community?
On both of those questions, Trump is at one far end of the spectrum. He is both the billionaire developer who seeks to chop away at the safety net to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and also the right-wing demagogue whose administration harbors white supremacists and targets people of color, especially immigrants and Muslims. How can we imagine our political movements will succeed if we focus on only one of these two aspects?
The candidates who are pointing a way forward are those who can talk race and class at the same time. Larry Krasner, who we believe will be Philadelphia’s next district attorney, speaks forcefully about the roles biased policing and poverty play in exacerbating mass incarceration. New York Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino won a special election this spring calling for fair funding for high-need public schools and opposing school privatization and high-stakes testing. Chokwe Lumumba, the new mayor of Jackson, Miss., explicitly calls for using municipal power to fight for racial equity and economic empowerment.
Looking ahead to 2018, some candidates are already showing that there is no contradiction in campaigning on both economic and racial justice. Randy Bryce, the union ironworker running against House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) has condemned Ryan for his health-care bill and for refusing to censure Trump over the white supremacists in his administration. Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP who is running for governor of Maryland, is campaigning on a $15 minimum wage and health care for all, and was also arrested protesting Trump’s immigration crackdowns. These are the kinds of candidates who will help repudiate Trump in 2018 and 2020.
What voters want and deserve are candidates who can explain how they’ll solve problems people are facing. Whether those problems fit neatly into the bucket of economic exploitation or structural racism, people will come out to vote for our candidates when they understand how they can make a difference in their lives.
If progressives want to engage enough voters to win, that means we’ve got to be comfortable talking about and providing real solutions to a lot of different people’s problems.
Solidarity means an injury to one is an injury to all. Our nation has never more desperately needed political movements, organizations, and candidates rooted in this most basic ideal. Solidarity is the only way to take on economic, environmental, racial, and social struggles. We can’t squander the chance by falling for the trick that our opponents always put forward: choose one or the other. Indeed, we can only have all of it — or else none of it.
Hector Figueroa is president of Service Employees International Union 32BJ and vice chair of the Working Families Party National Committee. HectorFigueroa@seiu32bj.org
Bishop Dwayne Royster is the political director of the Pico National Network and vice chair of the WFP National Committee. email@example.com
Dan Cantor is the WFP’s national director and chair. firstname.lastname@example.org