An ‘All Hands on Deck’ Approach to the Resistance

In the months after the election, the media produced countless articles about Trump voters in an apparent attempt to explain a phenomenon they found interesting. A backlash of sorts eventually developed in which it was suggested that people had heard enough and wondered why other voting blocs didn’t receive that kind of attention.

One such alternative comes from Judith Shulevitz, who summarizes what some research is telling us about one part of the resistance movement.

The Harvard political scientist Theda Skocpol, who co-authored, with Vanessa Williamson, the definitive study The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (2011; updated 2016), has teamed up with the health-policy expert Katherine Swartz and the sociologist Mary Waters to study counties that went for Trump in four states that went for Trump: Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. Skocpol says she was startled to find so many flourishing anti-Trump groups in these conservative strongholds. She thinks the resistance is at least as extensive as the Tea Party at its height (a quarter of a million to three hundred thousand active members, according to her estimates). It is certainly as energized. Skocpol hasn’t seen a liberal movement like it in decades, she says.

What Shulevitz learned from this research is that the women involved are primarily older, white, highly educated suburbanites who previously had never been involved in electoral politics. Politically, they are all over the map, including both Clinton and Sanders supporters as well as moderate Republicans.

…after they marched, many of them went home, held meetings, invited friends to the meetings, started Facebook groups to get more friends to the meetings, called their Congressional representatives, held letter-writing parties, flooded Town Halls, and, finally, figured out which Republicans in their town councils or county governments or state legislatures or congressional districts they wanted to get rid of—and sometimes, which Democrats…

As parents and often churchgoers, they have broad networks of family and friends. Maybe they recently retired and have time on their hands. Their groups shrank a bit over the summer, but Trump’s belligerent tweets and reckless executive orders have served as a kind of reveille, rallying at least some of the troops back to the flag.

For these women, the priority issues are health care, gerrymandering, dark money in politics, education and the environment. Given their demographic profile, it is not surprising that the issues that animate people of color aren’t high on their list, and Shulevitz reports that they aren’t interested in being corralled by traditional feminist organizations.

At a moment when it is important to have “all hands on deck,” this is a significant awakening of women who have the means and wherewithal to really make a difference in the suburban communities of Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin. But it would be a mistake to assume, as Shulivitz seems to, that this description captures the totality of what has come to be known as the “resistance movement.” One size does not fit all. For example, not long ago I pointed to a profile by Andrew Cockburn about the women behind the Texas Organizing Project. They’ve been around a bit longer and are showing what the resistance movement can accomplish in their communities.

At the end of her article, Shulevitz gets into some divisiveness that can be problematic for an “all hands on deck” approach. She critiques the organization Run For Something, which is focused on inspiring millennials to run for office, because the organization has limited its support to progressive candidates who share its views on issues such as universal health care, immigration reform, gun control, abortion, etc. She even suggests that working with millennials is a waste of time because they vote in lower numbers and concludes, “Why ignore the salt-and-pepper-haired folks who have deep local connections and higher levels of engagement?” Any movement that assumes Democrats have to focus on one or the other is destined for failure.

Shulevitz also demonstrates that she hasn’t done as much homework on the new direction being forged at the DNC.

I’m afraid that consultants will swoop in, vacuum up phone and email lists, import kids from Brooklyn to get out the vote, then vanish again. If people newly roused to political action are going to stay roused, then the Democratic Party had better pay attention and follow their lead. Whether the professional political class can bring itself to do that is still an open question…

I’m guessing that she missed what happened in Virginia last week. DNC Chair Tom Perez had made himself perfectly clear about that.

Last night wasn’t inevitable. It took incredible, incredible hard work. But we came together and did it. We won because we had great candidates at every level of government, and because we committed to a ground game. This is what the new DNC is about. … we must be about building strong partners in the grassroots movement, and we are committed to it.

As an older white professional woman who lives in the suburbs, I welcome the sisters Shulevitz describes to the world of political engagement. We need them fired up and ready to go. But they are a part of the resistance movement, not its totality.

If we learned anything from last week’s election, it is that a truly effective resistance movement is made up of people from all age groups, races, genders, sexual orientations, classes, religions and yes, even parties. It will be supported by organizations that have been around for decades as well as those that have cropped up since Trump was elected. Anyone who is committed to engaging more people in the political process and eschews divisiveness should not only be welcomed, but celebrated.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.