On Tuesday, May 9, Haymarket Books hosted a conversation between Michelle Alexander and Naomi Klein, moderated by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, in front of a sold-out crowd of 3,000 at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre. In this, the final part of the transcript of that conversation (lightly edited for length and clarity), the three women discuss movement-building, the need to write “people’s platforms” and not to rely on candidates, and their hopes and fears for resistance to the Trump regime. Read part one here and part two here.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: To me the three most important questions are: How did this happen? What is the problem? What do we do? We can all have an idea of what it is that we would like to see. The question is how do we get from here to there. I don’t think it’s one thing; there’s smaller things, of course, but within that there’s also larger issues, like: How do we envision what type of movement or movements are necessary to get to the place that you both are describing, where these existential crises that are facing the planet and the people who live on it don’t exist, aren’t ruling our lives? What do you think about that? How do we even begin to move in that direction?
Michelle Alexander: I think first we have to begin by telling the truth, which I think has actually been a big stumbling block. We can look at Trump and see how he lies, but I think we also have to look at some of the lies we’ve told ourselves and the lies we’ve accepted and internalized ourselves.
One of those lies is that all we need to do is elect more Democrats. No. That actually isn’t going to get us to the Promised Land. If that’s the case, if more is required than simply doing the same thing over and over and hoping and praying for better results, then we’re going to have to ask ourselves: What kind of organizing and movement-building will actually produce a meaningful alternative?
My own view — and I’m very open to hearing other perspectives — is that this movement-building needs to begin at home, in local communities. It isn’t about trying to launch a brand new national party overnight. It’s about people in communities coming together across lines of difference, bringing with them their movements, their families, and coming together and saying, “How can we together build a movement of movements here at home? What would that look like? What do we want to do right here in our communities?”
I’ve been thrilled to see the sanctuary movement around the country. But I have to say I also have had some feelings of: Wow, why wasn’t there a sanctuary movement when the war on drugs was declared? Where was the sanctuary for people who were suffering with drug addiction, when the police came with SWAT teams and dragged them away? Where were the safe spaces?
I think that we need to begin talking about what does it mean to create these safe spaces in our communities, to begin welcoming one another into our homes and into our communities when they’re returning home from prison, people who are on the streets. We need to begin doing the work in our own communities of creating the kind of democracy that we would like to see on a larger scale.
I hope that we will also take seriously the necessity of building alternative parties, and do that work in our communities of organizing movements of movements, creating safe spaces and sanctuary, coming into dialogue, figuring out what a common platform might be for all of us, and building on the work that is happening elsewhere around the community. Even as we resist Trump, doing so with an eye toward building a truly transformational, even revolutionary movement that can become a meaningful alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties.