Focus on two asks. If you have 900 asks, you have none. — Former George W. speechwriter David Frum
And just like that, the snowflakes start forming an organized pattern. Or, at least, we’re thinking about it.
The frenzy that started on November 9 feels like it’s calming a bit this week, doesn’t it? I’ve read many articles from conservatives, many of whom were Tea Party activists, giving us advice on what to do now. While I’m skeptical — why are they doing this? — it all sounds spot on. So let’s consider how we go from freaking-the-hell-out to a crystalized badass movement.
I’m going to refer to several articles/radio interviews here and will link to them. These are well worth your time to read/listen to. But because I know you have Congress members to call and protest signs to make and cussing and praying to do, I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version: FOCUS. We need to stop looking like an ADD Twitter feed and make our way toward a singular, unifying Instagram meme.
Since the U.S. “vomited up Trump” — as someone said somewhere in something I read, listened to, or watched today — my head has been spinning. And when I didn’t think it could go any faster, Inauguration Day happened. Then the shitshow began. We’re all spinning, feeling inadequate in our personal and professional lives because our political wakening consumes our every waking thought. And we’re awake a lot these days, am I right? Because one can’t simply pee in peace at 3 a.m. anymore without some Trump thought intruding.
The advice I’m hearing is that we must do the opposite of what liberals like to do. We want to save every kitten in the litter because kitten lives matter. The gay kitten, the black kitten, the atheist kitten. Then we want to provide birth control for Mama cat and explain her reproductive options for the future.
What do conservatives do? They shove five kittens out on the back porch and hope they make it. And that one kitten? Man oh man oh man do they lift it up — like a never-ending hora. Every damn one of them. And from that moment on, that black-and-white kitten (because there is no gray in Republicanville) is THE kitten. Perfect in every way. They will take a bullet for that kitten. And at some point, that kitten becomes the governor. Or a senator. Or president.
Now, I love the five kittens. But we’ve got to find a way to get shit done. So can we put the other five kittens in a safe environment (maybe the spare bathroom) until THE kitten rises up? Then we’ll bring out all the kittens and they will rule the world, wearing pink pussy hats, of course.
OK, now back to the advice. Here’s a smattering of it from recent days:
• We must come together.
Raoul Peck, director of I Am Not Your Negro, talked on The Takeaway over the weekend about living in Berlin as a college student, protesting when big issues arose. During those protests, his professors joined the students. And they talked about the issues when they got back to school.
“Now I don’t see that mix of energy. I don’t see the elders with those young people in Black Lives Matter. When I watch the Civil Rights movement, it was a large coalition of people — women, men, religious organizations, unions, Jewish organizations, Latinos… Now I see all those organizations are in their own bubble. We need to again learn to talk to each other.”
• We must be Xanax calm, Adderall focused, and bald-eagle-flying-over-the-Grand-Canyon-to-a-Bruce-Springsteen-playlist patriotic.
“What Effective Protest Could Look Like” in The Atlantic by David Frum (a senior editor at the publication, chairman of The Policy Exchange, and a former speechwriter for George W.) is making the rounds right now. Frum discusses recent protests on the left, giving serious kudos to the Women’s March on January 21. But he has this warning: “Protesters may be up against something never before seen in American life: a president and an administration determined to seize on unrest to legitimate repression. Those protesters are not ready for it. Few Americans are.”
“You want to scare Trump?” he says. “Be orderly, polite, and visibly patriotic.” For example: Carry the U.S. flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance.
• We need a unifying message and goal.
Frum continues with a message on focus: “Successful movements are built upon concrete single demands that can readily be translated into practical action: ‘Votes for women.’ ‘End the draft.’ ‘Overturn Roe v. Wade.’ ‘Tougher punishments for drunk driving.’”
“What Progressives Can Learn from Right Wing Organization,” a fascinating 8-minute interview on The Takeaway this weekend with Matt Kibbe (who helped found the grassroots advocacy group FreedomWorks in 2004), had the same message. Kibbe, president of Free The People, shares the similarities between Trump resistors and the 2009 Tea Party movement, for which Kibbe was a leader.
“There was a time at the early Tea Parties, and I would say all through 2009 and 2010, you could wade into any Tea Party crowd, and they’d say that the purpose of their Tea Party was individual freedom, fiscal responsibility, and constitutionally limited government. They started in protest to the stimulus — some of them even started in protest to George W. Bush’s Wall Street bailout — but it was more issue based.
“I think that might be a way that you reach people outside of your movement — you galvanize people around an issue, around a common set of values, as opposed to just having a common enemy. I would point to something like Occupy Wall Street as a movement that had lots of energy early on but sort of unraveled because the specific purpose, it just wasn’t there. And there wasn’t that common set of values the way that I saw in the Tea Party movement.”
So, which kitten? My instinct says human rights. So much falls into that category, right? Others I’ve talked to say it’s too broad, and maybe the advice above confirms that. Other big ticket items in the running:
- Equal education.
- Healthcare for all.
- Campaign finance reform.
- Climate change.
- Strengthening the social safety net.
- Income inequality (isn’t that why we lost Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin?).
- LGBT (et al.) rights.
- Religious freedom.
- Immigration/refugee reform.
- Women’s reproductive rights.
Or maybe we center around a specific action item:
- End gerrymandering.
- Dismantle the Electoral College.
- Boot Bannon.
- Force Trumps to release his tax returns.
- Demand a bi-partisan investigation of Russia’s interference in the election.
When David Frum said on MSNBC tonight that progressives must make two asks, not 900, he suggested Trump’s tax returns (with a law making such transparency mandatory for the future) and an independent investigation of the 2016. “Don’t be distracted by anything else,” he said.
So, immediately, stop fighting with strangers on Facebook. Stop bitching about Tomi Lahren. Stop plotting to donate your Ivanka Trump shoes.
Now, keep feeding and nurturing the kittens in the bathroom. Keep calling, lobbying, reading, spreading the word via protesting and on social media. But as a movement, what are our two asks? It’s time to rally around them because 2018 will be here in a hot minute.