Lessons for My U.S. Allies in Trump’s America, From a Brexit Survivor
If there is one thing I’ve learned from Brexit, it is that to survive a takeover from a regressive party, the people who want to protect human dignity must be united.
After Brexit, the U.K. Left had a food fight. When the last egg had been thrown in their civil war, the combatants looked up and saw they’d lost their mandate to defend the wins that had made Britain a decent place to be.
As we did back home, so many shocked and horrified about Donald Trump becoming president have spent a lot of time pointing fingers. We’ve heard a lot of “the Bernie bros didn’t get behind Hillary” or “the center Democrats pushed a neoliberal intellectual just because she was a woman.”
As a Brit living in DC, I never felt as far from home as I did the day after Brexit.
I cried. I cried long hard tears for the demise of the country I grew up in. For my nephews who will grow up in ‘Little Britain’, for our successes on human rights and social justice, for the great climate victories we’d won. Through my tears I watched on Twitter as the coalition against Brexit shattered. I watched my best activist friend — who had worked together to win those great victories breaking up on Facebook, texting me saying they had agreed to not discuss politics anymore.
The post-Brexit Conservatives are pussy cats (pardon the pun) compared to Trump. And they have quickly slashed and burned U.K. commitments to human rights and climate change whilst rolling back on their pro-Brexit promises to fund the National Health Service.
I don’t pretend to understand U.S. politics like an American citizen. But I do know that the things we love, and the people we love, are now at risk. If we don’t unite, we could lose a lot more than an election.
I cannot tell you why Trump won or what went wrong — whether the Dems failed the working class or chose the wrong celebrities. Whether Bernie would have won or not. Why the polls were wrong. But as in the U.K., I can tell you that the U.S. justice movement is united around the belief that we must build safe and diverse communities and make decisions based on science and expertise, not fear and rhetoric. And I can tell you that a loss like this could result in a fire sale of all that this movement holds dear. If you wait, or comply, in a bid to save your own chunk of progress, we will all lose.
Martin Niemoller’s quote has never been more relevant than today: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Socialist.”
In Britain, when you lose an election, the opposition takes control within ten days. In the United States we get two months. It is in these two months that we need to act. We must start to win the arguments now, and spend these next two months building the most unified, reinforced and reciprocal network of resistance this nation has ever seen.
The lesson is this: the next fight is not the next election; it’s not the midterm elections in two years. The fight is happening around us right now.
On Facebook, the nightly news, a conversation in an airport line, in a headline. It’s a fight to galvanize resistance over hopelessness. And to delegitimize Trump’s mandate to act, because it is from that mandate that he will try to draw energy when — as will certainly happen — he faces our challenges to his power.
Then comes Inauguration Day. If the experience of Britain is a harbinger, the Right will come for everything at once. Or at least in very quick succession and in ways we can’t anticipate. We will need a responsive movement that can show up for deportees in the morning, defend the doors of Planned Parenthood in the afternoon, and protect the EPA at night. We are going to face losses. And we will need to get up and immediately run forth.
We will need to be quick or our dreams will be dead.
Each time the Right has won in Britain, they have immediately attacked the welfare state, climate progress, and human rights, all at once. The social rights groups try to defend their wins, the climate groups theirs. Right now, they are both losing.
The American Left has to move beyond this outmoded idea of issue-based campaigning, try to forgive each other our weaknesses, and see that today the only issue at stake is everything. If we don’t all pull together, we could lose everything. And when we think we have lost everything, we will lose things we didn’t even know we had.
Whatever horrific pledge Trump attempts to fulfill first, his actions must receive a thunderous and united response from us all — environmental groups, the faith community, the unions, and the grassroots. Greenpeace needs to vocally defend a woman’s right to choose, to offer non-violent direct action training to those ready to stop deportations, to stand behind black and brown allies.
And when Trump comes for the successes that the environmentalists have won, we hope to be standing alongside our friends in the racial justice, immigrant rights, labor, and gender rights communities who will in turn do what they can to protect the future of this planet for all people.
If we pull together, this crisis offers us the chance to build a U.S. movement we’ve only dreamed of. The time is now. We have 63 days to build a wall — of resistance — of our own.
Leila Deen is the Deputy Campaigns Director for Greenpeace USA.