RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Trump Manages to Unite Progressives

If there’s one thing you can say about Donald Trump, it’s that he’s sure good at organizing progressives. Here in my little corner, we’re finding each other in the most unlikely places, connecting and networking with others.

The marches have really helped. Sure, the powerful are ignoring the marchers but what surprises we find when we show up. The woman behind the “Free Ivanka” sign turns out to be a neighbor and the woman in the wheelchair with the sign that says “ACA … undead” turns out to be your kid’s third-grade teacher. And of course we’ll talk! Haven’t seen each other in years! Have a lot to catch up on!

For rural progressives, who might feel really isolated, a new organizing group called “Indivisible” has sprung up to organize by county rather than urban area. Using principles gleaned from watching the Tea Party phenomenon, a group of self-described congressional staffers have put together a guide for beginning organizers.

Being congressional staffers, their guide is focused on Members of Congress (MOCs), and, indeed, we’re already seeing our MOCs becoming more accountable. My senator, Claire McCaskill, declared in a recent e-mail that holding town meetings is her job. Never saw that before! But, of course, 2017 is the first year that she’s seen the rooms packed at her town meetings and seen the newspapers turning out to interview folks that turn up. Thank you, the Donald, for alerting us to how much we have to lose!

And when we leave the town meetings, usually full of self-congratulations for having gotten there, and self-recrimination for not doing it earlier, we organize. Whether it’s right for us or not, the Indivisible Guide is a good place to begin. Their advice is specifically aimed at fighting the Trump agenda — racism, authoritarianism, corruption. Signed by fourteen contributors, the guide proclaims, “Together we have the power to resist — and we have the power to win.”

Even though the Guide is written for organizing on national levels, it has lots of useful information for organizers on the state, county or city level. And, the exact enemies are hard to identify on a national level. Each community has their own harbors of racism, authoritarianism and corruption. Attending national conferences, we might not even understand the problems of other communities. When I attend meetings of the National Family Farm Coalition, for example, I hear that my fellow farmers in some places are losing ground to frackers. In other places the utilities are trying to build pipelines and condemn farmland. This is nothing like my neighborhood’s fighting against Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations … but, for all communities, the power to fight back works the same.

Here in mid-MO, we have already seen the power in action. Years ago, Howard County began to organize monthly potluck dinners for progressives to support each other in their loneliness as progressives in a conservative community. Organic farmers standing up against chemical use, starry-eyed and young city folks and aging hippies found common ground at the potlucks.

Building a powerful community, the group has been able to elect a few like-minded political types and when there was a threat from a multi-national corporation of industrial hog raisers, it only took a week to launch an effective meeting and another week to pass a health ordinance that potentially will protect landowners from the onslaught. Since the huge amounts of government money behind Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) have destroyed the water resources in one community after another, the Howard County example is impressive.

But not impossible to imitate. It is easier, for example, to come out against something than to build a new plan and find support for it. Let’s say the Howard County group wanted to sell the community on buying local and undermining consumer support for industrial-raised pork … hard, and a task taking years. Let’s say they just want the CAFO developers to go away...easier, and relatively quick. The message is easier to understand, for one thing, and delivered in just a few words.

Perhaps the most important part about the new progressives is that we’re non-partisan. Disappointment in the Democrat agenda combined with distrust in the Green candidates has meant that folks are hoping for a new, non-machine kind of electoral process. We haven’t figured out exactly how to fight big money, but we’re seeing that it has infected both major parties.

And, this new strategy is relatively undemanding. The busiest people, as always, will do the most but as the Tea Party learned, only one in five of their supporters actually gave time to the cause. The rest were cheerleaders or voices in the choir, but that may be the most important role.

There will be dancing in the streets when progressives find the new candidates we’re looking for, but that may be a long way off. In the meantime, there are connections to make, social media to learn about and marches to attend.

Margot Ford McMillen farms near Fulton, Mo., and co-hosts Farm and Fiddle on sustainable ag issues on KOPN 89.5 FM in Columbia, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2017

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