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Greenpeace activists hold an anti-Trump protest as they display a banner reading ‘Resist’ from a construction crane near the White House in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 25, 2017. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Why The Resistance Must Do More Than Resist

Ira Chernus

The resistance is a huge movement—yuge! At least that’s how it feels when you are in it. And it’s true that the United States has not seen anything like this since the Vietnam war days. Still, Trump and the Republicans in Washington roll on, with some new horror every day. Maybe the resistance isn’t yuge enough yet.

It has plenty of chance to grow, though. The potential is clearly there. Let’s look at the numbers.

Over 4 million people showed up for a Women’s March somewhere in the U.S. And I know plenty of people who totally sympathized with the March but never got there. Let’s assume that for every Marcher there was one person who wasn’t there but is involved in some kind of resistance action now. That gives us a total of 8 or 9 million. Let’s round it off to 10 million, being liberal. Yes, that’s yuge.

But in the more dependable polls about 52 per cent of all Americans disapprove of Trump. That would have been 126 million people in 2014 (the most recent year for which we have reliable population statistics). Today it’s probably closer to 130 million who disapprove of Trump. That means nearly 120 million people who disapprove of Trump are not yet active in the resistance. Talk about a yuge pool of potential recruits for the resistance!

It’s true that a lot of those folks are a-political. They don’t even bother to vote. Maybe they will never get involved in anything political. So let’s just look at the voters. Assume that all 10 million who are actively resisting, being politically engaged, voted in the last election. A total of 136 million voted for president in that election. So only about 7 percent of all voters are now involved in the resistance movement.

Nearly 48 per cent of the voters—well over 66 million people—voted for Hillary Clinton. If everyone active in the resistance had voted for Clinton, that would leave at least 56 million Clinton voters who are not yet actively resisting the man who beat her. Since some in the resistance surely did not vote for Clinton, the number of Clinton voters who have not yet shown up in the streets is actually higher than 56 million. Then there are a few million who voted for a third-party candidate and oppose Trump and the GOP If we can get just a quarter of the not-yet-resisting anti-Trump voters to get active, that’s at least 15 million people. If 52 per cent of the non-voters disapprove of Trump and the GOP, and we can get just 10 per cent of them, that’s another 5 million or so. (Trust me, I ran the numbers.) 15 plus equals 20. With another 20 million, we can triple the size of the movement. The numbers are rough approximations. But the potential is obviously there.

Turning "The Resistance" into "The Movement"

How to realize that potential? The first step is to understand why so many are not showing up for active resistance duty. The reasons are endless, no doubt. But I suspect one big reason is our single-minded focus on the word that has become our mantra: RESIST.

I’ve got a hunch that most of the people who feel a need to resist Trump are already active in the resistance. I bet the vast numbers who disapprove but aren’t resisting don’t so much disapprove of what Trump and the Republicans are doing. They disapprove of what Trump and the Republicans are not doing.

Most Americans want their government to make their own lives easier and safer. They want to see that in tangible results. When they don’t see the president and the party controlling Congress making any concrete moves in that direction, they disapprove. We in the resistance want the same things. We want government to close the economic inequality gap, so everyone’s life will be easier. We want more justice and more solutions to social problems, so everyone’s life will be safer.

I know that’s what we want because I see those positive goals on signs at marches and rallies. And I see signs promoting the values that will lead us to those goals: love, respect, equality, democracy, and all the rest. Judging by all those signs, it looks like most of us are committed to positive change.

But the public face of the movement, in its websites and emails and tweets and print handouts, does not give the impression that we have positive goals. Our public face is obsessed with one word: RESIST. That’s a negative word. It’s all about preventing change, not making change. It’s about keeping things the way they are. It’s a conservative word.

Most conservatives voted for Trump. The 73.5 million who voted for someone else are mostly not conservative. They don’t want resistance. They want a government that moves, that makes things happen, that can change life for the better. So they don’t want to be part of a static “resistance” blocking the path to change. They want to be part of dynamic "movement" that has a vision of the future and is moving toward turning it into reality.

Simply by borrowing language from the Sixties and calling ourselves "the movement" rather than "the resistance," we might bring in a whole new cohort of activists. It’s not just a question of language, though. It’s a question of policy. If all we care about is resisting, then our policy goal should be to force the federal government into gridlock. If the government could not do anything, the resistance would be a total success.

But most Americans who are not conservative will not support gridlock as a goal. They want a government that can get things done and change things for the better. So they realize (if only unconsciously) that resistance is not the policy for them. They want a movement that has a positive vision fleshed out with concrete policy proposals and a strategy for taking power, to turn proposals into laws.

A Vision for the Future

Our movement is full of positive vision. We have no end of concrete policy proposals to put our vision into practice. And we are bursting with the energy needed to take power. Why not let the world know how proud we are of that?

Of course we have to resist. But if we do nothing but resist, we let the people we are resisting set our agenda. They are in control. Doing nothing but resisting is exhausting, too. There’s a real danger of burnout. And if we measure your success only by how effectively we resist it can easily get demoralizing, since we are bound to suffer a lot of defeats along the way.

Most of all, though, I suspect our focus on resistance is stunting our movement’s growth and keeping it too small to realize its full potential. We are not bringing in millions who might show up to march and rally if we were demanding that government actually give us all a better life.

We could build an immense movement with immense potential. Some day we will have the power to make change. But if all we talk about is resistance, we won’t be fulfilling our potential. And we may not be sure of what to do with our power when we get it. It’s better to start preparing for that day by putting more focus on the principles and policies the movement stands for. That may turn out to be the most effective way to grow the resistance.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Ira Chernus

Ira Chernus

Ira Chernus is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of "American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea."

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