The Power of Personal Connections in the Dark Age of Trump
Sitting in my relatively new home in Hawai’i in January of 2017, I’m watching Nina Turner, past state-senator in Ohio and current progressive leader, speak to hundreds of single-payer activists at the national single-payer strategy conference convening in New York City and hosted by several progressive groups including Health Care Now, Labor Campaign for Single Payer, and One Payer States. This is the first strategy conference that I have not been able to attend for about ten years and I am missing this opportunity to engage with the single-payer community. However, as I watch Turner speak, I am able to engage with other single-payer supporters by clicking “like”, clicking love, or by leaving a comment to participate in the lively discussion surrounding the keynote address. Little thumbs up symbols or white hearts encased in a red circle float across the screen as Turner discusses the need to change the political environment into a context in which single-payer is not only possible, but probable. I also contribute to the angry faces when she mentions the recent election of Donald Trump to the Presidency, his inevitable swearing in as the 45th President of the United States, and the likely consequences of this transition for national health policy.
A few months later, in June of 2017, from the same home in Hawaii, I’m watching the activities of the People’s Summit that is taking place in Chicago. As activists from around the country discuss working for Medicare for All during a break out session, I am able to comment and discuss this issue with other activists who are also participating via Facebook live. As Bernie Sanders discusses in a keynote address the need to change the politics of what is possible, I contribute my own likes and hearts which add to the hundreds of likes and hearts being offered by others from around the country and around the world. There are several professional feeds – Our Revolution and The People for Bernie Sanders among others. But, I prefer the shaky camera coverage posted by my friend Pamella – it makes me really feel like I am there, in the thick of it, cheering with the crowd. I am filled with the same sort of energy and emotion that encourages and invigorates me when I am able to attend these events in person.
You might say that these small actions, clicking like or leaving a short comment, are not important – that they don’t have any real political effect and can encourage supporters to click instead of take action in other more instrumental ways. And, this may in fact be a legitimate criticism. You might also say that networking sites, such as Facebook, have played a role in creating the current political context through the diffusion of fake news and “alternative facts”. And this would also be a legitimate critique. But, in my decade in the field as a scholar-activist, I have found that one of the most important acts for producing the hope that change is possible is maintaining the type of communication that can foster ideas and energize action. For me, someone who made a move across an ocean for a dream job and was thus less physically connected to her activist community, finding ways to foster this communication has been extremely valuable. Facebook live has become one of those ways. This is especially important during periods in which there is a rising call to action and increased energy to push for positive social change, periods like this one.
While the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States seemed to be a definite blow to progressive social change, it also seems to be facilitating a coming together within progressive mobilization efforts. For example, while the push for the Affordable Care Act and the effects of its implementation initially resulted in some fragmentation within the Movement for Single Payer, this fragmentation ultimately resulted in the formation of new grassroots organizations in support of single-payer and increasing numbers of individual supporters. A key outcome of this period is that there are now more co-sponsors for the federal single-payer bill – HR 676 – than ever before. An important aspect of this resistance effort – a resistance effort that is focused on working for progressive social change while resisting regressive social change – is the ability of activists from all walks of life to communicate in empowering ways. In my experience, I have to thank Facebook live and all of the activists who facilitate this communication platform, for helping me to find that outlet for personal empowerment through communicative engagement.