So what do we do now, as we huddle for warmth and solidarity against a vicious Donald Trump wind blowing in on Jan. 20 (barring an unlikely yet remotely conceivable twist in the Electoral College or vote recounts)? Fight back — but fight better and fight together.
As a Trump presidency looms over the nation and San Francisco like an onrushing blizzard threatening immediate and long-term harm to an array of communities, it’s time to unite both to batten down the hatches and open up new windows. I propose a citywide Progressive San Francisco Alliance among the dozens of groups and communities defending people in crisis. Now more than ever, those fighting for an egalitarian, sustainable city that promotes economic and social justice must work together on local and national fronts.
Even while functioning separately, unions, community-based nonprofits, housing and tenants’ rights groups, LGBTQ justice organizations, antipoverty and homeless people’s groups, environmental justice and sustainability movements, racial justice movements and others must find strategic ways to unite to protect everything that’s under grave threat from Trump.
Some of this is already happening: Labor and community groups are constantly building or rebuilding electoral coalitions, or showing up and supporting mutual causes at elections, rallies or City Hall hearings. What’s needed is something bigger — a strategic citywide alliance of groups and movements that can function both independently and in strategic unity, not only to win elections for progressive candidates and ballot measures, but to do the vital work of voter education and engagement between elections.
What might this look like? I propose an alliance built on core Progressive SF values and policy principles that are at once overarching yet meaningful and grounded in everyday human realities. Principles built on experience and points of unity, organized around concepts of economic, racial and social justice as well as ecological sustainability and participatory democracy.
Such an alliance could provide an umbrella in these cold, rainy times, rallying support and protection for people and policies under threat. A Progressive SF Alliance could build a long-term, winning coalition by piling up examples of working together in mutual support. This Progressive SF Alliance could share or forward email and social media networks, at once alerting tens of thousands of San Franciscans to important rallies, city hearings and other events to defend or promote human needs.
On a local level, a Progressive SF Alliance could flex its muscles to support and oppose candidates and measures based on whether they meet basic criterion prioritizing core values such as human rights, racial justice, economic equality, corporate accountability, participatory democracy, and putting human needs above corporate and profit interests. This means not only defending people and programs threatened by Trump (from immigrants to homeless and poor people, to workers, to healthcare access for all), but also confronting neoliberal Democrats who continually put corporate power and the economic elite before human needs and basic equality.
For example, if Mayor Ed Lee says he supports sanctuary city and the needs of homeless and poor and working people under attack by Trump policies, a Progressive SF Alliance can push him to back this up with real funding commitments and fair taxation of corporations and private wealth (read: Ron Conway, et. al.) to make it possible.
Because everyone has their own definition of “progressive,” this alliance should transcend these differences by being strategic — keeping it simple and uniting wherever and whenever possible. Pick core points of unity, and work on the rest separately. Nearly all progressives and liberals in the city can unite to defend and bolster our sanctuary city funding and status to protect immigrants, and support legislation put forward by Supervisor David Campos to this effect. When immigrants, LGTBQ people and black and brown lives are under attack, we can all unite to have each other’s back.
Individuals and communities will always be divided over candidates, who present their inevitable idiosyncrasies and flaws. Rather than squabbling over candidates, who always become flawed flash points for movements, a Progressive SF Alliance could stay true to five or 10 core principles and support candidates and propositions that meet those principles; and when they don’t, member groups can agree to disagree and move on with their respective work. Brand New Congress, operating on a national level, offers a partial model: They have a basic platform of policy priorities, and they recruit and support candidates who agree to that platform.
Alliances and coalitions are complex and tricky, yet vital. Now, in this time of electoral fracturing and deep divides, people of similar minds must find a way to come together, at least in strategic moments, to defend and promote economic and human and civil rights, and our ecological survival — all of which are under grave threat by the impending Trump administration. Let’s come together now, before it’s too late.
Christopher D. Cook is an award-winning journalist and author who has lived in San Francisco’s Mission District for 25 years.