Asking for a Friend: How Can a Working-Class Person Like Me Change the Democrats?

Asking for a Friend: How Can a Working-Class Person Like Me Change the Democrats?

Asking for a Friend: How Can a Working-Class Person Like Me Change the Democrats?

And another reader is struggling with Trump-induced anxiety.


Dear Liza, 

Help! I feel like I’m going crazy. In these months following the presidential election, almost every day seems like I’m slipping further into the pit. Depression, anxiety, fear, inability to cope… and I’m not the only one. Sometimes it seems like everyone around me is going crazy, too. Friends, family members, neighbors—even our mail carrier the other day stopped to express his fear and frustration.

What the hell do we do?

—Sleepless South of Chicago

Dear Sleepless,

Recently, I told a friend I was worried. So many people around me seemed to be suffering from depression, addiction, and other serious mental illnesses. “It’s Trump,” my companion said, ordering a third Bloody Mary before lunch. “We’re all falling apart.”

A survey released earlier in the year by the American Psychological Association found that the overall stress level of Americans increased dramatically from August 2016 to January 2017, and nearly half of Americans cited the outcome of the last election as a significant cause. Shrinks say that patients are reporting intense distress over Trump; one says that some days his patients talk about nothing else. This psychic stress is taking a physical toll: We’re suffering from more headaches and even heart disease. Calls to suicide hotlines are up. Bartenders are seeing far more problem drinking, too.

We all feel the apocalyptic terror of having a climate denialist with a bad temper in charge of international relations, and many face the more immediate horror of being deported or losing their health-care coverage. The APA also reports a dramatic increase in the number of people who are stressed about their safety—no wonder, what with the increasing frequency of hate crimes and the alt-right’s organized campus and street violence.

For people with bullying fathers, or survivors of sexual assault, Trump’s persona makes following the news a constant traumatic flashback. For those who have already felt powerless at the hands of cruel and volatile men, having an irrational, violent narcissist in charge of their lives on a geopolitical scale can be almost unbearable.

The glossier side of the feminist Internet urges “self-care.” Indeed, Sleepless, please do eat well, seek therapy, and log off the Internet well before bedtime. But caring for the world can also help. One friend of mine has largely recovered from his (serious) postelection depression; yes, through better meds, but also by avoiding political Twitter, which felt futile and frustrating, and volunteering for his local tenants’ union instead. Because the union builds working-class power, it feels useful and concrete. Depending on where in Illinois you are exactly, you might want to get involved with Hoosier Action, in Indiana ( The letter below may also spark some ideas on resistance.

Dear Liza,

I am a lifelong Democrat who is feeling so disenfranchised by the party that I’m considering changing my registration to Green. The only thing stopping me is that I won’t be able to vote in the New Jersey primaries if I am not a member of the two-party establishment. How can people like me get the Democratic Party to start pursuing progressive, working-class politics instead of just courting our votes during election season and then thumbing its nose at us while in office? Working-class voters are never valued by any party after the election is over. I cannot run for office myself as I have a working-class background in the casino industry and don’t feel my candidacy would be taken seriously. If the wealthy and corporations are considered so valuable because of their status as “job creators,” then why isn’t the working class valued as “profit creators”? No corporation would survive without its employees. I don’t understand why this point is not emphasized more. Are there any groups that represent my views? I live in Mays Landing, a very Republican area. I want to set a good example for my two children, so any advice would be greatly appreciated.

—Disgusted With Corporate Democrats

Dear Disgusted,

Your critique of the system seems spot-on to me, and you’re right to wonder whether the Democratic Party can represent working-class interests. It’s best to keep your Democratic Party registration so that you can strategically vote in the primaries, but to also get involved in building an alternative.

I wouldn’t necessarily let your background stop you from running for office. There are groups that share your views and badly need candidates whom working-class voters can relate to. Millionaire Democrats like Hillary Clinton, who hobnobbed with rich donors in the Hamptons instead of even visiting Wisconsin, inspire many working-class people to vote Republican. A left that can run candidates with your life experience is in a much better position to offer an alternative.

Of course, some life histories do cause problems for office-seekers. Depending on how scandalous your casino work is, I can understand wanting to protect yourself! But as a New York organizer once told me, if we want to see working-class interests reflected in politics, “the left is going to have to get better at talking about working-class lives.” That won’t happen unless more working-class people run for office on a left platform.

But there are lots of opportunities to get involved in progressive politics in your area outside of the Democratic Party. One is the South Jersey Democratic Socialists of America organizing committee. The DSA’s growth has exploded since Trump’s election, and it often runs local candidates in Democratic primaries, while also working to build a democratic-socialist movement that can oppose the party of Rahm Emanuel. There are also a couple of Green Party races in Atlantic County, where you live.

Given your background in the industry, do also consider getting involved in organizing efforts by casino workers in Atlantic City. Workers at the Trump Taj Mahal, represented by Unite Here Local 54, went on strike last summer. Your experience could benefit those organizers and workers. For a future driven by the working class and not by people like Donald Trump, building the labor movement is just as important as electoral politics.

Have a question? Ask Liza here.

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