The despair that has permeated these postelection months is not an unfamiliar sensation for many people. Communities have engaged in collective struggle since the founding of our nation. The “again” that punctuates the president’s rallying cry rings hollow to those for whom America has yet to be truly great. It makes what’s been happening since November a somewhat thorny awakening.
People who have never engaged politically are stepping out and signing up for the first time. Those with deep movement histories are contemplating new coalitions. And so the question becomes how best to channel and sustain this civic fervor.
As a group of progressive graduate-school students from Harvard, we conceived of one piece for this elaborate mosaic of political action: Resistance School. We designed a free practical-training program for collective organizing, transmitted via live-stream from here in Cambridge. The sessions aim to help people move from communicating the values that motivate their political commitments to incrementally constructing an action plan for advocacy.
The idea for Resistance School emerged from a series of late-night conversations among a small group of classmates, each of us shaped through different political and professional traditions. Our team includes former campaign staffers; community and labor organizers; advocates for human rights, campaign finance reform, and veterans’ affairs; and journalists. We came together because we were moved by the surge in political appetite across the country, and we wanted to figure out how we could best contribute without duplicating efforts.
After all, none of this is new. The election of Trump is a manifestation of the right’s orchestrated takeover of our political system, but they are not solely to blame for his rise. In the comparatively quiet stretches between election cycles, it’s politically expedient to forget that underrepresented communities have long been fighting our nation’s injustices. This lack of historical memory is bipartisan.
To understand the deferral of political and social dreams, we need to tell origin stories. Timothy Patrick McCarthy opened the inaugural session of Resistance School on April 5 calling for us to do just that. “The true definition of ‘radical’ is to get to the root of things,” he said. “Values reflect our roots.” A renowned educator, McCarthy specializes in politics and social movements, slavery and abolition, the art and literature of protest, media culture, and human rights. He urged Resistance School “students”—the tens of thousands of people from all 50 states who tuned in online—to do the difficult work of articulating each of their core values. “Place it in context, give it a root, give it a place to grow.” Only by learning how to communicate our values can we plausibly enact them in the world.