In the wake of the catastrophic election of Donald Trump, we all know the left needs to get its act together. But how?
I posed this question to Jillian Johnson, L.A. Kauffman, and Jonathan Matthew Smucker, three longtime activists well-positioned to provide some insight and advice to anyone ready to commit to the budding resistance. Jillian Johnson is a year into her tenure on Durham, North Carolina’s City Council, where she is uniquely poised to contribute to a progressive turn toward municipal and state-level politics across the country. Kauffman’s new book, Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism, traces the history of a powerful strain of American dissent, and how it is being harnessed by a new generation of change-makers. Smucker’s Hegemony How-To: A Roadmap for Radicals, gets into the nitty-gritty of why movements fail, and how they can succeed. Our conversation lays out much-needed historical lessons and theoretical guidance for anyone engaged in grassroots organizing today.
Astra Taylor: What is power to you?
Jillian Johnson: For me, being involved in city government is part of a larger project to build local power. I feel more and more that local government and local power is where we have a possibility of making real change and a material difference in people’s lives—something that seems less possible right now at any other level of government. City councils are dealing with decisions that can seem really small, but that have significant impact.
In North Carolina, where our state government has been in the hands of the far right for the last several years, and now with our federal government shifting more and more to the right as well, I see more and more people turning to municipal government and local movements as the only place they really feel like their energy can make a difference.
I think we have an opportunity this year to elect a strong progressive majority on the Durham City Council, and that makes me a little bit more hopeful about this political moment. I’m excited about what we could do to fight back against Trump on a local level in the “rebel cities” framework that people around the world have been building. It’s a little bit harder for us here in North Carolina, since we will also be fighting our state as well as our federal government. If we are able to build more power locally, we will be able to provide an exciting model for this work in a progressive city in a red state under Trump.