Applying Pressure Politics When It Counts The Most
Our guest authors today are Norman Hill and Velma Murphy Hill. Norman is a co-founder of the A. Philip Randolph Institute in Washington, D.C., of which he is president emeritus. Velma, like her husband Norman, was a leader in the Congress of Racial Equality in the 1960s, then held major positions in the United Federation of Teachers where she helped unionize 10,000 teacher’s assistants in the New York City public school system. Their memoir, Climbing the Rough Side of the Mountain: A Movement Marriage Through Six Decades of Love and Activism, is scheduled for publication next year.
One of the greatest advantages of not being recent arrivals to history is that context and perspective are often great ladders to clarity. Yet, in the curious case of Donald J. Trump—and his even more curious ascent to the White House four years ago—even with our 120 years of combined experience working in the American civil rights and labor movements, we were still surprised and our ability to achieve perspective was severely tested. However, explaining Trump’s rather Humpy Dumpty crash from a wall of his own making is a simple matter.
With last month’s election of Joseph R. Biden, Jr. to the U.S presidency, along with his history-making vice-president-elect, Kamala Harris, the existential threat to our democracy and long cherished national values has been averted. At least, for now.
The spontaneous celebrations of the Biden-Harris victory that swept the U.S. and broke out in some of the world’s major cities are a testament to a great exhalation, a huge heave of genuine relief.
Historian and author, Jon Meacham, recently called this a period of “restoration, calm and reason.”
But seeing our way to a post-Trump near future, as Trump’s handlers and hangers-on try to pick up the pieces of a dangerously autocratic chief executive, is worrying. We think that it is time to map out a plan of action to slam the door on Trumpism as its namesake leaves, one way or the other. In our view, that means putting in place mechanisms to help ensure that a Biden administration lives up to its better possibilities. To do that, the incoming administration must feel the weight of its supporters at its back.
While Franklin D. Roosevelt was hammering out a New Deal in the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s, he implored the American public to join him, in effect, to push him to use enormous federal powers to save and restore the nation’s failed economy and wounded soul.
President Barack Obama made similar calls for his administration to be urged to enact plans and policies his constituency called for during his presidential campaigns. But as powerful as Obama’s vaunted coalition that delivered him the White House twice, there was little evidence of it during his administrations as a consistent, organized force for progressive change.
We are not surprised. The nature of powerful coalitions is often akin to a massive sea wave. It can come sweeping in with tremendous force, but it then recedes.
Biden’s coalition famously contains major elements of Obama’s broad-based coalition. Its most prominent components are Blacks, Hispanics, women, millennials, moderates, gays, labor and independents. Biden and Harris also expanded its big tent to include a surprisingly high number of older voters—likely a consequence of that group’s stern disapproval of Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Perhaps one of the most tragic hoaxes played on America was Trump’s persistent characterization of those who raised an alarm about the seriousness of the deadliest pandemic in a century as perpetrators of a hoax. Even while begrudgingly acknowledging the devastation of Covid-19, he regularly undercut national efforts to address the health crisis.
On the other hand, we applaud Biden’s early action in naming the leadership of his newly formed coronavirus task force. We similarly support word that he plans to, upon entering office, reverse some of the most egregious elements of the Trump agenda. Among these initiatives are having America rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, and the World Health Organization, repealing the travel ban principally aimed at Muslim countries, and returning protections to the DREAMers program. We are further encouraged by Biden’s policies of inclusion, in stark contrast to the policies and pronouncements of exclusion that marked much of the Trump White House.
Nevertheless, we are calling for the creation of an independent coalition (one built on the same winning coalition that drove Trump from office) to serve as a well-tuned mechanism to pressure the Biden administration to live up to its promise and promises, when necessary. Basically, this coalition could be thought of as a sort of political GPS to help keep the Biden agenda on track.
The role of this coalition is not only to elect, but to collect.
It is tremendously important in this post-election period, to keep the coalition engaged while expanding grassroots lobbying in support of the issues the Biden candidacy raised, including his support for workers, his commitment to addressing systematic racism, his promise to reform criminal justice, and to curb income inequality in the U.S.
America cannot afford to have this emerging agenda for change to become sidetracked.
This effort becomes increasingly vital as the Democratic capture of the U.S. Senate looms possible if Democratic Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, prevail in run-off elections in Georgia this January. And there is a fighting chance that they both may win.
With Democratic control of the White House and both houses of Congress, a standing coalition—existing outside the power structure but having access to it—could have enormously beneficial influence on the Biden administration to stay true to its political commitments and vision. Having a legislative purpose would also help energize, focus and unify the coalition, as advocacy of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 did for the civil rights coalition of the early 1960s.
There is, however, the question of who leads this coalition.
We believe a national leadership with a broad-based constituency would be an excellent choice.
This could include figures like Stacy Abrams, a political superstar and voting rights activist, the Rev. William Barber, veteran civil rights activist and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, Black Lives Matter, Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and the labor movement.
One certainty is that such an independent coalition, regardless of who leads it, would be an expression of the eternal vigilance that is the price of liberty, economic justice, and political freedom. And that might be just enough to usher in a new day for America as Trump and his Trumpism goes—if not quietly, but goes, nonetheless—into the night.
How great to learn
Norm and Velma are still “making things happen.”