I’m defining a “strategic pivot” as a change in organizing strategies or tactics to ensure a community’s survival or to increase the impact or reach of its political vision.
By Ejeris Dixon Truthout | Op-Ed December 6, 2016
As a longtime organizer within racial justice movements, I have been voraciously reading and searching for answers in this political moment. What I know to be true is that our conditions have changed. And they’ve changed to a degree that it’s impossible to fully grasp right now. In the past I’ve talked about the need for organizers to be malleable, to be able to shift strategies and tactics based on a changing political climate. Based on this I’ve been thinking about what strategic pivots our movements need to make for our survival and to continue to resist the incoming administration.
Pivoting as a Strategy
I’m defining a “strategic pivot” as a change in organizing strategies or tactics to ensure a community’s survival or to increase the impact or reach of its political vision. In this moment we know that systems of oppression are historical and deeply embedded within US culture and institutions. White supremacy, misogyny, ableism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia are not new. What is new is that we’re encountering an incoming administration that is more transparently oppressive and violent than many of us have seen in our lifetimes.
We can anticipate an increased level of surveillance against progressive organizations and leaders. We can anticipate that our social safety net will disappear or dramatically shrink, with dangerous consequences. We can anticipate an increase in funding to police, prisons, immigration enforcement and the military. We can anticipate the violent, terrifying and demonizing impact of the Muslim ban and Muslim registry. We can anticipate the deadly impact of more militarized police departments. We can anticipate an administration that actively opposes climate justice movements, reproductive justice movements, the Movement for Black Lives, Native and Indigenous organizing movements, LGBTQ liberation movements and so many additional interconnected movements.
We have observed that the incoming administration does not respect the right to protest and responds aggressively to dissent. We are already experiencing the violent impact of emboldened white supremacists. And these are just some of the challenges we’re experiencing.
Recognizing this, here are some pivots that I’m thinking about:
We need to assess which communities, policies and movement organizations are most likely to come under attack during a Trump administration. We have eight weeks to create and implement a multitiered safety plan. Under an Obama administration we have had multiple marginalized communities experiencing state violence, but the impacted communities and the number of people experiencing violence, homelessness, poverty, unemployment, and state and government detention is likely to dramatically increase with a Trump administration. Many of our racial justice movements have been winning and moving offensively, and that is amazing. We don’t have to move away from proactive, transformative or generative strategy — but I think we need to think more deliberately about defense.
Strategic defense can look a variety of ways. At the community level, people are already beginning to think and work in this area by creating plans to accompany people who are currently experiencing an increase in harassment and violence, including people of color, Muslim community members and trans and gender-nonconforming people.
At the policy level, strategic defense can be about examining the impacts of removing the Affordable Care Act on low-income people, trans and gender-nonconforming people and people with disabilities. And strategic defense can be about thinking through local and statewide policy interventions to ensure low cost or free access to needed medical care for these communities.
At the organizational level, strategic defense can involve thinking about organizational vulnerabilities to government surveillance, raids, politically motivated media attacks, or politically motivated audits and other forms of government investigations and oversight. Thinking proactively and deeply about strategic defense is a necessity in a transparently hostile political climate.
While the Democrats are doing some deep strategic assessment, many of us predict that their pivot will be away from the most marginalized communities and toward the white working class. And while there are multiple rational reasons for folks not to engage in electoral politics, we must acknowledge that public policies affect us whether or not we vote. One pivot that I’m thinking about is around progressive electoral strategy. Within the upcoming midterm elections and upcoming state and local elections we need to elect a wave of progressive and radical left officials — for obstruction, community protection and to reduce the harm of state violence. We do not need to believe in the electoral system to participate in electing officials for harm reduction. We just need to push our local and state governments further left wherever possible. And we need to make them explicitly unable and unwilling to collaborate with the incoming president.
New and Expanded Collaborations
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I’ve observed that we often have limited engagements between the parts of the left that engage in civil disobedience and people who work on issues of policy reform. Sometimes this is because of important ideological differences, but sometimes we are disconnected out of habit. One pivot I’m encouraging is for people to think about strategic alignment between progressives, liberals and the radical left when necessary and possible. This will not be applicable to all issues but may apply most to potential campaigns, issues and strategies where the stakes are so high that we need to create multipronged strategic alliances. Whether we’re talking about the Muslim registry or the elimination of the Affordable Care Act, we need to be thinking about how we can simultaneously create local and state policies to prevent and/or undermine local and state government participation, and coordinate that work with civil disobedience, direct action and strategic communications. In these times, we need to examine the possibility of using public policy to increase our reach and power, and to support our survival.
Creating Useful Pivots
I’ve outlined some of the changing conditions and pivots that I’m recognizing from my vantage point. Recognizing that each of us are wrestling with a set of interconnected yet differing conditions I’ve created some guiding questions to explore your own potential pivots. I hope you find them useful in strategizing over the next two months:
What conditions have already changed for your communities as a result of this incoming administration?
What conditions can you anticipate changing?
What strategies and tactics do you regularly engage in? What strategies are outside of your experience? What does this say about your political habits? Where are you willing to shift/change? Who can support you in that growth?
Who are your regular collaborators? What progressive, left or even liberal communities or organizations are outside of your regular collaborators? What’s to gain from new collaborations? What’s to lose within new collaborations?
Pivoting for Power, Safety and Survival
As a Black queer woman, I live at the intersection of multiple communities engaged in daily survival, and I’m in deep solidarity with many marginalized communities outside of my own. I’m writing this as a framework for our strategic and collective survival. I’m writing this thinking about my fear in this moment, and the fears of people with far less privilege than I hold. I know that there are people who feel that the conditions have not changed — that oppression existed before Trump and that this is not new. I don’t fully disagree. However, there are times when conditions change to such a degree that continuing to solely use the same strategy is not only ineffective but harmful. I believe that strategic pivots do not require us to change our politics or our values. Strategic pivots allow us to build power and community and increase the ability of the most marginalized and oppressed communities to survive and lead our movements. In these times, it’s essential that each of us commit to using every tool at our disposal to build power and safety for our communities.
Ejeris Dixon is an organizer and grassroots political strategist with 15 years of experience working in racial justice, LGBTQ, anti-violence and economic justice movements. She currently works as the Founding Director of Vision Change Win, where she partners with organizations to build their capacity and deepen their impact. From 2010 to 2013 Ejeris served as the Deputy Director, in charge of the Community Organizing Department at the New York City Anti-Violence Project where she directed national, statewide and local advocacy efforts on hate violence, domestic violence and sexual violence. From 2005 to 2010 Ejeris worked as the founding Program Coordinator of the Safe OUTside the System Collective at the Audre Lorde Project where she worked on creating community based strategies to address hate and police violence. She is a widely recognized as an expert on issues of police violence, hate violence, sexual violence and intimate partner violence as they impact LGBTQ communities and communities of color. Her essay, “Building Community Safety: Practical Steps Toward Liberatory Transformation,” is featured in Truthout’s anthology Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? Police Violence and Resistance in the United States.
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