History textbooks notoriously overlook deep historical patterns. When we are taught in school about the colonization of the Americas by Europeans or the abolition of slavery, our teachers present them as if singularities. Abraham Lincoln was an enlightened savior*. Vladimir Lenin is painted as single-handedly overthrowing the Russian Tsarists in 1917**. In my own high school history class, our teacher made an argument that Richard Nixon was a “good president” because he ordered withdrawal from the Vietnam War***. Most grievously, Columbus is painted as a bold explorer with few words of the American genocides started by him and continued by his ancestors****.
In reality, these are drawn-out, often bloody domestic battles with hundreds of thousands — or millions — of participants. To take a couple examples, the US abolition movement was growing for decades before the Thirteenth Amendment; the Russian Marxist movement was highly active in the 1870s and 1880s, long before Lenin and the 1917 Revolution. We inherit the spirit of these social justice movements when we organize; but, sometimes, we can point to one event that triggers the start of something powerful.
On a rainy Sunday night following the 2016 election, there was such a genesis in Seattle. Hundreds of community members answered a call to action issued by several veteran organizers. The message? “Protect what you love. Build communities of resistance”. People who are targeted by Trumpism — LGBTQ people, Latinx folks, immigrants, Muslims — delivered empassioned speeches without microphones in the driving rain. This went on for hours until the final pitch was made to join together, become organizers, and create a Neighborhood Action Coalition.
Now, a few months later, the Greater Seattle Neighborhood Action Coalition has built a deep network throughout the Seattle area and into the Puget Sound basin. Members are in touch with similar groups throughout North America and beyond.
The goal? To take power back from the plutocrats. To enact participatory democracy. To build environmentally sustainable societies. To step back and empower the most marginalized people. To protect each other and stand up for human rights. To end settler-colonialism of indigenous peoples. To build a world that we can pass on with love and care for seven generations.
* Lincoln didn’t even consider himself an abolitionist and early-on promoted compensating slaveowners for their “losses”. Unsurprising, perhaps, since “Southern Redemption” followed so soon after.
** Tolstoy wrote of the Russian socialist movement in Anna Karenina in the 1870s.
*** The Students for a Democratic Society, Black Panthers, American Indian Movement, and antiwar movements didn’t merit a mention – nor did the “Southern Strategy” or Lee Atwater’s description of dog-whistle racism.
**** Estimates vary, but commonly cited numbers are roughly 90% of the indigenous population died from introduced European diseases – something like 90 million people.