The Election vs. The Resistance

Thoughts on anarchist movement strategy and liberation struggle during the electoral cycle

by Panagioti Tsolkas / Antistasis Project

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Engravings by Greek artist Thomas Molos, 1921–2009

Spoiler Alert: Neither an anti-voting rant or a political endorsement

For those of us who pay attention to politics and social movements, being days from an election like this can feel like being just too far away from a spot on the horizon to tell if it’s a revolution or an apocalypse. Do we speed up? Stop and rest? Find some other way around?

As we seek some perspective on our current moment, a quick history break might be helpful: October 28, 1940 — 80 years ago this week — was Oxi Day (pronounced ‘oh-hee‘), marking when Mussolini’s fascist forces were refused entry to Greece. It was a loud and clear message that some people weren’t going to step aside for the march of far-right totalitarian political regimes seeking to expand their control.

The modern-day celebration of this holiday can get confusing, with its hypernationalism and flag-waving from a country that, for the past 10 years, elected literal neo-Nazis to parliament seats. Despite that, the decision to refuse Mussolini’s expansion of his new Italian empire across the Balkans and North Africa stands as an important moment in the collective partisan resistance that played a huge role in defeating Italian and German fascist ideology.

As we know, that ideology didn’t disappear, but it was driven back into the margins and dispersed across the planet. There it has remained, bubbling up occasionally like festering wounds.

Four years ago, that lingering infected sore on humanity saw a major opportunity in the extreme nationalism and egomania of Donald Trump, re-branded as the Alt-Right or Western chauvinism.

No, I’m not saying the U.S. Empire is currently in a fascist or totalitarian condition. But it’s impossible not to think about what Oxi Day means for us today, as we see similar rhetoric surfacing, talk of refusing to accept election results, paramilitary nationalists killing people in the street during uprisings against racist policing.

Interestingly, over the past four years of the current presidential administration, the word resistance has arguably become more prominent in mainstream discourse than at any time since the partisan movements surrounding WWII.

Since Trump’s 2016 campaign, groups that usually tended towards online petitions and political endorsements began using the rhetoric of resistance in stickers, shirts, coffee mugs, etc.

Having spent many years as part of small-scale resistance movements in the U.S. and watching this development with much interest, I think there is a lot of potential in this willingness to embrace the concept of resistance. Sure, there are some frustrating elements of co-optation and insincerity, but much more importantly, there is an opening to push for deeper social changes, in the direction of liberation, equality and ecology.

As an active part of anarchist movements and various grassroots social change efforts more generally over the past two decades, I feel pretty confident saying that we’ve failed to promote the concept of resistance broadly enough to reach the apolitical people or folks on the fence about parties or philosophies. These folks, many of whom were chanting “we are the 99%” during Occupy Wall Street, have bought into the façade of Trump as a rebellious option.

But now that the concept of resistance has moved from fringe towards center, we have a chance to shape its meaning in front of a wider audience than perhaps ever before in this country. Because resistance isn’t just about engaging in conflict, it’s about incorporating a principle of defiance into daily life, exercising it until it becomes a natural reflex, a response to injustice and oppression, both felt and witnessed, against people, places, cultures, ideas. Developing the courage to embrace resistance means placing it among the bare necessities: Eating, breathing, sleeping, loving, resisting.

There’s no need to rehash the obvious rise of neo-Nazi politics since Trump’s election. It’s been belabored enough. It’s irrefutable that he has been blowing a dog whistle long and hard to gather support from the dregs of white supremacist organizations who are attempting to “unite the right” under fascist ambitions, and largely succeeding, sparking a resurgent neo-Nazism parading as populist patriotism. The immediate praise from Greece’s Golden Dawn party should have been a clear indication for anyone who was doubting it.

As a former Golden Dawn elected official and disgraced spokesperson, Ilias Panagiotaros, said to a reporter in 2016, “Trump is the planet’s keeper. He’s the president of the world’s superpower, and whether you like him or not, his policies are now validating beliefs and concerns across the globe.”

He continued, “Trump’s policies have given us a new wind of support. It’s validating and reinforcing our nationalistic and patriotic policies — policies that we have been advocating for years.”

The more important conversation is what we do from here.

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It’s obvious that the movement to oust Trump by election is an important part of the process unfolding before us. Even for an anarchist like myself, who doesn’t feel any draw towards glorifying electoralism and the façade of democracy it provides, a vote contesting Trump is worth the minimal effort it requires. But our strategic thinking and planning must be dynamic and visionary enough to see beyond November third.

Regardless of the electoral results, joining in this moment to counter the forces Trump has mobilized (with his massive campaign of social media conspiracy theories that crown him as a savior) is an important opportunity. An opportunity to organize alongside the people most likely to get masses out into the street if Trump loses and refuses to leave, or wins and continues to call on paramilitary far-right support to repress the steady flow of uprisings occurring against his police, prisons, pipelines, racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc.

The next few days of canvassing, phonebanking, poll watching, etc. are worth including in our diversity of tactics with the primary strategic goal of dispersing back to the margins the neo-Nazis that have rallied around him.

At the same time, while the Democratic Party leaves much to be desired for those of us striving towards liberation, recent movement history shows quite clearly that larger gains are made under less repressive U.S. regimes. Global justice organizing, climate justice mobilizations, immigrant solidarity — we can develop all these further when not playing defense against the more intense racism, sexism, war mongering and bigotry that tends to accompany Republican regimes.

I hear friends and comrades voice fears that a defeat of Trump could lead to a laziness or apathy that would slow the momentum of movements that are energized by facing off with Trump. In response, I name a few specific examples: Occupy Wall Street and the explosion of a housing justice movement; #NoDAPL, Tar Sands Blockade and the rise of anti-pipeline struggles; the immigrant solidarity push for DACA, the DREAM Act and the release of low-priority deportations; the growth of prison abolition and the unprecedented 2016 prison strike. These were all moments that social movements’ organizing shaped policy and public opinion on critical issues, and all happened under Democratic Party administrations.

A massive energy infrastructure plan was halted and federal contracts with private prisons were cancelled in the year before Trump took office. He reversed those decisions almost immediately. The DAPL construction continued. Prison industry stock shot back up.

Or we can look back to the ’99 Seattle WTO protests and other anti-globalization uprisings that unified groups across broad coalitions to push fundamental economic changes. Even though President Clinton was a pusher of NAFTA just a few years before, the movement on the streets was able to grow in a way that was almost immediately stifled in the second Bush era, when contesting a policy of endless wars for oil (under the guise of combatting terrorism) consumed so much activist energy for two terms that the fight to shut down corporate globalization summits took a back seat to the RNC convergences.

We can and should use the last remaining days till the election, and likely the days following it if results are contested, to secure a strategic outcome of a less repressive condition that is less encouraging of fascist-style politics. In doing so, we develop relationships and prepare for the very real possibility that Trump makes good on his expressed intent to stay in his position despite ballot results.

If Biden wins, we get some breathing room for planning to crash every economic summit, blockade every pipeline, defund every police department and leave every prison in ashes.

In the weeks and months ahead, regardless of the election outcome, anarchists will have the task of both radicalizing disappointed Dems and peeling away Trump supporters as the haze clears from their brain and they realize what they helped usher in.

All that is not to say that grassroots movements in the streets can’t or don’t make gains under Republicans. We spent much of this year proving that they sure as hell can. We turned out massive crowds amidst a pandemic. We saw the burning down of an entire police station, and rebellions in dozens of cities forced real conversations about cutting bloated police budgets (Note: Police department appropriations generally account for the largest share of the budget in 35 of the 50 largest cities). We watched the tearing down of Confederate and colonialist statues and the blockading of border wall construction, all calling into question centuries of white supremacy.

An election versus a resistance is not an either/or dilemma. It’s about looking at what we can make out of what we have to work with. In other words, an election is an event; resistance is a commitment.

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(A longer, more rambling version of this essay, including some unnecessary footnotes, vaguely relevant personal anecdotes and additional embedded links can be found at Antistasis Project. Thank you to Walter Smelt III for assistance in editing this tighter version.)

Written by

Tsolkas is a Greek-American community organizer and dad. He has published extensively on mass incarceration, policing and environmental justice.

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