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“Why sanction children?” – On the road in Wigan

We visit the town made famous by George Orwell for its deprivation in the 1930s and find parts of it standing tall – and others beaten down by the cuts.

Mentioning George Orwell’s name in Wigan is controversial. For many here, his 1937 study of working-class plight in the industrial north has turned their town into a byword for deprivation – and they don’t thank him for it. During my visit, I only receive frowns and awkward pauses when attempting to bring up the constituency’s unofficial biographer so celebrated beyond the precincts of this old mill town.

Even today, The Road to Wigan Pier is used to describe bleak conditions too many communities in England continue to endure. The Office of Budget Responsibility warned at the end of last year, following George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, that his plan for further cuts would take Britain back to the spending levels of Thirties depression time. The BBC’s Norman Smith angered the cabinet by in turn reporting that the country is on the way to the “land of The Road to Wigan Pier”.

And although the people of Wigan are dubious about how their home has been immortalised in Orwell’s book, the precarious employment conditions, poverty, and corresponding union presence I come across here are symptoms of a place that has still somewhat been left behind.

Pier review

Ironically, the town’s suffering is least evident in the area surrounding its pier. Weathered wharfs and warehouses perch along a now serene stretch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, once a scene bustling daily with horse-drawn barges and canal boat workers.

The towering redbrick Trencherfield Mill dominates the landscape, a reminder of the town’s former industrial might – and now home to luxury flats. It is reflected by other such factories in the distance, old cathedrals of commerce with their distinctive chimney towers peppering the horizon.

Pop over a bridge opposite the double arches of the Terminus warehouse, which once stored grain, sugar, spices and dried fruit, and you find a cotton warehouse converted into a pub called The Orwell. From its black-and-white sign, the author’s face gazes out over the canal.


The pier now is a far cry from Orwell's recollection. (Photo: Getty)


“England’s bread hangs by Lancashire’s thread!”

During the Industrial Revolution, this area was the watery backbone of the northwest’s textile industry. Wigan would echo with the sound of Trencherfield’s steam whistle summoning cotton workers to the mill every day. Even following the Second World War, the motto “England’s bread hangs by Lancashire’s thread” appeared throughout the north.

The metamorphosis of Britain’s economy had a devastating effect on many of these former industrial powerhouses, and Wigan has suffered. Its mining heritage means there are many here with chronic health conditions (7 per cent of the constituency’s population are sick or disabled), and underemployment has led to uncertainty and a loss of identity among residents.

In what was traditionally a market town, the stall-owners have been displaced by a shopping centre, the Grand Arcade, which emerged glistening at some point during the New Labour era. They still run a market, but it is no longer the buzzing centre of the town’s commerce.

And the coalition’s policies following 2008’s financial crash haven’t helped matters. “The government created conditions for a town like this to fold in,” the local MP, Lisa Nandy, tells me. We are walking around Standishgate, the main artery running through Wigan town centre.

Nandy, elected MP for this ultra-safe Labour seat in 2010, is concerned that under such economic conditions, “the sharks move in”. And sure enough, squatting up and down the high street are a Money Shop, Cash Store, and a Cash Converters. Nandy points out that these places and the McDonald’s are positioned – like highwaymen of the high street – on the walk from the benefits office to the pharmacy, a well-worn path for recovering heroin addicts.

Over in Marsh Green, west of the town centre and one of Wigan’s most deprived parts, a foodbank has been opened by the local vicar. It is a satellite of the main foodbank run in the town centre by a homeless charity called The Brick.

Without being able to afford the bus fare into town, vulnerable Marsh Green residents were walking miles to and from the central foodbank with heavy bags of mainly tinned food for their families, so the church is now providing an outpost for easier access. As well as stacks of canned soup and beans, the church provides pastoral support for those who come in.

One desperate young mother, who looks pale and close to tears, comes rushing in for some food. She has three children and has recently had her benefits sanctioned. I am unable to speak to her, as she is taken into a back room where she has a chat with the vicar and the headmistress of the local primary school who also helps out here.

“People have pride,” the latter tells me. “It takes a lot to screw up your courage and admit you need help.”

She finds “more and more children are hungry” in her school, and “come from a house where there is no food and no heating”. She recently went round to the house of a family whose children had suddenly stopped attending nursery and discovered that the parents had been sanctioned by the Job Centre and there was consequently no heating in their home.

“Sanctioning families with young children – that’s child abuse,” says the vicar, shaking her head. “Why sanction them?” She tells me about the variety of people who come to the church for food:

“We get a lot of families, a number of people have some form of mental illness, and people who have been hit by the Bedroom Tax. One lady came in who had brought her family up, and now they’ve moved out and she has to pay the Bedroom Tax, she can’t afford food.”

It appears this pocket of historic Lancashire is no longer seeing the bread its thread once provided.


Ken Loach has gone from acclaimed filmmaker to one of the architects of Left Unity, a party with an increasing presence in Wigan (Photo: Getty)


Unions and unity

Underemployment is also prevalent. Nandy talks about the “insecurity” felt by many workers here, as “those days are gone” when Wigan’s strong industries – “railways, construction, mines, and before that, textiles” – guaranteed a secure job for life.

We sit down for fish and chips (apparently the best in Wigan) at a place called Mr Chips run by an ex-miner who started it up on his redundancy money. We are joined in the bright, sticky comfort of the small lunchroom by members of the CWU (the postal workers union), who give me their perspective on Wigan’s unstable working conditions.

Their workplace, the sorting office, is just around the corner and is a big employer here. They worry about the future of the Royal Mail, which the government recently privatised, particularly in light of Amazon having its own courier service; the ensuing drop in parcel deliveries is losing the sorting office work and money.

Gary, a local union rep wearing his pale blue shirt bearing the Royal Mail insignia, explains, “It’s not secure anymore. It’s gone from being a public service to being a business drive, more and more drive towards profit. This has had a big local impact, a lot of lads who work in the sorting office live locally.”

He adds, “They don’t recruit full-time anymore, it’s all part-time, and we’re losing staff . . . it’s a race to the bottom.”

Ian, a regional union officer, tells me that working at the sorting office has long been seen as “I wish I had that job” because of its stability and good pay, but now “newer staff are absolutely terrified” because of more precarious employment conditions.

Trade unions play an important part in Wigan life to this day, partly due to the town’s industrial heritage, but also as a symptom of the modern-day difficulties workers face.

“There is a history of solidarity here,” Nandy observes. “They don’t like people getting shafted, whoever they are. There is a strong union presence here, and Labour is a culture and way of life. Labour hasn’t changed very much here in the last thirty years in terms of wanting security of work and a decent home. That’s the reason why I talk about the need to protect trade unions.

“Community is really strong,” she continues. “But real community, not when everyone gets along and skips around eating apple pie, but when they fall out and argue and pull together and look out for each other.”

Union power has given rise to an alternative left-wing movement in Wigan. Left Unity, a new national party with traditional socialist values created in 2013, has a strong base here; it ran seven candidates in Wigan during last year’s local elections and received 8.8 per cent of the vote in one ward, beating the Tories. The party’s Wigan branch was apparently bolstered by the active Bakers’ Union, striking against zero-hours agency staff at the Hovis bakery.

Nandy knows many of Wigan’s Left Unity figures, and has even been on the picket line alongside them during local industrial disputes. But while she finds it “frustrating that we’re working against each other”, she says, “in some ways you need that sense of democracy, sense of challenge, in a place that has voted Labour for 100 years now”.

Ken Loach, the veteran socialist film director, is one of the founders of Left Unity, having called for a left-wing alternative party to Labour a couple of years ago. “The Labour party’s consistently moved to the right,” he tells me. “It’s now unashamedly a neoliberal party, pursuing the same austerity programme, just slightly reordering the crumbs on the table.”

Loach praises this region’s union activity, saying, “I think the northwest is a good, militant area”, but does not appear optimistic about Britain taking action against the government and big business:

“Agitation in other countries has been much greater,” he says, referring to the insurgent left in Greece and Spain. “And I think it’s partly to do with the trade union leadership not leading our struggle. And it’s to do with the Labour party telling everybody to go home – every time anybody shows any fight, there’s Miliband saying don’t do it.

“We need to organise better . . . the students fought hard but weren’t supported by the unions in the way they should’ve been. Public servants fight hard, but again there’ll be words of support among the unions but they don’t actually take action. And it’s only taking action that the politicians will take notice of. They can stand any amount of marches and demonstrations.”

Loach’s concern is that the prospect of further cuts – as proposed by both the Tories and Labour – will take the country back to the bleakness of the Thirties, but also back to the distinct lack of active socialism observed by Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier. “The danger today is a kind of quietism, back to the Thirties passivity, which is actually very quiet,” Loach warns.


Much has changed in Wigan, but the town is still largely white. (David Hodgson/Flickr)


Wigan fear

One aspect of Wigan society that hasn’t changed greatly is its whiteness. Its white British population is 95 per cent, and Nandy describes it as “very homogeneous”. She says the reason “immigration fear is high” here is due to insecure economic conditions – in spite of the almost non-existent migrant population.

In the recent past, around 2004, a BNP and EDL contingent would stir up trouble in the town – one local I speak to labels it “the onslaught of the BNP” – but this has now collapsed and translated into support for Ukip, which came second in a significant number of council wards during the last local elections.

“We’ve got a Ukip issue,” a volunteer at a charitable organisation for asylum seekers in Wigan town centre tells me. “It’s quite fertile ground for the fears people prey on.”

She volunteers at SWAP: the Support for Wigan Arrivals Project. I meet her, and its two founding staff members – all, noticeably, white British women and veteran locals – at the charity’s humble headquarters just off the high street. There are piles of donated food for the asylum seekers ­(“we get so many pickles and Christmas puddings – Wiganers give what Wiganers give!”) and a room dedicated to counselling those dealing with psychological issues from being tortured.

“It’s a weird enclave of white people here,” one of SWAP’s team tells me. “Historically because this was a coalmining place, there was mainly white migration here. And you do stand out here if you’re from an ethnic minority.”

Yet one of its two founders is more positive, saying: “Asylum seekers like to stay once they arrive; they feel welcome. They don’t often come in here and say they’ve experienced racism.”

And although the town’s reputation has suffered under pressure from the far-right movement – and a more recent scandal involving the racist remarks of Dave Whelan, chair of Wigan football club – its natural solidarity has consistently countered such divisive politics.

Having a pint at The Anvil – a cosy enclave described as “more of a working men’s pub than club” – at the end of my trip, I meet a middle-aged man who used to be active in the Wigan United Against Racism movement. He recalls, “when the asylum seekers arrived, the BNP arrived, and that was a shock to the local system. This was about ten years ago. Our main aim was not having BNP councillors.” (They succeeded).

“We’re not all like Dave Whelan,” he sighs. “It comes up all the time, and has brought shame and dishonour on the town . . . Wigan seems to be ripe for Fifties nostalgia, when actually it wasn’t that good back then. There are people out there trying to split people up. Solidarity sounds a bit sentimental, but we don’t want people to split us up.”

Another man who joins us for a drink, whose father was a miner, tells us how tough the past three decades have been for the town: “I lived through the strike, I was born in a miner’s house, and the whole community withered up and died. Watching my dad in tears in the eighth month of the strike,” he pauses. “We had nothing.”

He observes a “bizarre parallel” 30 years on, with “people today being subjected to this horrendous onslaught of welfare reform. At least with benefit cuts to mining families we knew the strike would end . . .

“But I’ve never seen anywhere that’s got so much community spirit as Wigan – when people are on their uppers they come together. It’s not about being left or right, it’s about being a decent human being.”

And, in spite of this town having been overlooked by successive governments, there is the overriding sense here that the majority of Wiganers subscribe to that view.

This article originally appeared on May2015.

 

Response from Wigan Council:

The Wigan Borough has been at the very heart of the £8bn devolution deal because of our innovative approaches to supporting thousands of people get better care or the Wigan that has invested in 9,000 apprentices. Yes, Wigan, like most northern towns, has suffered the impact of industrial decline and the economic downturn but, like our people, our town has shown its resilience. We have our share of pay day lenders, most long-standing and not a product of the coalition although food banks are a more recent development. But we are fighting back.  

Wigan Council is coping better than most with the impact of cuts in part by a radical approach to rethinking service delivery and, through the Wigan Deal, is working with local communities to cope with the future. We have managed in this period to pay the living wage to all our employees, end zero hour contracts and take on 100 apprentices of our own. We have also secured £135m of investment in employment sites and infrastructure – a clear sign that the private sector has great confidence in Wigan as a place to business. And despite the burden of the cuts, public satisfaction with Wigan Council has increased by over 50 per cent.

Peter Smith, Wigan Council leader

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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After the defeat of Hillary Clinton, what should the US left do next?

For disappointed Bernie Sanders supporters and others on the left, the big question is now: should they work within the Democratic party?

For the majority of the US left, Hillary Clinton’s electoral defeat came as a surprise. Sure, they’d had doubts about her candidacy from the start. They’d expressed disgust at her platform, history, priorities and dubious associations – not least, at her campaign’s focus on cosying up to wealthy elites, courting the support of billionaires such as slum landlord Warren Buffett, at the expense of trying on to hold on to the party’s core working-class vote – but the general belief was that, however undeservedly, she’d still manage to pull it off.

After all, polling suggested she maintained a fairly consistent lead in key swing states even as Trump somewhat narrowed the gap, and there was reason to think that demographic trends would work against her competitor, who openly courted white supremacist votes.

Hindsight is 20/20, but many now feel they took their eye off the ball.  Leslie Lee III, a writer from Louisiana currently residing just outside Washington DC, argues that people “got so worn down by the polls that we forgot our message, that Clinton was the worst possible candidate to put against Trump”. For him, identifying what went wrong is simple:  “Trump promised people something, the establishment candidate was telling people America was already great. It doesn’t matter if he was doing it in a dishonest, con-artist, racist, xenophobic, sexist way – he said he’d fix people’s problems, while Clinton said they didn’t have problems”.

Leslie isn’t alone in believing that a wonkish focus on polls and data distracted from what was really going on. Everyone I speak to feels that the supposed ‘experts’ from the liberal mainstream aren’t equipped to understand the current political landscape. “We are witnessing a global phenomenon,” suggests writer Amber A’Lee Frost, who first got involved with the Democrats to support the Sanders campaign but voted Obama in 2008. “The UK offers the most clear parallel to the US. Nationalism, racism and xenophobia are festering.” Student and Democratic Socialists of America activist Emily Robinson agrees: “All across the world we’ve seen massive right-wing upswells, from Trump, LePen and May in the West to Modi and Erdogan in the East.” Whatever differences exist between these respective politicians, it’s hard to argue with the contention there’s been a widespread shift to the right.

US left-wingers argue that liberals fail to understand their own role in the current situation. From a British perspective, it’s hard to disagree. Repeatedly, I’ve seen discussions shut down with the claim that even acknowledging economy policy may have contributed to the resurgence of ethno-nationalist ideology amounts to apologism. Nor can faulty data be held entirely responsible for any complacency. In the run-up to the Brexit vote, polls suggested that the result would be too close to call; nonetheless, within the liberal bubble almost everyone assumed we’d vote to remain. The fact the value of the pound rose on the eve of the referendum was seen as evidence for this belief, as if currency traders have some sort of special insight into the mind of the average UK voter. Looking back, the whole thing is laughable.

Over in the US, the disconnect seems to be much the same. “People in the street weren’t following that stuff,” Leslie says of the finer details of both the Trump and Clinton campaigns. “Trump said he would fix their problems, Clinton said they didn’t have any. If we’d stayed focused on that it would have been obvious.” Instead, many of her supporters believed that it was Hillary’s turn and consequently dismissed substantive criticisms, sometimes claiming the vast majority of opposition was simply latent sexism. Even the campaign slogan “I’m With Her” seemed to be about what voters could should for Clinton, not what Clinton would do for them. As polls narrowed, party insiders continued to insist that Clinton was the rightful heir to Obama’s voting coalition, however little she actually did to earn it. 

A lack of message simplicity definitely seems to have been part of the problem. When I speak to Christian, who currently works in outreach and recruitment for the Democratic Socialists of America’s national office, he admits he was barely aware of the platform Clinton was campaigning on. “I’d ask my friends, and sometimes she’d talk about stuff, but it’s so vague,” he explains. “The average working-class person shouldn’t have to go to a website and read a 30 page policy document. It feels like it’s written that way for a reason, it’s muddled, neoliberal bullshit that lobbyists have written.” It’s true that media coverage probably didn’t help, with reporting frequently focuses on gossip and overblown scandal over substantive policy issues, but an effective political communicator must ensure their core messages cut through. Obama managed it in 2008, and however abhorrent we might find it, pretty much everyone heard about Trump’s wall.

It’s also hard to ignite excitement for the continuity candidate when many people don’t believe that the status quo actually benefits them. “I think neoliberalism no longer works as an electoral incentive to voters, especially working-class voters,” argues Amber. Emily tells me that prior to this election she’d worked on two Democratic campaigns, but before Sanders she’d been ready to give up on the party. “When they had the power to, the Democrats failed to implement policies that helped the working class, Hispanic, Black and Muslim communities, and women.”

She explains her disappointment during the early part of Obama’s first term, when the Democrats held the House, Senate and Oval Office. “They jumped away from the single payer option for healthcare, which would have helped the entire American population. The implementation of the DREAM act would have helped immigrant communities. There’s also a lot they could have done on policing and carceral reform, repealing federal use of private prisons, for example, and labour rights, by introducing federal protections for trade unions and effectively repealing so-called ‘right to work’ laws in many states. They did not mandate free, universal pre-kindergarten nor did they even attempt to work forwards free collect – or, at the bare minimum free community college.”

For Douglas Williams, a graduate student at Wayne State University, it was Obama’s relationship with labour unions that caused him to drift away from the party. “In 2013, Barack Obama appointed a union buster to a federal judgeship in the District of Columbia. I started to think, labour gave $1.1 billion to national Democrat party politics between 2005 and 2011, and labour got literally nothing from it.”

One left-leaning activist, who prefers to be identified by his blogging pseudonym Cato of Utica, campaigned door-to-door for Clinton. He explains in visceral detail his disillusionment with the party he’d worked within for roughly a decade: “I was heavily involved in North Carolina in places where the recovery never even touched. These were working poor people, and the doorbells didn’t work. If the doorbells are broken, what else is broken inside the house? What else isn’t the landlord taking care of? I looked at our candidates and none of the people I was pushing were going to address the problems in these people’s lives.”

Much ink has been spilled trying to pin down exactly what motivated people to vote Trump, whose campaign rhetoric was more explicitly xenophobic, racist and sexist than any other recent presidential candidate. Most of his supporters also voted Republican in previous elections, but two other groups are more interesting from a left-wing perspective: those who previously voted Obama but opted for Trump this time round, and non-voters who were inspired to make it to the polling booth for the first time. Overwhelmingly, both groups are concentrated in lower income categories.

“I think people voted for Trump because he acknowledged that there is something very wrong with America,” suggests Amber. “I obviously disagree with Trump voters on what is wrong with this country, and the fact that his campaign was fuelled by nationalism and racism certainly gave it a terrifying edge, but I know why they voted for him, even though he will ultimately betray his most vulnerable supporters.”

It would be absurd to discount racism as a factor in an election where the winning candidate was endorsed by the official newspaper of the Ku Klux Klan and its former leader David Duke, but Leslie disagrees with those who claim it was the primary motivation for the most Trump voters. His earliest political memory is from around 4th or 5th grade, when David Duke was running for Governor of Louisiana. “As one of the few Black kids in your class,” he recalls, “it really makes you realise how important politics is early on”. One of his closest friends was a previous Obama voter who opted for Trump this election, and the common factor seems to have been a message of optimism.

“Obama offered something more important than these people’s prejudices: hope and change, basically. He didn’t deliver it but he offered it. Romney was seen as the establishment. Obama said, ‘I’m an outsider and I’ll bring something new to the table’. There’s a line between Trump and Obama in that vein – and my friend will tell you the same.”

At a time when many people have a strong desire to kick out at the political establishment, Clinton was the ultimate establishment candidate. Leslie is scathing about the extent to which she actively highlighted this in her campaign: “She talked about being experienced – what does that mean? It means you’ve been part of the establishment. She attacked Obama with her experience in 2008 so I don’t know why she thought it would work. It’s not like being the local dog catcher, you don’t turn in your resume and if you have the most experience you get it. You need to have a message and get people inspired, and she didn’t have it.”

Most of the people I speak to believe that Sanders would have had a better chance of beating Trump, and many poured significant time, effort and money into his campaign. They note that polling showing Sanders had consistently higher approval ratings amongst the general public than Clinton throughout the primaries, and argue that people citing recently released unused opposition research as evidence he’d have lost don’t understand voter motivations. The idea that Sanders’ experience of being poor and unemployed would have worked against him is seen as particularly mockable. Whatever the truth, the more relevant question now is what the left does next.

Opinion is split between those who think working within the Democratic Party is the best approach and those who believe its unaccountable, bureaucratic structures make it a lost cause. Emily is in the first category. “I think leftists should, in a limited capacity, be running within what is now the desiccated carcass of the Democratic Party, rather than naively attempting to build a party from the ground up and risking splitting the left-liberal vote,” she tells me. “They should be prepared to run for elections with a (D) next to their name, even if they refuse to bend at the knee to the neoliberal, imperial tendencies of the Democratic elite.”

Particularly exciting right now is the work of the Democratic Socialists of America, an organisation which aims to shape the future of the party in a leftwards direction. Membership had increased by a third since the election – aided partly by support from celebrities such as Killer Mike and Rob Delaney. “We’re planning on Trump being a one-term president,” DSA representative Christian tells me. “We have a 50 state strategy, but right now we only have chapters in 31 states. It’s not just about elections, it’s threefold: electoral, workplace and community organising to win on all counts.”

Douglas is sceptical about whether it’s possible to restructure the Democratic Party in the way he considers necessary, but he agrees with the DSA’s focus on community organising: “Why can’t an organisation be like ‘we’re going to sponsor a little league team’? Why can’t we open a soup kitchen? We’re making noise, we’re out here, but we heard your aunt is having trouble with her roof. We’ve got guys who can fix that, and then we’ll leave a little sign saying it was us.” Cato of Utica references something similar that happened in Flint, where the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union visited people’s homes to make sure their water filters were properly fitted.

“We need to rebuild the labour movement,” agrees Emily. “Not only to carry out all the normal functions of unions, but also to provide a community, and spaces for education, child care and other forms of support. If we don’t build solidarity among the working class – not just the white working class, but the Hispanic working class, the Black working class and so on – we risk allowing another reactionary movement caused by cleavages promoted by the ruling classes.”

Left-wing organisations traditionally target places like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, where it’s easier to build support. Christian argues that the Democratic Party, and the DSA specifically, need to “focus on the Rust Belt, where the Democrats lost, and the South, where Bernie lost”. There’s a widespread belief that Southern states which have been Republican for decades now could be winnable in future presidential elections, partly because of demographic trends pointing towards increasingly ethnically diverse voting populations. As for the Rust Belt, it’s hard to argue with the claim that a different candidate could do better than Clinton – who didn’t even bother to visit Wisconsin, which swung Republican, in the months preceding the vote.

The DSA’s 50 state strategy involves creating a national framework, but with devolved power allowing local chapters to focus on the issues most relevant in their area. “In Texas our chapter is really strong and we do a lot of work on immigration reform, working with undocumented communities, whereas Boston obviously doesn’t have to deal with that so much,” Christian explains to me. “In places like Kentucky and West Virginia, coal country, Republicans like Trump will say coal is coming back. We say we actually need to transition to a new economy and create green jobs, and places where people live where they don’t get cancer from coal.”

Christian believes that the unexpected success of the Sanders campaign indicates there’s an appetite for the kind of politics the DSA is offering, and that a similar candidate could gain the Democratic nomination in four years time. “Having a candidate announce earlier than Bernie did, and with a good ground game in place, we could have 50,000 volunteers ready to go. We wouldn’t be scrambling around this time, we’d be ready to go to war with [Trump]”. Like many on the left, he thinks that Keith Ellison’s selection as DNC chair is a crucial part of the puzzle. Ellison was the first Muslim elected to Congress and is chair of the Progressive Caucus. “He’s a way better politician than Bernie,” Christian contends. “He understands the intricacy of talking about labour, poverty and unions very well.”

Others I speak to argue that focus should be on working from the ground up. “I’m not even talking about state legislatures,” explains Douglas. “I mean city councillors, school boards, things like that. This is going to be a long-term project and has to start at the absolute lowest level and work its way up. People don’t even realise, in some of these cities you can get elected to the city council on 500 votes. We want to start on the big stuff but it has to be an independent, left local movement. We can run all the candidates we want, but unless we’re out here informing people ‘it’s not actually about Mexicans or Muslims, it’s your boss, it’s his fault you can’t afford to save the money to send your kids to college,’ what’s the point?”

Whatever disagreements about strategy exist, the US left seems to be united by two things: fear of Trump’s presidency and a determination to succeed. Many members of the DSA are worried about their involvement with the organisation being publicly known. Unsurprisingly, this is more acute for members of groups attacked in Trump’s rhetoric. “We see apprehensiveness with some of our Latino membership,” Christian tells me. “People don’t want to out themselves because that's risking your own livelihood. We’re a working class organisation and most people have other jobs.”

With Trump associates making noises about recreating the House Un-American Activities Committee, some fear left-wingers could be targeted as dissidents as in previous decades. However realistic the threat of government persecution, there’s already a far-right website, KeyWiki, that keeps tabs on members of socialist organisations. Everyone I speak to agrees that groups particularly vulnerable to being targeted by Trump and his supporters – including Muslim, Latino and African American communities – must be defended at all cost. “The aim of the left should be to make it impossible for Trump to govern,” says Cato of Utica. “Establishment Democrats are already making conciliatory noises. If the Democrats aren’t going to do it in the Senate, the people have to do it in the streets through direct action.”

When I ask Amber what happens next, her response seems to sum up the mood amongst the US left: “To be honest, I have no idea. I’m terrified but I am ready to fight.”