Thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets in protest marches over the weekend – not only to rail against the president-elect, but to reaffirm their commitment to the liberal values seemingly buried by last week’s shock result.
What is slowly becoming clear is that many of these protestors feel their values were betrayed by Democrats as much as they were slandered by Republicans. Already the tremors of an impending political earthquake can be detected among the grassroots – and not just among millennials.
“I think they shot themselves in the foot because they really weren’t progressive enough,” said Sue, a 70-year-old New Yorker on Saturday’s protest march to Trump Tower. “They were too corporate, too on the side of the elite, not really listening to the working people, and right-of-centre as opposed to left-of-centre. Now they’re paying for it.”
British Labour members have seen this movie before: a terrible, unexpected electoral defeat, followed by the toppling of a discredited party elite and the installation of a far-left leadership swept to power by a coalition of enthusiastic new recruits and older radicals.
Will the Democratic party follow the same script? It’s possible. A surge in extra-party political activism appears well underway. Saturday’s 10,000-strong protest march through Manhattan was peppered with clipboard-wielding activists from a range of lefty groups eager to sign up new members. One canvasser was handing out leaflets for “Politics Reborn”, a community group that hopes to transform the left the way the Tea Party transformed the right. He became caught up in conversation with another canvasser, festooned with a Marx-and-Lenin badge, who was seeking collaborators for his own socialist sect.
Post-election New York is fertile territory for the mushrooming of such political groupings. As happened in the UK following Labour’s defeat in 2015, large swathes of people – especially young people – in urban areas have become politicised following Trump’s victory.
“I feel called to action. I’ve never felt this strongly about politics,” said one young woman, who didn’t want to be identified, when I met her at last Friday’s “Love Trumps Hate” rally in Washington Square Park.
She’s not the only one. “I’ve been very apathetic for a long time, and this is the first time I’ve felt invigorated enough to do something like this,” 28-year-old Nisrine, also at Friday’s rally, told me.
What remains to be seen is whether the fury of the newly engaged will be channelled by amorphous movements, in the mould of Occupy, or into the established Democratic Party. Leftie icon Michael Moore has made his preference known. In his “Morning After To-Do List” published on November 9, the very first thing he called for was a takeover of the Democrats, explaining “they have failed us miserably”.
Last weekend’s protestors may be too much in mourning for today to be planning for tomorrow, but there is a general feeling that the Democrats failed their supporters this election cycle.
Daniel, a 29-year old Colombian New Yorker, holding a “Good Hombre” sign at Friday’s rally, said: “It has to evolve. It has to empower black and Latino communities. It has to be a more radial and left democratic party. Choosing Hilary Clinton as the candidate was a big mistake on the part of the party as she represents everything that is old and everything that is not working about this country.”
Such sentiments suggest the future of the party belongs to straight-talking firebrands like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and those who, in the words of 70-year-old Sue, “speak truth to power.”
Sanders has already written on Facebook that “what we need to do is create a grassroots movement of millions of people who want to transform this county,” and argued that the Democrats should no longer take donations from Wall Street. He’s ready for a shake-up, as are the protestors of New York.
The complete upending of America’s only electorally-viable progressive party appears imminent.
Louie Woodall is a member of Labour International, and a journalist based in New York.