Solidarity is how we win

Reflections on MoveOn’s work in my first year as executive director

By Rahna Epting

I took the helm of MoveOn as executive director a little over a year ago and was sure of one thing at the time: MoveOn had a superpower uniquely suited to the Trump era. Mobilizing hundreds of thousands of people — or at times, millions — to show up and take action was the leading arrow in our quiver. And within my first two months, it sure came in handy.

In December, the impeachment trial of Donald Trump began, and shortly thereafter, in January, he ordered the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, a high-ranking Iranian general.

On both fronts, with our allies, we organized massive grassroots action — hundreds of demonstrations across the country, demanding accountability for Trump’s wrongdoing through impeachment and opposing the prospect of war with Iran.

Thanks to Senate Republicans’ utter cowardice, Trump was able to avoid a conviction in his impeachment trial. Nevertheless, history will remember him as one of only three presidents ever impeached.

We organized hundreds of rallies across the country calling for Trump’s impeachment. This one took place in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images for MoveOn.)

We were more successful on the No War With Iran front: Not only was there de-escalation, with a broader conflict avoided, but we also helped secure the passage of legislation in both the House and Senate to curb the president’s ability to recklessly rush into war.

But as January turned to February and then March, the COVID-19 pandemic was on its way to devastating communities, our families, and our livelihoods — and it arrived on the eve of the most important election of our lifetimes. Never had the stakes been higher, never had every ounce of power and leverage to make sure this government delivered for people been needed more, and yet we were hamstrung as our mass mobilization superpower had been all but eliminated. We needed a new one.

Reeling with how to deal with our new reality — as individuals, as an organization, as a society — groups like MoveOn spun up traditional advocacy campaigns to call for rent cancellation, mortgage moratoriums, direct checks and unemployment insurance, PPE for essential workers, and more. Despite our normal advocacy efforts, we saw stimulus bill after stimulus bill pass the House, then the Senate, then get signed by the president, with a lot to show for helping business and corporate America and not enough to show in terms of helping real people.

MoveOn members’ advocacy for the HEROES Act helped set the stage for additional, but insufficient, relief passed this month. We will continue to organize for more aggressive government action in the face of this crisis.

Millions of us were adhering to the social contract, staying at home, and doing our part to prevent the spread of the virus. But it was clear that the enormity of the crisis required bold congressional action to deliver for the people and our communities, and thus far Congress hadn’t done nearly enough. More was needed, and without being able to show this demand through visible turnout in the streets, we had to operate differently. So we did. MoveOn joined with a dozen other groups and worked together with one voice. We pooled our resources and campaigned for relief for essential workers, an increase in unemployment insurance, inclusion of immigrants, and more. And it culminated in the HEROES Act that successfully passed the House. Unfortunately, it was never even considered by Mitch McConnell’s Senate.

At the same time, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd — part of a long history of racist violence against Black people — led to an uprising for racial justice that shifted the political winds in this country. We witnessed the progressive movement flanking and supporting the Movement for Black Lives, organizations shifted their priorities, millions safely took to the streets for the first time since the pandemic struck, people donated millions to Black-led organizations and causes, and leaders and groups echoed demands to defund the police and shift resources to mental health and community investment. While our solidarity was imperfect, it was a beautiful moment in this country and within our movement.

MoveOn was part of the Democracy Defense Coalition. We were prepared for an attempt to stop votes from being counted or a threat to the certification of election results. Fortunately, while Trump’s attempted coup was divisive and likely caused lasting harm, it was also incompetent, our country’s institutions held, and Joe Biden will be sworn in as the next president.

As we catapulted toward Election Day, it became apparent that Donald Trump was poised to undermine the results of the election, and we needed to prepare. Along with our counterparts at the Fight Back Table, MoveOn anchored the Democracy Defense Coalition, a coalition of over 800 national and state organizations collaborating together to strategize, prepare, and coordinate response efforts to protect an election win from Donald Trump and his threats to try to overturn it. We experienced collaboration and solidarity among national and state-based comrades, the likes of which we’d never seen before. We wrestled through incredibly thorny questions and highly tense moments, leaned into trust, and valued togetherness over all else. And it paid off. We successfully navigated Trump’s attempted but unsuccessful coup, held hundreds of celebratory events to cement the victory the day Biden and Harris were announced as winners, and supported and listened to the leadership of state officials when Trump tried to overturn results in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia.

2020 forced us to realize that one of the most powerful superpowers we have in our quiver is, in fact, each other — even when it’s hard, when it’s messy, and when it’s imperfect. And even when much of our action must be coordinated online rather than in person.

As we embark upon the next four years, we have our work cut out for us.

Even though we beat Donald Trump soundly at the polls, we are far from free, and our battle is far from over.

We can’t assume that we have taken care of the enemy because we have taken care of Donald Trump. Myriad threats remain. Republicans in Congress, corporate interests on Wall Street, white nationalists across the country, and yes, Donald Trump himself are all still real live threats to our communities and our democracy. To confront these challenges, we will need to lean on the same sense of unity and solidarity that powered us through preventing a war with Iran, passing HEROES, and defending democracy at the polls from coast to coast. We must organize across issues, places, and spaces and recognize that diversity — of identity and background, as well as of strategy and ideology — is the strength of our movement.

Heading into 2021, let’s celebrate the power that we have built — from the halls of Congress to Indian Country, from the Sun Belt to the Rust Belt — and also recognize that wielding it effectively and continuing to grow it means wielding it together, with trust, with transparency, and with candid communication. 2020 was a year of hard-fought and hard-won battles, and we should never forget what we made possible this year.

We recently began running this TV ad urging the incoming Biden administration to “go big” to meet the challenges we face.

Next year, we are going to push for real COVID relief. Green jobs. Student debt cancellation. And, going back to where we were when I took the helm at MoveOn, true diplomacy and restoration of America’s name around the world. In the midst of crisis and transition, we will not have the opportunity to tackle our greatest problems one at a time or in silos: Broad coalitions and deep collaboration are going to be our best chances at building an America that works for all of us.

2020 taught us that we are equipped to build that America. Our solidarity, our strength, our innovation, and our tenacity came through. We will need all of it, and more, to power us through 2021.

To join MoveOn and become part of our people-powered work to secure progress in 2021, visit www.moveon.org.

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