In Angela Davis’ book, Freedom is a Constant Struggle, she discusses the importance of intersectional feminism not only as a movement, but as an ideology on which all social movements can function. She says, “Feminism insists on methods of thought and action that urge us to think about things together that appear to be separate, and to disaggregate things that appear to naturally belong together.” In the women’s movement from the 1950s and 1960s, black women were often asked which movement was more important, the women's movement or the civil rights movement. As Angela Davis correctly points out, “this was the wrong question. The more appropriate question was how to understand the intersections and interconnections between the two movements.”
There have been inspiring transnational solidarity movements in the past decade. In 2014, when Ferguson protestors took to the streets of Ferguson, Missouri in response to the murder of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, they were met with the full force of the United States’ militarized police. From across the world, Palestinian activists tweeted at Ferguson protestors with advice on how to best deal with tear gas and other forms of police brutality. It is this type of solidarity and activism that will be needed to beat back the very serious threats of white supremacy, insidious capitalism, and patriarchy in the United States.
The incoming American government will have three branches of government all controlled by an extreme right-wing ideology. Today’s Republican party, according to Noam Chomsky, qualifies as a candidate for “the most dangerous organization in world history.” The two leading threats to human survival, nuclear war and climate change, are anticipated to be exacerbated by the incoming presidential administration. Not one member of Donald Trump’s cabinet appointees believes in the threat of climate change, and Donald Trump himself has suggested increasing the US military and nuclear arsenal, already the highest in the world. Domestically, human rights gains for the LGBTQ community, women, African Americans, Native Americans, the disabled, and religious minorities all face serious obstacles and likely setbacks.
Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, two leading conservative political commentators, call today’s Republican party a “radical insurgency” abandoning parliamentary politics. This insurgency, as previously noted, poses threats that are not only domestic, but largely global.
The UN Charter, adopted in 1945, bans “the threat or use of force” as a means of humanitarian intervention. Used by the International Court of Justice to condemn Ronald Reagan for the “unlawful use of force” in Nicaragua, the Charter has become a pretext for the United Nations Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which has done anything but protect persecuted communities throughout the world. Today, the Rohingyas of Myanmar face genocidal persecution, Palestinians are being ethnically cleansed, and Yemeni children are dying of hunger. The US, “supporting those who seek greater freedom, prosperity, and dignity in Burma,” has given the Burmese government $18 million in 2016. President Obama pledged $38 billion to Israel, and has sold Saudi Arabia billions of dollars of weapons. The same progressives who seek equality and justice here in the United States must also hold a mirror to the current administration that has ignored the plight of the Palestinians, the Rohingyas, and the Yemeni people.
There is also a fight that transcends all those previously mentioned: the fight for the continuation of the human species and the habitability of the planet. There is overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that anthropogenic climate change is not only real, but has inevitable devastating consequences that threaten the world. It is estimated that in the coming years, sea level rise due to climate change will force tens of millions of people living in the low-lying coastal plains of Bangladesh to flee their homes— a refugee crisis like no other. As a leading climate scientist from Bangladesh rightly remarks, these tens of millions of people should have the right to seek refuge in the countries with the highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions—countries that have ignored the problem and exacerbated the consequences. It became clear at the COP22 meeting in Marrakech, Morocco—ironically convening on the same day as the US presidential election that chose Donald Trump to lead the free world—that the world will turn to China for clean energy leadership, as the US has consistently failed to step up to the challenge.
Part of the fight to secure a clean and habitable planet is to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. Unfortunately, our incoming Secretary of State, former CEO of ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson, believes strongly in utilizing oil reserves and constructing pipelines to transport oil. The pipeline that has received the most attention in recent news is the Dakota Access Pipeline, threatening the sovereign rights and clean water of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota. While there has been a temporary victory here, it must be understood that there are many pipeline projects throughout the country that not only threaten clean water, but also exacerbate our dependence on fossil fuels and our contribution to climate change. A few notable pipelines that are currently slated for construction are the Sabal Trail Pipeline in Florida, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina, and the Trans Pecos Pipeline in Texas.
The fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016 brought about a new wave of social justice advocacy for all Native Americans. Angela Davis argues that “in the United States we are at such a disadvantage because we do not know how to talk about the genocide inflicted on indigenous people.” Without reviewing the entire record, we can fast forward to today, where Native Americans die in police custody at a rate three times that of white people. They are incarcerated at twice the rate of white people. The same system of mass incarceration and institutionalized white supremacy that plague black communities also serve as a real threat to Native American communities.
These institutions that have upheld racially biased power systems, most notably the criminal justice system, have given rise to a tremendous effort to combat state-sanctioned police violence—Black Lives Matter. As can be found on their website, Black Lives Matter has embarked on a mission to confront institutional racism in the United States and affirm the humanity and rights of all black lives. While they have faced severe criticism from both the right and the left, what is important to distinguish is the difference between violence and institutionalized violence. Many critics of the movement cite high rates of violence in urban areas and “black on black crime” that Black Lives Matter does not speak out against. While they do at times speak out against gun violence, this issue is a separate issue from that which they seek to solve. The state-sanctioned violence against black and brown people is a problem that has roots in slavery and Jim Crow. And, in fact, deconstructing the white supremacist institutions that have denied education, housing, and jobs to poor communities of color, coupled with an end to the War on Drugs and the system of mass incarceration, will simultaneously address the issues of inner city violence.
Injustice in this country is oftentimes directed at black and brown people, but is also reserved for those who identify with the LGBTQ community. In the first 12 days of 2017, there have already been 33 harmful anti-LGBT bills pending in 2017 state legislative sessions coming from 10 states. From hate crime protections, marriage equality, and healthcare inclusivity for transgender men and women, to housing non-discrimination and workplace non-discrimination, LGBTQ equality is far from over, even in the context of the historic Supreme Court decision of Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015 to grant marriage equality in all 50 states.
With the legislative bodies in this country targeting LGBTQ individuals, the Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan made it very clear that in 2017 Republicans in Congress would move swiftly to defund Planned Parenthood. While the Hyde amendment specifically prohibits federal funding to fund abortions, reducing Congressional funding to Planned Parenthood serves as a direct attack on women’s access to cancer screenings, pap smears, STD tests, and many other services that Planned Parenthood provides. Beyond reproductive rights and healthcare access, women are still not equal economically, where white women make $0.82 for each man’s dollar, black women $0.65, and Latina women $0.58. Women make up 51% of the country demographically, but represent only 21% of US Senators, 19% of Congressional Representatives, and only 4% of Fortune 500 CEO’s. Better representation, equal compensation, and guaranteed healthcare access merely scratch the surface of deconstructing the patriarchy that dominates in the United States.
The legislative branch has not only taken to defunding women’s healthcare. Social Security Disability has been harshly underfunded in recent years. Disabled people also have a staggeringly low employment rate (26.7% in 2015) and face incredible challenges in accommodations for higher education, where only 61% of disabled students earned a high school diploma in 2012. Too often, prisons and jails are used as holding cells for people with disabilities, and the criminal justice system is highly incapable of dealing with people with different physical and mental disabilities.
What once seemed an improbable future has quickly become a cumbersome reality. The need for political grassroots activism is at an all-time high, and in the wake of the 2016 election, many young people and progressives throughout the country have been left asking, “where do we go from here?” On the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency, literally, there will be a march taking place in Washington D.C. called the Women’s March. The Women’s March official mission statement includes the following statement:
“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us - immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault - and our communities are hurting and scared.”
The first day of Donald Trump’s presidency will be marked by a million men, women, and children marching in the nation’s capital as a reminder that all Americans must be treated equally under the law, and they will fight to ensure that they are. The greatest appeal of the women’s march is its recognition of intersectionality and inclusivity to all communities, including the LGBTQ community, the black community, Native Americans, the disabled, and religious minorities— all those previously mentioned as groups facing severe threats to their civil rights. In this sense, the Women’s March is serving an extremely important role as a launch point for a new wave of activism in the wake of a Donald Trump presidency.
In preparing to take on four more years of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, it will be in the embrace and understanding of intersectional social movements that oppressed communities will advance the cause for justice and human rights, both at home and abroad.