Sustainability through coalitions or not at all

Opinion by Lily Zheng
March 9, 2017, 12:18 a.m.

I was tempted to title this Op-Ed, “Why Stanford needs neo-Nazis.”

We all remember the flood of opinion pieces after the election and the strangely empowered fear that drove many of us to pledge to resist this new administration. We told ourselves that we would unite, come together and rally behind our collective power to oppose and defeat the forces of fascism, racism, corruption and incompetence, all of which were now surely pouring forth from the doors of Capitol Hill and the White House as we spoke. It was all rhetoric for sure, but something about its hyperbole was soothing.

Fast forward a few months, and our alarm has given way to passivity. For those of us whose day-to-day routines have continued unchanged, the new administration’s actions have become the likes of reality TV gossip. “He did what?” and unspoken sighs are our ways of acknowledging and responding to sweeping executive orders, conflicts of interest, Russian spy dramas and the like.

It’s not that people don’t care – rather, it’s because people care too much. Until now, “resisting” a presidential administration has been a matter of reaction, waiting until something goes wrong before rising up in arms. Now, the stunning normalization of “something goes wrong” is revealing the limits of reactionary praxis and leaving a deep anomie in its wake. What do we protest? Anything? Everything? How effective is it to rally in outrage if the events we are protesting become irrelevant in under a week, if every day opens with disbelief and ends with dejection?

How can we bring people together towards longterm, sustainable activism?  

The snarky throwaway answer here would be “bring a neo-Nazi movement to campus and see what happens.” Fascism 2,800 miles away is a different beast from fascism right here on the Farm, and having a persistent and open conflict on campus would necessarily galvanize a drawn-out activist movement. However, this year’s conflict at Stanford has been remarkably apolitical, and political conflict has emerged through politely lobbed Op-Eds, not molotovs. The subdued nature of campus conflict contributes to the academic apathy I wrote about last week, but also to the concerning disconnect among the student body. For example,the 17 hate crime vandalisms that took place in a one-month period early this quarter were almost completely overlooked by the student body (compare this to the massive national outcry when similar hate crimes occurred during the hyper-politicized campus climate of Spring 2015).

This lack of open conflict puts us in a situation where we need to find new ways forward, but simultaneously gives us a chance to develop organizing strategies that aren’t solely reactionary protest. If the upcoming Civic Action Fair this Friday is any indication, we’re moving toward coalitions and collective organizing as effective activism.

When I wrote about the need for coalitions back in December, I focused on the pressing need for any successful coalition “to engage in the work of community education and to bring the important work of organizations scattered across campus and beyond into collaboration with each other.” Friday’s fair fits the bill, but it’s about more than that. Unlike many student-driven events on campus, this event isn’t a one-time coming-together of student groups in response to some external threat. Rather, the Civic Action Fair is the brainchild of a collection of undergraduate and graduate student groups, staff, postdocs and others organized as the Stanford Solidarity Network. This means that even after this action fair is done, the ongoing work of coalition-building will allow the Solidarity Network to continually organize, mobilize, build resources and sustain a broad range of different student groups and initiatives.

I was initially disappointed that this coalition wasn’t as flashy as I had hoped. Where were the marches, the rallies, the signs and protests that I had so poignantly associated with organized resistance? But I forgot that these protest tactics are only so ingrained in our collective consciousness because the movements thatutilized them – civil rights, desegregation, labor, anti-war – were able to succeed. The success of these movements, in turn, depended on a plethora of unglamorous tactics, strategies, movement-building and organizing, the hard and messy work of activism needed to transform ideology into substantial social change.

If there is one thing we should learn from the past, it’s that activism is a skill, not an inclination. How do we build the coalitions we need to sustain our movement? Practice, practice, practice (and come to Friday’s event).
Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’

Lily Zheng '17, is a weekly columnist for The Stanford Daily, a Social Psychology major and co-president of the student group Kardinal Kink. Her weekly column revolves around consent culture, queer and trans identity, social justice and activism. In her spare time, she enjoys wearing too much black clothing, accidentally sleeping in her makeup and spending quality time with her partners. Contact her at lilyz8 'at' – she loves messages!

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