By Paul Chander
Ed Whitfield—an activist, writer, and artist based in North Carolina—has a saying. “Resist. Advocate. Do For Ourselves.” The phrase—RAD for short—is meant to describe the three approaches to social change. First, those who are oppressed must resist, or defend themselves from oppression. Second, the oppressed must advocate, or organize to reform existing systems of oppression so that they are less oppressive. And third, the oppressed must do for themselves, or create their own means to serve their needs and values that are better than the existing system, and can hopefully transform it altogether.
Ed explains the relationship between the three approaches as follows:
“As long as oppressive systems and concentrated power exist, we will always have to do some resistance and advocacy work, but we need to remember that the goal is for us to organize ourselves to be the power within our own lives and communities. We must create the world we want to live in by doing for ourselves.”
In the wake of the presidential election, I’ve been thinking a lot about RAD. Donald Trump’s victory means that, for the oppressed and those who fight alongside them, our energies will be drawn towards resistance and advocacy more than ever. This is all but ensured given Trump’s rhetoric to increase deportations of undocumented immigrants, ban Muslims, repeal the Affordable Care Act, slash welfare spending, roll back reproductive rights, squash popular protests, undo environmental regulations, increase military spending, and expand mass surveillance.
But in the face of increased repression, what happens to that last phase—doing for ourselves? Given the increased need to play defense, it may now seem like a luxury to imagine better alternatives, let alone start building them. But I argue that doing so is now more important than ever. This is because building a better alternative to the current system is the only way we can lastingly overcome our regression towards what Trump represents.
For the last four decades, the bipartisan political establishment has supported one system—global capitalism and the domination of our politics by the corporate elite. The result, for the vast majority of people, has been massive economic deprivation, environmental crises, endless militarism, and the inability of the political process to respond in any meaningful way.
Amidst the failures of global corporate capitalism, Trump represents one response we can pursue—authoritarianism and divisiveness. By giving voice to the mass anger directed at the establishment, scapegoating racial minorities, and making bold (yet unfounded) claims to fix the system, Trump was able to make this approach seem acceptable. And, in the absence of a strong progressive alternative, enough people—especially those devastated by establishment approaches—were sadly but understandably drawn to it.
But there is a better way. One rooted in more humane values of community and cooperation. One that addresses immediate needs of economic security and environmental sustainability, but also lays the groundwork for transforming the current system into a better one altogether.
Historically marginalized communities, abandoned by the system long before Trump’s election, have already been creating such initiatives from the ground-up, all in ways that are hyperlocal, participatory, pluralistic, and decentralized. Some examples of these efforts include:
- Worker Cooperatives: businesses that are democratically owned and controlled by their workers and operated for their benefit. Worker co-ops create self-employment, serve community needs, and keep dollars local.
- Consumer Cooperatives: a service or good that is democratically self-organized by those who use it to in order to meet a need in a way that is unaddressed by the marketplace (for example: housing co-ops, cooperative loan funds, and co-op grocery stores).
- Community Land Trusts: property that is owned by a non-profit and democratically governed by community members to ensure affordable, stable housing or other community needs
- Participatory Budgeting: democratic deliberation and voting by citizens on how public tax dollars will be spent to benefit the community
These initiatives may seem disparate, but common to all of them are two underlying concepts: (1) economic democracy, or when community members collectively own productive assets and democratically operate them to serve human needs and values, and (2) social solidarity, or collaborative action between people with different oppressions to achieve mutual self-determination and liberation.
If community members keep building these values-driven projects, guided by these two concepts, they can not only meet their needs and values better than the current system can, but also lay the foundation to transform global corporate capitalism into a better alternative altogether—the solidarity economy.
In the Trump era, communities will be resisting and advocating more than ever. But the systemic problems that enabled Trump to succeed have not changed—global capitalism and the domination of our politics by the corporate elite. Despite his promises, Trump will not change this system either. As such, community members (of all kinds) will eventually seek to do for themselves to serve their needs and values better than the current system can. And when they do, their efforts must also prefigure a transformative alternative. This is the only lasting way out of the failure of global corporate capitalism that is just and liberatory.
The solidarity economy framework is one such alternative, as expressed through initiatives like cooperatives, community land trusts, and participatory budgeting. If we spend the next four years building these solidarity economic projects (in addition to playing defense), then by the next election cycle, we can not only stop our inhumane decline based on a failed system, but begin to embody and envision the world we actually want.
The election of Trump will increasingly force us to resist and advocate, but we cannot become trapped on the defensive. Now, more than ever, the future is up to us, and how we decide to do for ourselves.