The following report back was originally published on Conflict Minnesota.
On Sunday, February 17th a small group of right wing protesters rallied in downtown Minneapolis to protest Ilhan Omar over her controversial remarks. Naturally, their protest only gathered a handful of participants and took place in front of the wrong office building. Their protest was a total failure, their march cancelled, and one of their cars ended up with a smashed window, all while instigating internal divisions. While this is a clear victory for those of us who consider ourselves revolutionaries, it seems as if it, like many others against the right in Minnesota, have occurred through luck rather than strategic intelligence.
This occasion offers us the chance to reflect on the shifting political terrain, and have inspired the following brief notes. The ideas are still scattered, being just a single part of a conversation involving a multiplicity of perspectives.
If Donald Trump could be said to have accomplished one thing, it would most certainly be the blow dealt to the U.S. government’s legitimacy, perhaps the hardest seen in recent history. With his election, millions of people took to the streets to voice their refusal. The day of his inauguration we were plunged into a world of mass protest, scandal, and above all, uncertainty. Scrambling to pick up the pieces, Democrats have been split between on the one hand desperately clinging to civil order, and on the other appealing to the disillusioned through left-leaning politicians that claim to be the true face of resistance. And while they have ruffled some feathers amongst the older generations, the ruse succeeds in transforming the terrain of resistance into the political system, instead of where it needs to be: our lives.
In this sense, much of the momentum that arose in the last two years has been folded into the Mueller investigation and the valorization of various liberal politicians like Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or in this case, Ilhan Omar. Opposition towards the Trump regime has often carried along with it a defense of the neoliberal order before it was tampered with by the far right—or, for the more conspiratorially-minded, Russia. On the one hand, this offers revolutionaries a wide array of short-term tactical alliances in opposing the current state of affairs. But if we lose sight of the long-term goals, we’re setting ourselves up for inevitable failure.
What we mean is that the struggles against the far right, our democracy’s authoritarian tendencies, and building a better society are not separate. There is only one trajectory: that of building, step by step, an autonomous material force that can carve out space for other ways of living, short circuit the mechanisms of oppression, and destitute the forces of order—whether it’s the bigots attempting to rally or the cops themselves.
Anti-fascism is often presented as a duty, as a moral obligation to deny the far right access to a platform. But we know how ineffective and disempowering it can be to show up to a rally with such a small turnout that you could count it on your hand. Likewise, we have given up the stale practice of rallying on the weekend in the empty downtowns or capitol buildings. The importance of these actions by the right shouldn’t be overestimated.
This is not an argument to let right wing rallies occur unbothered, but to open the question of confrontation to allow for a more strategic dimension. If our energy is depleted reacting to the endless activities of the far right, it doesn’t matter who wins each physical conflict. In building a material force we learn to play to our strengths—we find methods of engagement that increase our capacity to act rather than diminish it. And, just as importantly, we can learn to let go of the sense of obligation to respond every time a right wing event is announced.
Enjoying the company of friends as we waited in so-called “Little Mogadishu” to pounce on right wing activists who would never arrive, we felt powerful. We had come together from so many different walks of life, ready to act collectively if the situation called for it. It hadn’t required an outpouring of resources to watch the right’s plans dissipate in front of their eyes, and risks were kept to a minimum. We intend to build on this success rather than let it fade to memory.