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Beat MAGA, Shape the Direction of the Country

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Purple image of Bernie Sanders flanked by Noam Chomsky and Liz Cheney

It will take everything we’ve got to stop MAGA in 2024 and make their nightmare of a multiracial, gender-inclusive democracy come true. Either/or strategies won’t do. We need to hold the tensions of playing both offense and defense, and building with those holding divergent views.

Whether the banner of white Christian nationalism will be carried by Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis, the MAGA bloc’s 2024 bid for total power will be even more ruthless than their 2020 attempt. 

MAGA can be stopped because the majority of the country does not agree with MAGA’s agenda. But MAGA has unlimited access to funds from its billionaire backers. It can count on the Supreme Court majority, Fox News, and legions of armed white supremacists to coordinate their actions with the Republican Party leadership. MAGA operates in an electoral system racially biased and structurally rigged in its favor. And if all that fails, the MAGA core is prepared to launch a more disciplined coup attempt than the one that didn’t succeed last time around.

All of us committed to stopping MAGA need to up our game. A wide swath of social justice groups threw down in 2020, making a big contribution to denying Trump a second term and increasing their strength and political savvy along the way. They and others who adopted a power-building strategy that included electoral work then helped beat the most extreme MAGA candidates in 2022. Now the challenge is to accumulate enough clout through electoral and non-electoral work not only to beat MAGA at the ballot box in 2024, but to shape the post-2024 direction of the country.

Our key tasks—blocking MAGA and building progressive strength—can reinforce each other. The more we contribute to defeating MAGA, the more credibility we gain from constituencies that see MAGA as an existential threat. The more we show the capacity to deliver tangible changes in people’s lives, the more likely we are to motivate large numbers of people whose needs have been neglected by both major parties to vote anti-MAGA alongside us.

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Defense and offense are inextricably linked.

Strategy is complex

A key lesson of the last six years of fighting MAGA is that effective strategies aren’t built on simple, either/or binaries. There will inevitably be tension between different components of our work.

The tensions start from the fact that a winning anti-MAGA coalition must include constituencies and organizations who hold very different political views. Progressives are not strong enough to beat MAGA on our own. Neither is the mainstream/Biden wing of the Democratic Party, much less the small but energetic cohort of anti-MAGA Republicans. Only a front that stretches “from Cheney to Chomsky” can stop the drive toward a one-party, white Christian theocratic regime.

As organizers who have been on the frontlines for years have explained, this means staying focused through numerous uncomfortable moments. Doing politics in the actual conditions of the US today means being in political coalition with people we deeply disagree with. Both unity and contention with our anti-MAGA partners come with today’s political territory.

Navigating that requires both flexibility and resolve. When we fight with the Biden administration, for instance—over its militarism, its opening new areas to the fossil fuel industry, its steamrolling of railway workers—we fight hard. But we don’t burn every bridge. There’s a lot to learn from Bernie Sanders on how to do this. From his 2016 and 2020 campaigns through his Senate Committee Chairmanship role today and his  messaging on hot-button issues (most recently Silicon Valley Bank), Bernie has been the country’s leading advocate of anti-corporate, working class politics. At the same time, he has consistently positioned himself within the broad anti-MAGA front, for example by campaigning aggressively for Biden in 2020. Bernie’s earned reputation for authenticity combined with his anti-MAGA consistency has allowed him to play the key role in taking radical policy proposals and a critique of capitalism into the mainstream.

Broadmindedness and a welcoming spirit

New opportunities also exist because of changes in the outlook of almost every constituency left of center. Progressives have long called for a break with neoliberalism, and—partly because of pressure from the Left, partly because the neoliberal model has run aground on its own—the Biden team and many other Democrats have moved away from the neoliberal framework. Biden’s current budget proposal is thoroughly capitalist and not ours (see especially the bloated military allotment). But there is also nothing “neoliberal” about expanding social programs and proposing big tax increases on corporations and the wealthy.

For sure, there are anti-MAGA forces who adamantly oppose the kind of major changes we believe are essential to reduce racial and economic inequality and address other key elements of a holistic social justice agenda. But in today’s fluid moment elected officials, demographic sectors, constituency-based groups, and issue-based organizations are all re-examining previous positions. A welcoming stance toward forces in motion opens far more space for front-building than a reflexively suspicious one. 

That spirit applies within the still-taking-shape progressive trend itself. There remain many differences among organizations who share a broad “stop MAGA/build independent power” vision; between many grassroots organizations and the expanding cohort of left-leaning elected officials; and within both the Congressional Progressive Caucus and comparable but less formal cohorts in various state and local legislative bodies. But there is motion toward more unity and cooperation as well: steps taken in 2020 to make the Congressional Progressive Caucus a more coherent force; the widespread cooperation among grassroots groups, especially at the level of “state tables” in 2020 and 2022; numerous discussions underway about building progressive unity, and more. These initiatives and others should be promoted and accelerated wherever possible. 

Fight the MAGA agenda state by state 

Appeals to white grievance and “traditional family values” (read: theology-based denial of equal rights for women and LGBTQ people) has been a staple of the authoritarian right wing for decades. But as Trump has gotten ever more unhinged and as figures like DeSantis and Marjorie Taylor Greene have emerged as MAGA leaders, no rhetoric or policy has become too racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or conspiracy-laden for Republicans to accept.

It’s well beyond campaign messaging for 2024. States in which Republicans control the governorship and legislative chambers are being rapidly turned into “authoritarian enclaves” where MAGA is already implementing its agenda. For instance:

In Mississippi, the new laws that limit the self-governing power of the Black majority in the capital city of Jackson amount to 21st century apartheid.  

In Missouri’s version of the same, “the white Missouri House of Representatives voted for a bill that allows the white governor to appoint a white special prosecutor to take over the duties of the democratically elected [Black] city prosecutor when violent crime reaches a certain threshold.”

In Tennessee, “the point of the [state’s new anti-drag show] law is to terrorize people,” according to Patrick Grzanka, chair of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville interdisciplinary program in women, gender and sexuality.

And in Florida, Gov. DeSantis is “pursuing one of the most aggressively authoritarian agendas in the country”—as well as creating a private army—to ensure long-term one-party rule.

Every assault like the above needs to be challenged in the streets, in the battle for public opinion, and in the courts. Consistent protest and exposure of the discriminatory and anti-democratic character of these measures is the pre-requisite for building the strength to reverse them when inevitable scandals, political crises and/or fresh sentiments at election time provide opportunities to do so. 

Direct action and long-term base building

The contrast between the “red state” crackdowns and the change that has taken place in Michigan underscores the need for effective synergy between electoral engagement and year-round organizing on issues, militant protests, and base-building work. Democrats won a trifecta in Michigan in 2022 for the first time since the 1930s. And pushed by a vibrant and sophisticated grassroots left (see the section on Michigan in this program sponsored by the Movement Voter Project), they are exercising this hard-won governing power to implement key planks of a progressive agenda. Even in red or contested states, we can use the combination of electoral and base-building work to take steps to meet people’s felt needs and build strength for the long fight. The campaigns to end cash bail in Louisville, KY and expand affordable housing in Pennsylvania, for example, show the potential of such efforts.

An important lesson is that even our absolute minimum—keeping MAGA out of power—cannot be accomplished by electoral-season campaigning alone. A core base of voters that is highly motivated to turn out for and encourage others to turn out for anti-MAGA candidates is needed in every locality, district or state that we need or hope to win. Such a base only develops when large numbers know the stakes, when people have a clear idea of what they will gain from victory and what gains will require many election cycles. A durable base exists when individuals in that base are connected to one another and to electoral campaigns via trusted organizations in which they have a real say.  

Electoral campaigns can spark excitement and motivate people to explore ongoing political engagement. But only power-building organizations that take on issues year round and become a regular presence in people’s lives can generate and sustain that kind of engaged political base.

Yet even this is insufficient. Organizations formed on the basis of progressive politics are only part of what’s needed. Of crucial importance are large-scale organizations where membership is not based on members holding a particular political view but because they share a common condition or location in society—what writer and organizing strategist Jane McAlevey calls “structure-based” rather than “self-selecting” organizations.

In US history, trade unions and the Black church have been the organizations of that type that have been the key anchors of movements for radical change. At times, religious or communal organizations in specific immigrant or ethnic communities have played that role on a smaller scale. Many other such organizations also exist—women’s groups, youth and student organizations, professional and academic associations, a new wave of tenants’ unions, and the like.

When such organizations get politicized by some combination of their own direct experience and the work of activists within their ranks, social justice movements gain orders of magnitude in reach and institutional durability. The MAGA bloc draws much of its strength from its success in bringing most of the white Evangelical churches under its umbrella. On our side, the current weakness of a labor movement, which has been in the right wing’s gunsights for decades, is a major reason that the anti-MAGA coalition is fragile and its progressive wing is not yet firmly anchored in the diverse US working class.

Work to expand, revitalize, and politicize the labor movement and existing mass organizations in a host of sectors must therefore be a Left priority. Here too a tension with the immediate need to defeat MAGA must be recognized. The kind of work it takes to revitalize labor does not produce short term electoral results. So at a time when electoral wins are crucial and key contests are very close, there is pressure on progressive resources from contradictory directions. Just as we face the challenge of prioritizing resources among different states and electoral districts, we need to tackle this tension without the illusion that there is a simple formula which will yield a single “right answer.”

The coming years are going to be very rough. The core base of the MAGA bloc believes white Christian men are the most victimized group in today’s US and they are the righteous holy warriors in a fight to save civilization itself. The MAGA faithful view the coup that failed on January 6 the same way defenders of the Confederate “lost cause” view the “war between the states.” They are determined to reverse those defeats by any means necessary.

It’s going to take everything we’ve got to stop them in 2024 and in the ensuing years push them back to the margins as we make their nightmare of a multiracial, gender-inclusive democracy come true.

Featured Image: Collage featuring Bernie Sanders (CC 2.0 By Shelly Prevost), Noam Chomsky (CC 2.0 By Andrew Rusk), Liz Cheney (Public Domain, USDA). “Only a front that stretches ‘from Cheney to Chomsky’ can stop the drive toward a one-party, white Christian theocratic regime.”

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