With every new calamity caused by the Trump Administration, a familiar hysteria takes hold of liberals. Protests foment online. Calls to “do something” are broadcast on social media. People urge others to “have their voices heard.” This obsession with “doing something,” while undoubtedly rooted in a positive impulse, is fueled in large part by liberals’ need to feel good — to feel as though the sins of the United States aren’t their own, to distance themselves from the electorate who voted for Trump.
Following FBI Director James Comey’s abrupt dismissal this week, the reaction from the self-fashioned “Resistance” was apoplectic as usual. Members of the liberal media called for coups, and asked where the next protest would be. The habitually incorrect wonks of the world whispered the words “constitutional crisis” into the wind, hoping their unearned authority would inspire robust congressional action.
While holding a sign at a protest or jamming a member of Congress's phone line may be cathartic, it’s not a substantial enough force in the face of a hostile government that looks down upon such behavior or, worse, ignores it completely. As has long been the case in American politics, the key to effecting change is not marching or changing your Facebook profile picture to something Resistance-related. The key to effecting change is money.
Zeynep Tufekci, a writer who studies protest movements, went on a long tweetstorm to this point before Trump’s health care bill was passed by the House earlier this month. “Large marches do much (annoy you-know-who; energize folks; find one another —yeay ). But they're no longer as scary to pols as they're easier,” she tweeted. “How can “Resistance” display strength? Do harder things. Fundraiser targets weak R's who vote yes, gets 100 million in one day. Might do it.” Tufekci said phone calls to Congress members were liable to go the same way as marches, as their relative ease means they carry less significance to politicians.
Republicans remain very good, if not the best, at raising money. The Trump administration, for example, has already launched its 2020 reelection campaign. According to CNN, in the first three months of this year, Donald J. Trump for President Inc., the president’s campaign committee, raised $7.1 million, while the RNC raised more than $29.3 million in January and February alone. Republicans have managed to take control of every branch of government, despite being generally unpopular, by systematically collecting large sums of money to run campaigns, one of the most foolproof means of success in American politics.
The most successful movements have only flourished because of deliberate organizing underwritten by considerable funds.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign may have had seemingly bottomless coffers, but the Left has traditionally not been as successful in getting their supporters to write them checks. Organizers are now hoping to change that by channeling what seems like universal frustration with the current administration into dollars for the Democratic party.
According to a report from Vice News, Moveon.org received over $40,000 in contributions in response to a single text message about the AHCA vote last week. Erin Hill, the executive director of ActBlue, a progressive PAC, told The Outline in an email that the organization collected more than $4.2 million on the day of the healthcare vote for their “nominee funds,” which hold onto donations for whichever Democrats end up running in 2018. Part of the tool’s appeal, she explained, is how easy it makes donating money — users can give money from their phone and use systems like Apple Pay and PayPal for seamless transactions.
Swing Left is a site that allows users to identify the nearest district in which a Republican House member is at risk of losing their seat, and offers resources on how to help their Democratic opponent. The site also allows you to donate to "District Funds," which collect funds, almost like a war chest, for Democrats in what they've identified as swing districts. Launched the day after the inauguration, the tool has since taken off and, in the days following the health care vote, raised more than $850,000 from more than 20,000 donations.
How can “Resistance” display strength? Do harder things.
The most successful movements have only flourished because of deliberate organizing underwritten by considerable funds. An often under-discussed element of the Civil Rights movement of the late ‘50s and ‘60s was how effective organizers were at fundraising. In Aldon Morris’s 1984 book The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement, he describes how, despite recruiting from a population marginalized and maligned by the government, organizers were able to build sophisticated transportation systems and resources for members of the movement by effectively fundraising in churches and directing those resources strategically.
Speaking to the MIT Technology Review this week, Tufekci expanded on that idea.
“When you looked at the March on Washington in 1963, you were seeing the Civil Rights movement's organizational strength, the effort and discipline it took to be out in those numbers,” she said. “If you want to be a credible threat to the powers that be, you need to build those muscles.”
Protests are fine and good, but it is far too easy to get trapped in the hubris of having “good” opinions. Showing the world how right you are has never done anything to meaningfully change policy. And while public opinion may seem as though it is in favor of the Democratic party — members of which, incidentally, cheered the passage of the AHCA last week because they believe it will help them in the midterms — the reality is that the country remains as split as it was before the election. Just as in November, what liberals lack is a coordinated political machine with a unifying message. Being anti-Trump wasn’t enough then, and it likely won’t be enough going forward.
Correction: This article has been updated to correctly attribute news sources.