3,000 on the left gather in Chicago this weekend
Some will support Hillary Clinton, some have other ideas
The prospect of a Donald Trump presidency has for months now inspired dread and panic in liberal circles. But at the “People’s Summit” in Chicago this weekend, the presumptive Republican nominee has been purposefully treated by organizers as an afterthought.
“We think Trump is going to implode,” RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the Bernie Sanders-backing National Nurses United, told CNN. “He’s his worst enemy. So I think all the hype around the choice right now, Hillary or Trump, it’s a false narrative. She’s going to beat Trump. Most people could beat Trump, because he’s going to take himself out.”
Trump is viewed by many of the 3,000 leftists here as a potentially dangerous drain on the energy rallied by the success of Sanders’ own insurgent bid – and an escape hatch for Clinton, who they fear will seek to channel anxiety over his ascent to muffle the movement’s cri de coeur against the presumptive Democratic nominee.
“What we’re offering is an affirmative program to really address the basic human needs in our society and to overcome this inequality,” Michael Lighty, Nurses United’s public policy director, told CNN before the event. “And that is more challenging if everyone is just focused on defeating Trump.”
Sanders, in his address to supporters on Thursday night, also said “defeating Donald Trump cannot be our only goal.” People for Bernie co-founder Winnie Wong, who helped organize the summit alongside the NNU, said she entered the weekend’s meetings with a similar brief.
“The subject, the goal of this, is to move beyond the frame of electoral politics,” she said. “No one’s even really thinking about Hillary, or Trump. They’re thinking about the issues they want as a part of the Democratic Party platform and to make sure that they still have a stake in this journey.”
But some other influential voices at the summit said they found it more difficult to look beyond November.
Brooklyn-born Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour said dismissing the Trump candidacy was a matter of privilege – the kind she did not possess.
“Being a Muslim in America, I don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘Let’s see what happens when Trump gets in the White House,’” said Sarsour, who will be a Sanders delegate and platform committee member at next month’s Democratic National Convention. “So I think that for people who are directly impacted, we look at things a lot differently. I don’t see working against Trump as a distraction. I see working against Trump as one piece of the larger movement to build a political revolution.”
That piece, she added, had helped fuel her work – and would likely lead her to vote for Clinton in the general election.
“If you’re not going to vote for Hillary, you better be ready to defend my people when we’re about to go into camps,” she said. “The idea here is that we need people who are going to build local power and local resistance to whatever is going to come our way.”
Frances Fox Piven, the revered octogenarian political scientist whose Saturday morning testament to the power of movement politics went viral – she received the news that her name was trending on Twitter with graceful puzzlement – also became one of the few high-profile speakers to announce she plans to back Clinton.
In an interview later, Piven argued that Trump’s proximity to power demanded a more pragmatic response and that his election could not be separated from the left’s fortunes.
“I, like a lot of people, am afraid of Donald Trump,” she said. “I’m especially afraid of a coalition between Donald Trump and some of the big money people on the right, like the Koch brothers.”
Four or eight years of a Clinton administration, she added, “will give us time to build democratic, popular movements that will make a difference in American politics. Hillary is a politician through and through and she will be responsive to the pressures that can be created by the movements.”