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Transformative Organizing in the Age of Trump

By Eric Mann


I begin with my punchline—the road to defeating Donald Trump is to confront the treachery of the Democratic Party, including that of President Obama and Hillary Clinton—that created the conditions for his election. It is the Democrats who will try to coopt any protest movements into a cynical plan for their hoped-for election in 2020. The road to Trump will be paved with good intentions unless we confront the Democrats on their racism, xenophobia, militarism, climate catastrophe, and their corporate control of every major city in the US. It is the Democrats who are leading the charge against Black people in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and every urban center, as Black folks are being driven from their communities into a dispersed, occupied, and subjugated people in direct violation of UN statutes on genocide. As many pro-Democratic “public intellectuals” coopt and trivialize the great International Workers of the World revolutionary Joe Hill—“Don’t Mourn, Organize”—I have to ask the question, “Organize for what? What is your strategy and what are you fighting for?” I think the answer to any social justice, let alone social revolutionary strategy, will involve a two-pronged battle against the Democrats and the Republicans, the Clintons and the Obamas, the Trumps and the Bushes, if we have any chance at sanity, integrity, and victory.

In 2011, several years after the first election of Barack Obama, I was so grateful that Beacon Press published my book, Playbook for Progressives: 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer. I had actively worked for the election of Barack Hussein Obama and was thrilled that he was elected. I would do it again. (And, I did it again in 2012 with by then a fuller understanding of what in fact his politics and strategy and turned out to be.)

I had hoped that the Obama administration would support a broad anti-racist, anti-war, and environmental justice movement built from the bottom up. I understood he was commander in chief of US imperialism, and only a powerful movement rooted in Black and Latino communities with a transformative political program could transform our society as part of an international, anti-imperialist movement. As such I also wrote The Seven Components of Transformative Organizing Theory as a companion to Playbook. Both books have sold more than 7,000 copies and have been used by key activists and organizers all over the US and internationally.

But the transformative movement I envisioned has not happened. It is not President Obama’s fault that our Movement does not exist, but our challenge is to figure out why and from there try to rebuild one.

My own organization, the Labor/Community Strategy Center, has built the Bus Riders Union, the largest mass membership organization of transit riders in the US, and won $2.7 billion in brand new compressed natural gas buses in the auto capital of the world. We have organized a movement that convinced the Los Angeles City Council to end its “daytime curfew” and prevented the Los Angeles School Police from continuing to issue “truancy” tickets to 50,000 Black and Latino students on their way to school. The Strategy Center has convinced the Los Angeles Unified School District to end its participation in the deadly Department of Defense 1033 Program that gives military grade weapons to city and state police departments. The Strategy Center also got them to return one mine-resistant ambush protected tank, three grenade launchers, and sixty-one M-16 assault rifles to the Pentagon and to issue an apology to my organization. But those tactical victories without a broader movement cannot stop the rightward march of history. Where is the unified movement with a comprehensive vision?

I am encouraged by the insurgency of the Sanders Campaign, but also appalled by its white chauvinism and failure to challenge the Obama administration directly. I am encouraged by the bravery and vision of our allies in the Black Lives Matter Movement and fear for them, as the forces of white supremacy are on the rise in both parties. I am hearted by the Dreamers who pushed the Obama administration to implement DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  I take heart through the wonderful, creative work of the Lakota and Dakota Sioux and the Indigenous Environmental Network in beating back the Dakota Access Pipeline—and yes, hearted by President Obama’s decision to support their demands.

But where is the independent political movement of Blacks, Latinos, Indigenous, Asian/Pacific Islander and anti-racist whites demanding to free the US 2.5 million prisoners, bring back 100,000 Black people to New Orleans ten years after Katrina, cut US police and defense budget by fifty percent, support open borders and amnesty for prisoners, stop state violence against women in the community the workplace, the prisons, in the army and by the US Army in the Third World? Where is the movement to demand that the US cut its greenhouse gas emission by fifty percent of 1990 levels by 2025 starting now and to contribute $10 billion a year to the United Nations Green Climate Fund to support sustainable development in the Third World and to stop the US police and surveillance state against social movements? I have gone into these demands in my latest book, Katrina’s Legacy: The Black Nation and the People of the World Confront U.S. Genocidal Climate Crimes, also at We have to bring these demands to President Trump. But we also have to bring them to every Democratic and Republican Governor, Senator, and Mayor, and figure out if we can build a movement independent of both capitalist/imperialist parties.

As I write, my own organization has opened up Strategy and Soul, a new center for “civil rights, revolutionary books, peoples art, community health, climate justice, and transformative organizing” in the center of Black South Los Angeles.  We are using Playbook for Progressives to transform activists into organizers—the smallest single unit around whom you can build a task, a project, an organization, and a revolutionary movement.


About the Author 

Eric MannEric Mann is the director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles. He is a veteran of the Congress of Racial Equality, Students for a Democratic Society and the United Auto Workers. He is the host of Pacifica’s Voices from the Frontlines on KPFK.  His Wikipedia link is He can be reached at [email protected]. He wants to thank Joanna Green and Gayatri Patnaik at Beacon Press for their support of Playbook for Progressives. Follow him on Twitter at @EricMannSpeaks.