As an activist, “resist” is one of the last things I want to do
I see it everywhere in my community. It’s on bumper stickers, tote bags, stickers on telephone poles. It’s been adopted by my favorite bookstore for their merchandise; I’ve witnessed it on picket signs at protests. It’s all over the internet. It was a common theme at the global Women’s March in January 2017, and ever since, it’s remained relevant on social media and in the outside world.
A common slogan for progressives, activists, and even simply people with empathy, “resist” is papered everywhere. But this little word has always rubbed me the wrong way—not in spite of its use in activism, but because of it.
To “resist” means to defy or oppose. In liberal politics or activism, it means combatting or remaining reluctant toward change. It’s frequently used in reference to Donald Trump’s presidency, attempts to criminalize abortion, business owners who turn away LGBTQ clientele, and other newsworthy offenses—all things that, rightfully, we are very much against. But what are we left with once we’ve voted Trump out of office (hopefully), prevented the GOP from making abortion a criminal offense, and punished the baker who refuses to make a gay couple’s wedding cake?
We’re left with the world we had before, which . . . wasn’t that great.
See, “resist” is the pseudo-progressive slogan for those who had it good before “resist” became popular again: arguably, before the swearing-in of the current administration. It’s for white people like myself who can—at least more than anybody else—choose to turn a blind eye to things like police brutality and racial discrimination in healthcare, education, and hiring. It’s for straight, cisgender people who have never had to worry whether the Supreme Court will establish that no, they cannot be legally fired for being trans or gay or bi. It’s for the abled, who aren’t paid a pithy $3 hourly wage at many jobs because they aren’t deemed as “less than” their colleagues, and for anyone else who’s never been treated as a second-class citizen for reasons that are beyond their control.
“Resist” is for those who were fine with the way things were before.
Because in actuality, what we had pre-Trump worked only for a select few. The thousands of queer individuals who died as a result of President Reagan’s inaction during the HIV/AIDS epidemic were not fine with the way things were before. The families of those lost to perilous attempts at crossing the Mexico-US border have not been fine with the way things were before. The hundreds of thousands of prisoners forced to perform corporate pocket-lining labor, the children lost to school shootings, the immigrants who struggle to find jobs or go about their day-to-day lives without harassment—they have never been fine with the way things were before.
Yes, we as a country need to resist attempts to criminalize women’s healthcare, turn away queer folks at the cash register, or (apparently?!) change the timing of the presidential election. But if we want to build a world in which these attempts would not be made in the first place, our work does not end there. The environment we’re left with post-Trump still provides far too much room for the type of inequity and blatant harm we’ve collectively witnessed for decades, even centuries. In fact, what we had pre-Trump is what allowed Trump to gain office in the first place!
Resisting is not enough. We must inspect, reassess, rebuild. We need to build a foundation—yes, through Supreme Court cases, but also through everyday habits and behavior, through professional and personal decisions—for a society and country that is actually equal and equitable. If we truly care about the wellbeing of others unlike ourselves, what we had before isn’t going to cut it.
I’m not in the business of making leftist bumper stickers or designing a slogan for an entire gender’s movement. If I were, though, I’d replace “resist” with “rebuild.” Rather than fighting to maintain the system we’ve always had, let’s construct a system that works for and protects everyone.