Policy from the People: Seizing Agency

This is the second installment in our Policy from the People series, in partnership with Win Without War. Each month, Policy from the People will feature thoughts on foreign policy challenges from activists at the leading edge of the progressive movement.

By Tristan Guyette

As an organizer with Beyond the Bomb, a people-powered campaign to mitigate the threat of another global catastrophe — nuclear war — I feel an inescapable sense of futile rage with the COVID-19 crisis. I suspect most of us do, no matter where we work or what we do. How do we protect against a virus many of us are unable to avoid contracting? How do we continue our own work in the face of a virus that cares not for borders, laws, or social contracts? How do we fight against a system that devalues the lives of so many  when our usual tactics — rallies, demonstrations, marches — are off the table?

For many in America, this is a familiar feeling.  It is the feeling of powerlessness. It is the feeling of railing against a system that seems never to budge. It is the feeling of having something essential stripped from us: our agency.

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Policy from the People: Cooperation in the Face of COVID-19

This is the first installment in our Policy from the People series, in partnership with Win Without War. Each month, Policy from the People will feature thoughts on foreign policy challenges from activists at the leading edge of the progressive movement.

By Tobita Chow

Last week, Trump started using the term “Chinese virus” to describe the novel coronavirus. By identifying the pandemic with China and with Chinese people, he hopes to redirect the mounting anger around the impact of the crisis – away from his tremendous failure to prepare the country for the COVID-19 crisis. The White House is now “launching a communications plan across multiple federal agencies to deflect all criticism of the Trump administration and scapegoat China even as Trump fails to recognize the virus as a critical threat to all of US society. Even here, though, the Trump White House is a latecomer, as right-wing media have been using this tactic to shield the President from blame for weeks.

Most criticism of Trump has centered on the individual racism he encourages: that Trump is racist, that he is happy to label COVID-19 the “China virus,” and that he is stoking racism against Chinese people and other Asians. As the COVID-19 crisis worsens, Trump will no doubt go to greater and greater extremes to shift the blame away from himself and onto China and Chinese people. We should be ready for the possibility of a severe re-escalation of the US-China trade war and a dangerous increase in US-China military tensions. Anti-Asian racism will continue to rise. This certainly matters to me as a person of Chinese descent, having witnessed and experienced incidents of harassment and assault against Asians. 

But this is not just about individual racism. This is a moment of crisis in the political and social order stands to be remade. Two main forces contend to determine the course of the radical changes that follow: the right wing nationalist movement behind Trump, and the rising progressive movement. The contest between these two sides will be determined by which side can frame the crisis – and necessary solutions – in terms the public can best understand. And the most crucial question in framing the mounting impact of the crisis is: who is to blame?

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Policy from the People: Introductions

Next month, Fellow Travelers Blog will join with Win Without War to launch a project on grassroots movements for progressive foreign policy. A core priority of progressive foreign policy is democratizing US foreign policy. As such, the new series will bring voices from across the US progressive movement to the blog to discuss the role foreign policy plays in their activism. More than anything, this series will help debunk the Washington myth that everyday people in the United States don’t care about issues of foreign policy and national security. 

Win Without War’s friends and partners, representing many of the activist groups that form the beating heart of the progressive movement, will publish a new essay each month exploring the deep connections between issues that have too long been siloed as “foreign” and “domestic” and detailing the benefits and challenges their organizations experience engaging with the foreign policy world. Whether a consideration of American gun violence in the context of the global arms trade or a reflection on how environmentalists engage with military pollution, the essays will give readers a sense of where the progressive movement actually stands in their foreign policy work, and what we can do to continue to build an internationalist perspective into our advocacy for a more just and equitable policies here at home.

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