Jaquëtta Shade-Johnson & Phil Bratta, May 2021
The 2020 United States election cycle proved to be one of the most intense and important in U.S. history: in early 2020, it was compounded by the onset of a global pandemic; in May 2020, the publicized murder of George Floyd raised more public attention to the ongoing murders of Black people at the hands of police and white supremacists; throughout summer 2020, Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists increased their mobilization, drawing in more supporters; in response, police and national guard exerted more authority, including the use of rubber bullets and tear gas; and President Trump consistently warned of wide-spread voter fraud. Such a context drove much of the unprecedented number of voters for the highest voter turnout percentage in U.S. history. Yet, by the time election day arrived, political and social discourse had also become saturated with Trump’s theories of election fraud. With Biden’s victory, Trump and his supporters doubled down on those theories despite no evidence, resulting in more than fifty lawsuits filed by Trump and his supporters to be dismissed by the courts between November 2020 and March 2021. During this time, we also witnessed an insurrection on January 6, 2021 by domestic terrorists who stormed the Capitol building on the day of election certification by Congress. This insurrection was hardly a few “bad apples.” It was orchestrated from Trump’s base, evincing that coalitions can develop across political ideologies.
Rather than give attention to this insurrection and the coalition behind it, we want to emphasize that many other coalitions and formations—ones that differ drastically in terms of ideologies, values, ethics, goals, actions, positionality, and collection of bodies—had developed and labored (prior to and) during the election cycle. For instance, after dealing with voter oppression by Brian Kemp in Georgia in 2018, Stacey Abrams developed Fair Fight Action, an organization that strives to make elections more equitable and develop laws that will increase the number of eligible voters. Abrams’ efforts continued in the 2020 election cycle where Georgia was one of the key swing states, resulting in Biden securing 16 electoral college votes. But it is important to note the roots supporting Abrams’ work in 2020. She spent the last ten years of organizing and networking with grassroots organizations and communities, including developing the Voter Access Institute, the New Georgia Project, and Fair Fight Action—all of which aimed to engage voters and address voter laws.
Coalition building and social justice
Abrams’ work epitomizes coalition building, reflecting how Karma Chávez (2013) describes a coalition as “a present and existing vision and practice that reflects an orientation to others and a shared commitment to change. Coalition is the ‘horizon’ that can reorganize our possibilities and the conditions of them” (p 146). Chávez also notes that “identity, subjectivity, power, and politics located on the dirt and concrete where people live, work, and play” are crucial for “queerness [as] a coalition term” (p. 7), drawing our attention to material conditions and specific experiences of embodied identities. But coalitions ultimately need people to relate and connect to each other without erasing difference and differential experiences. As Chávez reminds us, coalitions must “build more livable worlds in relation to other people whose lives, interests, and material conditions might be very different from our own” (p. 7). Likewise, Cricket Keating (2005) also argues for “coalitional consciousness-building,” a three-step process of “sharing thematically related experiences in a way that highlights the national, racial, sexual, class, and other contexts and histories relevant to the experiences . . . examining the experiences with an eye for the multiple relations of oppression and resistance at play in them” and “exploring the barriers to, and possibilities for, coalitional action with regard to the experiences” (p. 87). Coalitions are not formed on merely shared ideology, but they must integrate difference and embodied experiences as they develop collaborative action that addresses oppression, exploitation, and discrimination to build more just and livable worlds.
Chávez and Keating articulate a framework and principles undergirded by an investment in social justice across difference. Over the last sixty years, other coalition movements have oriented to such a framework and principles too. For example, in the late 1960s, Black Panther Fred Hampton founded the Rainbow Coalition: an alliance between the Chicago Black Panther Party, the Latino group the Young Lords Organization, and the working-class young southern whites of the Young Patriots Organization. Each organization not only worked within their respective local communities to address poverty and discrimination, but also together in a city-wide effort to address the violence and oppression createdy by racism and capitalism. We must always keep in mind that social justice requires rectifying historical and interlocking systemic inequities that affect current relations and conditions.
Recent scholarship in writing, rhetoric, and literacy studies has also devoted more attention to how social justice frameworks can inform and propose theories, methodologies, and practices (Agboka, 2013; Agboka, 2014; Frost, 2016; Jones, Moore, and Walton, 2016; Jones, 2016; Haas and Elbe, eds., 2017; Walton, Moore, and Jones, 2019). In Technical Communication After the Social Justice Turn: Building Coalitions for Action, Rebecca Walton, Kristen Moore, and Natasha Jones (2016) offer a four-step heuristic for action: recognize, reveal, reject, and replace. That is, social justice work requires our recognition of systemic oppressions and our participation in them, that we “reveal” them to others as a clarion call, that we reject these oppressions and being complicit, and replace them with “intersectional, coalition-led practices” (p. 133). It is this kind of framework and call to action that makes the concept and practice of coalitions different from the kind of far-right coalitions, such as the insurrection on January 6, which lack social justice. This volume furthers our understandings of the relationship between coalition building and social justice. In doing so, we offer a platform for cross-coalitional social justice dialogues in writing, rhetoric, and literacy studies.
Volume 3 overview
Our orientation to coalition building is deeply informed by the work of Karma Chávez. As such, we are delighted to open this volume with Gavin P. Johnson’s “The Time is Always Now: A Conversation with Karma R. Chávez about Coalition and the Work to Come,” an interview between Johnson and Chávez which offers a dialogue on coalition building from the weeks leading up to the 2020 U.S. elections. In this dialogue Johnson and Chávez discuss coalition building in rhetorical practice, accountability, and the work ahead.
The collection of columns begins with Keshia Mcclantoc’s “Black Lives Matter in Rural Publics Too: Reimagining Coalitional Possibility Beyond Urban Centers.” Informed by her experience, Mcclantoc examines coalition building in rural communities through the context of local BLM protests. Mcclantoc reminds us of the coalitional possibilities in rural America and the potential for social transformation through rural-centric activism, leading toward her call for scholars and activists to collaborate with rural coalitions.
In “2020 & the Elections Can’t Stop Us: Hashtagging Change through Indigenous Activism,” Luhui Whitebear addresses the use of hashtags in building coalitions within the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement, a grassroots activist movement working to counter the disproportionate targeted violence, trafficking, and murder of Indigenous women. Whitebear describes, as one of her contributions to the movement, a map disseminated through the MMIW hashtag, which was collaboratively crafted by Indigenous women, to visually represent the insufficiency of resources directed at the MMIW crisis by the Trump administration’s Operation Lady Justice task force. In illustrating how hashtags contribute to advocacy in the MMIW movement, Whitebear makes visible the strategic use of hashtags to connect, inform, build, and collaborate with communities as a powerful mechanism for advocating through coalitions.
We emphasize in this volume that coalitions are built, that they gain power through collaborative organizing and collective action. Bruce Kovanen and Andrew Bowman draw from their experience as graduate employee union organizers in “Organizing-as-Process: Building Towards Collective Action in Labor and Beyond” to describe a framework for organizing activist coalitions. Kovanen and Bowman share their advice for building coalitions guided by recursive practice, meaningful participation, and a cultivation of trust.
We close the columns section with Ryan Skinnell’s “Coalition-Building in the Creeping Shadow of Fascism,” which examines German interwar coalitions to call our attention to the challenges of anti-Nazi coalition-building. From this historical lens, Skinnell argues that social justice-centered coalition-building must prioritize the processes of deliberative democracy. Skinnell highlights, through historical comparison, the lessons that that we can learn from failed anti-Nazi coalitions which allowed ideological differences to weaken their power and how coalitions should work to uphold a healthy democratic system that can withstand the threat of fascism.
For the collection of extended essays in this volume, we begin with the development of a coalition sans social justice. W. Ordeman’s “Lessons from a Disinformation Coalition” examines how disinformation in the 2020 presidential election became uniquely persuasive. Disinformation campaigns from the Trump administration successfully built a coalition of supporters who claimed an unfair election, denounced the election results, and shared a belief in voter fraud. Drawing on the subject of special topoi and Quintilian’s teachings about imitation, Ordeman shows how we can better understand how these disinformation campaigns have built coalitions, as well as how activists might build effective coalitions geared toward social justice.
In “Black Lives Matter Digital Activism: Critical Digital Pedagogy in a Writing for Social Media Course,” Cara Marta Messina discusses how her undergraduate Writing for Social Media course focused on social justice, anti-racism, and digital activism. She designed the course with several coalition-based learning methods. For example, through her “Digital Activism Artifacts and Reflections,” students assessed their role as BLM activists and allies when engaging in digital activism, which included building protest bots on Twitter and infographics for circulation on Instagram. Drawing on anti-racist and feminist pedagogies, Messina also offers recommendations that can inform curriculum design, classroom policies, administration, and community work to move toward addressing systems of power and oppression, as well as resisting and reimagining these systems.
Within non-academic communities, the use of digital platforms often functions as a tool for social justice and community restoration, especially for marginalized peoples. In “The Implications of Transnational Coalitional Actions and Activism in Disaster Response,” Sweta Baniya turns to two natural disasters—the April 25 Nepal Earthquake and the 2017 Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico—to argue that transnational activism via engagement with digital/social media in disaster response leads to unraveling social injustices issues within marginalized spaces. By implementing often-ignored survival practices to navigate oppressive systems, marginalized people have worked to restore peace and stability in their communities in a post-disaster situation. Baniya also situates transnational activism in the context of the new Biden-Harris administration to call attention to the value of transnational activisms for social justice.
We conclude this volume with Pritha Prasad’s “Coalition is Not a Home”: From Idealized Coalitions to Livable Lives.” Prasad reminds us to continually be mindful of differential positions of power and vulnerability and nuanced approaches to identifying solidarity, especially in the context of anti-Black racialized violence and white progressive publics. In turning toward the June 2020 #BlackoutTuesday protests on social media, Prasad calls on us to consider coalitional structures and collective practices that are reciprocal and not contingent upon the exigency of racialized violence.
We would like to thank Liz and Don for the space to make this volume available and their work in bringing in to fruition. We would also like to thank the following people who served as reviewers for this issue:
Sonia Arellano, University of Central Florida
Jennifer Bay, Purdue University
Lauren Brentnell, University of Northern Colorado
Karma Chávez, The University of Texas at Austin
Dustin Edwards, University of Central Florida
John Gagnon, University of Hawai’i-Mānoa
Laurie Gries, University of Colorado Boulder
Kimberly Harper, North Carolina A&T State University
Becca Hayes, University of Missouri-Columbia
Cat Jennings, Hamline University
Darin Jensen, Des Moines Area Community College
Seth Kahn, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
Maria Novotny, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Malea Powell, Michigan State University
Gabriela Raquel Ríos, University of Oklahoma
Andrea Riley Mukavetz, Grand Valley State University
Tiffany Rosculp, Salt Lake Community College
Fernando Sánchez, University of St. Thomas
Lori Shorr, Temple University
Ryan Skinnell, San Jose State University
Scott Sundvall, University of Memphis
Cindy Tekkobe, University of Alabama
Sharon Yam, University of Kentucky
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