As Joe Biden starts his work as US president, the balance of power is changing everywhere.
Former President Donald Trump identified with, aided and supported strongman leaders across the globe. But Trump also united the protesters pushing back — creating momentum that organizers say may help make the Biden administration successful.
Trump’s tenure began in January 2017 with the Women’s March — the largest single-day protest in US history. Afterward, Harvard University sociologist Theda Skocpol and other researchers tracked protesters as they sought to continue their activism.
“Suddenly, people turned up at Democratic Party meetings that had been nobody there. I would describe it as a revitalization of the roots of the Democratic Party.”
“Suddenly, people turned up at Democratic Party meetings that had been nobody there,” she said. “I would describe it as a revitalization of the roots of the Democratic Party.”
New grassroots groups also sprang up across the country, many of them led by women. And their collective efforts paid off pretty quickly. Skocpol says the 2018 midterm elections were “a turning point.” The newly mobilized activists phone-banked and went door-to-door for the midterms to elect — in many cases — moderate Democrats. She says they increased voter turnout with a broad coalition.
“The way they looked at it is any Democrat that can build a majority, we're going all out for him,” Skocpol said. “I think they saw it as a way to save the country really from Trump and Trumpism.”
Then, George Floyd, a Black man, was killed in May 2020 by a Minneapolis police officer, and people protested racism and police brutality in countries across the globe.
“This summer was a very, very transformational moment. We saw more non-Black people joining protests, we saw corporations speaking out for the first time. And it happened in the middle of the pandemic,” said Arisha Hatch, vice president of Color Of Change, a group that leads campaigns for racial justice. “We believe racial justice is becoming a majority issue.”
Movements have coalesced, she said. People across the political and demographic spectrum have been unified by a similar feeling of outrage and heartbreak. They’re motivated by an array of issues — from police brutality and family separation to health care and student loan debt.
Hatch believes the sense of unity among groups that helped elect Biden will last — especially because of the attack on the Capitol two weeks ago. But she said Biden still has to use his slim Democratic majority in Congress to deliver.
“Democrats should be very aware that there's an expectation that people's lives will be improved on a host of different issues because they are in the majority,” Hatch said. “Democrats have to begin to figure out how they're going to deliver for that coalition if they hope to hold that majority for longer than two years. And yeah, that will involve negotiation and back and forth and sometimes criticisms.”
The anti-Trump coalition believes Biden must succeed, said Leah Greenberg, co-founder of the nonprofit Indivisible. And she said they believe Biden can only do that by addressing structural problems in the US government.
“I think what we're seeing is that people want to both cheer President Biden on and they want to make him be bold. And they're coming at that from a supportive but pressuring angle.”
“I think what we're seeing is that people want to both cheer President Biden on and they want to make him be bold. And they're coming at that from a supportive but pressuring angle,” Greenberg said.
If the coalition that defeated Trump remains unified and keeps pushing, Greenberg said it ultimately could help defeat right-wing authoritarian figures around the globe.
“What I would hope is that the defeat of Trump and the successful transfer to Joe Biden is part of a broader wave, turning back this right-wing, ethnonationalist current,” she said.
If the US can make the reforms necessary to represent and care for all its people, Greenberg said, it may help countries keep strongmen like Trump from taking power again.