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Progressives paying attention to national politics have good cause for feeling under siege these days. Almost every day seems to see the rollout of some new policy designed to attack worker rights, destroy the planet, or rob the public commons. The good news? Many folks never before politically involved are joining the ranks of longtime activists who’ve been here before.
We caught up with one such longtime activist and organizer, Paul Shannon of Massachusetts Peace Action, to talk about activism in the Trump era. We caught Shannon in his natural habitat: a protest demonstration.
Inequality.org: What is today’s event?
Paul Shannon: This a protest against the Trump budget and in support of the People’s Budget put forward by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The People’s Budget takes on climate change, creates jobs, and expands health care coverage.
We’ve got a wonderful representation of groups here working on many, many different issues from raising the minimum wage to foreign policy to affordable housing to improving education. These are serious people, committed to social justices who don’t want to see the country go down the wrong path. There are about 200 of us out today, and we hope more will come out to future events.
“Control over big and important parts of society should be in the hands of ordinary people, not a tiny minority of the ultra wealthy.”
Paul Shannon, Mass People’s Budget Campaign
Inequality.org: Who organized this event?
Paul Shannon: We’re with the Mass People’s Budget Campaign, a coalition group pushing for the People’s Budget and against the Trump death budget. We’re here helping to organize protests like this one and to keep people mobilized and focused on the issues. It’s important that people know we’re opposed to the Trump budget, but also that we have a positive vision for what a good budget looks like.
Inequality.org: What’s your involvement?
Paul Shannon: I’ve been working for Americans Friends Service Committee since 1977. Through the years, we’ve worked against Vietnam, we worked on campaigns around US foreign policy in Central America, we worked on anti-apartheid campaigns South Africa. We’ve redefined ourselves over the years in response to the crises that have come our way.
I’m semi-retired now, but I still come out to events like this one and go to meetings and do everything I can. It’s a privilege to work on these issues. This work is important, we’re facing serious existential issues in the face of climate change. Trump appears determined to do everything he can to destroy the planet. We’re doing everything we can to stop that.
Inequality.org: What would you advise someone new to the movement who wants to plug in?
Paul Shannon: There are so many important issues that you can work on. Find a group that works on an issue that’s directly important to you. That may only be a small issue, but it’s important to be grounded and to find a home for yourself in the movement. We need people to be on fire on these issues.
Then I think people need to think big. Read widely. Ask why our message doesn’t resonate and look for lessons from history. So jump in, do what you can, but keep an eye on the big picture.
Inequality.org: What does success look like?
Paul Shannon: Success to me is measured by us moving towards a communitarian society, one in which we feel more connected to each other. We would feel the pain of groups doing poorly and feel the success of those who accomplish great things. We need an economy that brings us together rather than push us apart.
Beyond that, we need an expansion of the public sphere, the sphere in control of ordinary people. Control over big and important parts of society should be in the hands of ordinary people, not a tiny minority of the ultra wealthy. I don’t think we’re thinking big enough right now. We need an economy that works for us, not the other way around. There’s a lot of energy out there. When people see that, a better future is possible.