That advice is from Chris Newman, a labor organizer quoted in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle, in an article about how liberals are trying “to tap [the] activist energy” released in opposition to Trump’s rightwing assault on our country.
In the wake of the Womens Marches around the world, which were organized, and the weekend’s mass turnouts at U.S. airports protesting the Muslim ban, which were spontaneous, it’s clear that liberal-humane Americans are motivated as never before. I haven’t seen anything like it since the 1960s (except, possibly, for the rise of tea party, from which we can learn and are learning). But the question you see and hear everywhere—on social media, in the newspapers, on radio and T.V., and in casual conversation—is: “How do we galvanize this energy into a unified force?”
This is where Newman’s quote is so important. I love the martial analogy of taking and holding hills. The history of war is replete with such battles. My generation knew about the Battle of Pork Chop Hill (1953), in the Korean War, which was made into a great 1959 movie starring Gregory Peck. One of the most famous clashes of our own Revolutionary War was, of course, the Battle of Bunker Hill (1775), which emboldened American troops against the more numerous, battle-hardened British. The Battle of Hamburger Hill (1969), in the Vietnam War, was a defeat for the U.S., and fueled massive anti-war protests at home. More victorious was Teddy Roosevelt’s charge in the Battle of San Juan Hill (1898), during the Spanish-American War, which swept the Rough Rider into the Vice Presidency and, on the assassination of President McKinley, into the White House.
The notion of fighting for hills has deep roots in our emotive past. A hill can be encompassed, both visibly and conceptually. Unlike fighting over broad ground, a hill battle has a locus of activity and a focus of objective: moreover, once taken, a hill is more easily, and viciously, defended. Hills are high ground, with all the metaphorical notions that implies. From the top of a hill, one has a clearer, more sweeping vision of the battlefield, and a place to plant a flag.
All these notions come into play in Newman’s quote. “Hold your hill.” This can be daunting, I concede. One Oklahoman I heard from said his local Democratic Party organization is so toothless, it’s hardly worth being part of. If you’re living in an intensely red county in Mississippi or Kansas, you might be forgiven for feeling helpless and hopeless. Given the power of the Presidency, and the fact that the Congress is held by Republicans, and that Trump any day now will nominate a rightwinger—and probably a religious fanatic—to the Supreme Court, any of us might wish (as a friend of mine observed) to just head off to the desert or the mountains. Pack a case of wine, some medicinal herb, and forget about the outside world.
No! This is called defeatism. Things are not so bad as some think. We actually possess many hills to hold. California is a hill; so is New York State, Washington State, Oregon, and other blue states. Already our Governors are mobilizing in unprecedented ways. So are American Mayors, from New York to San Francisco, Los Angeles to Boston, Phoenix to Tallahassee, Chicago to Baltimore and Houston. Senate Democrats, feeling the heat from the street, are gathering their strength for what lies ahead. Hillary Clinton won 88 of the country’s one hundred largest counties, resulting in nearly 3 million more votes than Trump. She won the popular vote in a landslide: if you’re feeling defeated, remind yourself of that hill. We have also a good portion of the media (and bravo to the New York Times for using the word “lie” in reference to Trump). School teachers, scientists, unions, artists, high tech, women, college grads, the entertainment industry, the LGBT community, Blacks, Asians, Latinos, Muslims—all these groups supported Hillary Clinton, who would have won red states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan were it not for voter suppression by Republicans. This, too, is a hill we hold: There are far more of us than there are of them.
So hold your hill! Wherever you are, and however small it seems, it could be the hill that turns the tide of battle!
[I wrote the preceding the day before Trump’s Monday Night Massacre. Consider it another hill.]