The fight for democracy is rooted in the founding flaws that preserved slavery and gave outsized power to slave-holding states, and the same tools that won abolition could be used to save American democracy.
White abolitionists adopted tactics developed by Black organizers, and the two factions made an alliance and worked together for years to end slavery, and they left behind a playbook for undoing the antidemocratic oppression necessary for preserving white supremacy before and after the Civil War, argued author Linda Hirshman in a column for The Atlantic.
"These are dark times, but dark times do not always prevail," Hirshman wrote. "Four decades after Black spokesmen told their white so-called friends in the execrable American Colonization Society that they would not be returned to Africa, and just 30-plus years after the Black activist David Walker published an 'appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World' promising that 'the blacks,' once started, would form a 'gang of tigers and lions,' the newborn Republican Party won the presidency on a platform of restricting slavery. Ten years after [William Lloyd] Garrison torched his copy of the Constitution, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. How did they do it?"
Hirshman described seven strategies that Black organizers and white abolitionists used to demonstrate the evils of slavery in the face of both hostility and indifference, and she explained how those strategies were built to endure years of difficult struggle -- and how those lessons can be applied today.
"What is now clear is that they are in for not one election cycle but trench warfare," Hirshman wrote. "The antislavery societies did not have the good fortune of winning any elections for a long time, so they provide a better model than the Tea Party for how to organize in political trench warfare. Abolition had a primary goal: the immediate end of chattel slavery everywhere in the United States, and its related issue of racial equality. From time to time, other causes surfaced: defiance of the clergy as inadequately opposed to slavery, temperance, women’s suffrage."
"The lesson is clear," she added. "The branch of abolition that eschewed other causes and narrowly focused on its singular goal won out."
Even before the Civil War, opposition to slavery was violent, and in many ways mirrored the vigilantism of Donald Trump's right-wing mobs, but Hirshman showed how Black and white abolitionist allies stuck together in the face of deadly threats until their fight was won
"The specifics of their fight are not identical to what prodemocracy Americans now face," Hirshman wrote. "But the work of the abolitionist movement is comprehensible and replicable. It is the closest thing we have to a blueprint for how to rescue our democracy."