My recent challenging of the strategic effectiveness of protesting Trump events — if the goal is actually to undermine Trump — has brought a storm upon my head. It has also stimulated discussion by many and led me to a greater appreciation of the courage and initiative taken by the protesters.
At the same time, I think we can do better, and welcome the demands I’ve received to suggest alternatives. One of my favorites is to figure out what my opponent wants me to do, and then refuse to do it. A little-known but dramatic example of this tactic comes from Alabama in 1955, where white supremacy was virtually unchallenged until Montgomery black people launched a bus boycott.
The Ku Klux Klan decided to ride through the African American community to scare people into getting back on the buses. The Klan’s threats by mail and phone had been increasing: to burn down 50 homes in a single night, and to hang Martin Luther King Jr. from a tree. The King family house had already been bombed; fortunately no one was hurt.
“Ordinarily,” as King recalled later, “threats of Klan action were a signal to the Negroes to go into their houses, close the doors, pull the shades, or turn off the lights. Fearing death, they played dead. But this time they had prepared a surprise. When the Klan arrived – according to the newspapers ‘about 40 carloads of robed and hooded members’ – porch lights were on and doors open. As the Klan drove by, the Negroes behaved as though they were watching a circus parade. Concealing the effort it cost them, any walked about as usual; some simply watched from their steps; a few waved at the passing cars. After a few blocks, the Klan, nonplused, turned off into a sidestreet and disappeared into the night.”
This is called noncooperation, which some believe is the heart of nonviolent power. It’s consistent with Kate Aronoff’s recent call for us to get creative and put on as good a show as entertainer Trump can produce.
The Klan wanted African Americans to show how scared they were by violent white supremacy, so Montgomery blacks turned the Klan’s threat into a picnic.
In New Zealand a racist right-wing group has been holding an annual march for many years, with a counter-demonstration by the left gaining traction each year. The event is covered by the media. Last year the leftist activists went on strike and refused to show up to do their protest thing. The march turned into a non-event and the media didn’t bother to cover it.
The bottom line is: Find out what the opponent wants you to do and refuse to do it. If your opponent wants you to come to work, strike. If the banker wants to do business quietly and efficiently, fill the bank lobby with Quakers praying and singing. If the homophobes count on LGBTQ people to stay in the closet, come out. If middle-class professionals want you to stay in your working-class closet — a pressure I experienced in an Ivy League grad school — come out as working class. The power is in the noncooperation.
Noncooperation tactics are only powerful when you know what your opponent wants or needs from you. That’s when your refusal to cooperate pressures them to change. As far as we know historically, the working class has used this strategy the most, through boycotts and strikes. In fact, the earliest known nonviolent campaign in history was Egyptian workers refusing to continue to build the Pharoah’s tomb until they got a living wage.
In the Trump campaign, who is our opponent?
I was moved by the Waging Nonviolence interview with Ben Laughlin, a working-class white organizer who was protesting Trump’s event in Arizona. Laughlin’s father, like my brother, finds in Trump a rebel voice for his own anger against the major parties’ participation in the running down of his country and people like him. I believe that millions of Trump supporters are like them and are willing to tolerate Trump’s offenses against their personal standards because he voices their central concern so emphatically. Are Trump’s supporters the opponent of the protesters? I hope not, since I agree that they deserve a voice (I value democracy), and I agree with much of their grievance.
Perhaps, then, opponents are the ambition of Trump himself. He has different interests from most of his supporters. He also has an agenda that gives our protests a prominent place. He wants drama, which is enhanced by our protests and his threats. He also wants to appear to be defending himself against forces that want to throttle his voice, because that defense rallies his supporters all the more. Kate Aronoff cited a Monmouth University poll of Florida Republicans that found only 11 percent were less likely to back Trump after hearing about what happened in Chicago, and double that number were more likely to support him.
Trump’s third goal is to brand us as the enemy in the eyes of his supporters. He’s looking ahead. If he’s elected, he’ll make deals with the 1 percent and his party chiefs in order to govern, no problem. He’ll want to use us as scapegoats along with others he’s named. It’s useful if his supporters believe that elite leftists are entranced by political correctness and eager to look down on ordinary people, his base. That’s why he accused Sanders of fomenting the Chicago rally’s cancellation. That’s why he wants us to protest.
Arizona trans organizer Laughlin wants to reach out to his people — white working-class people — who support Trump. For him, protesting Trump events has that meaning. He also says it’s a chance to “take a stand against racism.” Significantly, when interviewer Caitlin Breedlove asks him about the impact of the protests, he says “boldness” matters, and adds that “It’s on us to put the time and energy into engaging white working-class folks in all sorts of ways and really getting to the heart of what’s drawing them to Trump.”
The good news is that there is a far more effective way to be bold, and it’s a method that invites us to put in the time and energy to relate to working-class people: Organize nonviolent direct campaigns for racial and economic justice.
Beyond rhetoric and reactivity
Montgomery’s black community knew when it was smart not to cooperate with the KKK game plan. They also wanted much more than to reduce the polluted atmosphere of racist rhetoric and threat. They wanted racial justice, a different matter. They made an analysis of who could yield to their pro-active demand, and found a strategy for sustaining the pressure to win.
In short, they waged a campaign with a clear, achievable goal for institutional change. Many campaigns followed, and spurred a broader movement that went well beyond who can occupy which seats in buses and lunch counters. The movement raised fundamental questions about U.S. society, while fighting to make a difference for people’s life chances. The historic 1963 March on Washington, which included a remarkable number of white working-class people, was for “jobs and freedom.” As long as that basic strategy held, the country changed despite the increased level of Ku Klux Klan and state terrorist activity.
The freedom movement’s targeted campaigns scared the 1 percent who saw that campaigns do raise more radical questions than their specific goals. That worry among our rulers was confirmed in the 1970s when the victorious campaign-based movement against nuclear power awakened questions about basic capitalist assumptions. The frightened 1 percent then launched the Reagan Revolution, and the progressives (except for the LGBT movement) mistakenly went on the defensive.
Our U.S. historic experience, in short, is that the most effective way to fight white supremacy (which of course is intertwined with capitalism and imperialism) is to ground the struggle in concrete, nonviolent direct action campaigns. If Southern black people had focused their attention on the ugly bigotry they heard every day, they would still be riding the back of the bus. Real justice was more important to most of them than an atmosphere superficially cleansed of racist rhetoric. It still is.
The strategic means for undermining Trump is to erode his base by creating campaigns that fight for the positives that most of his base wants and deserves: a just society for all.
Campaigning in a more hopeful context
Most nonviolent direct action campaigns start locally and extend as participants grow in skills and courage and others see successes. Going national is sometimes smart, and in the case of Bernie Sanders — with his own white working-class supporters and the use of the word “revolution” — contributes to accelerating change.
As students learned in the movements for South African divestment and boycotting sweatshop-made clothes, and the Dreamers and the Coalition for the Immokalee Workers demonstrate, campaigns ground participants, help them become practical and learn to strategize.
Our campaigns will face opposition and sometimes that will come with violent threat. That’s a good time to study the civil rights movement, which faced something far worse than we’re likely to: the most deeply-rooted and widespread terrorist organization in U.S. history. I realize that white people can be resistant to learning from black experience, but in this case the stakes are very high. We whites need to do whatever it takes to get humble and learn from what worked for the nonviolent freedom movement.
Faced with a foe far worse than Donald Trump, civil rights workers in the Deep South “kept their eye on the prize” — making concrete gains for justice. They did not spend their time protesting the Klan’s Grand Wizard. They pro-actively built power behind their own demands, and fought nonviolently for their own goals. As long as they continued that path, they forced large shifts, although King’s leading strategist Bayard Rustin kept warning: If you don’t tackle the economy head-on, we’ll still have terrible racism in 50 years. (Obviously, he was right.)
Insofar as we learn from their example we will find, as the anti-nukers of the 1970s discovered, that fundamental questions about the construction of our society do emerge in a compelling and grounded way. Our advantage is that their work and that of successor movements enable us to start from a higher place. We can take into account the successes and mistakes of our comrades, and this time move the struggle much farther.
Humor in Native culture has never been simply about entertainment. Comedy is also used to fight cultural invisibility and structural oppression.
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President Trump and past and present cognitive dissonance
( with Postscript)
As a student in London, I occasionally marched and protested against that which I thought was unjust or simply wrong. Racism in general and Apartheid in particular in South Africa provided cause to venture into the streets of London. On one occasion in the East End of London, there was a National Front (NF)march ( the equivalent in the 1970s of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the US today). The NF was permitted to march along the street. The anti-racist protesters stood behind barriers and there was the usual chanting and howling of slogans and counter-slogans for or against the cause. That occasion comes back to mind because a police officer on the street-side of the barrier, with obvious bitterness and contempt, without any disturbance or action civil disobedience on my part, just looked me straight in the face and yelled “Black Bastard”. Guess he found himself on the right side of the fence on that occasion. Standing in Trafalgar Square or opposite South Africa House was itself a just and righteous cause being advocated for, I thought then, and think so all the more now.
With a background such as mine, it then comes as no great surprise that I have more than a casual interest in the recent events of neo-Nazi, KKK and White supremacist marches in Charlottesville, Virginia.
To hear “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil” chanted these several years later after the Allied forces defeated the Nazis in World War 11, brings a different sort of recollection to mind, such as images of Auschwitz and “sieg heil” chants before and after Crystal night ( Kristallnacht).
A neo-Nazi driving into a group of anti-racist protesters brings back the recollection of the racist police officer in London shouting as he did; but, the conduct of the Nazi attacker in Virginia was at a lethally different level compared to the mild racist outburst I had experienced.
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Long before the Allied forces joined to defeat fascism, there had been struggles for equality in America. Most notably there was the American Civil War. The Northern states did not thrive on nor did they need chattel slavery as a means of enriching themselves. The South did. Robert E. Lee was the leader of a Southern insurrection to separate from the broader America and preserve the chattel slavery system. So, the statue symbolises that ‘culture’, those attitudes and values and the racism which slavery was*
( see: Postscript).
The forces that defeated Adolph Hitler and his Nazi cohorts had prevent additional egregious wrongs from being inflicted as horrors unto other human beings visited upon humanity by the Third Reich. The Jews in particular paid a heavy price. Hitler was literally trying to exterminate all of European Jews. The newsreels and the barbarous deeds are there for those serious enough, relative to that history, to take an interest, and might then understand what the implications and logical outgrowth of these modern day Nazi ideas imply:-
A Day in Auschwitz Nazi Jewish Holocaust Amazing Documentary
Recommended Reading. AUSCHWITZ:Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers http://www.phdn.org/archives/www.maza… Denying History. http://www.amazon.com/Denying …
The response of President Trump to Nazi supporters
When you listen to all this:-
Watch Live: Trump Delivers Infrastructure Statement in NYC | NBC News
President Trump delivers a statement from Trump Tower after signing an executive order on the environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure …
you can be left in no uncertain terms that Donald Trump is:-
An apologist for racists; and is
1.When one argues that some ‘very fine people’ were at the rallies led by the neo-Nazis and the KKK then the question has to be asked:-
Was it by mere coincidence that these ‘very fine people’ simply arrived and were in the company of neo-Nazis and the KKK without themselves either being neo-Nazis and KKK members or at the very least sympathisers of same?
2. The illogicality of supporting these racist groups arises in this way for Donald Trump:-
When your wife is a Jew(ess) and your son-in-law is a Jew then there are some serious contradictions arising here with your apologetic embrace of these groups – isn’t there? If one were to trace being a Jew on the matrilineal or the patrilineal lineage Trump faces a logical conundrum for resolution. The neo-Nazis and the KKK are avowed haters of Jews. Therefore, without knowing them as people, there would be automatic hatred and potentially violence directed at Trump’s wife and his son-in-law for no other reason than that of those persons ethnicity/religious identity. Further, Trump’s immediate family, be that wife, son-in-law, son, and by blood extension his grandchildren are all the subjects of derision and hatred from the groups Trump finds himself shamelessly defending. Thus, he purports to be embracing the ‘very fine people’ who simply turned up in the company of neo-Nazis and KKK and White Nationalists – but are not themselves to be deemed the disseminators or sympathisers of hatred directed to certain ‘lesser breeds’. Really now?
Attempts at rationalisation
The purpose of comparisons is to equate. Such equation can be used as a means of illustrating or amplifying a point which a person is seeking to make. I am being generous here, because I want to lead into Donald Trump’s rationalisations on the basis of both the historical references and the contemporary implications of support for White supremacist ideas.
Trump has expressed his concern that the removal of the statute of Robert E. Lee may logically lead to the rejection of persons such as George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, on the basis that they were slave owners and thus their memory might, by comparison with Lee, be deemed unworthy of national recognition. Trump’s point is, by parity of reasoning, that there is something worthy in Lee’s main conduct and contributions. Therefore, like George Washington or Jefferson, both flawed men, there is a real and imminent danger of damaging the national heritage of America (see: postscript).
It seems to me that there is a marked contrast between founding a nation built on high ideals and an innovative and promising form of governance, versus the raw defence in a war for the prolonging of chattel slavery. But, President Trump might not appreciate nor concede the false equivalence that he constructed and posited to bolster his argument in support of the neo-Nazi, the KKK and the White supremacists.
Historical memory, itself, should call for more than a cautionary pause when shouts of “sieg heil” being accompanied by “hail Trump” and an embrace from the former leader of the KKK, David Duke, become the root and substance of either – acceptance by the supremacists – versus – an unequivocal rejection from the President. While President Trump has opted for an acceptance of those shouts, he is being distanced by all the heads of the military and leaders in industry. A sad indictment against an even sadder, pathetic and pitiful President who finds it impossible to distance and condemn the equation of himself to Adolph Hitler – so – heil Trump:-
How does a man whose close and immediate family are designated by neo-Nazis as filth and the dregs of humanity – then fail to condemn, without equivocation or excuses, such racism?
Trump is either ignorant of history, or is so enarmoured by the idea of White supremacy, that he fails to comprehend that the ideas enacted under Adolph Hitler being regurgitated in the US in 2017 by persons who see him as President of the United States of America and being equivalently praiseworthy of the praises showered on Adolph Hitler is an affront and not a compliment. So –again – then, “Heil Trump!”
Putting the history on the European continent to the side for a moment, then considering the experiences in America of Native Americans and the involuntarily imported population placed to labour on plantations, within a more narrow and specifically American historical context, is an actual march from domination, enslavement, ostracism, and slowly, inexorably – an advancement to full citizenship (however reluctantly so conferred). That version of American history which states that the indigenous populations before the Mayflower and the slaves and the Mexicans and in fact all the non-Whites do have quite distinct histories that fit within the patchwork that ultimately makes the fabric of American society is an honest point of historical view. It is historical point of view which acknowledges and accommodates and embraces a more expansion appreciation (understanding if you like) of the menagerie which ultimately became America. But, President Trump seems wholly unable to either appreciate or understand that in a diverse society the humanity of all, and not just the humanity of a privileged few, will need to be accepted if that society is to function and flourish. It is this point which the Generals in unison stated to America when they had collectively confirmed a rejection of racism. This, if President Trump cared to notice, mirrored the same somber realisation by the top CEOs that this was the time to split from that which was bereft, coming from Trump, and ultimately was deemed bad for business in America or the wider world. The Generals and the CEOs got that point. They understood that Trump had descended into absurdity in his defending the Nazis – or – even the neo-Nazis, if any fine distinction is to be drawn. For that was what Trump was doing and sensible leaders had no desire to descend to or be associated with the ridiculous place Trump had positioned himself at. They understood incongruity well before rebuffs and rejections descended upon the institutions or businesses that they were leaders of.
Stated as succinctly as one can – Trump’s conduct, expressions and positions on race-relations are all dissonant. Cognitively dissonant.
In being an apologist for Nazism, President Trump, like the KKK members, is displaying a fundamental historical misunderstanding about the genealogy of America.
In mentioning Thomas Jefferson to support a line of political reasoning for sustenance of a status quo of discriminatory privilege, Trump has not taken time to think and question the social forces which serve to retard or advance people within the American nation. He could have started instead with knowing and acknowledging a very human fact of Jefferson having a long-standing intimate relationship with and children by, his Black Mistress, Sally Hemmings. It is telling that after DNA analysis served to confirm the paternity of Hemmings’ children and in January 2000, the conclusion was accepted by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, that such historical reality might not invite alternative Presidential positionings than with Nazism. Donald Trump, if only he read a bit, might arrive finally at a point of understanding as to the demographics of America and the historical realities which led to that demographic reality.
President Trump, if he cared to, might read the book entitled, ‘Slaves in the family’ by Edward Ball. It tells the true story of a White American born in Savannah, Georgia tracing his lineage. He commences with Elias Ball, who in 1698 migrated from England and became a very large plantation owner, acquiring some twenty plantations. Elias, like Jefferson, had offspring with slaves. Over three hundred years slaves and slave masters lived side by side in America. The Ball slave descendants along a blood-line was what Elias’ descendant was documenting. A history previously ignored but very much a part of American historical reality. The figure the book arrived at of ‘Black Ball descendants’ ( so to speak) was in the region of 75,000 to 100,000 in 1998 at the time of the book’s first publication. The interactions between the Cherokee nation and Europeans tells of similar genealogical inheritances. Quite frankly, such stories within America run all the up from Key West in the South to Alaska in the North. That realisation, that reality, that America which does exist is the one President Trump might be better focused on governing with justice and inclusion, than either apologizing for or embracing ( implicitly or expressly) the Aryan myth within Nazism.
President Trump’s style of governance and his incessant ill-advised tweeting has projected him into national and international consciousness as the ‘divider in chief’ rather than the unifier that the American Presidential office invites him to be.
President Trump, I honestly believe, has not read, he has not researched, he has not attempted to understand. He does not understand at all the miscegenations within America; he does not understand the diversity of America; he does not understand a multiplicity of different social policy and foreign policy issues which at the core of his role in office as President he is required to. He does not care about detail and in being so disposed he avoids fundamental facts, which if he were cognizant of, might not lead him to the incongruous positions he places himself in. Racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance and bigotry are the hallmarks of Trumpism, for that is the base he has chosen to pander to. Will such an approach help to heal and unite a diverse nation? Well – being a handmaiden ( master if you prefer) of division, alienation of great parts of American society and distancing from the world which Trump gives cause for resentments – then leads where? To a place in Trump’s mind which is well on the way to making America ‘great again’ with his special brand of leadership. A leadership which is increasingly dissonant and disconnected. When Trump’s expressions, his mind’s delivery of his oftentimes unedited thoughts are examined then therein one finds the cognitive deficit accompanied by consequential dissonance.
Courtenay Barnett is a graduate of London University. His areas of study were economics, political science and international law. He has been a practising lawyer for over thirty years, has been arrested for defending his views, has been subjected to death threats, and has argued public interest and human rights cases.
Postscript: The national heritage of America is Native-American, Euro-American, African-American, Mexican-American and that of many other Americans who have a history and heritage within the United States of America. With that in mind, quite seriously, I propose a rejection of Nazism and an embrace of the higher ideals which the American nation, at its best, represents. The formula is simple.
Robert E. Lee represents an embrace of the ‘culture’ of slavery, discrimination and domination.
Frederick Douglass as an outstanding orator and abolitionist represents the ‘culture’ of human dignity in the face of adversity, the embrace of freedom, the struggle for justice, in marked contrast to what Robert E. Lee stood for.
Thus, since Robert E. Lee’s statute is down and the high ideals upon which America should stand have yet fully to be replaced. Then a suggested understanding as to the depth of economic, cultural and historical contributions to the American nation which the African-Americans over several generations have made, might now begin in earnest to be acknowledged. So, America thus can leave Robert E. Lee’s page of the American history book, without forgetting what was written on it, and turn to a new and auspicious day in American history. That day will be ushered in when the statue of Frederick Douglass replaces the one of Robert E. Lee, now removed. History thus will not be forgotten, but it will march on to a more hopeful and propitious day in America.