While outrage was still growing in Oregon over federal agents’ intervention in Portland, President Trump on July 20 named Chicago, New York, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland, California as possible next targets. Since then Albuquerque was added to the list.
Although the agents’ mission was supposedly to protect federal buildings, they were ranging around the city, dressed in camouflage outfits in unmarked vans, joining police in responding to demonstrators. The New York Times reported them seizing people and locking them into a van with no explanation and wearing no insignia.
The feds began to arrive June 27 and have ramped up in numbers since. The Washington Post reported that a curious 53-year-old Navy vet, Christopher David, approached a demonstration where he saw agents acting aggressively. He asked the officers to remember their oaths to protect the Constitution. They attacked him and broke his hand.
Agents were assembled from Customs and Border Protection, Transportation Security Administration, Coast Guard, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to The New York Times, “The tactical agents deployed by Homeland Security include officials from a group known as BORTAC, the Border Patrol’s equivalent of a SWAT team — a highly trained group that normally is tasked with investigating drug smuggling organizations, as opposed to protesters in cities.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler called it “an attack on our democracy.” That was before he was tear-gassed on the street in a demonstration. Oregon Attorney Gen. Ellen Rosenblum filed a lawsuit, seeking a restraining order.
Gov. Kate Brown, who called Trump’s intervention “a blatant abuse of power,” said that the protests were starting to ease before federal officers arrived. What might have prompted Trump to act? Why Portland? How might this choice be strategic for Trump, both to bolster his chance to win the election — and perhaps to remain in office even if he doesn’t win? And what can activists do about it?
Trump’s “law and order” strategy really can help him win
Trump’s earlier hopes to win based on a strong economy and conquest of the coronavirus have faded. He needs another emotional issue that responds to people’s need for security: public order. The narrative couldn’t be clearer. In new advertising and tweets Trump has argued that Biden “is a harbinger of chaos and destruction.” During a two-week period in July the Trump campaign spent nearly $14 million to air a television spot suggesting that police departments won’t respond to 911 calls if Biden is elected.
Trump’s team figures that a percentage of voters who might otherwise be ambivalent about him can be tipped toward supporting him by appealing to their anxiety. In the 1960s, when the nonviolent civil rights movement moved national public opinion sufficiently to pass two landmark U.S. civil rights acts, I watched a series of riots in Philadelphia and elsewhere, from 1965-66, break the movement’s momentum.
To measure the impact of riots carefully scholars have examined other examples. Princeton political scientist Omar Wasow studied the April 1968 riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. I was one of the many outraged in the streets — although, our Philadelphia Black-led mass protest was nonviolent.
Wasow found that the violent protests measurably helped Republican Richard Nixon become President in 1968. (His study kicked off a recent dialogue, including Nathan J. Robinson’s critique in Current Affairs. However, Robinson admits he doesn’t challenge the fact that right-winger Nixon did benefit from the riot.)
Another Princeton researcher, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, investigated the outcome of the 1992 Los Angeles rebellion — also sparked by a just cause — and found it resulted in the Democrats moving to a “law and order” posture, mass incarceration and increased poverty.
Clearly, the Trump team’s strategic calculation on voter behavior is a reasonable one. But why target Oregon for this intervention?
Portland is known nationally for having some activists who try to defend themselves against police violence in a violent way. By sending in federal agents who will escalate violent tactics, there seemed a good chance of getting video footage for Trump’s election campaign, proclaiming him as “the law and order candidate.” With luck they would get vivid pictures at the site of federal buildings that give the feds their protective justification for being there.
A long-time white anti-racist activist and conflict studies professor at Portland State University, Tom Hastings, told me another reason why Portland is an obvious choice for Trump’s team: Oregon’s electoral votes were already certain to go to Biden. It doesn’t matter for November’s election that Oregon’s major elected officials are protesting the federal intervention. Hastings also pointed out that the cities on Trump’s list for more interventions have Democratic mayors.
Will activists play Trump’s game?
One key to a winning strategy is to figure out what the opponent’s strategy is and refuse to be manipulated — in Portland and in the other cities on Trump’s target list.
Federal intervention in Portland has turned the previous hundreds of late-night protesters into thousands. Nonviolent tactics include dancing, a “Wall of Moms,” and orange-clad dads with leaf-blowers, who blow away tear gas.Embed from Getty Images
Other activists have escalated violent tactics in response to the escalation by the feds. According to The New York Times, some of the protesters used lasers while federal officers fired projectiles into the crowd. Court papers claim that a Molotov cocktail was thrown and one protester was charged with hitting an officer with a hammer, while the Times reported multiple efforts by some protesters to set alight the wood on the façade of the federal courthouse. The fire attempt of course reinforces Trump’s dubious claim that the feds need to be there to protect federal property.
Activists everywhere can learn from the major shift in tactics made this year by looking at the national response to the May 25 police killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd. Our spontaneous reactions expressed grief and anger in multiple ways.
The mass media (as usual) gave most headlines to the rioting. That meant, as historical research has shown, the impact of the movement could have set back the struggle for racial justice. However, from the start, the vast majority of people were protesting nonviolently. The more fact-based mass media caught up with that quickly. The rioting quickly ebbed, and the image of the movement shifted to one that is fairly consistent in its use nonviolent action.
When police in some locations continued to act out violently against the peaceable demonstrators, they only proved the point demonstrators were making. Their brutality displayed on nightly TV boomeranged against them, and more people joined the protests.
Almost all activists found far more effective ways to escalate than using fire and projectiles: They escalated the contrast between their behavior and that of the police.
By channeling rage and grief into nonviolent tactics, the Black Lives Matter surge sustained itself, grew exponentially, introduced new people to the streets and a national conversation about racial injustice. It continues to chalk up a series of limited victories. Bigger victories await even more focused nonviolent campaigning.
Any effective strategizing — Trump’s or ours — includes a back-up plan, and my guess is that the Trump team has one. If Portland activists refuse to play into Trump’s hand by adopting a nonviolent discipline, Trump has a list of other places to try. Trump can hope that in Chicago or Oakland activists might not see how much he wants them to fall for his ploy.
A more sinister goal Trump may have in mind
When announcing to the media his list of targeted cities, Trump revealed how important this narrative is to him. His next statement was that if Joe Biden is elected, “the whole country would go to hell. And we’re not going to let it go to hell.”
Although Trump would undoubtedly claim voting fraud because of mailed-in ballots, the emotionally more impactful narrative would be “hell” in the form of violent chaos in the streets happening in real time following the vote. He has plenty of armed Trump loyalists ready to do their part. While the courts wrangle about voting fraud, the chaos can serve as Trump’s immediate rationale for staying in the White House in January.
The “violent chaos” narrative is Trump’s growing emphasis, and I think it’s linked to his hope that police will give a break to Trump-followers in the streets. On July 19 on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, Trump said again that he would not agree ahead of time to obey the results of the election. But then he added, “Biden wants to defund the police.” As I mentioned, his campaign is already investing millions in TV ads attacking Biden’s capacity to support the public’s basic need for safety and security.
Even a man as reckless as Trump likely knows that initiating a Constitutional crisis is an unusually chancy operation. He needs preparation even to have a chance of success. By “success” I mean at least making a deal in which he and his family would avoid the parade of lawsuits that await him when he is no longer in office.
I see him and his team taking a number of steps to prepare. Right now in Portland he’s trying out the narrative that justifies a refusal to exit.Embed from Getty Images
Chaos is good for him. For years he’s been preparing his base to produce an armed force of “irregulars” that can generate chaos. Armed men are showing up in places of political tension and conspicuously being allowed to remain there by local police. Examples include April 30 in Lansing, Michigan, June 2 in Philadelphia and July 20 at the Utah State Capitol.
Trump also needs the legitimacy of a governmental force at his command. On his home ground in Washington, D.C. he experimented with soldiers in combat gear and military helicoptors attacking peaceful demonstrators to clear the way for a photo-op.
That test didn’t work out well. The demonstrators didn’t turn to violence to give him justification, so the media revealed a military behaving disgracefully. Trump received enormous push-back from military leaders. They clearly vetoed further use of the their forces for his own political purposes.
Still wanting the availability of loyal government guns, in Portland he’s testing civilian federal armed agencies that represent governmental legitimacy. Chad Wolf, the acting head of Homeland Security underlined his loyalty when he visited Portland on July 16. How that works out is yet to be seen.
Since Trump does believe in the art of the deal, if a take-over doesn’t work he needs also political enablers with some credibility who will step in to arrange a compromise that protects Trump and his family when they leave. He’s in good shape there. Republican leaders have plenty of practice enabling Trump’s corruption and presumably will be available for this service in the midst of a crisis that’s not turning his way.
What strategy can defend against a coup?Embed from Getty Images
Jo Ann Hardesty is a long-time activist and Black community leader in Portland who became a city commissioner last year. In the midst of this crisis she voiced the most important strategic insight that activists need, although not an easy one to grasp.
On July 20, she called a mass protest outside the county Justice Center downtown, saying the city would “not allow armed military forces to attack our people.”
At the rally she gave us the key: “Today we show the country and the world that the city of Portland, even as much as we fight among ourselves, will come together to stand up for our Constitutional rights.”
The key is unity — a challenging concept in a polarized time, especially for those of us who think of ourselves as social change activists.
A successful direct action campaign for change, after all, doesn’t start out assuming unity with our point of view. Change activists generally start out as a minority voice, often a tiny minority, like the first women who asserted the right to vote or the first LGBT people demanding freedom to be who we are.
Our initial minority typically finds allies, persuades more doubters, and reaches the point of launching direct action, becoming what Bayard Rustin called “angelic troublemakers” who dramatize our point of view. Then, when we grow and achieve critical mass, we polarize the issue in such a way that the center of gravity comes down on our side — leading us to victory.
Right now in Portland he’s trying out the narrative that justifies a refusal to exit.
In Hardesty’s words, change activists in Portland (and everywhere) assume we’ll “fight among ourselves” hoping our point of view will someday win out. However, she calls us to learn to do more than only one thing. She wants us to be able at one moment to fight for change and at another moment to be able to fight for defense, to protect something worth defending.
She believes that the city of Portland, for all its problems, is worth defending against Trump’s attack. You likely agree that your city, or state or country, is worth defending against a would-be dictator.
But here’s the challenge to us: Strategizing for defense is different from strategizing for change.
When we’re on defense, we not only minimize actions that polarize, as Hardesty says, but we also design actions that play more to the center. The “center” is the people in your system (be it your community or nation) who are not committed strongly one way or the other.
The leaders in a stable system pay a lot of attention to the people in center and also, as leaders, they see themselves as balancers who need to hold things together in whatever system they’re leading. (The military leadership in the United States is an example of this.) They usually think “leadership” means at least some care for the system’s cohesion, integrity and security.
What this means for activists gets clearer in a story about a puzzle I watched environmental organizers solve.
Finding the difference between offense and defense
When I was consulting with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, I saw their local organizers make sense of a confusing and surprising phenomenon. Their issue was commercial waste companies trying to dump toxic waste in local communities.
The organizers had been schooled in social change projects and were therefore accustomed to entering a community, finding some sympathetic people more on the periphery of the community (perhaps a Black minister, a white union member, a Jewish teacher, a Unitarian librarian) who agreed that toxics shouldn’t be dumped there. By supporting the activism of these initial contacts and using house meetings to follow their links in toward the power center of the community, the organizers expected at last to rouse the leaders of the community to join in defense against the waste haulers.
To their surprise, the organizers discovered that the leaders of the community frequently “jumped the gun,” adopting the defense against toxics as their own issue and even taking leadership in organizing sit-downs in front of the trucks.
By comparing experiences, the organizers realized that community leaders believed they needed to be seen as defending their system against violations of its integrity and security.
Trump enjoys being outrageous so he can watch us react — and then waste our time moralizing.
On a national level, this is why Republican leaders are so uneasy about Trump’s relationship with Putin and his denial of Russian electoral attacks. Their conflict is between their loyalty to Trump and their own responsibility to defend the system’s integrity against attack from outside. That responsibility goes with being part of the system’s center.
When Jo Ann Hardesty spoke at the rally, she was coaching activists to see the difference between offense and defense. She said, “This is not about ‘Fuck the police.’ This is not about who did what, when. As you know, Portlanders will continue to fight once we get rid of these federal occupying forces. But when Portland is under attack, whether you’re Black or white, whether you’re right or left, Portlanders come together.”
Defeating an attempted coup – nonviolently
When Germans overthrew would-be dictator Wolfgang Kapp in 1920, they used a defensive strategy. It wasn’t easy. World War I left Germany intensely polarized, much more than the United States is now. The right wing saw an opportunity to try a coup d’etat, backed by some of the armed forces.
Germany’s center read the attempt as an attack on the integrity and security of the system, and responded to the left when it called for a general strike. Along with ordinary people staying home, governmental civil servants failed to show up for work.
Kapp found empty offices, with no one to type out a manifesto saying he was the new ruler of Germany. He needed to bring his daughter to the capitol the next day to do the typing!
Even an economically battered, partly destroyed, and politically divided Germany found so many leaders and ordinary people linked to that sense of integrity and security of the whole system that within a week the coup was defeated by nonviolent defense.
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How can individuals prepare for defense?
As Bill McKibben is fond of saying, “Stop being an individual.” Recruit your activist group. Talk with others about our possible need to use Jo Ann Hardesty’s call for an “all-in” shift from change to defense.
On Zoom calls discuss with others cases of community and national defense, hundreds of which are available on the Global Nonviolent Action Database.
As you read cases, note what the strengths were that winning activists used, and ask what you and your comrades’ strengths are. If you’ve done only change activism up until now, build your flexibility so you can start or join defense actions as well. With people in the center in mind, think “unity” rather than “further polarization.”
Don’t under-rate our opponent. Just because it’s easy to deride Trump’s limited information about things we think are important, like the virus, is no reason to under-estimate how wily he is, how he “reads” his opponents and goes after their (and our) weak points.
One of our weak points is that many of us would rather moralize than strategize. Trump enjoys being outrageous so he can watch us react — and then waste our time moralizing.
If you’re out late at night and and get attacked on the street, it’s a waste of time and brain-space to analyze the ethics of the attacker. Similarly, we’ll do better in an attempted coup if we give up moralizing and identify our strengths, Trump’s weaknesses and create a strategy to win.
Acknowledge your fears, to yourself and friends. If in contemporary America you have no fear, you simply don’t understand what’s up. I find my teeth chattering more often these days, which is a way of acknowledging and letting go of my fear.
Build on the strengths of previous movements that found ways to handle threats and attacks.
One way to practice your strategy chops is to keep looking at tactical possibilities for nonviolent noncooperation. This formula might help you:
Ask: “What do they want me to do?” Then don’t do it.
Ask: What don’t they want me to do?” Then consider it.
The United States is a polarized country. The path of least resistance is for each pole to become obsessed by the other: The right wing wastes time learning about and despising us, and vice versa. That’s the trap.
The way out is to pay attention to the center, which especially in defense scenarios, is the prize. Learn about centrists, make friends with them, discuss your points of agreement and disagreement. Your growth as an activist is guaranteed.
Our own fear may urge us to “look good” to our comrades, perhaps by doubling down on whatever campaign we’re now involved with. Our campaigns (for racial justice, immigrant justice, stopping a pipeline, etc.) are in one sense addressing sub-systems. That’s good, because in ordinary times the sub-system offers concrete gains when we win.
However, if my analysis is correct, in this situation what’s in play is the national system as a whole, which will make it more critical for a moment — and also will make the center available in a new way.
Remind your friends that because the center is easily alarmed by disorder and especially violence, its willingness to defend the whole depends partly on the degree to which it sees “our side” as nonviolent and “the threat” as violent. Because the overwhelming majority of Portlanders have been demonstrating for Black Lives Matter in nonviolent ways, elected officials are mobilizing against Trump’s intervention. If the majority had been violent, Trump’s intervention would be welcomed by the center.
Reduced to bare bones, our three-point plan in this political moment may be: stand with the community as a whole, communicate the power of strategic nonviolent action, and then — as Hardesty reminds us — as soon as Trump is really out, we can return to our disagreements and our struggle for revolutionary change!
Waging Nonviolence is hiring a writer to interview leading movement figures and analysts and produce one Q&A-style article per week. The writer will work with our small editorial team to identify the interview subject each week. For the most part, we’ll be looking to hear from activists, organizers and scholars who can shed light on… More
By melding theory and practice, Philadelphia’s Vanguard S.O.S. are building skills and collective power.
The 1958 voyage of the Golden Rule offers important strategic lessons on how to confront an overwhelming evil and win.
Wow! This is very important to reflect on.
We must ban together as Americans to unseat Mr Trump and his minions that have brought us to this precipice. There are many things wrong with our country but there is whole lot right. We need to work together to change the disparities and to bring about justice and equality for all people no matter their color or heritage. We must be ready to recognize the error in our ways no matter the consequences. I love the people of the USA but I am not so in love with our legislators. Let’s all agree to vote in November and take our country back. Voting by mail is certainly safer but it is a loophole for the current president to discount results. Go in person, vote early, whatever it takes vote. Every vote will grow into the force to be reconed with, don’t lose heart! Vote!
This article was shared by a friend who grew up in the Quaker community as did I. The beginning of this article seems to buy into conservative rhetoric that what is happening in Portland each night, constitutes a “violent protest,” or a “riot,” a distinction frequently made by Portland Police, and a necessary determination for the deployment of “crowd control munitions.” I’m not sure where this impression is fostered, as I have been trying to keep up with National media coverage of the federal occupation of Portland over the past weeks, and typically, the coverage has been clear to distinguish the tens of thousands of people congregating by the federal building as predominantly passive, or at least non-confrontational. But even the fireworks and water bottles tossed over the federal fence hardly constitute a threat against heavily armored agents who are sighting protestors in high-powered scopes, and surveilling protestors, collecting data from cellphones using several state-of-the-art UAS/drones. The scene on the ground resembles more of a peasant uprising than the “violent protests” some may assume from distant vantages.
In the massive crowds are scores of volunteer street medics, free food and clothing, ear plugs, swimming goggles, bottles of water, Black Lives Matter posters, vegan burritos, and squeaky piggy toys being handed out. Within this crowd are some who toss impressive domestic fireworks over the federal fence. Others toss bags of garbage over the fence, or water bottles. Lasers disrupt snipers and photographers on the balcony from targeting individuals in the crowd. Let’s remember that federal agents were sent to Portland to defend the federal courthouse against graffiti.
In response, federal agents emerge from the building and assault the crowd with copious pepper balls, teargas, and flash-bang grenades. While some actions by a minority of nightly demonstrators may not be described as “peaceful,” they also do not warrant being described as violent. Escalation has been a reaction to brutality. The tactics are less likely to pose a physical threat to the occupying forces, and more intended to demoralize them. When 10,000 people chant “No Justice, NO PEACE,” this is not an idle threat, but a promise that we won’t succumb to political posturing through the heavy-handed tactics of inappropriately employed executive power.
Portland demonstrators are evolving. Thousands have outfitted themselves with respirators and gas masks, goggles, helmets, and homemade shields. In fact, it is more difficult every day to source respirator cartridges and sealed goggles anywhere in the Pacific states. Ever evolving strategies have diminished the effectiveness of the federal crowd dispersal tactics. Some disperse, but most remain defiantly in the street, shielded from the pepper balls and rushing TOWARD the teargas grenades rather than fleeing. Eventually, federal agents will have to employ other tactics, and the hope is, that they will conclude that their heavy-handed approach to suppressing dissent has been ineffective, and instead resort to diplomacy. This would be a devastating defeat of Trump’s “Law And Order” posturing. So let’s be clear: this is modern civil disobedience. I know it may not look familiar to the causes’ veteran elders, but different times call for different measures.
More Portlanders show up every night as the disproportionate violent response to demonstrations prompts even Portland’s centrist liberals to occupy the downtown streets around the federal building. Solidarity has taken off around the nation, as nightly footage of brutality wrought by federal agents clearly constitutes egregious disregard for constitutionally protected rights. A federal judge has imposed a temporary restraining order against federal agents targeting members of the press, a constitutionally protected right. That night, a photographer with clearly marked PRESS vest and helmet, was singled out and barraged with pepper balls, striking his hand and camera.
Toward the conclusion of Lakey’s article, he calls for community cohesion among demonstrators when shifting from “change activist” mode to “defense activist.” What he seems to have missed, is that this cohesion among activists includes ALL of the people out in the streets each night. Not only the Wall of Moms, but the citizen fireworks brigade, the graffiti taggers, the “Return To Sender” teargas grenade tossers, the sign carriers, medics, fence destroyers, Riot Ribs, the drum corps, Trumpet Guy, BIPOC leaders, and passive protest chanters. It’s a messy group. We are not perfect. We do not “self-police” our campaign for liberation. Times have changed, and THIS is what a community activist “all in” campaign looks like in 2020.
Well done. Especially your list of participants’ groups needed to join together and defend our cities.
Great work, Lakey.
Why not a deal, to let Trump leave in peace and golf quietly into the sunset?
Currently Trump is intensely motivated to win re-election at all costs, to save himself and his family from endless problems. So everybody loses. We could be stuck with another 4 years – or a constitutional crisis when ultimately the military decides who is the real president.
The world could rid itself of many evil leaders, just by letting them walk away and do something else with their lives if they wish. Why force them to keep fighting, at risk of great damage to nations and people?
This is a stellar article and keen insight. I agree with every aspect of it and I will pull from this for two podcasts I am co-hosting this week.
yes, I also am grappling with how to pull all of us together — which could be fireworks over the fence, – but not fires,, banging on the fence, but not climbing over it,, & definitely the projected slogans, which are brilliant… So yes, ways that are strategic and inclusive, but that are absolutely not trying to force a complete passive response — because not only is that unrealistic, but could most certainly be read as a win for trump as : ‘see I made the “violence” stop’… We have to be very smart about this…in detail..you know?
A sobering, crucial piece on strategy by one of the best nonviolent strategists/thinkers since Gene Sharp. I will be sharing this article as broadly as I can. It needs to get into the hands of anyone who influences strategy sessions for activists.
We must keep our cool. There is a path to follow.
We cannot overstate the incredible bravery of the women standing on the front lines in Portland. They are inspiring as they stand-up to our secret police.
… We cannot lose the focus provided by these brave women; losing that focus would play right into the hands of Donald Trump.
… The POWER OF OUR WOMEN is consistent with the historic role that women have played in gut-wrenching conflicts over time. It follows in the footsteps of what the brave women and children of Lisbon accomplished on April 25, 1974, when they took to their streets in non-violent fashion to hand-out carnations to armed police and Portuguese soldiers armed to the teeth. Their bravery was the turning point in the overthrow of a tired old dictatorship. The Mothers of Portugal had had enough of their sons being returned in body bags from the fighting in Portugal’s 3 African colonies. They had had enough of the old tired order in their country. But rather than fight fire with fire, which is what young Portuguese officers in the military were about to undertake against their government, the women of Lisbon said NO! We are going to do this peacefully. And police and establishment forces laid down their arms before them. It was a glorious day, deemed:
“The Revolution of The Carnations”
Now, as women in Portland behave in a similar manner, the question now is:
Will Trump’s “Homeland Security” storm trooper strategy work; will it win-over the hearts and minds of the American people, when women stand-up to the iron fist with non-violent action?,
if Trump’s secret army continues to terrorize the public, what impact will this have on the November elections?
… When we pay attention, we learn from history. We can draw on this country’s troubled past and how non-violence met violence in 1965 in Selma, Alabama. Many have argued that public reaction to the violence unleashed against civil rights protesters in Selma led to passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
… The non-violent action in 1974 Lisbon unleashed positive changes for millions of people across Europe and Africa (as a result of the bloodless coup in Lisbon, the new Portuguese government ended the colonial wars and worked with former adversaries to establish independent countries which became instant trading partners; much along the lines of the British Commonwealth of nations).
… The experience in Lisbon in 1974 illustrates how hard it is hard to over-state the significance that unarmed women and children had when they handed-out flowers to armed police and troops; seeking a better world. Their approach worked masterfully. … Now, our country has a similar choice to make. How we deal with this overbearing threat to our republic is key to our long-term survival. If we engage Trump’s storm troopers with more fire, we will lose. We will be playing into his hands.
… Remember the carnations.
John Lewis kept reminding us that nonviolence is powerfully persuasive if one’s cause is just. Also, any just American cause has to include the Constitution and its democratic principles: the center must indeed hold. This can be used against Trump — a major violator of the Constitution — with great power, provided that there is clarity about who is nonviolent and who isn’t. That means that the nonviolent must not allow themselves to be forced into alliance, apparent or real, with looters and burners against the police. They must negotiate an alliance with the police against the violent criminals, assisting in their separation and arrest, return for the respect and protection of the police for the right to protest. Such an alliance must become a standard practice, because the violent will always seek to infiltrate where they can. I say all this as one who assisted protesters against Klansman David Duke many years ago and worked very cooperatively with local police to that end. It was peaceful and effective.
I agree with the comment from Joshua Baker. I live in Portland and watch this closely. What is happening in Portland is not a riot. There has been limited property damage and no evidence of violence by protesters. Please don’t shake your finger at people screaming that BLACK LIVES MATTER because it doesn’t fit with Biden’s election campaign. Ousting Trump is not the job of the protesters. That is the the job of white people, like me, who allowed him to be elected. We need to do the work.
Albert Einstein Institution
Advancing Freedom with Nonviolent Action
Correcting Misconceptions About Nonviolent Action:
From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation: https://www.aeinstein.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/FDTD.pdf
How do we deal with provocateurs in this defense strategy – right wing people who are actively breaking windows and encouraging violence to make BLM look bad?
We had this problem in some cities in the anti-Vietnam War movement, at moments when some defenders of the war believed the anti-war folks were occupying the the moral high ground and wanted to knock us down a peg. It was good strategic thinking on their part, but it did leave the problem that we usually couldn’t know who the provocateurs were (although if they were actually police in blue jeans we might recognize them), as compared with real activists sincerely believing property destruction and/or violence helps progressives win.
Either way, we found the most effective tactic was to isolate them. Before the demonstration we ran as many people through nonviolent training as possible, and role-played a provocateur scenario. We taught activists to form a ring around the person throwing, for example, a molotov cocktail and once the ring was established recruit other demonstrators to join in expanding the ring until there was a lot of space around the person, making it quite clear to TV, media photographers and others that the person was not “representing” the activist energy but was the reverse. An additional tactic to add clarity was urging the person to stop: “Your throwing that hurts our cause!” “Who’s paying you to do this?” etc. We found consistently that even a paid or police provocateur would stop when isolated and shown to be, for whatever reason, out of sync with the group. We sometimes were able to befriend a sincere person and persuade them to come to an activist meeting and argue for their tactic, where they could learn from others just how counter-productive it was.
Who is Joshua Baker and did he really grow up in a Quaker community, or is that an effort to lend credibility to a deeply compromised and compromising piece of rhetoric?
It is hard to tell whether the machismo is real or feigned for effect.
We need some intervention by progressive non-violence, labor union and civil rights activists to introduce pragmatic discipline into situations that get out of control in places like Kenosha and Portland.
Joshua’s final paragraph reads like the application of a video game mentality without regard to political consequence. Courage and cleverness in isolation from impact on the larger public is at best self-gratification and at worst deliberate subversion.
How much of an effort is being made by the media and activists to take pictures of and identify the provocateurs whose purpose is to promote physical confrontations with police and other authorities?
How much can be attributed to undisciplined spontaneous anger and pent up aggrievements of local people? How much is generated by prepared tactical interventions of outsiders with antifa or anarchist ideologies? How much can be linked to white nationalists and militia cadre who bring their own ideological agendas to provoke armed conflict and/or discredit mass movements of the left? Is there evidence of official cointelpro or Trump campaign motivated actions to create a law and order political reaction?
So far the Republican effort to undermine the Biden campaign by linking it to violent protests does not appear to be working but over time it could move the few percentage points that will make it easier for Trump to discredit election results.
Successful intervention by progressive non-violence, labor union and civil rights activists to bring under control what is happening during the run-up to the election will give me more faith in their ability to really affect a situation of heightened nationwide conflict afterwards.
George Lakey’s final comment adds meat to the bones of his excellent essay. Has this been tried in any of the places where violence has undermined the power of peaceful mass protests?