How can we defend and support our democracy, which feels so vulnerable as we head into this election? What are some concrete actions that we — even those of us who are non-experts and non-activists — can take to strengthen ourselves and empower each other to choose the next president fairly? This week, Nonviolence Radio explores these questions and others with Hardy Merriman, president and CEO of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, or ICNC. He’s also the co-author of “Hold the Line: A Guide to Defending Democracy.”
Based on almost two decades in the field, Merriman uses his experience to offer concrete, practical advice about what we can do now to show up for our Constitution and protect the principles it rests upon. “What I’m telling people” Hardy says, “is that, when we think about what might Trump do or what might his allies do, that’s speculation. The real question in the next 20 days is: What can we do?”
And, in fact, there is quite a lot. We need not be overwhelmed. We can bring about change if we learn some basic tools of nonviolence that have been proven to be effective, time and again, both here and abroad. Working together, we can “hold the line” and ensure that the upcoming election reflects true democracy.
Stephanie: Welcome everybody to another episode of Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook and I’m here with my cohost and news anchor, Michael Nagler. On today’s show we hear from Hardy Merriman. He’s coauthor of “Hold the Line: A Guide to Defending Democracy.” If you go to HoldTheLineGuide.com, it says, “If you’re reading this, you are likely concerned about how this year’s election is taking place. We the people need to prepare ourselves to take on threats to democracy swiftly, strategically, and in ways that protect the constitution and restore accountability.”
So, they created a guide and the guide is designed to help people from all walks of life take action to ensure that the American election is free and fair, and that the results are respected. They say there is a role for everyone in this effort and your help is needed. That’s HoldTheLineGuide.com. Let’s tune into what Hardy Merriman has to share from his vast experience working with and supporting nonviolent movements around the world, and how he’s drawing from that experience for this guide and this work in defending democracy in the United States.
Hardy: My name is Hardy Merriman and I recently co-authored with three other people, an online guide called, “Hold the Line: A Guide to Defending Democracy.”
My coauthors are Ankur Asthana, Marium Navid and Kifah Shah. I got connected with them through quite a bit of serendipity; after June 1, I was talking with friends and was committed to trying to do more. I put out a call to a friend and I said, “I want to write something or I want to try to produce something.” I wasn’t even quite sure what it would be yet. I asked, “Does anyone want to collaborate on this?” I felt that I needed collaborators, that it would be better that way.
So my friend put out a call and Ankur and Marium came in, and then Marium invited Kifah and we started meeting online in June. Originally, I wasn’t even sure – you know, I thought I might write something short. I wasn’t even going to put my name on it and they were going to weed it. Then over the course of a few months, instead of writing something short, we just developed this amazing synergy and before we knew it, we had a document over 50 pages. It all felt valuable and needed and good — and on Sept. 10 we launched “Hold the Line.”
My work focuses on nonviolent civil resistance movements around the world, fighting for human rights and democracy. These are movements that use tactics like strikes and boycotts and civil disobedience, and many other forms of noncooperation, often against authoritarian governments. What’s interesting, and I wish this was more widely known, is that these movements actually win, these nonviolent movements win a surprising amount of the time.
Throughout the Trump administration, the parallels between what he’s been doing in the United States and what I’ve seen in other countries is pretty remarkable and disturbing. And so, on June 1, 2020, after President Trump ordered members of the military to repress nonviolent demonstrators in Washington D.C., I decided I had to do something more, and that led the four of us to get together and write “Hold the Line.”
My work on “Hold the Line,” I should note, was done independently and on a voluntary basis, it’s outside of my employer. I’m also speaking to you today independently and on a personal basis, I’m not trying to represent the views of my organization.
Stephanie: This document serves as a kind of strategy for what people have been calling “A potential November surprise” or “A political coup” that could take place with the Trump administration. Can you speak to what this strategy entails?
Hardy: The first thing we want to make sure people know is that all the normal rules apply in this election in one sense: It’s important to vote. It’s important to get out the vote. That hasn’t changed at all.
Any efforts to tell you your vote doesn’t matter or to discourage you from voting, do not listen to them. It’s incredibly important to vote and do all the things we normally do during elections. In addition, COVID has created a real challenge with regards to poll workers, and fewer poll workers means fewer polling places will be open. Fewer polling places likely leads to less turnout, particularly in densely populated areas. Historically, that has affected communities of color even more.
So, we tell people right up front in the guide that if you feel safe and comfortable being a poll worker, please volunteer to do that because this is a key aspect of making us have a successful, effective election. And then the rest of the guide really focuses on what could happen afterwards that could be really challenging if attempts are made to subvert the election.
One of the contributions that we offer is a four-step process to forming an election protection group in your own community. It’s our view that the infrastructure for mass mobilization, a sort of centralized infrastructure doesn’t exist. There are lots of community groups and state and sometimes regional groups that focus on mobilization.
But mobilization around a contested election and attempted subversion of democracy is slightly different. We try to speak directly to that question by saying, “Look, if the infrastructure doesn’t exist in your community to tap into on this, you can actually create your own. You can create your own election protection group and people may actually start to tap into you. You may become the infrastructure.”
We go into a lot of detail on that because we think everyone has a role to play, even people who don’t consider themselves activists. We provide detailed meeting agendas for people to start forming their groups. We layout principles around which groups can organize. We really try to make it possible for anyone to say, “Okay, we’re going to do this.” Because that’s what very well may be needed.
The last part is just about bringing in a civil resistance perspective in terms of models of change and talking about the critical importance of remaining nonviolent. Certainly, one can be disruptive through strikes, boycotts, protests, and many other acts of noncooperation to resist subversion attempts, but remaining nonviolent is essential, for all the reasons we know. This is based particularly on international cases where authoritarians often prefer violent opposition. They will attempt to provoke violent opposition because they know that gives them lots of advantages.
What they’re most scared of is mass noncooperation — when mass noncooperation is organized and strategic and targeted well, it has shown again and again that it can protect democracy and challenge authoritarianism.
In “Hold the Line” we make a very clear point. We are concerned with making sure that the election is successful, which we define as safe, where people can access and exercise their right to vote, where all votes are counted, and where irregularities, if they emerge, are investigated and remedied. That’s a successful election. If that happens, we’re happy.
This is not a guide that’s designed to undo an election result that we don’t like. If there’s a legitimate Trump victory, then that’s what it is. “Hold the Line” is not there to say that we don’t like that result, now let’s organize against it, let’s organize to try to undo it. Excuse me? No.
Civil resistance is also legal, right? It’s an exercise of rights. Our Constitution, our First Amendment is very clear. Some of our highest traditions, some of the achievements that we have made as a country — as all of us on this call, on this show know — were driven by civil resistance.
And research shows around the world, nonviolent civil resistance is the strongest single driver. If you were to look at one factor that challenges authoritarianism, there’s nothing stronger than nonviolent civil resistance. Similarly, there is no stronger driver of democracy in the world than nonviolent civil resistance. We have study after study after study showing that if you compare it to any other single means, it outperforms significantly.
So we will choose to exercise our rights. This is not about undoing an election result we don’t like. It is very much about protecting democracy. If Trump is re-elected legitimately, then civil resistance may be used for other forms of accountability and to advocate for additional changes in the United States.
But no, we’re not fundamentally engaged here in something that is undemocratic. We’re actually trying to strengthen democracy, make sure it works, make sure our government is accountable to all of us.
Some of the thinking for this guide came from reading about how nonviolent civil resistance had stopped coups. Some of the thinking came from just looking at movements against authoritarianism in general. Perhaps one of the best known is the Serbian movement, Otpor, against Slobodan Milosevic, which actually I think is a really poignant comparison right now because, you know, NATO bombed Serbia in 1998, if I recall correctly.
During that bombing period, there was a strong opposition movement to Milosevic that just sort of went underground. Suddenly, people couldn’t be activists anymore and their country was being bombed. It was really unclear what was going to happen and it was really unclear what this meant for dissent. I kind of liken that period to COVID, right? Six months ago people were like, “What do we do? And like how do we protest? What does this mean? We’re angry at our government but also depending on it for guidance and to protect us from this disease.”
So Serbia in 1998 was this really disorienting time. You never would have thought from that period of extreme disorientation that a movement would have risen up, and within a year and a half ended a decade long dictatorship, but that’s exactly what happened. And you know how they did it? Well, it started with Serbian youth who did decentralized organizing, basically saying, We’re going to start groups based on a shared set of principles. We’re going to invest heavily in training people. We’re going to spread so that instead of having a top-down command and control structure, everyone has been trained and everyone has some orientation to our principles. And that’s going to allow us to spread really quickly, but also be strategic at the same time.
That’s a good chunk of what moved things there, and once the movement picked up steam, of course, the politicians join in and they play their role and things start moving as a whole, and Milosevic fell. I just want to be clear, in the United States, we are not a comparable authoritarian government compared to Serbia in the 1990s. Of course, our democracy has been incomplete and imperfect for a long time, and there are certainly people who experience this sort of functional tyranny in this society of functional authoritarianism.
The benefits of democracy are not distributed equally at all. At the same time, we still have enough democracy that it’s certainly worth defending. We’re not in a full authoritarian government, but we do have an authoritarian-style president. And one thing we know about authoritarian-style personalities is that they don’t constrain themselves. They tend to actually become emboldened when they get what they want and they keep pushing.
So the question of what we think Trump will do, I don’t know the answer. Based on precedent, if past is prologue, then it’s likely he’s going to push things, right? And even if you think, “Well, there’s only a 20 percent chance he’ll really do something outlandish and try to do a power grab and steal the election,” I’m not comfortable with a 20 percent chance. We need an insurance plan. We need an insurance policy. That insurance policy around the world is: organized people mobilizing when institutions fail.
When institutions fail to constrain an out-of-control leader, it’s ordinary people who do that job, people who are nonviolent organizing. That’s what the research tells us. That’s what the case accounts tell us. That’s what our own history in this United States tells us. So, I’m absolutely confident that we can do it again. But it’s also important to prepare.
Stephanie: You talked about the importance of ordinary citizens acting in Serbia which then led to the politicians getting involved. Some people I’ve spoken to are pretty convinced that this is the politician’s job, to stop Trump from grabbing power. They have confidence in the think tanks, the institutions, the policies, the policy makers, to stop him. Can you talk a little bit more about that line between citizens versus politicians? Isn’t that the politician’s job in the first place, to defend the democracy in the role that they’re in? And why wouldn’t they stop Trump if he tried to grab power?
Hardy: It’s a great question. You know, institutions, they’re not inherently strong. They can degrade. They can be corrupted. They can erode. They can weaken. The U.S. system is designed for institutions to be strong enough to constrain an out of control executive. But there’s no guarantee, right? In fact, what we’ve seen is institutions in this country weaken.
There’s supposed to be tension between the legislative and executive branches of government, but we really haven’t seen that from the Republican senate — just the opposite, which is very concerning. They’re supposed to be a check, but they’re not, right? There are some other rules that are not being applied now in a way that normally you’d expect they would. The conventional view of U.S. politics is that if a politician does things that lower their approval rating, that should be self-correcting, right? If a politician’s polling at 40 percent around re-election, you would think they would want to do something to bring that number up because that’s generally been the rules of the game. That’s not operative right now, particularly.
Right now, you have a politician who’s basically saying, “I’m going to be under 50 percent. I’m not going to commit to accepting an election result,” in a party that hasn’t really held him accountable. There have also been regular attacks on the press and numerous other attacks on institutions through the years. It’s incredibly concerning.
We’ve seen no shortage of media articles documenting all the things that could go wrong: from disputes about the legitimacy of the election leading to alternate slates of electors being sent to congress, to the risk of violence, to what happens if the Department of Justice gets involved and tries to get a court injunction to stop ballot counting in a certain state? There are lots of scenarios we can spin out. We really don’t know what’s going to happen.
It’s concerning enough that the people need to think about backstopping here. It’s really on all of us. What I’m telling people is that, when we think about what might Trump do or what might his allies do, that’s speculation. The real question in the next 20 days is: What can we do?
He’s going to do what he’s going to do. The question is how are we going to respond? Are we going to be ready?
Could he attempt to subvert the election? The answer probably depends more on us in our capacity to stop that from happening, if that’s what he wants to do. And that’s something that we can do. So in a weird way, that’s actually good news because we can focus on the things we can control. We don’t have to be distracted by every outrageous thing on the internet, every distracting news story, every outrageous news story. We can follow them, but we also can say our time is precious.
There are things that people in other societies have done to defend democracy, and we too can do them. One of the things we say in “Hold the Line” is, “Start by mapping the power holders in your community.” From your governor all the way down to your county clerk and try to figure out, are they really committed to a free and fair election, to making voting accessible, counting every vote, and investigating irregularities and attempts at suppression?
If they’re not, let them know now. You don’t have to wait until November. You can start in October. Likewise, if your police have not really protected people’s First Amendment rights to protest, start demanding now that they do. You don’t have to wait until November. Actually, on this point, “Hold the Line” and several other collaborators and individuals developed a plan called, The Commitment to Uphold Democracy Campaign. It’s a plan that anyone can download in their community designed to guide them to identify and then put pressure on power-holders such as elected officials and police, and even members of the national guard or military to try to get them to reaffirm their commitment to democracy now.
Michael: This is just wonderful, Hardy, what you’ve done. Let me start off by mentioning two features of it that I really, really like. One is, I have been saying for a long time and I think you have been implicitly saying the same thing, that the big area in which nonviolent movements can advance and can gain prestige and influence is through learning. Up until fairly recently, as I like to put it, bank robbers did more assessing of their strengths and weaknesses and what were their best practices, than nonviolent movements were doing.
But your organization and your work have really created a big advance in learning from the events of the past, and are going forward in a stronger way. That’s one thing I really like about what “Hold the Line” is doing. Another is that you are looking somewhat to the future, not just to the immediate dilemma and the immediate crisis. People are going to end up being more democratic in their community organizations if they get on board with “Hold the Line.” I like that very much too.
And it leads me to one of my several questions which is, is there a way that we can do the big shift that nonviolent movements often are able to pull off, which is shifting from reactive to proactive engagement? In other words, we’re waiting for him, for the president, to come up with these atrocious moves and then we’re planning how to respond to them. We have to do that, that’s all true. But in what ways could we move towards taking the initiative and rebuilding things from the bottom up?
Hardy: Thank you. Yeah, we think proactive mobilization is incredibly important right now, it’s easy to just stay in a reactive stance. Actually, my reading of the way that civil resistance has foiled coups is that basically the coup plotters depend on a sense of momentum and inevitability. They move quickly, and those who want to resist, the coup plotters, become confused about what to do, whether it’s worth it to resist, how to resist.
Eventually, maybe they just demobilize because they assume that the victory is inevitable. And this is very concerning. This means that people within government would know that what Trump attempts to do is wrong, but they may not resist him because they may assume that resistance is futile — which means they might go along with him. There’s actually support to show that this is a plausible hypothesis that explains how certain people behave when there are power grabs.
What this means is that we need to start building counter momentum now. We need a proactive show of nonviolent force now, in October, if we can. To show that we’re organized and to show that no power grab is going to succeed, and to be ready to immediately respond if something does.
That’s why “Hold the Line” and several other groups with whom we partnered and numerous other collaborators are doing so much preparatory work. We had a whole campaign planning process a couple weeks ago where we came out with the Commitment to Uphold Democracy campaign plan. We’re saying to people, “Look, you can start forming your own election protection team now. You can start mapping your power holders now. You can start figuring out who may be wavering in terms of their commitment to democracy or the Constitution.”
We even present four demands you can ask them to commit to: four for elected officials around election protection, and four for police and military relating to upholding the Constitution and respecting protestors’ rights. I’ll just give you one example for police and military, one of the four demands is that they will agree to – or that they will recognize that they have a responsibility to — protect people exercising their First Amendment from armed groups that show up to threaten them.
We want that out there now as something that puts them on the spot where police chiefs have to remember that they took an oath to the Constitution, reaffirm what that oath means, which means protecting people who may be protesting when they’re threatened. So, all of this is stuff that doesn’t require us to wait until November, but all of it can create momentum that can actually really carry through beyond November.
Michael: Wonderful, and that would be done at the community level, as you see it?
Hardy: Yeah, that’s the way we thought it through anyway.
Michael: So Hardy, you’ve been talking implicitly about Gene Sharp’s famous model of the Pillars of Support. Would you tell us a little bit about that?
Hardy: Sure. One way that we understand change in civil resistance is not to look at big institutions as monoliths, not to think, Oh, there’s the federal bureaucracy or there is some sector of the business community, or there’s the judiciary, and think that they’re all monolithic. Likewise, the police or the military. Rather we should aim to say, These institutions are composed of people, and one thing we know about people is there’s actually wide variation in psychology. There’s wide variation in people’s personal circumstances, and in people’s experiences within these institutions.
Although everyone may wear the same uniform, what we can’t see is that what’s in their head could vary quite a bit. With that understanding, we know that people have different loyalties. When you talk about a corporation it’s like, what part of the corporation are you talking about? Do you think the entry level employees have the same loyalties and commitments and interests as the senior level employees do? Do you think that the people who have to go out and do enforcement are the same as the people who are giving the orders? Do you think that the people who are… and on and on and on in any institution. When we understand that these big institutions hold up the status quo, at the same time, we have to remember that there’s diversity within them. That opens up a whole set of possibilities about how we can begin to – I don’t like the word, “target” in this sense — but I guess focus on different aspects within those pillars and see if we can get them to start to sift out.
We can start to get them to pause or hesitate from obeying unlawful orders or going along with an oppressive status quo, and that can be done through messaging. That can be done through tactics. In the economics and the business sector, it’s often done through shifting economic incentives by causing businesses to lose money when they’re engaging in behaviour that we don’t like. That’s the point. Think in terms of breaking down these ideas that these big institutions are all one thing. Look for variations within them, and then start your planning accordingly.
Michael: Yes — the old idea of the two hands of nonviolence comes in here. One thing we haven’t always been very strong about – us nonviolent resistors and so forth — is holding out the hand of welcome to those who do weaken in their commitment to uphold the regime.
Hardy: Yeah, one of the interesting things is that in my work looking at authoritarian governments for years, and pro-democracy and human rights movements, is that you see defections. You see defections even among supporters of the former supporters and operatives and authoritarian governments. You see defections in state media. You see defections among the military. You see defections among the police. You see defections in the business community. All these institutions that seem to be in lockstep and unmoveable with a dictator, actually there are people who are willing to step out. And one of the interesting things about defections is that once they start happening, they can cascade.
Hardy: People will defect for different reasons. Someone may defect because they change their mind. Another person may defect because it’s becoming less profitable for them to try to hold the line with an autocrat when in fact the winds of change are blowing and they start pushing on the autocrat. Other people may shift for very personal reasons; maybe a child or a friend or other people they know who normally don’t talk to them about their role or their job start to talk to them. And it moves them.
Michael: Hardy, this usually builds up to a tipping point where it becomes much, much easier to proceed from that point on. Is that correct?
Hardy: Yeah, absolutely. The last part of the tipping is that even people who don’t agree with the movement may defect because they realize that things are going to change and they better position themselves — they’ll do it out of self-interest.
Michael: Well, we’ll take what we can get, right?
Hardy: Takes all kinds, I guess.
Michael: Hardy, I had a question to ask you about Otpor. I really should know this, but it seems to me in what I understand about that movement, there wasn’t much problem with a radical flank, as we call them today. In other words, most of the protestors to the Milosevic regime were not tempted to try to use violence. Am I remembering that correctly?
Hardy: Yeah, in the case accounts I’ve read and from the people who are part of that movement I talked to, a violent flank was not something that was really elevated as a major part of it. Yes, I agree.
Michael: But it is, nonetheless, something that we should be prepared for, mainly, I suppose, by educating and inspiring people about the power of nonviolence.
Hardy: Yeah, a violent flank – it feels like it’s always a risk that has to be prepared for. One should never assume that just because one is nonviolent and one’s movement is nonviolent, that any questions of whether it is permissible to begin being violent won’t come up. Or maybe your opponent may try to plant provocateurs to try to paint you as violent. So you always need to be cognizant and aware of that potential and think proactively about how you can limit it.
Michael: Couldn’t agree more. And that’s a lot of the training that’s going on now, bystander intervention training and so forth. They are at least starting to make some preparation against that contingency of agent provocateur, of somebody who loses it and throws a Molotov cocktail at the last minute. We’re trying to train people how to deal with that situation, as far as I am aware. Is that also your impression, Hardy?
Hardy: It’s my impression that Trump would love to provoke violence, will do things to try to provoke violence, and will win if he succeeds in painting those who are trying to support democracy as violent. I mean, this is the dictator’s playbook. It’s standard. Violence has very standard effects that are documented across cases. If you’re a member of the security forces, it tends to reinforce your loyalties.
When people are threatening you, training kicks in; at that point, you start operating more based on training. You are also less likely to defect because you’re concerned that your defection may lead to chaos. The center of society that may be passively sympathetic to what you’re trying to do starts to move away and becomes more afraid when they start to think that you represent violence or chaos.
With violence, mass participation goes down, it’s documented that when there’s a violent flank, it’s down by an average of 17 percent — and I would argue that will probably be disproportionately among certain groups. For example, it may not go down as much among men as it might among women or among elders or among children. And so violence starts to skew the composition of the movement.
In the meantime, if you remain nonviolent, violence is more likely to backfire. Your movements are more likely to be participatory. The data tells you that you’re more likely to win. So there it is, as I see it.
Michael: Well, that is terrific. Now, are we doing pretty well and getting that information out to people?
Hardy: I actually think that there is a significant push right now in that direction. When you make the case that nonviolent means are preferable, it takes a few different kinds of arguments, right? Some people will really be receptive to an argument about data. Others will need a fuller understanding: “Okay, fine,” they might say, “but even if I accept what you’re saying here, can you explain to me how civil resistance is going to work? How nonviolent resistance will work?”
If their concept of nonviolent resistance is based on protest and the image they have in their minds is protestors being beaten by people who will not show remorse, then it’s pretty hard to convince them that nonviolent resistance is going to win. So you have to get into the pillars of support, how to see it at a macro level, so that even while there may be incidents of one-sided violence, in that moment, which can be very damaging, over the long term, backfire is real and actually often hurts the perpetrator of violence more than the movement itself. I think it takes engagement and really being willing to explain and dialogue.
Michael: I guess it takes another kind of willingness too, and that is a willingness to undergo a certain amount of suffering if it comes to that because this is an intense situation. If we play our cards right and make our presentation to the referenced general public correctly, then the Gandhian principle is that the self-suffering that we willingly undergo will add up to a powerful force in our favor.
Hardy, I’m really quite thrilled with all of this. The next step for someone who does see the need for this and does want to jump on board would be to go to that document. Is that correct?
Hardy: Yeah. In terms of starting an election protection team, a few things: you don’t have to be an expert and you don’t have to call yourself an activist. You just have to find a few people who care as you do and are concerned as you are, and that’s enough to start. I think right now is a very confusing time. It’s a scary time. And when we’re confused and scared, we tend to doubt ourselves. We tend to look for others to gravitate to, who may have a better idea, or we tend to look for validation or someone to legitimize what we’re thinking.
Do the best you can. You have talents. You have skills. You have people you know. Find them. You have assets and strengths. Use them. Organize. What we try to do in the guide is to give very detailed instructions: Here’s the agenda for your first meeting and your second meeting, here’s your agenda and you’re going to get into mapping your power holders. At your third meeting, you’re going to get into planning tactics, and in your fourth meeting, you’re going to track where things are, rehearse, consider your plan, possibly modify it, or proceed ahead.
Perfection is not what’s needed here. Well-intentioned people who want to do their part and who are ready to take some kind of action are what’s needed. And what’s really interesting is that when you work with a group who you trust it can push you in ways that are really helpful that you didn’t even know. You know, the three outstanding people that I have had the privilege of working with in Hold the Line are people I didn’t know four or five months ago.
And when we started, as I mentioned earlier, we thought we might produce an article. The reason we produced “Hold the Line” as a guide is because we worked well together and we were able to spur each other on. That was my experience. I know that’s an experience others have had with groups. So, take the first step, even if you’re not totally confident, and see where it goes.
Michael: Wonderful. Hardy, one of my favorite philosophers is Sally Gerner in North Carolina, and she said, “The way to get big is to stay small and well connected.”
Hardy: Love that. That’s great.
Stephanie: Great. Hardy, thank you for your time today. How can people find “Hold the Line” and get involved?
Hardy: Sure. So, they can go to HoldTheLineGuide.com. That will have all the information that they need. They’re welcome to also follow us on Twitter and Instagram. Our handle is @TheRedLineGuide for both of those. They’re also welcome to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. I don’t know why our email address is .org, but actually when you go to our website, go to dot com. This is one of things about an all-volunteer effort. There’s a lot of things we should do. We can think of 100 ways to make our website better, do this or that. But like these are four people who volunteered and did this and we’re really proud of what we did and the response has been amazing.
And so, we’re really actually depending on people to go and share it. We don’t have some big social media plan or a lot of people working for us to do this. The way “Hold the Line” has spread has been based on attraction. And a lot of people have said really great things. Let’s keep pushing it. So check out HoldTheLineGuide.com, and if you like it, please feel free to share. Thanks.
Stephanie: We were just talking with Hardy Merriman, one of the coauthors of “Hold the Line: A Guide to Defending Democracy.” You can find it at HoldTheLineGuide.com. Let’s turn now to the Nonviolence Report with Michael Nagler.
Michael: Greetings everyone. This is the Nonviolence Report, nonviolence news and commentary. We’re again experiencing unprecedented unanimity across mainstream groups, progressive counterculture or whatever you want to call us. Organizations like the American Sustainable Business Council, for example, and Mediators Without Borders, or Mediators Beyond Borders, are all focusing on the election crisis and trying to assure us that we do have a free and fair election.
And today, here’s what the mediator’s group has just said, “With just two weeks remaining until election day, a broad coalition of advocacy and business groups back on Tuesday last week urged state election officials to publicly commit to a list of actions that would guarantee a free and fair election.” We’re also involved in an effort to have them go a little bit further and go on through the present electoral crisis season to see about necessary reforms so that this doesn’t happen again.
Meanwhile, there’s another hopeful trend. Apparently while, you know, us older generations tend to favor what’s sometimes called, “Now-ism,” focusing on the short term, it seems that students and young people who are getting active are much more focused on the long term and the future — which makes a lot of sense and is a very hopeful trend. Because as we know, real nonviolence tends to take the long term into account, and if you only take the short term into account, you end up reaching very often for a violent solution. This is one of the reasons why constructive program is so important in nonviolence because that builds for the future.
Let me share two events that are kind of contrasting and then go into our regular list of resources: one, under the impressive title, “Democracy has won.” It’s one year after there was a right wing coup in Bolivia in which Evo Morales, the very, very popular progressive indigenously leaning president was deposed and is now in exile in Argentina by his own choice. But there was an election, and a socialist by the name of Luis Arce has won with a very substantial majority.Morales writes from Bolivia, “Brothers and sisters, the will of the people has been asserted.” I can’t help making a comment here which is that maybe Bolivia will show us the way.
On the other hand, and somewhat more distressing news, you may have heard about the Kings Bay Plowshares – seven activists who did a little bit of damage during an anti-nuclear protest at a Georgia naval base, that was back in 2018. Well, they have now been sentenced for rather lengthy terms. Fortunately, some of them have already been in prison for so long that the terms will probably be fulfilled when it’s handed down. But in regard to one of them, Father Stephen Kelly, the judge made this interesting comment, “Father Kelly, it has been clear to me you are sincere in your beliefs. However, I would be remiss to discount the nature of the offense that we’re looking at today and the risk to safety that you knowingly undertook.” Whose safety, I wonder, was really risked.
Anyway, it does give us some insight into the way the legal system has to look at events that we feel called upon to undertake in the nature of civil disobedience. This brings up, of course, the whole question of property destruction which has always been sort of a borderline or a gray area for me. I think the missing element in property destruction is persuasion. If you destroy someone’s property, first of all, you are kind of infringing on their rights. Second of all, you’re putting it beyond them to choose.
Now, to persuade people to renounce these things is the ideal way. That is persuasion rather than coercion. At the same time, we all know that sometimes you just don’t have the time to wait on such processes. So, that leaves with, I guess, each case has to be judged on its own merits.
For resources, I want to highlight that Nonviolent Peaceforce is having a Nonviolence Café. They had one already and will have another one in a couple of days on October 22. They’ll be discussing how to use nonviolence to create safe communities. You can register for those nonviolence cafes on their site. I wonder what they serve at a nonviolence café.
Anyway, to get back to Mediators Beyond Borders again, they are doing a spiritual and inner peace building presentation Wednesday, November 10 at noon (EST). They have launched something called “The Trust Network,” to prevent violent conflict, before, during, and after the U.S. 2020 elections. They are pleased to announce that they’re now offering basic and advanced training on early warning, early response – EWER. So, that’s another category of nonviolence trainings that’s being offered at a very much enhanced level now in the emergency.
There will be a Kingian nonviolence mini-workshop that Kazu Haga, who has been on this program, will be offering on November 14. That can be looked up at the East Point Peace Academy. East Point Peace Academy being the anti-matter to the West Point war academy.
And here are some interesting events. The federal government and the fossil fuel industry have announced that they’re going to discontinue seismic blasting in the oceans. Seismic blasting is, in a way, parallel to the effect of microwave radiation, the type that we use in cell phones and so forth, on for example, bees. They are radically disoriented by that kind of radiation. It’s said that the fastest way to kill a beehive is just put a cellphone in it.
While we’re doing that to the air, in the ocean there’s this blasting which I gather is a geological technique to detect oil. But it plays havoc on seagoing mammals, whales and dolphins who depend on sonar to find out where they are and get their way around. I’m sure we’ve all heard of “The Butterfly Effect,” you know, where a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world and change cascades out from that and it becomes cataclysmic in proportions.
Well, here’s another kind of butterfly effect, and I thank Nonviolence News for this report. A federal appeals court in San Antonio, Texas has ruled that the Trump administration’s attempt to build a border wall through a south Texas butterfly sanctuary violates the property rights of the conservationists who run that sanctuary.
Happy to say that also from San Antonio, two policemen – they’ve done a film called “Joe and Ernie, Crisis Cops.” I know about this film because it was screened along with mine at the United Nations Association Film Festival just this week.
They’ve started a mental health unit in the San Antonio police station. And with a little bit of funding and a little bit of staff, they have saved many, many episodes from going down in a hail of bullets by just talking to people. It’s such a simple principle and so basic to nonviolence: When we get one of these calls that describes what’s going on, we might hear, This person has a gun. The word ‘gun’ leaps out, and we’ve had, as police people, 60 hours of training in how to use a gun and 6 hours of training in how to talk to people. So, they are now in high demand because of the Black Lives Matter protests and emphasis and focus attention to policing.
Unfortunately, going abroad now in Thailand and Belarus, the standoffs are still going on where the protestors refuse to stop and the government continues to repress. In Thailand, for example, in Bangkok, protestors shut down the entire Bangkok transit system recently. And this was after a chaotic night when riot police used water cannons on protestors as have been used just recently in this country at the southern border – people protesting for immigration rights.
The observation I want to make here is that attrition can be a serious problem for nonviolent movements, just as it can be for labor movements because we don’t have the resources to give up our work, give up our school, and just go on with this. The answer is to have a variety of techniques. I sincerely hope, though I don’t know exactly how to reach them, that we could get to these people with the suggestion that they try something else, maybe dispersive instead of collective action and so forth.
On the other hand we have been talking to you from time to time about Sudan. I’m happy to say that there’s a good possibility now that Sudan will come off the terrorist list, which is critical for them. It actually does seem to be happening today. They need to come up with some funding to pay for the past previous actions that were carried out when they were still under the dictatorship. But the critical thing needed by that country in order to rebuild was to come off that list so they could get back in communication and trade.
Here in Turtle Island, indigenous environmental networks have gotten a boost. A thousand activists hit the streets recently in Halifax in Nova Scotia to show their support for Mi’kmaq – I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly – Mi’kmaq harvesters in Nova Scotia, they launched a small fishery and it has been seriously terrorized by non-indigenous groups who are just afraid of the competition. But these activists turned out in support and we will see how that develops. I hope to tell you more about it in our next episode.
Stephanie: You’ve been listening to Nonviolence Radio. We want to thank our mother station, KWMR, to Matt Watrous, Jewelia White, Annie Hewitt, Waging Nonviolence, to all of our listeners, all of the people that help promote the show and support us through the Pacifica Network. And to everybody, until the next time, please take care of one another.
And remember to vote!
Transcription by Matthew Watrous.