A Time to Act

The snatching of children from their parents at our borders, coupled with their subsequent “housing” in what UK science fiction writer Charlie Stross suggests we call “Trump Hotels,”  has touched a nerve in many people in the U.S. It seems folks have not become so deadened by the steady parade of horrors committed by this so-called administration that they have lost their sense of outrage.

I’ve noticed two major themes in the responses from those who find these actions horrific, one constructive and one much less so. Both groups see these obscene actions as authoritarian behavior contrary to the kind of country we want the U.S. to be.

But the less constructive group then concludes with some variation of “we’re all gonna die.” The message I get is that we’re on the downhill slide to fascism and nothing will stop it.

The more useful response is “we have to do something to stop this,” coupled with taking steps to organize. And the most exciting thing about this response is that I’ve seen people who have never before protested, never gone beyond voting and sending groups a check, taking those steps.

That gives me hope. In fact, in the year and a half since this appalling excuse for an administration took over, it has been the activism of people who have never done that sort of thing before that has kept me from despair.

After the 2016 election debacle, I discovered the work of Erica Chenoweth (follow her on Twitter at @EricaChenoweth), particularly her detailed study of 20th and early 21st century movements against authoritarian governments done with Maria Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works. They found that nonviolent civil resistance movements were successful at least 75 percent of the time if somewhere between three and five percent of the population got involved. They were much more successful than violent resistance, which worked less than 25 percent of the time, in part because it rarely attracted a large following.

The Chenoweth/Stephan work is full of charts and data, useful information but not an easy read. A more accessible discussion of effective civil resistance is found in Mark and Paul Engler’s book, This Is an Uprising. I wrote about both these books here on the blog.  The upshot is that it is possible to defeat authoritarian governments with well-planned and nonviolent resistance, though it’s important to note that nonviolent doesn’t mean that those who resist aren’t at risk of getting hurt or killed, not to mention arrested.

The women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, and the more recent activism for LGBT rights are excellent examples of effective civil resistance from our own history. We do know how to do this here.

Of course, those movements took quite a few years and we’d like to end this authoritarian nonsense quickly. But we have one big advantage that the earlier movements did not: a majority of our fellow citizens agree with us right now.

The political stances of those people opposed to this authoritarian horror vary widely, from principled conservatives (there are a few, though you won’t find them in Congress or the administration) to most Democrats as well as those of us who’ve always been on the left. Once we succeed in getting rid of the people who are trying to destroy our country, we can go back to fighting among ourselves about the best way to rebuild it and move forward to become a better one.

But in the meantime, we’re united on the basic principle: we have to get those people out of our government and we have to do everything we can to stop their worst actions. And we have to do it now.

Yes, it’s important that everyone vote in November. One of the key tasks of organizing right now should be voter registration drives and plans to watch the polls to ensure that people are not turned away and that the votes are counted properly. And it is rational to be concerned about hacking of voting machines as well as about use of voter suppression laws, so some people need to be concentrating on those issues as well. (I think this is where the Democratic Party should concentrate its efforts, because turnout will make a big difference for their candidates.)

But putting all of our faith in elections is not enough. So I was particularly heartened when some friends of mine in Texas began investigating planned detention centers and outlining ways to take action against them. And I am heartened by the announcement of a major protest on June 30 in Washington and other cities addressing the child-snatching actions.

I note that some immediately criticized the June 30 date as “too late.” I suspect those critics are people who have never organized a major action. Given the logistics involved, pulling it off in two weeks is a major achievement. That doesn’t mean we need to wait until June 30 to take action, of course. The sooner those children are reunited with their families and the sooner the asylum applications are dealt with properly, the better.

There are local groups staging protests on this issue right now, some near the border and some a thousand miles away. People are not sitting on their hands.

We really have to nip the “we’re all gonna die” attitude in the bud. Yes, we are afflicted with authoritarians who are out to destroy all that is good and constructive about the U.S. Our policy is being made by people who were always considered marginal agitators, even within their own political spheres (Sessions and Pruitt particularly come to mind). They’ve been waiting for the day when they could inflict their hate-filled and destructive ideas on everyone else.

But they aren’t the majority. They have followers, sure, because hate sells. But they still aren’t the majority.

Let’s take that so-called anti-terror message — “If you see something, say something” — and use it to our advantage. When our so-called government announces another dreadful policy (like attacks on our health care) or engages in atrocious behavior (like locking children in cages), say something. Do something.

There are plenty of fights out there. Pick one and do something. Join Indivisible. March in the streets. Send money to those doing good work.

Do something. That’s how we get rid of authoritarianism. That’s how we build a better country.

By the way, if you’re looking for something you can do to help or some organizations to support in addressing the detention of children at the border, this piece on Slate by Dahlia Lithwick and Margo Schlanger has many suggestions, and also provides key legal details.

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A Time to Act — 23 Comments

  1. 45% of the US lurves this sadistic behavior. Listening to the roars of approval from his campaign rally in Duluth last night as he howled about the Dems and open borders was terrifying.

    I’m listening right this minute to special report on our public radio station about these terrible acts from various people who follow this, including those journalists who broke the shocking news to our mayor and city that in the middle of the night, in unmarked vehicles, girls were taken away to a processing center and then, covered in dark cloth, hustled back into a vehicle for a federal agency holding center. Nobody knew there were kids being brought here. This discovered something like 300 kids, including a 9-month old.

    The report includes a woman who volunteers at since long before 2016 at a Texas asylum seeker center for women. She wouldn’t even tell the stories of what these women are seeking asylum from, due to the horror of what they’ve undergone — and because the real targets are their kids. She says it takes far longer than 45 minutes, which is the amount of time ‘they say’ they are giving them to be heard and decided upon, even to speak, much tell what has happened to them and their kids.

    The conclusion of this report is that the mayor himself has concluded it it’s likely there are maybe thousands of children here. The people doing this won’t even return his phone calls. He’s going down to the borders himself (other of our state and city’s elected officials have already gone on their own decision as of this week) with hopes to get some face-to-face and eyeball time with these ‘centers.’ Trump hotels is far too kind a term. These are trump gulags — and extermination centers.

    Most of all, coming to the border requesting asylum is NOT AGAINST THE LAW!

    You will be able to listen to this here:

    https://www.wnyc.org/story/family-separation-news-albany-errol-morris-truth

  2. BTW, anyone who thinks this EO that he says he may sign (can never trust any decision he says he’s made not to be reversed or reversals either to be reversed) is doing any good — it’s won’t. It just means the children will be taken away in 20 days.

    In the meantime many are making eff wads of our tax money that should be going into infrastructure repair and improvement by opening these government these incarceration camps — never call them shelters!

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/21/us/migrant-shelters-border-crossing.html?

    • Yeah, the only good news I find in the executive order is that it shows ongoing action will get a response, even if it isn’t an improvement.

      The data I’ve seen suggest only about a third of the country supports this horrific action, but even if the 45 percent number is correct, it’s still not a majority. That’s why I’m trying to focus on the various resistance responses to these dreadful actions instead of on the con man’s lies and the people who cheer him on. I can’t fix those people, but I can encourage people to fight, because we can win if we keep it up.

  3. I literally cried yesterday because it was overwhelming – and today I put up a fundraiser on FB for the organization dealing with this on the ground in Texas. I don’t know how much helpwhat little I can raise is going to be to them but it’s something I can do, and I am doing it. Also, there’s “Children of a Different Sky” – the refugee-themed antho whose proceeds are slated for refugee charities – now is a good time to buy a copy. Also, I have to say that I cannot comprehend how any human being can DO THIS WORK and then go home and eat a nice dinner in their nice home and have a good night’s sleep afterwards. How does this not rip a human soul apart…???

    • I don’t know. They have to either completely lack the common human feelings of empathy and compassion or else they have convinced themselves that the people in question aren’t really human or that they’re evil criminals. Either way, it’s a travesty and a tragedy.

      But it still gives me hope that so many are willing to take a stand on this issue.

  4. BTW, in case any of us haven’t been able to hear the concerned activists and professional child care service people inform us of this, I repeat what I’ve heard from them, well, repeatedly:

    For demonstration protests, they emphasize over and over, PLEASE do not do so at either the airports where come flights carrying the children from their parents at the border to the targeted cities such as NYC, or at the facilities where they are then taking. The children are already so frightened and traumatized, that seeing people massed, carrying signs, and probably yelling, and then the law and order forces ranged around them, only makes their emotional state worse.

    The best targets are the offices and homes of those who are responsible for this sadistic, insane, corrupt and just plain stupid mess — those responsible for creating this mess in which these children probably will not ever see their parents again because there is no way to track them or their identities or their destinations.

  5. The big march on June 30 is still on. I am painting signs. One, suggested by Esther Friesner, will be, “We Have Become Omelas. We Will Not Walk Away.”

    • Unless they return all the children to their parents, release everyone from custody, and change the policy in a meaningful way so that this doesn’t start over again, the march should certainly go on. And I don’t think there’s a chance they can even handle the first step, because apparently they snatched children without making any record of who their parents were and who was assigned to what location. Which might be even more horrific than taking them in the first place.

      And I love that sign.

      • It is courtesy Esther Friesner. And the flip side, my own idea, will say “We are all strangers in a strange land. We are all immigrants.”

  6. The sign I plan to carry at our local gathering is

    Hitler 1938

    Trump 2018

    NO DIFFERENCE

    Because this government of gangsters is running rampant over laws and human rights exactly as Hitler did in the thirties. And look what happened to Germany.

    • Sherwood, I could wish your sign wasn’t so, shall we say, right on, but if wishes were horses and all that. Yes. They are nazis and they are proud to be nazis. They don’t even bother hiding it.

      They are turning this whole country into a concentration camp. Incarceration is the only industry they are interested in supporting. But we’ve done this with huge parts of the country before. As we wrote in The American Slave Coast, after Jackson’s Trail of Tears made the land safe for the Cotton Kingdom, the whole south became one huge locked down prisons. Because that’s what plantations were — prisons. And that’s what the well regulated militia was all about — killing Native Americans and uppity African Americans.

  7. I just want to remind everyone that we can take heart in the way people keep coming together to take action. Yes, there are many horrors out there. But there are many of us fighting as well. Celebrate that. Remember it. It’s a hard fight, but you have lots of allies.

  8. We certainly are going to die, all of us on this planet, disregarding geographical and political borders.

    But we can choose to die for what we believe in, or die because we did not stand up when we still had the opportunity. Go google Martin Niemöller.

    • Well said.

      I was using “we’re all gonna die” metaphorically for “there’s no way we can possibly win,” which I think is a very dangerous mindset. Those who think like that are giving the destructive forces out there way too much power over themselves. We have to recognize their power, sure, but we don’t have to give into it.

      Which fits right into what you just said.

      • I was just somewhat shocked as there is nothing about this on the news in Europe. Sure we know Trump loves Putin, sure we know Trump is huggies buddies with Kim the Young Un, we never heard of what he does inside the US.

        Stalin seemed a nice guy, too. Defeated the Nazis and liberated Eastern Europe. No one outside knew about the Gulag system.

        • Wow—that’s interesting. It’s all over the news in Canada. I suppose that’s a factor of geographical proximity, but it also speaks to the immediate preoccupations of the world’s various regions. I’m hazarding a guess that Brexit is more of a concern across the pond at the moment. Funny how the world can be both small and vast at the same time.

          I have a printout of Niemöller’s speech in my files somewhere—I used to regale my kids with it (they claim they still love me anyway). It was circulated widely years ago, but now it seems to be a relic rarely cited outside university lecture halls. “Lest we forget” indeed.

          I’m always unnerved when I see photos of Stalin in his youth. He was a very handsome young man. I have to quickly remind myself of the cruelty he unleashed on his people. It may seem like a shallow observation, but it no doubt played into people’s visceral inclination to trust him (in his early years, at any rate). At least none of this latest round of thugs can lay claim to movie star looks.

          • It seems we should dust out this Niemöller guy, he is needed again. (My kids got their share, too, and they claim to love me anyway so maybe we chanced upon a good parenting tactic!)

            Sadly those modern politicians are not totally disgusting, either. I mean totally disgusting like the Brezhnev and Hoenecker zombie kiss.

  9. This has outraged people so much in the US that I assumed the outrage was worldwide. Couple that with the last couple of days of Supreme Court rulings and people are off the charts angry here. I hope we can channel it into getting rid of these people.

    • I believe there is worldwide outrage, but I hate to say that the creeping rot is also a critical worldwide threat. The fascists weren’t vanquished after WWI—they just crawled away under their rocks to lick their wounds and regroup. They’ve been skulking back into positions of power everywhere for years, and now they’ve become emboldened enough that they no longer feel the need to hide. They also have a new technological weapon, having taken hold of social media to spread their destabilising hate globally. People are now mistrustful, and too wedded to their nationalist/partisan loyalties to brook any criticism of their “team,” regardless of how many boldfaced lies and criminal acts their leaders perpetrate. There are too many smug apologists still trying to justify what’s going on. As long as it’s happening to someone else, it’s not real…

      On the other hand, there are countless places in the world that are trapped in the thick of unimaginable poverty and war and simply can’t spare a thought for what’s going on in some far distant land they barely know anything about.

      • Right. There are totalitarian creeps breaking out of their closets all over Europe. The Le Pens have never gained much power in France but they make a lot of noise. Hungary has a Nationalist government busy with banning abortions, shooting at refugees, and changing their legal system into a morass of ‘people in power are always right’.

        Here in Estonia, a Parliament Member openly said, ‘niggers are dumber than rotten logs’. And some people cheered. Likely they will vote for him again. His party thinks we should get out of any international organizations and declarations, drive out all foreigners, burn all ‘unchristian’ books, and kill every disabled or depressed person. Oh, and LGBT, Feminists, Socialists, business owners, intellectuals, and anyone else who might disagree. Goosebump land.

        So this is not just the US, it is happening all over. I wish people had the sense to see their way out of the seductive promises of safety if we just stomp out everything new, different, or free.