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.