Saturday, January 28, 2017

What Happened During the November Recounts - An Interview with Rick Lass of the Green Party USA

This week I am pleased to be able to present an audio recording of an interview I conducted with Rick Lass, who was the ballot access coordinator for the Presidential campaign of Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein, and was an instrumental member of the team which assisted Ms. Stein in attempting to obtain ballot recounts in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin after the U.S. Presidential election this last November.  For the last several weeks I have been curious as to the experiences and obstacles encountered by the Green Party recount team, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have that curiosity answered in some measure.  I hope you who read will also find the interview to be helpful and informative.

To listen to the interview, click here.

In the interview, I ask the following questions:
  1. What led the campaign of Jill Stein to push for recounts?  (The original question was, "What led the Green Party to push for recounts?"  Rick corrected me and informed me that it was actually the Jill Stein campaign that pushed for the recounts.)
  2. You did recounts in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.  Were there any other states where you considered doing a recount?  If not, why not?
  3. Are there states that refuse or that are - "unenthusiastic" - about a robust audit process?
  4. What was your experience of the recount process?
  5. What efforts did you encounter to hinder or thwart or derail the recounts?  If you did encounter such efforts, please tell us what they were.
  6. Can the official results of the recounts be considered valid?  Why or why not?
  7. What functional or structural barriers do you now see to free and fair elections and to the democratic process at this time?
  8. Do you still believe that the political process in the United States is viable enough for people to pursue the management of their affairs by political means (i.e., by voting, by belonging to political parties, and by participating in the American political process as it now is)?
  9. Regarding activism, are you familiar with scholars and practitioners of nonviolent civil resistance, such as Gene Sharp, Jack DuVall, Professor Erica Chenoweth, and others?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Role of Women In The Nonviolent Struggle

I feel the need to revisit some comments I made in my last post, and some points I have made several times in my posts on nonviolent resistance to the Trump presidency.  It bears repeating that civil resistance campaigns against an oppressive regime have a much higher chance of success than violent campaigns.  One main reason for this is that an oppressive state has a monopoly on the use of violence, and is much better prepared to use violence than any resisters who are not part of the state apparatus.  Waging a violent resistance campaign is fighting the state on its own terms, which means that the state usually wins.

But nonviolent struggle fights the state on a battlefield where it is weak - and oddly enough, the more oppressive the state, the weaker it is on the battlefield of nonviolent resistance.  There are four reasons for this which have been identified by Chenoweth and Stephan in their book, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.  These reasons are:
  • Much lower physical barriers.  Participation in nonviolent resistance does not require people to be elite wanna-be "Crossfitters".  Therefore, it is open to women of all ages, children, elderly men, and young men who are smart enough to avoid violence.
  • Much lower informational barriers.  Those in violent struggles must keep most of their activities secret, whereas those in nonviolent struggles can be much more open - thus much more easily attracting others to join in the struggle.
  • Much, much lower moral barriers.  A person who commits himself to participate in a violent struggle is basically making a commitment to kill people and break things.  Most people, myself included, think that such activities are immoral, and we are thus not likely to participate.  But the tactics of nonviolent struggle are not immoral; therefore, they don't require people to violate their consciences to participate.
  • Much lower commitment barriers.  Once a person has involved himself in a violent campaign, he can never entirely return to his old way of life.  He may need to spend the rest of his days on the run, in hiding, living a life that is physically very difficult.  But those who participate in nonviolent campaigns can do so while leading lives that feel relatively normal.
Those whose struggle is entirely nonviolent are also more likely to separate the leaders of an oppressive regime from the pillars of support which it needs to survive.  Violent campaigns almost never achieve this separation.

In view of the above points, I want to comment on the protest marches which took place on Friday and Saturday.  The protests that took place on Friday were focused on opposing the inauguration of Donald Trump.  That is an admirable goal, and I entirely agree with the protesters.  However, the protesters are guilty of failing to plan and prepare adequately for their activities on Friday.  This allowed people who call themselves "anarchists" to infiltrate the protests and cause violence and property damage.   The actions of these "anarchists" almost certainly helped the Trump presidency by giving it a legitimate excuse for repressing future protests.  Their actions also caused revulsion and disgust even among populations who fear a Trump presidency, such as Christians who belong to immigrant churches.  It is quite possible that these "anarchists" were paid by the supporters of Donald Trump to cause trouble in order to de-legitimize the protests.  Allowing these people to infiltrate a peaceful protest was a bad tactical mistake.

The women's marches that took place yesterday, were, by contrast, entirely nonviolent.  They also attracted hundreds of thousands of participants.  The key to their success was the extensive preparation and teaching of nonviolent discipline which preceded the marches.  (See this and this also.)  To me, this shows that the women who organized and participated in these marches were wiser, more skillful, more strategically savvy and more level-headed than the marchers on Friday.  Certainly they were sharper and more on the ball than a bunch of hot-headed young male "anarchists."  Perhaps we should learn something from them.  And maybe they should be relied on to teach the rest of us the right way to do protest.

I am sure that more protests against Trump are planned.  I would just say two things.  First, any participants who resort to violence during any of the protests should be regarded as agents provocateurs, troublemakers hired by the supporters of Donald Trump in order to give him and the police an excuse for violent repression of protest.  Such people should be avoided like the plague.  Secondly, should it become impossible to conduct a mass protest without fear of infiltration by paid troublemakers, the nonviolent struggle should switch to tactics of dispersion, such as the strike, the boycott, and the stay-away.

One big target for a potential stay-away or boycott is the Super Bowl which will take place in two weeks.  What if, instead of watching - either in person, on TV in your home, or at a sports bar - you spent that time doing something more useful with your life?  Don't feed the beast that bites you.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Nonviolent Resistance - A Grand Strategic Vision

I read today about the large number of protesters who rallied in many cities in the United States to show their opposition to Donald Trump. I am very glad to hear that the number of those participating in rallies and protests yesterday and today far exceeded the number of Trump fans who attended his inauguration.  But it is critical for those who oppose Trump to be able to formulate and present a vision of the future that stands as a viable alternative to the plans and policy of Mr. Trump.  Here I will propose such a vision.

The first element of such a vision is a realistic view of what is possible in the world that is now emerging.  That world is no longer a world in which one nation, or one segment of that nation, can command all the world's resources and rule all the other peoples of the world with an iron (or velvet) fist.

The second element of such a vision is a willingness on the part of the many to create a society that provides equal and effective access to life-sustaining resources for all its members, regardless of ethnicity, national origin or religion, by means of the following:
  • Effective education (teaching its members how to think, how to understand and navigate the world in which they live)
  • The best health care that its members can provide by pooling their resources for the common good
  • The most equitable livelihood that its members can provide by pooling their resources for the common good
  • The best use of housing and land that its members can provide by pooling their resources for the common good
  • An equal say for each of its members in determining the shape and course of such a society
  • The safety that arises from being insulated as much as possible from supremacist predators.
Such a society will necessarily be an alternative society, with parallel institutions, in that it is created by grassroots, bottom-up efforts which do not receive help from those now in power, and which thrive even when opposed by those in power.  The creation of such a society will manifest itself locally as a result of the efforts of the people who live in various localities.  The creation of such a society will also require hard work and serious study.  It will also take time.  Laziness, a hunger for quick fixes, or wishful thinking will not be helpful at all.  The organs of such a society must be open to everyone who wants to join in the effort to create such a society - even to those Trump supporters from among the poorer classes who become casualties and victims of a Trump presidency.  One thing is certain.  Trump will not create a healthy society for any except the wealthy and powerful.  His victims - even among those who supported him - will be many.

Those who are involved in creating alternatives to a Trump society must maintain nonviolent discipline in their struggle.  I am thinking of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict by Chenoweth and Stephan.  (I got my copy of that book on Thursday night, and have been reading it ever since.)  In the book, the authors document the negative effect that the presence of violence has on a civil resistance movement, and how violence by armed resistance wings or by government-sponsored agents provocateurs reduces the likelihood that the civil resistance movement will succeed.  It is thus regrettable that "anarchists" were able to infiltrate peaceful protests on the day of Trump's inauguration.  Those who organize protest marches should work as hard as possible to make sure that such people are excluded from future marches or rallies.  It is also necessary for the nonviolent struggle to combine tactics of concentration, such as rallies and protests, with tactics of dispersion, such as strikes, boycotts and stay-aways.  (On Friday I "stayed away" from work.  Instead, I spent the day reading and praying.  That was my form of protest.  And I did not watch the inauguration.)  Movements that rely on only one or a few tactics are easy to defeat.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Opening Battle?

The opening moves in the battle of the next four years may have occurred on the 6th of this month.  A mass shooting occurred at the Fort Lauderdale airport, and at least five people died.  This time, the authorities did not shoot the alleged perpetrator, so he is actually alive to stand trial.  There are, however, some parts to the official story concerning this man which are rather, ah, convenient for the supporters of Donald Trump - such as the fact that the man - Esteban Santiago - was Hispanic, and that he allegedly heard voices telling him to fight for ISIS.  If one was looking for a handy sensational incident to help a mentally unbalanced President-Elect justify mass deportations or persecution of nonwhite and non-English speaking Americans, one would hope for something like this. (For a bit of context, here, here and here are links to mass shootings within the last few months that, while mentioned in local news, were not deemed worthy of national news coverage.)

Now I will try to refrain from using the phrase "false flag" in the remainder of this post.  But I'd like to propose a call to action.  I think it might be good to set up a legal defense fund for Esteban Santiago, and to push for the following things for him:
  • A complete medical examination, including a psychiatric interview and examination for evidence of psychotropic substances which he may have taken or have been given (under duress or not) by others.  In order for the examination to be counted as valid, it would have to be given by a team of doctors chosen by the defense team.
  • A defense team who is knowledgeable in both the tactics of the global far right and in the use of tactics developed by the state to force people to do things that they would not ordinarily do.  
  • A public trial televised on C-SPAN so that any and all interested parties can verify that due process is served to Mr. Santiago, that we may see for ourselves whether or not he is in fact competent to stand trial, and we may be able to judge for ourselves whether or not he received a fair trial.
If any one or all of these demands were rejected, that would be grounds in my opinion for considering the charges against Mr. Santiago to be false.  Now don't get me wrong - I think the mass shooting was horrible, and the deaths that occurred are a terrible tragedy.  And I am hoping that the actual perpetrators are caught and brought to justice.  But I don't want this incident to be used in a crass and cynical way to advance the evil agenda of an evil segment of our society.  I like the truth to be told.  Those who also like truth should have no problem with my proposal.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Words of Light In Dark Times: An Interview with Dr. Soong-Chan Rah

I have a special treat for readers this week.  I am privileged to be able to present to you an audio interview which I conducted with Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, a Christian, theologian, and seminary professor who has applied systems thinking to the issues facing America and other First World societies, and to the response of the Christian Church to these present challenges. 

To access the interview, click here.  Then click on the speaker icon.

I have mentioned Dr. Rah in several previous posts.  Dr. Rah is the author of four published books: The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing The Church from Western Cultural Captivity, Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice In Troubled Times., and Return to Justice: Six Movements That Reignited Our Contemporary Evangelical Conscience.  He also has an additional book which is about to go to press, which he mentions toward the end of the interview.

In the interview we briefly cover the reality of the hard ecological and economic limits now being faced by the industrialized world.  Then we begin to ask how the United States and the Global North in general have responded to these limits, focusing particularly on the response of the mainstream American church to an age of limits.  We discuss the pathology that arises in people who have enjoyed unjust privileges for a long time, and how that pathology is triggered when those privileges begin to run out.  I also ask Dr. Rah what Scripture passages he has been referring to in order to understand these days.

From there we discuss how real Christians should pray in these days, and how to avoid being sidetracked by searching for easy, yet false answers in our prayers.

Lastly, we ask what real Christians should do in these days.  And we briefly discuss the role of nonviolent struggle in our response.

About the audio: you will also get to witness (or more accurately, hear) my rather thumb-fingered approach to audio technology.  So you will hear that the audio actually begins in the middle of my introduction to Dr. Rah, and the presentation of my first question to him.  I tried fixing this by recording a new introduction, then I tried downloading some free and open source audio editing software to splice the new intro onto the main body of the interview.  After a rather long bit of frustration, I became convinced that I did well to avoid a career in TV or radio!  However, I can type (most of the time).  So I will give you the text of my first question, so that you may have a more complete picture of the interview.  Here is the text:

"These days are a time of confusion and distress for many people who had hoped that by the end of 2016, the people running things in our world might have moved in a more equitable direction than that which they have taken.  Many of us might be struggling to correctly understand these days, and may need help in our understanding, so that we can plot a right course of action.  In order to help us in our understanding, I am interviewing Dr. Rah, and will be asking him several questions under three general categories:
  • How to Look At These Days
  • How to Pray In These Days
  • What To Do In These Days
"My first question is as follows: on an economic and ecological level, the industrialized world has begun to run into hard limits, as the resources needed to expand or even to maintain the global industrial economy have begun to dry up.  Individuals and societies can respond to this reality in many ways and on many levels.  How would you characterize the response of the United States so far?"

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Equipment for Nonviolent Struggle

We have only seventeen days until the inauguration of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States.  As I have written previously, it appears that Mr. Trump won the Presidency in a rigged election in which there was significant voter suppression, and in which recount efforts in some battleground states were either blocked by the Trump team or were so severely compromised that they are unreliable.  Mr. Trump campaigned on a platform that was morally repugnant to a majority not only of Americans, but of people throughout the world - especially in the Global South.

Those of us who are the intended targets of his agenda would do well, therefore, to prepare to struggle for the basic human right to live our lives in peace without being scapegoated or molested by imperialists, or white supremacists, or the most powerful members of the Global North, or the wealthiest members of our societies, or even of the dupes of these powerful people, many of whom are poor and are likely to be hurt by the very policies they have been brainwashed into supporting.  As I have said before, in order for the struggle to have maximum effectiveness, it must be nonviolent.

But some will ask, "Can nonviolent resistance actually succeed in this struggle?  Is it really effective?"   To answer that, I will refer you to a few videos and some audio books that you can chew on.  The first is from Dr. Erica Chenoweth of the University of Denver, who defines nonviolent resistance as "...a form of active conflict where unarmed civilians use a variety of nonviolent tactics like strikes, boycotts, protests, stay-aways, demonstrations, and other things, to try to effect political change without using violence or threatening to use physical violence against the opponent."

One of the great strengths of nonviolent struggle is that it is able to recruit a much larger portion of a nation's population than violent conflict.  Chenoweth shows that if the level of participation rises to between two and five percent, the nonviolent movement has at least a 50 percent chance of succeeding.  If the participation level is at five percent or above, the nonviolent struggle becomes almost unstoppable.  When we consider that the official November election results state that only 25 percent of all people of voting age in America voted for Trump, and that even that figure may be overly optimistic, finding five percent of the population that does not want to be molested by a Trump presidency should not be very hard.

Here also is a video of a talk by Jamila Raqib, in which she gives a few humorous, yet highly effective examples of successful nonviolent struggle:

(Disclaimer: although I don't agree with everything in this video, I do agree with her main point concerning the effectiveness of nonviolent struggle.)

There are also audio recordings of two books by Gene Sharp, which were provided by the kind volunteer readers at the Librivox website.  The books are From Dictatorship to Democracy and There Are Realistic Alternatives.  These books are also available in PDF form from the Albert Einstein Institution.  Mr. Sharp constantly stresses the need for comprehensive strategic planning in preparing a nonviolent struggle.  He outlines the need to focus on four planning levels: grand strategy, strategy, tactics and methods.

I hope that these materials may guide fellow resisters in planning a varied, multilevel resistance effort that uses multiple tactics for maximum effect.  One caution regarding social media: Erica Chenoweth makes the point that social media is a great tool in the hands of oppressive regimes, but that resisters should beware of relying overly much on it.

Good luck in your preparations!