Sunday, July 12, 2020

Voting As An Act of Civil Resistance, Or, Whose Idiot Is Umair Haque?

Logo of OTPOR! Serbian nonviolent resistance movement
which ousted Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.
retrieved from Wikimedia Commons on 12 July 2020

Ever since Donald Trump's capture of the White House in 2016, I have been fixated on the question of how oppressed people (or people targeted for oppression) can shatter the power of their oppressors without resorting to violence.  My initial research led me to the writings of Erica Chenoweth, Maria Stephan, and Gene Sharp.  Later, my reading expanded to include the work of Srdja Popovic.  From these thinkers and activists I learned to see strategic nonviolent resistance as system of means by which the powerless and the oppressed shift the balance of power between themselves and their oppressors without the use of physical violence or property destruction, as I wrote about in an earlier post.

This shift in the balance of power occurs when skillful nonviolent resisters are able to weaken or destroy the pillars of support of an oppressive government by shifting the loyalty of the people who comprise those pillars of support.  For those readers who may not be familiar with strategic nonviolent resistance, "pillars of support" are those organizations which provide social power and legitimacy to a regime and its leaders.   These include the police, the military, banks and other financial institutions, and the media, as well as others.  Skillful strategic nonviolent resisters are able to weaken the allegiance of the members of these organizations to the regime by two means: first, by pointing out the corruption, evil, destructiveness, and specially, the unsustainability of the current regime, and second, by presenting a righteous alternative to the regime.  By employing both of these means, the nonviolent resisters weaken and eventually destroy the legitimacy of the regime.  Once the regime loses legitimacy, it can no longer command obedience - therefore it can no longer survive.

In reading the history of successful nonviolent resistance campaigns, I have recently been struck by the role which elections played in the resistance struggles.  Elections can be a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, skillful dictators and autocrats use them as a tool to divide the opposition so that the dictators can retain the appearance of a mandate to power.  This was the strategy of former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, as documented by Chenoweth and Stephan in the chapter of Why Civil Resistance Works titled, "The Philippine People Power Movement, 1983-1986."  This was also the strategy used by former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who retained his power for several years by dividing and co-opting his opposition as documented here and here.

But there are times when elections as a weapon are seized from the hands of autocrats and dictators by an opposition who skillfully uses the elections to remove the legitimacy of the dictatorial regimes.  They do so not only by publicizing the evils of the current regime and the possibility of a righteous alternative, but also by the following additional means:
  • Massive "get out the vote" drives, especially among disaffected and marginalized populations,
  • The development of a robust network of volunteers into an effective, independent means of monitoring election results,
  • And the development of a means of nonviolently causing painful sanctions against the regime in the event that it tries to cheat, rig the election, or refuse to accept the results.
The development of an independent election monitoring network was the means used by both OTPOR! and CeSID in Yugoslavia to verify that Milosevic had in fact lost the 2000 election, as documented here and here.  The bulldozer strike and subsequent mass march on Parliament provided the painful sanctions that forced Milosevic to resign.  In a similar way, the Philippine opposition skillfully used the 1986 election to de-legitimize Ferdinand Marcos, employing a network of half a million volunteer election monitors to expose the cheating of the Marcos regime, and employing a massive general strike and huge mass protests to provide the pressure that forced Marcos out of office.

Now in 2020, those who treasure the continued supremacy of a favored few are hanging their hopes on the slim possibility that Donald J. Trump will pull off some sort of Election Day miracle that will enable him to "win" the election (meaning the Electoral College) even if he loses the American popular vote by several million.  In order to get the American people to passively swallow the results of such an "election," the election must be made as close as possible.  Thanks be to God that right now, it doesn't appear that the election will be close at all, and that it appears that not only Donald Trump, but a lot of Republicans are about to be ejected from office as if by the violent projectile emesis of the American body politic.  Yet those who want another four years of Trump continue to fight on.  And some of their tactics are sneaky.  Those of us who lived through 2016 can spot these tactics.

One particular tactic is to try to say that there's really not much difference between Biden and Trump, or to characterize the choice between the two men as a choice between the "lesser of two evils."  The users of this tactic seek to increase its effectiveness by using supposed voices from the Left to make such assertions.  These supposed members of the Left claim to oppose Trump and winner-take-all capitalism, yet they also claim that voting for Biden is an act of ideological impurity and that we who stand to suffer the most from another four years of Trump should not lower ourselves to vote for someone like Biden.  Among such voices is Omar Haque, who lumps both supporters of Trump and supporters of Biden into the same category, which he calls "The American Idiot."  Omar is not the only idiot trying to pull such a stunt.  There is also the website In These Times (published by the Democratic Socialists of America), who last month wrote an article titled, "Want To Defeat Trump Without Campaigning for Biden? Here's How."  Note that if you read their article, you may conclude that it should have been titled, "Want to Waste Your Time In Symbolic Opposition To Trump While Handing Him A Second Term?  Here's How."  (Note also that In These Times has spent an inordinate amount of time trying to downplay the evidence of Russian interference in the American electoral process - even though the entire American intelligence community is united in their assertion that Russian interference is real and did take place in 2016.)

This reminds me of blogger Olga Doroshenko's excellent description of the Russians who claimed to be opposed to Putin and to his aggression against Ukraine, yet who criticized the attempts of the Ukrainians to liberate themselves from Russian aggression because those attempts did not meet the Russian standard of "perfection".  As she pointed out, when you are doing all you can to liberate yourself, yet someone criticizes your efforts on the grounds that they are not "perfect", it is a sign that the critic really wants you dead.

Let's take a lesson from the Serbians who successfully used elections to oust Milosevic.  They rallied a formerly fractured opposition behind a candidate who stood the best chance of delivering them from both Milosevic and from the ongoing destruction of the nation under Milosevic.  Was that candidate "perfect" No!  But was he aimed in a radically different direction than the continued slide into self-destruction under Milosevic?  Yes!

Biden is not perfect.  (What mortal human being is?!)  Yet he is aimed in a radically different direction from Trump.  As was said of Milosevic, it can be said of Trump that his language smells like death.  I want life to win this year.  Therefore, I am voting for Biden.  And I am wondering if we have the political will to organize ourselves effectively in the next three months in order to put teeth into an electoral loss for Trump.  Are we willing to do what the Serbs and the Filipinos did?

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Go To Jail Truth

My worldview during the last five years has been based on the following premises:
  1. That the universe which we all inhabit is a moral universe ruled by the moral standard of a righteous Creator;
  2. That an essential pillar of that moral standard is the duty of each human being to treat his or her fellow human beings with dignity and charity;
  3. That the Creator of the universe stands ready to enforce His righteous moral standard by imposing consequences on those who break that standard;
  4. And that since the most privileged members of the United States have broken that moral standard in making themselves great by murdering and oppressing their fellow human beings, the consequences of this moral breach have begun to spread throughout American society.  I have called these consequences the outworkings of damnation
The theoretical basis and starting point for my worldview (and especially of point #4 of that worldview) is found in passages such as Proverbs 22:22-23; Jeremiah 7:9-10; Ezekiel 18:4; Ezekiel 22; and James 5:1-6.  Now when a worldview first comes into being, it is nothing more than a hypothesis.  In order for the worldview to become mature, it must be tested by observation.  Therefore, in order for me to be able to confidently assert the worldview I have laid out above, I must be able to point to destructive or damaging consequences which threaten the privileged and which are the direct result of the dirty tricks used by the privileged to gain and keep their privilege.

But what is interesting is that in searching for the evidences of the outworkings of damnation among the privileged, the searcher encounters various flavors and levels of "truth".  The particular flavor of truth which the searcher encounters will depend on whom he asks for that "truth".  If he or she asks the holders of power and privilege, the answer contained in their words will be very different from the answer which might be obtained by planting hidden cameras, listening devices and skillful spies to observe the affairs of the holders of privilege and power.   This is not surprising, since the wealth of the privileged consists not only in the actual physical assets which they have, but in the image of wealth and power which they are able to project to the world.  In fact, if a person's image is strong enough, he can get a lot of what he needs or wants based on image alone - whether it's obtaining a huge line of credit because he looks like he is rich enough to repay his loan, or whether it's successfully intimidating someone else because the bully has made himself look too powerful to resist.  We might call this projection of an idealized image "managed truth."  (Kind of like "managed democracy", isn't it?)

Last week, the United States was treated to an example of this "managed truth" in the latest employment report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The Trump administration celebrated this report by shouting that the American economy is "coming back faster, bigger, and better than we ever thought possible" in the face of the coronavirus pandemic because 4.8 million jobs were added to the economy between mid-May and mid-June.  However, as a number of sources have reported (see this, this, and this for instance), this supposed recovery does not reflect the state of the economy as it is today.  For these jobs were added during the hasty and ill-conceived rush by many states to reopen their economies, and those states are being forced now to backtrack their reopenings due to an explosion of COVID-19 cases.  Moreover, the vast majority of jobs that were added are in the restaurant, hospitality and retail sectors - sectors which are most likely to be shut down again due to the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Some actual figures from the BLS are given below:
  • Hospitality and Leisure - 2.1 million jobs added
  • Food Service and Drinking Places (bars) - 1.5 million jobs added
  • Amusements, Gambling and Recreation - 353,000 jobs added
  • Retail Trade - 740,000 jobs added.
That adds up to a total of 4.69 million out of the 4.8 million jobs that were added.  It should be noted that the resurgence of the pandemic threatens all of the job gains in these classes which I have listed.  Not only this, but the last two BLS jobs reports have contained a "misclassification error" which falsely lowered the reported unemployment rate.

So if seekers for the truth of things - especially those who wish to accurately track the outworkings of damnation - cannot rely on official statements from those who are experiencing that damnation, where can they turn?  One possible source of truth is the official reports and communications which the most privileged members of society share with each other, for it is these reports which are most frequently used as the basis for the decisions made by these privileged members.  Petroleum geologist Arthur E. Berman once referred to these reports as "the go to jail truth".  Why refer to these as the "go to jail truth"?  Because if the captains of certain industries lie to each other (or to government agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission) about the actual state of their industries and market sectors, a whole lot of people stand to lose great big money - thus (hopefully) obliging the liars to go to jail.  The threat of jail time is usually enough to keep most people honest in their official reporting.

But what if the most privileged members of society have corrupted themselves to such a point that they will stop at nothing in order to enrich themselves at everyone else's expense?  For evil is progressive.  The first step is to disregard moral restraints against taking advantage of one's fellow human beings.  The last step is to disregard even the physical or financial realities of one's situation in the desire to be godlike.  Along the way, people who have thus given themselves to evil stop telling even the "go to jail truth", and the organizations, businesses and polities headed by them enter the realm of willful blindness.  Last week the State of Texas entered this realm, as a state which rushed the reopening of its economy and which is now facing the overwhelming of its medical system due to COVID-19 cases that have spiraled out of control.  But if you want to find out how much the Texas medical system has become overwhelmed, good luck asking the State government.  They won't tell you.

According to Margaret Heffernan's book Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore The Obvious At Our Peril, organizations and polities operating under willful blindness have certain characteristics.  First, most of the lower level inhabitants or employees know that something smells rotten.  Second, many of them can actually see some of the skeletons in closets and/or dead bodies under beds.  Third, the higher-ups in these organizations and polities will have created an environment that is hostile to truth-tellers.  Fourth, such organizations and polities tend to break down rather suddenly and dramatically in a way that surprises the outside world even though the lower level people on the inside could see the breakdown a long time in coming.  The collapse of Enron is a good case in point.

How can seekers of truth track the outworkings of damnation through organizations or polities which have entered the phase of willful blindness?  Ms. Heffernan gives us some suggestions on pages 237 and 238 of her book.  First, we need to have a sense of history - especially the history of the collapse of dysfunctional organizations.  By studying the collapse of a multitude of types of organizations along with a multitude of types of organizational dysfunction, we can get a sense of the general trends along which the outworkings of damnation are likely to propagate.  Once we recognize these trends, we watch the dysfunctional organization to see if we can spot the "weak signals" which indicate a trend.  Where the weak signals accumulate, a trend is likely emerging.  It was attention to these weak signals that enabled a CIA analyst named Herb Meyer to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union several years before it happened.

And this bears thinking about a bit more deeply.  For I'd like to suggest that Putin's Russia may be headed for a second collapse.  As someone living in America, I have focused largely on trying to track the outworkings of damnation in American society - yet the United States is by no means the only nation which is worthy of damnation.  Russia has proven itself over the years to be at least the equal of the U.S. when it comes to national narcissism and the desire to make itself great at everyone else's expense.  (See this, this, this, this, and this for instance.)  Putin's use of dirty tricks (such as election-tampering, promotion of far-Right/racist/skinhead organizations, assassinations, and now bounties) to make Russia great by tearing down the West have also been well-documented over the years.  Indeed, when one reads M. Scott Peck's description of malignant narcissism in his book People of the Lie, one can't help but think of Russia under Putin.  To quote Peck, "As life often threatens their self-image of perfection, they are often busily engaged in hating and destroying that life - usually in the name of righteousness."  When observing Russia, therefore, some weak signals to watch out for include watching what happens to truth tellers in Russia who reveal Russia's imperfections.  Another (not-so-weak) signal is the Russian attempt to meddle in other people's lives in order to destroy them. (He who spends all his time minding other people's business doesn't have time to mind his own!)  A third weak signal is seeing how frantic the Russians (and their mouthpieces in the West) become when the fig leaves sewn by Russia to cover its shame slip in the least bit to expose some raw flesh.  Watch the weak signals.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Repeat Post: The Ontogenic Battle

My schedule for the next several days is full of things I need to do in order to take care of business (including the earning of daily bread).  So I won't have time to do the research needed to put together a fresh blog post.  However, I hope you will find that the things in the fridge, in the freezer and in the cupboards are just as tasty.  Here is a link to a post I wrote back in 2017.  It is just as appropriate today for all those of us both in the United States and throughout the world who are under threat from a dominant culture that wants to make itself great at everyone else's expense.  Enjoy.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Whadja Do With The Money?!

Two Filthy Men, Two Filthy Regimes
Image captured in late 2016, retrieved from 
on 21 June 2020.  Similar images from 2016 and early 2017
can be seen here, here, and here.

*Note: I noticed this weekend that this blog had several dozen visits from people who live outside of the United States.  Thanks very much for reading my posts!  If English is not your first language, please let me explain the title of today's post more clearly.  The word "whadja" is not actually proper English.  It is instead an American slang contraction of the words, "what did you...", or of "what do you..."  So my title in standard English would read, "What did you do with the money?!"  And now, on to today's post.

From the time I was six years old to the time I turned eight years old, my parents sent me to Catholic school.   The schools I attended provided lunch for their students, but this was contingent on the families of each of the students paying a weekly lunch allowance.  It's been a long while since those days, but I vaguely remember that the usual procedure for families was to put each week's "lunch money" into an envelope, and attach the envelope to each child's clothes with a safety pin on each Monday morning before the kid went to school.  I think my parents used to admonish me to give the envelope to the nuns the moment I got to school.  

But one morning I became curious to know what was in the envelope, and so I opened it before my arrival.  When I found out what was inside, I became full of ambitious ideas of how I would like to spend the money.  The result was that when I got to school, I handed the nuns an empty envelope.  Little did I know that the school was not going to feed me just because of my good looks.  Little did I also know that they would place an urgent call to my parents.  But what I did know was that my parents were firm believers in the laying on of hands in order to cure their children from foolishness.  When I got home that day, hands were therefore laid on me.

These events should have served as a valuable lesson, namely that money is a means of transmitting the benefits of honest labors between two people.  My dad had worked hard in order to earn the money which was given to me to give to the nuns in exchange for the hard work that other adults had done in making a nutritious lunch for a bunch of kids.  Money therefore could be seen as a reliable transmitter of value only as long as it symbolized an exchange of the value of one kind of necessary work for the value of other kinds of necessary work.  Empty lunch money envelopes, on the other hand, were not a symbol of exchange of one kind of value for another.  I wish I could say that the events of that day had taught me right then this valuable lesson, but at the age of six, I was still just a goofy, gel-brained boy out "raising Cain", to put it euphemistically.  

I do understand the lesson now.  But as I look at the uses to which American money have been put lately, I am not sure that very many of the people at the top of the American economic pyramid understand this lesson.  Nor am I quite sure that some of these people are not still gel-brained six-year-old Cain-raisers trapped in adult bodies.  For it increasingly appears that the exchange of money between the most powerful players no longer represents an exchange of differing kinds of necessary, valuable labor.  American money is therefore increasingly not a reliable transmitter of value between two parties who both do various kinds of necessary work.  

I am thinking of the American stock exchanges (NYSE, S&P 500, and NASDAQ, to name a few) in the aftermath of Donald Trump's seizure of the White House in 2016.  What is interesting to note is that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) shot up over 2,000 points from November 2016 to February 2017.  (Source: Statista.  See this also from MarketWatch.)  Since January 2017, the DJIA has closed below 20,000 only once.  The DJIA has instead flown on a somewhat phugoid trajectory within a range from 22,000 to 28,000 points for most of Trump's presidency.  During the upswings in the DJIA and other exchanges, Trump has boasted of these upswings as proof that he is indeed "Making America Great Again!"  But what has really been going on behind the scenes?  (Aside from the exploding numbers of tent cities and homeless encampments throughout the United States!)

First, it is no secret that much of the increase in corporate asset prices has been driven by stock buybacks, as noted in the following stories:
According to various sources, corporate buybacks of publicly traded stocks in U.S. stock exchanges have totaled over $2 trillion from 2017 until now.  This is troubling because it used to be that the price of a share of a company's stock was a reflection of the value of the amount and quality of the work done by the owners and employees of the company.  But due to the tax cuts passed by a Republican-controlled Congress under Donald Trump, the money that should have gone into corporate taxes or into investment in increasing the value of meaningful labor has instead gone to boosting shareholder dividends, stock prices, and CEO bonuses.  The prices of shares of corporate stock therefore no longer reflect the genuine value of the things produced by the corporations whose stock is publicly traded. 

This is even clearer when we consider what has happened to U.S. productivity during Trump's presidency.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported widespread declines in American manufacturing productivity in 2018.  This is a reflection of a decline in global worker productivity during 2018 and 2019.  American worker productivity also declined during the last half of 2019.  The decline in productivity extends also to the construction industry, according to this source.  And Servaas Storm of the Institute for New Economic Thinking states his view that the reasons for falling American productivity are "‘under-consumption’ driven by stagnating real wages, rising inequality and greater job insecurity and polarization."  In other words, falling American productivity is being caused by the very factors which Donald Trump has maximized.

But as I said in a previous post tracing the outworkings of damnation on American society, I am not here to editorialize or to moralize.  I write this post only to hypothesize how this situation might end.  For "the wages of sin is death", and the regime of Donald Trump is based on the premise of America's most privileged holders of wealth and power sinning against the rest of humanity by making themselves great at everyone else's expense.  I am therefore wondering how this one special group of parasites is about to die.  For the most powerful economic players in the United States have made it clear in 2020 that one of their main objectives is to prop up the value of the financial assets of their cronies at all costs.  Therefore, the Fed has this year made itself a purchaser of corporate bonds.  This includes buying the debt of corporations which should have crashed and burned because the value of the things they produced declined to the level of junk.  This is also why the DJIA for instance has consistently closed above 23,000 over the last two months even as the coronavirus pandemic deals a shattering blow to the actual productive capacity of the U.S. economy.  (Note: it is not only the U.S. central bank which is propping up asset prices.  See this also.)

Now, if the financial "bodily organ" which creates U.S. dollars uses them to prop up stock prices of corporations which produce no real value, what does that do to the U.S. dollar as a reliable transmitter of value?  (To put it another way, what would happen to your body if your bone marrow suddenly began producing red blood cells that could not carry oxygen to your vital organs?)  Consider also that the Fed's ability to prop up asset prices depends on the Fed's ability to sell U.S. debt to foreign governments.  And consider that the U.S. government is already hopelessly in debt (especially due to huge deficits under Trump), with the likelihood of repayment growing more distant by the day.  What happens when foreign governments begin to refuse to buy any more U.S. debt and start asking, "Whadja do with the money?!"

Friday, June 12, 2020

Why Are These Weapons Strong?

I've been scanning recent news articles that deal with nonviolent resistance.  As is to be expected, almost all of these recent articles deal with the ongoing protests against police brutality and the murder of unarmed people of color in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd.  Some of these articles are misleading - perhaps unintentionally or perhaps not.  So I thought it good to write a post clearing up a few misconceptions regarding nonviolent resistance.

As I have come to understand nonviolent resistance in the light of the literature I've been studying from the end of 2016 until now, I've come to my own definition of the term, stated below:
Nonviolent resistance: a system of means by which the powerless and the oppressed shift the balance of power between themselves and their oppressors without the use of physical violence or property destruction.
This definition comes from my reading of histories of those who have used nonviolent resistance to defeat oppression including conflicts with some of the most repressive regimes the world has seen within the last 120 years.  Because nonviolent resistance is a system of means employed by the oppressed, it is not passivity or inaction.  Below are some other things that nonviolent resistance is not:
  • Nonviolent resistance is not just nonviolence.  (However, nonviolent resisters are nonviolent!)  Why make this distinction?  Because oppressors (along with some misguided members of the oppressed) frequently equate nonviolent resistance with the kind of "nonviolence" that consists only of being passive in the face of oppression, or of trying to "rise above" your oppressor by showing him or her that the oppression doesn't bother you, or by finding creative ways to continue to turn the other cheek or to learn to "live gracefully" under ongoing oppression.  The term "nonviolence" has come thus to have almost New Age "spiritual" connotations.  But if you are an African-American mother whose children were exposed to heavy metals in Flint, Michigan, when Republicans destroyed the safety of the city's water supply, or if you are a relative of the unarmed African-Americans who were murdered by police, or if you are a Latino U.S. citizen whose relatives were wrongly deported, don't you have a right - even a duty - to be bothered?
  • Nonviolent resistance is not weak.  Moreover, it is not weaker than violence.  Oppressed populations who rely on nonviolent struggle are twice as likely to achieve their aims as those who use violence, according to the book Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan.  In that book, Chenoweth and Stephan present the results of a statistical analysis of both nonviolent and violent conflicts which shows that nonviolent struggles achieved an outright success rate of 52 percent.  The rate of partial success was even higher.  Those who used violence succeeded only 26 percent of the time.  As for those violent actors who failed...well, let's just say that many of them did not get a second chance! 
  • Nonviolent resistance is not just protest. Scholar Gene Sharp identified 198 methods of nonviolent action, which he grouped into three general categories.  While I am heartened by some of the recent tactical victories I have seen in the recent anti-racism protests, I have to repeat once again that the methods of protest and persuasion are actually the weakest of the categories of methods of nonviolent action, because they have only limited power to apply pressure to an oppressor.  Strategic nonviolent resistance can be used successfully even against oppressors who don't have any better angels to appeal to, because strategic nonviolent resistance relies on more than just protest.
Nonviolent resistance is a set of means by which the oppressed can assert their humanity and dignity in the face of their oppressors in a way that effectively disrupts the power of their oppressors.  And it has an impressive track record, as seen in a brief survey of examples:
Nonviolent resistance does depend on the participation of large numbers of people.  As more and more people decide to participate, the oppressor's psychological and social pillars of support begin to crumble.  However, there is one weakness of civil resistance: if the resistance turns violent, the number of people willing to participate drops drastically.  And the more violent the resistance becomes, the greater is the ability of the oppressor to justify violent repression against the resisters.  This is why when a nonviolent liberation struggle begins in an oppressed population, the oppressors almost always try to inject violence into it so that they can more easily crush it.

So now we come to the articles I read this week, some of which raised my eyebrows, articles like this:
Rebecca Pierce claims to be both Black and Jewish, and her essay appears in the New Republic.  Let me just color her misinformed both about nonviolent resistance as a strategic toolkit and as a strategy which works best when not mixed with violence.  R. H. Lossin is white, and does not have to face the sort of demonization which a Black person would face for even suggesting that property destruction is an acceptable way to advance a social movement.  Her article appears in the Nation.  Both the New Republic and the Nation are prominent magazines.  How is it that these people were given the permission to publish such pieces?  Who gave them that permission, and why?  Who benefits from teaching the oppressed to believe that including violence and property destruction in their "variety of tactics" is helpful to those involved in a liberation struggle against a more powerful oppressor?  (What kind of doofus would try to persuade a child to challenge a grizzly bear to a bare-knuckle fight???)

Two last things.  First, in my writings on nonviolent resistance, I have studiously avoided any mention of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King.  I could leave it to you, the reader, to guess all my reasons for leaving him out of my discussion, but I will help you by giving you one reason.  King has been flattened by public school history books and popular culture into a character who fits the description of "nonviolence" I mentioned in my first bullet point above.  So if one goes to communities of the oppressed saying, "We need to practice nonviolent resistance like King did," there will be voices both within and outside the communities of the oppressed who question whether it is realistic to try to convert the oppressor or to build "beloved communities" between oppressor and oppressed, or to ask the oppressed to keep trying to "love their enemies," blah, blah, blah.  In other words, these voices will set up King as a straw man who is easily knocked down, thus hindering the oppressed from seeing the real power and aims of strategic nonviolent resistance. King has therefore become a distraction.

Second, it is instructive to consider the history of Syria over the last ten years or so.  You might be surprised to know that the civil war which started in Syria several years back began as a peaceful nonviolent resistance movement.  In this form, it posed the greatest danger to the regime of strongman Bashar al-Assad, and was beginning to seriously weaken the pillars of support of his regime.  Assad correctly concluded that if the nonviolent struggle were allowed to continue, it would force him out of power (thus bringing Syria into the list of countries which experienced regime change during the Arab Spring).  To prevent that from happening, Assad injected violence into the nonviolent movement by committing outrageous atrocities against the resisters, in order to provoke them to violence.  He also planted caches of weapons in the hopes that the resisters would find them and try to use them against the regime.  (See this also.)  Assad's hope was that by turning the resistance violent, he could shift the resisters onto a battleground in which the State held a decisive advantage.  The only reason why the resulting civil war lasted as long as it did and came close to ousting Assad was that the violent resistance was able to obtain outside sources of funding and supply.  Had that not been the case, the Assad regime would have quickly crushed the resistance movement.  Let that be a warning to those who have a cavalier attitude toward the use of violence in the current struggle against racist oppression in the United States.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Strong Weapons Come Out

A makeshift poster I made for a rally out of a white board and markers
I've been to two rallies against racism this week.  The first was held downtown yesterday evening and the second was held downtown this afternoon.  I wanted to attend yesterday's rally so that I could provide some guidance in a limited way to the protestors who have been demonstrating against the continued racism directed against Black Americans, so I used a large dry-erase white board and some erasable markers to make the "poster" which you see in the picture above.  I asked a number of people to take a picture of it and post it on social media.  The poster asks people to do some homework, namely to read books like Why Civil Resistance Works, How Nonviolent Struggle Works, and the CANVAS Core Curriculum.  The poster also asks people to watch community organizing videos from Marshall Ganz.

Yesterday afternoon I also received an invitation from a friend of mine to the rally that took place today under a mix of sunshine and rain.  I was given a blessed opportunity to stand at the mic for a few minutes, and here is what I told the people present.

First I gave then my name and I told them my profession.  (For the purposes of this blog I am a "degreed technical professional" although I used a much shorter title in front of the crowd).  Then I said the following:

I am an African-American!  I am also a Christian!  And the Bible says that every human being on earth has the right to the things they need so that they can fulfill their purpose in life!
But there are some people who don't agree with this - they want to take all the good things on earth and keep them for themselves while they deprive the rest of us of everything we need to live a decent life.  How can we overcome them?  How can we liberate ourselves?
It is through nonviolent resistance that we liberate ourselves!  Nonviolent resistance is a way of shifting the power balance between the powerful and the powerless, between the oppressor and the oppressed.  Nonviolent resistance is not just turning the other cheek and turning the other cheek and turning the other cheek until you have no cheeks left!  It is about shifting the power balance between the oppressor and the oppressed!
So I'm going to give you all some homework!  I want you to read: Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.  You all want me to repeat that?! (The crowd answered, Yes! So I did.)  And I want you all to read How Nonviolent Struggle Works! (I repeated this title too.)  You all can download it for free from the Internet.  And I want you to watch some videos by a community organizer named Marshall Ganz. 
Who's going to do their homework?! (A bunch of hands went up.)  If we're gonna liberate ourselves, we've got to learn how!  Do your homework!

A number of cameras were recording me while I was talking.  While I normally don't like that sort of thing, today it was fun.  In fact, I had a lot of fun this weekend!

P.S. Trump's pillars of support keep crumbling.  Over 55 retired military leaders have denounced him, and many of them have endorsed Joe Biden for the Presidency.  Let me just say one thing about Biden.  A trick used by Russian trolls and Russia-influenced media outlets during the 2016 election was to try to paint Hillary Clinton as being just as evil as Donald Trump.  The conclusion these mouthpieces wanted us to make was that "hey, since there's no difference, why vote, it will do no good, blah, blah, blah..."  But to me, there is a clear difference between Trump and Biden.  So I'm going to vote.  (How that must kill you, Vladimir!)  And I'm going to vote for Biden!  (Volodya, that must kill you even more!)  If progress is almost always incremental, we start with what we have instead of refusing to start the journey of progress because it doesn't instantly lead to paradise.  The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.  To refuse to vote or to vote for Trump is a step in the wrong direction.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Defeat of the Violent Flanks

In two of my most recent posts I wrote that protest is not a good method of nonviolent resistance in the age of Trump, because oppressors know how to inject violence into nonviolent protests in order to discredit the protests and legitimize violent crackdowns on protest. But it looks like I’m going to have to eat my words based on the reports I’ve been reading over the last 24 hours concerning the protests over the police murder of George Floyd.

Believe me, I’m quite happy to eat my words just now. Some of the things that are now being reported are wonderful. It now appears that the leaders of the protests have figured out how to separate their protests as far as possible from the violent infiltrators who are coming from the Antifa, the Boogaloo Boys, and other violent white extremist groups. Because the protest leaders and the relatives of those African-Americans recently killed by police violence are insisting that the protests remain peaceful, the protests have gained increased legitimacy among the general public. Because the protest leaders have sought to promote strict nonviolent discipline among the protesters, the protest leaders have been able to get police and National Guard personnel to join with the protesters in showing solidarity with the victims of racist violence, as seen in the many recent media pictures of National Guard troops laying down their shields in support of the protests and police kneeling with the protesters to show their solidarity with the cause of the protests. (See this, this, and this.)  In some cases, police can be seen not only kneeling with the protesters, but holding hands with them and marching with them in solidarity. (See this also.)  And in one case, police who knelt with protesters joined with them in reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

This has made it much harder for Donald Trump to justify sending the U.S. military in to stop the protests. In fact, former President George W. Bush released a statement affirming the right of Americans to protest injustice and calling on Americans to build a society which is just and fair for all. Even televangelist Pat Robertson has spoken against Trump’s call to send in U.S. troops against U.S. citizens. And the U.S. defense secretary has stated that he will refuse any orders by Trump to attack American citizens.  It appears that Trump’s pillars of support are dissolving!

Lastly, it appears that the protest leaders have discovered some of the literature on strategic nonviolent resistance. One of the protest leaders spoke of the triumph of “people power.” The phrase “people power” was used by Filipinos to describe their nonviolent overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos back in the 1980’s. Trump is now starting to look like Marcos, or like Slobodan Milosevic just before OTPOR overthrew him in Serbia's own nonviolent revolution.  The protesters against racism in America have powerfully succeeded in making oppression backfire on the oppressor.

I wonder what Putin’s Russia thinks of all of this, since it is clear that the Russian government has been behind the rise of many far-Right national leaders (including Trump) over the last several years.  It must be hard for him to see that all the work he did to mess up the United States seems now to be going up in smoke. Maybe a people power revolution will come soon to a town near him!

One warning: though there is much good news coming out of the re-emerging movement for racial justice, we can't yet claim victory.  Trump is still President.  Therefore, we must remain vigilant, stay on the offensive, and make ourselves as smart and resourceful as possible.