Resistance

Beverly Gage had an interesting essay in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, A ‘Resistance’ Stands Against Trump.  But What Will It Stand For?  In it Gage discusses the history of the word, resistance, and how it has transformed at various times from being against to finding what it is for.  Right now, when we talk about resisting Trump, or perhaps I should say that when I use the term, I mean taking a stand against his proposed (and some implemented) actions that can remove my civil rights and civil liberties.  I think each participant in the current Resistance stands for his or her own reasons.  So how can we coalesce into a positive movement?

Before Trump’s election, anyone who claimed to have been a member of “the resistance” was most likely over the age of 85, a veteran of anti-fascist struggles in France and other Nazi-occupied territories during World War II. That resistance involved armed conflict and personal risk of the bleakest sort, with guerrilla fighters hiding in the catacombs of Paris while Hitler’s forces did their worst above ground. Under fascist rule, there were no plausible options for political engagement. It was a fight to the death, and in early 1940s Europe, before the arrival of Allied troops, the outcome was far from certain. Talking about resistance still evokes this sense of honorable struggle against an occupying power. It implies patience as well as militancy, the ability to say no over and over and over again, to refuse to cooperate until the whole system crumbles.

After the war, anticolonial movements from South Africa to Northern Ireland found their own strategies of resistance, settling in for long, sometimes bloody fights.

Of course, the American south had “massive resistance” to school integration.  I remember well the year my hometown of Moorestown, New Jersey, hosted a group of young men and women from Prince Edward County, Virginia who were just trying to finish high school after “massive resistance” closed the schools.

The American left created a different language of resistance, much of it focused around the anti-conscription activities of groups like the War Resisters League. This anti-draft sensibility reached its peak in the late 1960s, during the Vietnam War, when student activists proclaimed a transition, per one slogan, “from Protest to Resistance.” As the movement veterans Staughton Lynd and Michael Ferber pointed out in their 1971 book, “The Resistance,” that shift grew out of a desire to embrace “a deeper and riskier commitment, a move that warranted a new term to replace ‘dissent’ and ‘protest.’ ” The goal was no longer simply to object to the war; it was to throw a wrench into the war machine and make it stop. Antiwar activists continued to engage in peaceful protest — but now some also burned draft cards and firebombed R.O.T.C. centers. A small number, like the Weathermen, took up bona fide guerrilla activity, planting bombs at the Capitol, the Pentagon and other prominent buildings.

The Michigan Republican who tweeted that we needed another Kent State to put down the current protests hasn’t read his history:  Kent State stiffed the resistance to the Vietnam War rather than ending it.  I remember the nonviolent movement being galvanized by Kent State.

As the war and its life-or-death stakes came to an end, so, too, did the embrace of resistance as a literal armed underground conspiracy. But while it faded as a political strategy, it began to gain prominence as a category of academic social analysis, the sort of thing that anthropologists and historians looked for in their studies of human societies. This was part of a broader trend toward “social history,” with its insistence that ordinary people — not just generals and politicians — could be the agents of serious historical change. Sometimes this meant studying organized revolts, like slave rebellions or peasant uprisings. By the 1980s, though, “resistance” had come to encompass a much broader set of behaviors. Enslaved or oppressed people might resist by taking up arms, but they might also resist simply by refusing to do as they were told. The political theorist James Scott called these “everyday forms of resistance” — a category that could include giving a sullen look to an employer, deliberately misfiling forms or just living life, as much as possible, on terms of your own choosing.

As I wrote earlier, the current resistance movement allows each participant to participate for her or his own reasons.  But can we become something bigger?  Gage leaves us with some hope.

fist-of-resistance

As a movement-building enterprise, designed to achieve the greatest possible participation, this mode of resistance makes sense. But despite its good cheer, it still emphasizes what is not possible: It says that Trump is about to take a sledgehammer to the nation’s finest institutions and principles and that the only thing most citizens can do is shout “no” as loudly as possible.

Many organizers have vowed that this yawp of dissent represents a beginning rather than an end — and history suggests that they may well be right. Some of the most significant shifts in modern American law and political culture came out of efforts birthed in panic and despair. During World War I, for instance, the United States banned criticism of the government, interned thousands of German Americans and instituted widespread surveillance of immigrants and political radicals. Many Americans supported these policies; others feared that the country was abandoning cherished traditions of tolerance and free speech. In response, a small group of alarmed progressives founded an organization that came to be known as the American Civil Liberties Union. They lost many early courtroom battles, but their vision of a nation in which “civil liberties” were taken seriously eventually changed the face of American law and politics.

If I have any prediction about what the future holds, I think that the women’s movement, the environmental movement, and civil liberties movement will all gain strength as we each decide where to put our energy, time, and money into positive actions.   While we continue to resist it all.

Photograph:  Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

There’s something happening here…

Actually there is too much happening.  Each time I start to pick a topic to write about, there is another headline, another outrageous action taken, another horrid confirmation.  I don’t care whether you support President Bannon – oops, I mean Trump – or not, things are moving so quickly one doesn’t have time to fully judge the consequences.  I’ve decided to follow two rules:  try to stop mocking him and laughing at him.  And pick an area or two and concentrate on them.

Rule number one is difficult:  There is just too much to make fun of coming directly from the Trump Administration.  In the past two days we’ve had the President ask us to pray for Arnold Schwarzenegger since higher ratings mean more money  – not for Arnold but for the President.  I thought he was supposed to divest himself, but obviously the regular rules don’t apply.  For a Black History Month speech, the President told us that Frederick Douglass was still alive at the ripe old age of 122 and still trying to teach us.  At least the last part of that sentence is true as we can learn from reading his writings.  And then we’ve had a fake terrorist attack to justify a travel ban based on religion. Yes, the infamous Bowling Green Massacre concocted by Kellyanne Conway who later explained she misspoke.  But I try not to laugh too hard and keep reminding myself this is really serious business.

Senator Cory Booker was on the Rachel Maddow Show the other night.  He and Rachel talked about protest and opposition fatigue.  This is what I’m trying to avoid with rule number 2.  But I think I’ve picked areas that are just too broad because I’m following civil rights and civil liberties.  They can encompass women’s rights and immigration huge (as our leader would say) topics in themselves.  But I am a woman and the daughter of immigrants.

This is how Charles P. Pierce opens his short February 2 essay We Know How This Ends:  The White House is once again tolerant of white supremacy.  

There are some remarkable stories that have vanished for now in this city. One of the most prominent of these is that out-and-out white supremacy is operating at the very top levels of the executive branch of the government in a way that it hasn’t since, I don’t know, the Wilson administration. The Collected Works of Steve Bannon are bad enough. From USA Today:

“They are motivated. They’re arrogant. They’re on the march. And they think the Judeo-Christian West is on the retreat.”

The last describes many Trump supporters.  The accompanying photograph which I am not including is of the Oklahoma City Federal Building after the April 1995 bombing.
I believe that Steve Bannon, white supremacist, who thinks that immigration is an invasion is the real power in the White House.  He is going to encourage the Timothy McVeigh’s of the world.  He has already given “permission” to the young white Canadian who attacked a mosque in Quebec.   And remember that white supremacy is largely male supremacy.
So we have to be vigilant, try to avoid Bannon/Trump fatigue, and keep pushing back.

A bit of Vermont women’s history

Clarina Howard Nichols’ voice cracked in nervousness. Her heart pounded. She felt faint, and she briefly rested her head on her hand. But she kept speaking, and her words — indeed her very presence — changed Vermont.

The year was 1852, and Nichols was standing behind the speaker’s podium in the Vermont House. Though the state had been founded 61 years earlier, she was the first woman to address the Legislature.

These are the opening paragraphs to Mark Bushnell’s column on Vermont history, Then Again published in VTDigger.

Nichols was speaking because a group of business men and others from Brattleboro had petitioned the Vermont Legislature.

Still, Nichols mustered the courage to stand before the lawmakers and argue for a sliver of equality for women: that they be allowed to vote in school meetings.

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Clarina Howard Nichols became the first woman to address the Vermont Legislature, in 1852.

The men in the Vermont Legislature did not grant women the right to vote on school matters after her speech.

Women wouldn’t get the right to vote in school elections until 1880, at town meetings until 1917 and in statewide elections until 1920.

Nichols was a divorced woman who supported herself and children writing for the Brattleboro newspaper, The Windham County Democrat.  She had left an abusive marriage with the support of her husband’s family at age 29.

Four years later, she married the paper’s editor, George Nichols, who was 28 years her senior.

It was a good match. George Nichols apparently encouraged his wife’s independent streak and relied on her to help produce the paper. Soon after they married, he grew sick and she gradually took over as editor, though she wouldn’t publicly acknowledge her position for years.

When she finally revealed that she was the editor, she started getting invited to speak at women’s rights conventions in the Northeast and as far west as Wisconsin.

Nichols spoke on the issues of her day:  The right of married women to own property and participate in civic affairs.  She later moved to Kansas and spoke on abolition of slavery, but she got her start in Vermont.

Photograph from the Vermont Historical Society.

Race and Gender in the Trump Cabinet

Many of us are paying a lot of attention to important things about the Trump nominees:  Do they believe in Climate Change?  Support torture?  Want to cozy up to Putin?  Create a Muslim Registry?  Know anything about the job they to which they are being appointed?  Important things.  That is why this analysis is so interesting.  It was the headline that caught my eye “Trump’s Cabinet So Far Is More White and Male Than Any First Cabinet Since Reagan.”  Written by Jasmine C. Lee the New York Times story is full of charts and pictures.

If Mr. Trump’s nominees are confirmed, women and nonwhites will hold five of 21 cabinet or cabinet-level positions. He has not yet named nominees for two additional positions.

Those five members will also be in some of the lowest-ranking positions. None of them are in the so-called inner cabinet, the four positions in place since George Washington’s presidency: the attorney general and the secretaries of state, Treasury and defense (formerly called the secretary of war).

Barack Obama had 14. Bill Clinton 12, and George W. Bush 9.  Trump is doing a little better than Reagan who only had two:  Jeanne Kirkpatrick at the United Nations and Samuel Pierce at HUD.

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The cabinet of President Ronald Reagan in February 1981.

The first cabinets of George W. Bush and Mr. Obama were both noted for their diversity. In Mr. Bush’s initial administration, 45 percent of the cabinet and cabinet-level officials were women or nonwhite men. In Mr. Obama’s first cabinet, that figure was 64 percent.

What does it mean that the clock is being turned back on diversity?  I think that diversity and inclusion are bad words to the President-elect.  They certainly are to his supporters.  But I think a great deal is lost when there aren’t persons from different backgrounds, genders, and races at the table.  If everyone is a super-rich white man, who represents the rest of us?  And who represents the Trump voter?

Official White House photo of Obama Cabinet

The cabinet of President Obama in September 2009.

Photograph of Reagan Cabinet from the Reagan Library

Photograph of the Obama Cabinet from the White House

The End of the American Experiment?

After the stunning results of the election on November 8, I was slowly coming to terms with Donald Trump as President of the United States and trying to figure out how best to resist the tide.  But things kept happening.  First, there was news of the Jill Stein recount and the remote possibility that Hillary Clinton could win three more states and thus the election.  Then, there are the so-called Hamilton Electors.  Finally we have the CIA confirming that Russian operatives interfered in the election to make Trump President.

I can understand the Stein recount; I can’t understand why Trump is so opposed.  I thought he was alleging massive voter fraud, especially in Pennsylvania one of the states being recounted so maybe this fraud will be uncovered.  I don’t have a lot of hope that all three states, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania will flip, but even one would eat at his margin in the Electoral College.

Which brings us to the Hamilton Electors.  I heard someone talking about them and had to look up what/who they were.  According to Matthew Rozsa in Salon

With just days to go until the real election of 2016 — the Electoral College — the rogue faction known as the Hamilton Electors is making one last-ditch effort to save America from Donald Trump by denying him the 270 votes he’ll need to be officially named president.

But can the Hamilton Electors convince enough of their fellows in the Electoral College to view Gov. John Kasich of Ohio as our era’s George Washington?

Their leaders, who named their group after Federalist Paper No. 68, say it’s still possible that they’ll succeed.

These so-called Hamilton Electors are, interestingly, led by Democrats.

Remember way back before the Democratic National Convention when the chair of the party was Debbie Wasserman Schultz?  Remember that she was removed after her email showing that she was a Clinton partisan and not neutral as a party chair should have been was leaked.  In a long article in Esquire published in October, Thomas Rid wrote

According to Reuters, the FBI first contacted the DNC in the fall of 2015, obliquely warning the Democrats to examine their network. It wasn’t until May, however, that the DNC asked for help from a cybersecurity company called CrowdStrike, which had experience identifying digital espionage operations by nation-states. CrowdStrike immediately discovered two sophisticated groups of spies that were stealing documents from the Democrats by the thousands.

CrowdStrike was soon able to reconstruct the hacks and identify the hackers. One of the groups, known to the firm as Cozy Bear, had been rummaging around the DNC since the previous summer. The other, known as Fancy Bear, had broken in not long before Putin’s appearance at the St. Petersburg forum. Surprisingly, given that security researchers had long suspected that both groups were directed by the Russian government, each of the attackers seemed unaware of what the other was doing.

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

So while Trump and his advisors may be right in saying they have no reason to believe the CIA, the group that told us Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, a lot of people have known for a long time that Russia was hacking the DNC.  Plus it is now suspected that the Republicans were also hacked but the results never leaked.

Will the revelation of the Russian interference make more electors consider becoming Hamilton electors?  Would this be a good thing?  My long-time friend, Garrett Epps, doesn’t think so.  In his recent column for the Atlantic, he writes

As far as I am concerned, a system in which electors pretend to support one candidate and then go shopping their votes after the fact is dangerous. If you doubt that, consider the frank admission by former Republican vice-presidential nominee Bob Dole that, had the 1976 election been slightly closer, his party was “shopping—not shopping, excuse me. Looking around for electors … We needed to pick up three or four after Ohio.” Turning the post-election pre-vote period into a bidding war would be the one thing most calculated to make the electoral-vote system more of a disaster than it is.

On the other hand, there’s also nothing wrong with saying that on December 19, the electors chosen in November will be responsible for choosing the next president.  Not the voters of their states, not the leaders of their parties.

They themselves. Their individual votes will determine the result.

And each of them must make his or her own choice.

The electors for New Hampshire for example who are all Democrats and all voting for Clinton, have asked for an intelligence briefing before they vote.  Would an intelligence briefing for electors change some Republican minds?  (If you are a Democrat, you really don’t want to be voting for John Kasich, do you?)  I don’t know.  Maybe.

So, as Garrett urges, think about what you would do if you were an elector.

Imagine you were an elector. Imagine you had promised to support a candidate whose platform was American greatness. And imagine before your vote—the vote that would count for history, the vote that could never be recounted or taken back—you received evidence suggesting that the candidate was unfit for the office that he seeks?

And imagine that he wouldn’t do anything to dispel suspicion or refute the evidence.

Don’t look at the popular-vote tracker. Don’t look at the “Founding Fathers.” This is a new problem, and the only place to look is your own conscience.

This is a real crisis for American Democracy:  One candidate won the popular vote by almost three million votes; the other got to the magic 270 in the Electoral College.  Should enough electors decide that in good conscience they can’t vote for Donald Trump because of foreign interference in the election in addition to a growing realization that perhaps he is unfit for the office, what happens next?

Photograph of Putin:  Getty

 

 

Democracy at the local level

Last year I attended the reunion of the Class of 1970 at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD.  (That was the class I actually graduated with even though I am technically 1969.)  Our seminar reading was Democracy in America by de Tocqueville.  A lively discussion ensued one topic being whether the de Tocqueville vision of what we in the 1960s called participatory democracy still survives.  I argued that I thought it did survive at least in New England and particularly in Vermont.  For example, Brattleboro where I live, has citizen committees for everything from planning to finance to trees.  And, yes, while there are sometimes problems in finding sufficient people to serve, I believe committees eventually find volunteers.  Some committees are appointed by the elected Selectboard, while others are appointed at Town Meeting.

Every town in Vermont has town meeting on the first Tuesday of March.  Most towns have an open meeting with all town residents.  Budgets are approved and important issues are discussed and voted on.  These are de Tocqueville’s farmers conducting business.  Here is the link to a nice explanation done for middle school students.  Brattleboro is a little different.  On the first Tuesday, which is a holiday, we vote for people who will represent us at town meeting as well as for other local offices like Select Board, School Board, Lister, and Constable.  All the elected representatives meet several weeks later at Brattleboro’s Town meeting.

I decided to run for Town Meeting Representative, got 14 people (you need 10) to sign my nominating petition and got elected with a respectable number of votes.  Town Meeting this year was divided into two meetings.  The first was on a single question of authorizing the Selectboard to take money allocated for renovations at the current police station and, instead, purchase a building in a new location and move the police station.  I voted “no” because I was opposed to moving an essential government service out of downtown, and we lost big.  There is some move to do a town wide referendum on the question, but I don’t know if that will succeed.  My feeling is that my side lost and we just need to get on with it for the sake of the police officers.

The second meeting was yesterday and was a more traditional town meeting.  We arrived at 8:30 and adjourned about 4:30 with an hour for lunch.  (Unlike smaller towns, we have no pot luck, but a high school club sold us stuff for breakfast and lunch to raise money for a trip to Costa Rico.)  There were 30 articles on the agenda beginning with appointment of the Town Clerk (no controversy there) and accepting the audit reports for the Town and for the Town Schools.  We elected people to the Capital Grant Review, Library, and Finance Committees (I got on that one.)  And then a motion was made to raise the compensation of the Selectboard members. They currently get $3,000 a year with the Chair getting $5,000.  Interesting questions were asked during the discussion including whether increasing the compensation would attract people to run who could not afford to volunteer and whether paying the Selectboard more would change the character of the government from volunteer to professional.  The motion that finally passed was to have the Finance Committee study the matter.  I can see what I will be doing this year!  Interestingly we did decide to raise the Town School Board member pay from $2,000 to $3,000 and the chair from $3,000 to $5,000 to make them the same as the Selectboard.

We voted for modest sums to support a variety of local human service non profits and for tax relief for others.  I don’t think any of those votes were unanimous.  And we approved after much discussion, the town budget and school budgets for the next year.  I am more familiar with general government budgets than with school ones, but the town budget is very lean.

Finally we passed two non-binding resolutions:  First, to eliminate fees for activities at the Senior Center and second, to designate the second Monday in October, Indigenous People’s Day.

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All in all a very interesting day.  I heard a lot of concern about poverty in Brattleboro.  I think the number of children who qualify for free lunch – 62% – shocked a lot of people.  (According to the 2010 Census, the median income for a household in the town was $31,997, and the median income for a family was $44,267.)  I can see this becoming more of a topic for discussion at future town meetings.

We heard a plea for civility at the start and other than some mutterings and calls for points of order when one representative in particular spoke, that request was answered.  I think that if he attended any of the town meetings I’ve read about in the local paper for have friends who attended, de Tocqueville would have no trouble recognizing his democracy in America.

Photograph:  Chris Mayes, Brattleboro Reformer.

Thoughts and questions about reparations

You have to admire Ta-Nehisi Coates for his persistence is getting the discussion started.  In 2014, Coates wrote a long piece in the Atlantic Magazine titled “The Case for Reparations”.  He generated a lot of buzz back then and we are still talking about it almost two years later.  If you haven’t read it, you probably should if you have any interest in race in America.

My parents were incarcerated into “relocation” camps during World War II because of their race.

In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act to compensate more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in internment camps during World War II. The legislation offered a formal apology and paid out $20,000 in compensation to each surviving victim. The law won congressional approval only after a decade-long campaign by the Japanese-American community.

Reparations were easily determined in this instance.  There was a list of everyone who was in a camp regardless of age.  Those who had died in the meanwhile got nothing and their estates and heirs got nothing.  My parents, uncles, and aunts got checks.  But the money was not enough to cover what had been lost, but was more of a token giving the apology some weight.

Coates has recently taken Vermont Senator and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to task for not supporting reparations.

What candidates name themselves is generally believed to be important. Many Sanders supporters, for instance, correctly point out that Clinton handprints are all over America’s sprawling carceral state. I agree with them and have said so at length. Voters, and black voters particularly, should never forget that Bill Clinton passed arguably the most immoral “anti-crime” bill in American history, and that Hillary Clinton aided its passage through her  invocation of the super-predator myth. A defense of Clinton rooted in the claim that “Jeb Bush held the same position” would not be exculpatory. (“Law and order conservative embraces law and order” would surprise no one.) That is because the anger over the Clintons’ actions isn’t simply based on their having been wrong, but on their craven embrace of law and order Republicanism in the Democratic Party’s name.

One does not find anything as damaging as the carceral state in the Sanders platform, but the dissonance between name and action is the same. Sanders’s basic approach is to ameliorate the effects of racism through broad, mostly class-based policies—doubling the minimum wage, offering single-payer health-care, delivering free higher education. This is the same “A rising tide lifts all boats” thinking that has dominated Democratic anti-racist policy for a generation. Sanders proposes to intensify this approach. But Sanders’s actual approach is really no different than President Obama’s. I have repeatedly stated my problem with the “rising tide” philosophy when embraced by Obama and liberals in general. (See hereherehere, and here.) Again, briefly, treating a racist injury solely with class-based remedies is like treating a gun-shot wound solely with bandages. The bandages help, but they will not suffice.

To a certain extent Coates is correct.  Whether one uses the rising tide image or sticks with trickle down, programs begun in the 1960s like affirmative action and various anti-discrimination laws in employment and housing have helped but have not come close to solving the problem that black Americans are more likely to be poor than white Americans.  No one can deny that slaves, former slaves, and their present day descendents have not suffered every form of economic discriminations one can think of because they have.  The question is are reparations a good solution.

Bernie

Conor Friedersdorf provided some speculative reasons why Bernie Sanders is right in not embracing reparations in his recent piece in the Atlantic.

Perhaps Sanders just thinks reparations are bad policy on the merits. There are many plausible reasons that a principled radical might come to that conclusion (though it isn’t entirely clear to me that Sanders is that radical even on matters of class).

Perhaps he is convinced that the highest incarnation of justice is a government that redistributes resources toward its citizens based wholly on their need, and doesn’t want to shift the Overton Window toward any model that is predicated on dessert beyond need, or that would redistribute wealth from poor to rich in some instances.

That seems consistent with principled socialism.

Perhaps when Sanders says that reparations would be divisive, he doesn’t mean that they would damage his campaign or the Democratic coalition by dividing its supporters––the plausible interpretation that Ta-Nehisi argued against in his critiques––but that it would divide Americans of different races against one another in a manner likely to cause more harm to vulnerable minority groups than good, or necessitate a divisive process of bureaucrats defining who qualifies as black.

The Overton Window referred to above is a media pundit term meaning the range of discourse the public is willing to accept.

When I commented on a friends Facebook page during a discussion of reparations that I thought it would be difficult if not impossible to figure out who was owed, another friend commented that maybe that was what Coates was trying to do – get us to talk about the issue.  If that was his aim, to move or enlarge the Overton Window, then he has succeeded.

I have a question for Sanders.  Why not take up Coates’ call to support a study?

…For the past 25 years, Congressman John Conyers Jr., who represents the Detroit area, has marked every session of Congress by introducing a bill calling for a congressional study of slavery and its lingering effects as well as recommendations for “appropriate remedies.”

A country curious about how reparations might actually work has an easy solution in Conyers’s bill, now called HR 40, the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. We would support this bill, submit the question to study, and then assess the possible solutions. But we are not interested.

Perhaps rather than demand reparations now we, Coates included, should push Congress – and all of the Democratic Presidential candidates to support HR 40.   Let’s keep talking about this.

Photograph:  huffingtonpost.com