Focus on the Silver Lining
By Peter Bergel
The election is over and Trump won. In a country with a sane election system, he would not have, but we have the Electoral College, so he did. In Joe Hill’s immortal words, “Don’t mourn; organize!”
Hidden in those words is one of the silver linings that surrounds Trump’s cloud. Look around. People are organizing as they have not done since 2003, when the Iraq invasion was imminent, and maybe even not since the 1960s anti-war efforts. People are coming together to protect each other from racist attacks, support the water protectors at Standing Rock, counter hate speech with love, sustain the environmental gains we have struggled for, continue efforts to halt climate change, reorganize the Democratic Party, protect a woman’s right to choose, and more.
In addition, protests have sprung up spontaneously all over the country, some of them involving people not old enough to vote. While complaining about the election results will not change anything, such protests offer a path to building a movement that can make serious change, as a recent New York Times article explained. Indeed, it is remarkable that the Times would respond to the election by publishing such an article.
Others are demonstrating outside the banks that fund the Dakota Access Pipeline. When I did that with a local group recently, one of the banks immediately locked its doors and its customers could not get in!
In my home town of Salem, Ore. a city councilor posted flagrantly racist materials on his Facebook page. The spontaneous uproar that ensued was immediate and intense, leading to his resignation and even to his losing his job.
There is encouraging news on the foreign relations front as well. Trump’s website reported shortly after the election that Trump and Vladimir Putin “discussed a range of issues including the threats and challenges facing the United States and Russia, strategic economic issues and the historical U.S.-Russia relationship that dates back over 200 years.” Rather than pursuing the tense relations that have steadily worsened in recent months giving rise to fears of nuclear war, “President-elect Trump noted to President Putin that he is very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia.”
The Struggle of Our Lives
All that said, we all know that we are about to face the struggle of our lives if we are to avert disasters for the environment, human rights, good government, equity, healthcare, workers’ rights, human decency, politics and a host of other controversial issues. Still, we need to acknowledge that Trump’s candidacy and victory did not cause any of these crises. All were there before. We fear that his administration will make them worse — because his candidacy already has; it is our job to see that he does not succeed.
We stand at a crossroads from which things can get a whole lot worse, but they can also get a lot better. Let us choose the latter course!
Each of us will be drawn to the issues and tactics that resonate for us. Please don’t try to convince others that your cause is “the most important.” They are all important. Instead, thank each person who is working on any of them – even those you never thought about or thought were important. Come to appreciate how intimately interconnected they all are. They are varying forms of resistance to domination, and efforts to replace it with cooperation. Replacing domination with cooperation has a short name – “nonviolence.”
No one is saying this is going to be easy. It’s not. It’s going to be one of the hardest things our country has ever attempted, if not the hardest. However, the stakes have never been higher either. The reward of success will be happier, more secure, more fulfilled, healthier people living together more peacefully and gracefully. The price of failure could well be the extinction of our species from this planet, taking many other life forms with us.
100 Days of Peace and Justice
So here’s a specific suggestion, recently offered by a friend: as Donald Trump follows his inauguration on January 20 with 100 days of revealing to us what his administration’s agenda is going to be, let us begin 100 Days of Peace and Justice during which we reveal what our agenda is going to be. Never in the history of the world has there been a leader who was able to govern without the cooperation – or at least the acquiescence – of the governed. Let us make it clear that we will only accept governance that meets our needs and aspirations. Under the umbrella of 100 Days of Peace and Justice we can speak with a unified voice on all the issues we care about by demonstrating what we want and resisting what we do not want. Initiate projects that fire your enthusiasm and refuse cooperation with those that do not represent you. No overall coordination is required. As the overused slogan says: Just do it.
A Few Examples
Initially protests will come to mind. Protest if you wish, but I believe we must go beyond protesting to demonstrating what we want and how to refuse what we do not want. For example:
• Wear the safety pin and be ready to back it up. It says you are a person who will not accept mistreatment of others in your presence and will help resist it. That involves intervening if violence is threatened, of course, but also if racial slurs, misogyny, bullying or any kind of personal domination appears in your environment.
• Set an example of ecologically conscientious behavior. Don’t waste resources. Choose ecologically sound products, resist unsound ones, and cultivate behaviors and attitudes that protect the planet and its systems. Let others know what you are doing.
• Take an interest in, and become better informed about, foreign relations. Don’t trust everything you receive from the mainstream media. Seek out alternative sources to balance them.
• Support local businesses, boycott irresponsible marketing and marketers, reward good corporate citizens with your business. Tell others.
• Turn up at government hearings that concern you, let your representatives at all levels know what you want and what you do not want, support candidates you like, and demand action on important issues. Object when money is used to pervert the democratic process.
• Resist the violence that flows into our homes, schools, workplaces and lives on a daily basis via entertainment, video games, language and attitudes. Interrupt it and replace it with healthier alternatives. Join a mentoring program.
• Taxes are the price we pay for civilization. Accept them as necessary. At the same time, insist that your taxes be used for the good of the community. If they are misused or wasted, find ways to resist.
In closing, a word about nonviolence — it is crucial to ultimate success in this endeavor for a number of reasons:
• If we use violence, or threats of violence to coerce cooperation, we are selling out the fundamental paradigm shift we need to achieve.
• Recent research has shown that nonviolence is twice as likely to be successful as violence, and is much more likely to have lasting results.
• Any form of social change requires a large, but not huge, number of actively involved people in order to be successful. Violence turns many people off and thus is counter-productive. It also makes it much more difficult for very young, elderly and alter-abled people to become involved.
• Violence is often initiated by oppressors hoping to tempt their opponents to violence in order to discredit them. Think of the difference in public reaction to the recent window-breaking demonstration in Portland, Ore., vs. the determined nonviolence of the Standing Rock water protectors, even in the face of massive provocation.
We won’t know how much power we can wield until we try. Now is not the time to err on the side of timidity.Φ
Peter Bergel is a lifelong activist and organizer whose experience includes work in the movements for peace, civil liberties, civil rights, nuclear weapons and power abolition, the environment and fair trade.