WHEN AIRPORTS WERE SHUT DOWN IN RESPONSE TO THE #MUSLIMBAN, SOME PEOPLE CHOSE TO CRITICIZE THE TACTICS. THEY WERE WRONG TO DO SO.
The opening salvos of a Trump Presidency have been even worse than feared. In the first seven days alone we saw all mentions of climate change, LGBTQ and civil rights vanish from the White House website, scientists gagged, steps taken towards illegalizing abortion, executive orders on the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, an unconstitutional ban on Muslims entering the country, the starting gun for the building of a wall on the Mexican-American border, the illegal placing of an unqualified racist in charge of the nation’s foreign policy and a promise to cut all federal funding to Welcoming Cities.
That such a week resulted in huge outpourings of dissent should surprise no one There would be something gravely wrong if it did not.
Some of the largest protests — which came a week after what has been called the the largest coordinated protest in American history — came after the #MuslimBan.
After Trump signed an executive order to ban people from seven Muslim countries entering the United States, protests broke out at airports across the country. At Sea-Tac, thousands marched through the airport chanting "No hate, no fear. Refugees are welcome here."
Later, many hundreds attempted to shut down the airport, blockading entrances and exits with their bodies, as they sought to prevent people from entering or leaving.
These tactics have since been criticized by some well-meaning and good-hearted people. Such criticism, however, I fear, is not only misguided, but dangerous. To understand why, it is important to understand both the severity of the threat that we face and how power works.
Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action was first published in 1973. Sharp is widely recognized as the founding father of the academic field of civil resistance and his theories on how power works have -- albeit disputably -- been credited with helping to spur revolutions and overthrow dictators in Serbia, Egypt and Tunisia among others.
The following sentences appear early in The Politics of Nonviolent Action:
"The most important single quality of any government, without which it would not exist, must be the obedience and submission of its subjects. Obedience is at the heart of political power."
Sharp continues to augment this argument, as he contends that any ruler -- be it a dictator or a President -- is dependent upon the submission and obedience of their subjects in order to rule:
“The degree to which the ruler succeeds in wielding power and achieving his objectives ... depends upon the degree of obedience and cooperation [they are able to achieve]”.
In this Sharp is echoing sentiments expressed by Mahatma Gandhi a generation earlier:
“government of the people is possible only so long as they consent either consciously or unconsciously to be governed.”
In short, this is why it is so important that we disobey under Trump: without the obedience of the majority of people, the majority of the time, it will become far more difficult for Trump to rule effectively — taken to the extreme, it becomes impossible.
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There is a long, yet largely ignored, history that gives credence to Sharp’s theory of power. It is glimpsed every time a social movement has won a victory following its removal of obedience from a system: Roman plebeians winning concessions from government by removing their obedience; the nonviolent Russian revolution of 1905-1906 meeting with considerable success; civil disobedience preventing the success of the Kapp coup d’etat in Berlin in 1920; the fall of the dictator Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia.
In America, too, the successes of various nonviolent social movements — women’s suffrage, the restriction of child labor, the implementation of workplace safety, the outlawing of many forms of discrimination — point to the truth of Sharp's basic theory of power. In all of these instances, politicians have been pushed to provide legislative remedies to grievances expressed by mass numbers of people removing — or threatening to remove — their obedience from the system.
Yet, of course, simply saying that all we have to do to topple Trump is refuse to obey borders on the asinine when coupled with the true complexity of the task. But this fact does not detract from the simple truth that our obedience is essential to Trump’s ability to rule. And that would be my very simple response to those critical of the SeaTac airport protests, to ask them to remember this. Because one thing is for sure, the threat that Trump poses to our basic liberties, to the lives of millions and to the very habitability of our planet is not normal, and we cannot behave as if it is.
For if we behave as if it is normal, then it will, of course, become normal.
Thanks for reading the blog. Hopefully it might help you just a little to keep resisting. If it didn't, well, shit, my bad, I failed on that one.
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