Thursday, February 15, 2018

Trumped up treason

“Somebody said 'treasonous.' I mean -- yeah I guess, why not. Can we call that treason? Why not. I mean, they certainly didn't seem to love our country very much.”
--Donald Trump on Democratic Senators and Congress members who didn’t clap for him in his State of the Union speech.

Really? We have a temporary resident of the White House whose definition of loyalty to the United States of America is loyalty to, and expressed enthusiasm for, his boneheaded ideas and false claims of greatness? We would expect such autocratic monomaniacal pronouncements from Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Rodrigo Duterte, or any other egomaniac warlord. Hitler and Stalin were such demented oppressors. Saddam Hussein, Augusto Pinochet—the anti-democratic autocrats are easy to name.

If the new definition of treason is being willing to not clap for Trump’s utterances, I hereby formally and publicly admit to treason.

If we still live in a democracy, I charge Trump with treasonous statements. If there were one united value embedded in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, it is the right to dissent, politically and publicly, without fear of reprisal. Let the views contend in our public discourse.

Instead, this is how a country slides from democracy toward dictatorship, one thought control episode, one veiled threat, after another. We are on a very slippery slope here and the signs are not good.

We have zero guarantees of the future of democracy in the US. Indeed, Freedom House, a nonpartisan think tank which measures and ranks all countries on Earth every year in the aggregate values and indices of democracies, has us sliding downward. They analyze both the US role in promoting democracy worldwide and practicing it at home. They note that this slide began slowly in 2010—the year the Republican rightwing gained control of the House--and is accelerating dramatically since Trump took office.

Meanwhile, we see the strongman sort of government using Trump’s tactics now and in history. In Cambodia in September, dictator Hun Sen trumped up charges of treason against a candidate for office, Kem Sokha, who dared to call for peaceful changes toward more democracy and more human rights. Sokha faces 30 years in prison, where he has been since his arrest five months ago.

In Venezuela in August, despot Nicolas Maduro engineered a path to charge political opponents with treason, targeting Julio Borges and other opposition leaders with potential arrest and imprisonment. Borges is out of office as of last month.

This is a slippery slope toward tyranny. Trump is the most treasonous occupant of the White House since Richard “Break-and-Enter” Nixon. He too deserves a swift exit from power for his foul rule, his abdication of responsibilities to defend democracy and right to dissent, and his lies about collusion with Russian government operatives to steal our election.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

GNAD and core lessons

The Global Nonviolent Action Database is a treasure chest of knowledge useful to those of us who are students and practitioners of nonviolent civil society struggle, particularly if we are more inclined to winning and less interested in hairshirt actions that might only bring suffering with little chance for policy success. What you will notice in particular is the interlocking nature of these elements of a successful movement to affect public, institutional, or corporate policies.
To illustrate, let’s consider the following aspects of nonviolent movements and campaigns and take lessons from that database:

Nonviolent discipline

When, on 1 December 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr implored participating campaigners to maintain nonviolent discipline. He said, “Be calm as I and my family are. We are not hurt and remember that if anything happens to me, there will be others to take my place.” That struggle pitted a minority against a hostile majority and yet the year-long strict adherence to King’s code of nonviolence gave the campaign victory in the majority US public opinion and victories in the courts.

Media work

When the poorly paid janitors at the University of Miami sought higher pay and benefits, they only finally succeeded after a savvy campaign featuring good media work that highlighted their conditions and the opulent lifestyle of the university officials. Oscar Wilde was not correct when he claimed, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” The best outreach cannot overcome the backfire if nonviolent discipline is not maintained. Media work can overcome the potentially damaging effects of violence done by those who claim to be acting in concert with a nonviolent campaign when the organizers of the nonviolent campaign strenuously distance their movement from any act of violence. Failure to do so usually results in the diminution of a campaign.

Coalition building

In the British Virgin Islands it appeared inevitable that wealthy developers would be building more resorts in places that were renowned for their natural beauty and environmental sensitivity. One large project –approved by the Premier and sanctioned by the government for Beef Island starting in 2007—however, was stopped by excellent coalition-building work by the opposition. The cultural heritage activists joined with environmental activists and other local groups, but even more impressively, they sought and got external support for their coalition, including donations and statements of support from thousands of people living elsewhere, effectively strengthening their coalition. While they believe some development might still occur, they believe it will be done to state-of-the-art practices to preserve ecological and cultural resources.


While different campaigns have embraced various forms of decision-making, the general principle that seems constant is that, once the irrevocable decision is made by the initial organizers to commit to a behavior code of nonviolence, it is then important to agree on the method of making other decisions. Some movements tend to have a small group of deciders who then pass along those decisions to participants. Others adopt a consensus process, more time-consuming but more egalitarian and tending toward greater sustainability if done while respecting the code of nonviolent behavior. The British women who began their peace camp at the US military base at Greenham Common on 5 September 1981 committed to nonviolence and to a consensus decision-making process. This campaign continued through the remainder of the Cold War, even past the point where their stated goal—the elimination of the nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from Greenham Common USAF base—had been completely achieved.


The general public—and many activists—seem at times to have a very small repertoire of actions—carry signs in the streets to protest, sit down in blockade and get arrested to resist. Scholar Gene Sharp, however, listed and categorized 198 methods of nonviolent action in 1973 and many more methods have been created since. Indeed, the hard-wired human response to mortal threat is a range from flight to fight to posing to abject surrender and to the only human quality that gives hope to nonviolent conflict transformation—the illimitable creativity of the human mind. The GNAD offers many case studies featuring highly innovative, adaptive methods. One such example is the 1999-2000 effort to save community gardens from demolition in New York City. In 1998, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani decided to permit removal of gardens that were where developers wished to build. A network of activists formed the Esperanza Garden campaign and swung into a highly creative struggle to challenge this, involving actions by activists in plant, poultry and insect costumes, parades, garden camp-ins, lawsuits in court, garden parties, bonfires, cookouts, human chains in lockdown, a 200-person floating party, replanting bulldozed gardens, and much more. There were setbacks, but good media work, strong nonviolent discipline even when clubbed by cops, and fresh attention-getting actions consistently built the ranks of coalitional partners and swelled the people power vs corporate money struggle to a level that cost the elected officials increasing losses in legitimacy. Finally, “the Esperanza campaign radicalized a generation of garden activists and laid the groundwork for the 2002 garden settlement that allowed for the construction of over 3000 affordable housing units while preserving almost 500 community gardens.”


Some community organizers simply hold that no decision should be made without first pondering the impact on recruitment. It is not enough to assert, “If we do this action in this manner it will tend to attract this demographic.” It is far more effective to estimate both how many will be attracted and now many will be repelled. The net number is crucial. If “punching a Nazi” attracts a few hundred hardcore street brawlers but alienates the rest of the pool of potential participants, that “movement math” should help the deliberative process. A tough nonviolent campaign in Pakistan from 2007-2009 featured highly effective participant recruitment to oppose the evisceration of the judiciary and the decimation of the Constitution. “On March 9, 2007, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry from his duties on the Court in response to Chaudhry’s challenges to his Presidency.” Started by a small group of lawyers and growing to many thousands of them, they were able to field a half million from many sectors of society to march on Islamabad in 2008 and when they began another on 12 March 2009 the government caved. “That night all of the judges, including Chaudhry, were restored to their position and the lawyers’ movement won its final victory. The judiciary had regained its autonomy.”

Strategic planning

While there is never a guarantee of success, a seriously researched and developed strategic plan will increase the chances for a victory. In January 2014 the governors of six New England states announced plans to build a natural gas pipeline to carry two billion cubic feet of fracked natural gas per day. Opponents engaged in such effective strategic planning that they were able to direct simultaneous actions, educational sessions, and mini-campaigns to resist the fracking even as they promoted clean energy alternatives. They enlisted the town and county officials in the path of the proposed pipeline to pass resolutions of opposition and when the route was changed in response, more municipalities joined in the campaign. By April 2016 the clear majority won and the plan was ended.
published in Nonviolence: A magazine for practical idealists Winter/Spring 2018