Whither the Resistance?
The incredible outpouring of protest against Trump’s presidency and policies, from the amazing global women’s marches to organizational responses to all of his egregious executive orders, portends a diverse and enormous mass movement. With the most recent executive order banning Muslims from seven countries with Muslim majorities, the rapid mobilization of opposition from a variety of constituencies, even some within the Justice Department and Republican Party, augurs a spreading dissidence.
Already some are calling this vast movement the "resistance." Whether this label is warranted will depend on the degree to which these demonstrations actually challenge repressive power structures not only with public dissent but active disobedience.
For those of us who are veterans of the draft resistance movement of the 1960’s, our actions were aimed at delegitimitizing a system that provided the military with compliant agents for its class-based war machine. While limited in numbers, this resistance spread throughout the society and into the military. As young draftees in Vietnam refused orders and even attacked their officers, the Nixon Administration was forced to end the draft and to begin to bring the troops home.
The draft resistance movement of this period also encouraged acts of solidarity and defiance from adult supporters, like Dr. Spock, and sympathizers, like Daniel Ellsberg. When such supporters and sympathizers were charged with criminal offenses, their court cases were successfully resolved because of constitutional protections under the First Amendment. Nonetheless, whatever the level of activism, it was clear that risks were taken which entailed possible and, in some cases, actual incarceration.
While I hesitate to encourage today’s resisters to court jail sentences, the need to develop creative civil disobedience must be considered if, indeed, authentic resistance is to spread and deepen. Already those political officials and university presidents who have committed themselves, their cities, and their campuses to defying Trump’s crackdown on immigrants provide a clear example of one form of resistance. Of course, the real showdown is yet to come. Whether these sanctuary spaces can withstand federal repression will determine the realization of this resistance and the degree to which it reflects that of the Central American solidarity networks of the 1980’s and the pre-Civil War abolitionist struggles.
Given the direction of Trump’s executive orders and the Republican marching orders, there are numerous actions that already constitute resistance responses. Among these is the continuing native protest at Standing Rock, one that still requires additional ally support. The battles against the DAPL and Keystone XL will necessitate the revival of groups like 350.org and their civil disobedience campaign.
On the other hand, rallying against the proponents of fossil fuel and environmental exploitation might have to look to a whole range of activities from switching to renewables to boycotting the corporations and banks that promote such ecocide policies. This is already underway in efforts to divest from financial institutions and corporations that enable the DAPL. I would also propose using either Earth Day or May Day as a day of a fossil fuel strike. This would mean not relying on any machine that consumes oil or gas.
The escalation of such tactics to a strike obviously may cause hardship, especially to those who have no choice but to work on that day and to take fossil fuel based transportation. However, in a variation on the Montgomery Bus Boycott where civil rights protestors created a fleet of automobiles to keep African-American domestic workers, in particular, off the busses, so caravans of electric or alternative fuel vehicles could be assembled for those in dire employment situations.
Such a turn towards self-reliance and solidarity in the resistance could be undertaken in other arenas of struggle. For example, as Trump and his misogynist and fundamentalist minions attempt to curtail abortion services, a new underground railroad could be constructed to move vulnerable women in rural areas to nearby cities with family planning clinics that offer abortion services. Doctors and nurses committed to the resistance may even consider locating free clinics in more remote areas with ample supplies of the Plan B drug.
Resistance movements will obviously require certain levels of sacrifice, but ones that, at the same time, should prefigure the kind of society where common goods and services are readily available to all. Without replicating the free stores and coops of the 60’s, there are other options that new technologies, like 3D printers and such, may make possible, facilitating in the process communities of resistance.
Certainly, resistance movements will face a decidedly antagonistic reaction from Trump and his majority Republican government. However, as Frances Fox Piven, recently wrote in The Nation: "In the face of an unrelenting hostile regime…resistance movements, by blocking or sabotaging the policy initiatives of the regime, can create or deepen elite and electoral cleavages." Beyond this kind of political contestation, resistance movements may also harbor the hopes and practices of an alternative America where new forms of solidarity and self-determination will become the beacon for fundamental change.