Our Resistance Must Not Descend into Chaos: Practical Suggestions for a Growing Movement

Fires burned at the University of Californiate - Berkeley on Wednesday night after Black Bloc protesters overwhelmed a student-led demonstration against a planned speech by the white nationalist provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. (Photo: Mikaela Raphael/Daily Californian)

Our Resistance Must Not Descend into Chaos: Practical Suggestions for a Growing Movement

As we come to grips with what is happening, we must not descend into mass hysteria. Operating on a reactionary basis will not lead to constructive dialog, and it certainly will not lead to positive change.

"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." -Fredrick Douglas.

"By the way, I think anger is a good thing. This country is in a crisis. And if you're fighting to save this country, if you're fighting to take this country back, it's not going to be sunshine and patriots." -Steve Bannon

The United States of America is in political crisis, and the whole world is watching. The horrifying decline of the American empire is unfolding before our eyes. We are witnessing the final stages of a wholesale corporate takeover of our government and the deterioration of our political system. It is happening in plain sight.

The availability of information makes it nearly impossible to ignore the dreadful conditions in our communities and around the nation. The ascent of Donald Trump into the White House, along with his "cabinet of deplorables" full of bankers, billionaires, bigots, and climate-change deniers, is indicative of our failing republic. It is not irrational to use the words "proto-fascist," "corporate coup d'etat" or "inverted totalitarianism" to describe our situation.

Emotions are high, and tens of thousands of people are assembling in the streets to express their frustration, many for the first time. As we come to grips with what is happening, we must not descend into mass hysteria. Operating on a reactionary basis will not lead to constructive dialog, and it certainly will not lead to positive change.

It is imperative that we base our words and actions on a sound theoretical and historical framework. It is important that we gather ourselves, breathe, and reflect. Our current situation did not suddenly happen with the election of Donald Trump, and its reversal will not be sudden, either. It took time to create this mess, and it will take time to undo it. We must not act in haste.

This does not mean we normalize anything, and we certainly should not retreat into despair or apathy. It does means, however, that we take immediate direct action in every aspect of our personal and professional lives--but our actions should not be guided by fear, hate, or anger. "This is the path to the dark side," as Yoda said.

We are undoubtedly on the brink of the most scandal-prone administration in history, which will create space for change. But what kind of change? It is up to us to build an alternative that leads to a more just society--or we could easily descend into mass hysteria, irrational actions, and violence.

What starts as manageable, well-behaved, peaceful demonstrations can quickly turn ugly if protesters do not have a sound theoretical framework to guide their actions. This is especially true for individuals who are new to political activism and who have not yet cultivated an understanding of non-violent resistance as a complex strategy to enact social change. We could easily find ourselves getting out of control.

The national Women's March was a beautiful demonstration of peace to inaugurate the resistance; since then, massive demonstrations have spontaneously erupted in airports and courthouses, and marches are planned to support science and to demand that Trump release his tax returns. These are peaceful events.

However, if history offers any lessons for the present moment, these peaceful demonstrations could diminish into chaos: People will become angrier the more they are put in the crosshairs of Trump's dangerous policies, and the angrier people become, the more impatient and aggressive they will grow. This increases the likelihood for violence.

To be clear, anger is a rational response given the reality of our situation, and violence plays a complex role in social change. Rioting is the language of the unheard, as Martin Luther King pointed out. People feel they have no other choice when democracy no longer works, when institutions are unable to respond to basic grievances, and when all other mechanism for social change fail.

There could be spontaneous flash mobs and rioting with no planning or coordination, and groups, such as the Black Bloc, could deliberately try to incite violence by hijacking peaceful demonstrations with petty violence. Aggressive protesters will lead to aggressive policing and vice versa, as in Ferguson and Baltimore. Standoffs between citizens and law enforcement could create a cycle of violence.

Things could get ugly. Here are some practical suggestions to ensure our actions are based on good ideas that lead to social change.

  • Try to fully cultivate how you see and interpret things. Your beliefs will determine your political actions. It is not enough to be anti-Trump. We must articulate solutions to the status quo, and work to build an alternative. This means our political actions must be based on good ideas and an understanding of history.
  • To do this, spend time reading substantive material. Reading the news is not enough. Read books. Read serious books about class, power, and social change. Books provide information and in-depth analysis of the "bigger picture" that is easy to miss by just reading the news. Books have much less noise, and they provide clarity that makes it easier to understand the world.
  • Read history books. History will help you understand the present moment, and it provides a prescription for social change. Start with Howard Zinn.
  • There is a constant barrage of news, and it is more important than ever to identity credible information from misinformation, with alternative facts, climate change denial, and media spin. Slow down and read books.
  • And remember, fake news is nothing new: Newspapers have always had sections on entertainment, lifestyle, real estate, sports, and business. Much of this can be regarded as "fake news," leaving a small portion of the newspaper for real news, of which only a small percentage is investigative.
  • Get your news from independent media outlets. This has never been more important. Independent media exposes the real-world impact of bad policies, and it reports political change when it is happening.
  • Watch Democracy Now! every single day.
  • Pay for your news. Donate money to independent media sources, starting now.
  • Devote the entire 7-10 minutes it takes to read news articles in their entirely--starting with this one! Do not skim articles or read them halfway. Read all the information provided, and absorb the author's intent.
  • Focus on Trump's actions rather than his words and Tweets. His words, character, and tone are certainly important, but do not be distracted by his deliberate attempt to deceive the media. Steve Bannon is in the White House for a reason. Do not repeat their lies; doing so gives them credibility.
  • It is not enough to bring awareness to issues in the form of large rallies and public demonstrations. Direct action must be taken to undermine the power structure, and there may be times when we have to physically impede actions of the state through nonviolent civil disobedience. Water protectors at Standing Rock have been doing this for months. How many of us are willing to impede the construction of Trump's wall with our bodies? There will be an increased risk and sacrifice on our part as we expand the types of actions we use--but we must maintain nonviolent discipline. Nonviolence is an efficient way to enact change.
  • Join a grassroot organization that has local chapters across the entire nation. The Left needs to consolidate into larger organizations, rather than create smaller ones. Larger organizations already have at least some organizational framework in place. Precious effort and time is wasted by continuously building new organizations from scratch. Join a local organization that has national reach.
  • Work to endorse national leaders. The Left needs individuals with large media platforms who can articulate an alternative to the status quo. Michael Moore is a wonderful example, but we need powerful civil rights leaders who can organize and lead entire movements. We need a Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • In order to consolidate grassroot organizations and empower leaders, we have to stop quibbling over small ideological differences. This means we should stop zeroing in on identity politics. We divide ourselves when we organize around narrow causes along strict lines of race, religion, and sexuality. Our corporate overlords do not care about multiculturalism. Intersectionality of race, gender, environmental protection, and other struggles have to be linked with taking on the millionaires and billionaires who control our lives.
  • We must unite the working class, which means we cannot dismiss Trump supporters as nothing more than bigots and racists. Reach out to them to share your perspective in a respectful manner. This is supposed to be a democracy. People with different opinions are not the enemy.
  • But do not spent large amounts of time debating right-wing friends and family on social media, and do not waste time on trolls. We do not need to convince everyone to enact social change.
  • For those who are new to political activism: Do not assume you know everything. Reach out to experienced activists, and do your homework on nonviolent resistance.
  • For those who are experienced activists: Be patient with individuals who are becoming politically conscious for the first time. Suggest independent media sources and books, and help new activists base their political actions on good ideas.
  • The resistance must be nonviolent to the core; violence is not an option. Be suspicious of small pockets of people wearing all-black clothes at rallies. It could be the Black Bloc, the cancer that grows in movements. Individuals who enact intimidating tactics, such as pushing, throwing rocks, setting fires, or knocking over trashcans, should be disavowed and discouraged at all times, even when their members punch Nazis in the face. Petty violence does not offer solutions. It is lazy activism.
  • The police are not the enemy--but they do have weapons. Police departments have access to equipment normally available to the army: armored vehicles, helicopters, night-vision goggles, body shields, machine guns, surveillance drones, and stingrays. Stricter protest laws are being proposed, and Section 1021 of The National Defense Authorization Act provides the legal framework for repression.

Donald Trump exemplifies what it means to take action without thought. This must not happen to us. Our actions must be based on good ideas. I do not have all the answers--but I know freedom is a constant struggle and power concedes nothing. It is absolutely up to us to mount a resistance to loosen the oligarchic grip on our lives. Change only occurs when enough people are willing to organize and take action. Democracy is an action word.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.