What’s the Point of Protesting? #womensmarch

Image result for women's marchAfter the shudder and wretch inducing inauguration, the incredibly successful Women’s March on Saturday was balm for a lot of our souls. A reminder that Trump does not have the support of the American people. Which is all well and fine,  but what good does protesting actually do? Especially when the aims of the protest are so nebulous and ill defined? Even if we have the numbers, the bad guys have the power. Does all this marching and protesting actually matter? Are we just yelling to the wind as some critics have charged?

Well, I would argue that protests – especially large, noisy, hard to ignore protests do matter and will make a difference. And this is true even when there’s no specific policy goal or demands being made. Heck, the Republicans have spent the last 8 years (or longer) demonstrating that protest works, even when no one actually agrees with what you are trying to do.

The reason that protests work and are worthwhile has to do with the way that most people think about politics and the political process. Which is to say that they really don’t. Most Americans are what are referred to as “low information voters“, meaning that they aren’t keeping up with all the ins and outs of what’s going on in the political and policy world. And let’s face it, with the complexities and competing narratives surrounding politics, a lot of people are going to struggle to make sense of what’s going on even if they did paying attention. So what most people rely instead when forming their opinions are called heuristics, or rules of thumb, in evaluating the political sphere.

One of the important heuristics which people use when deciding whether a president (or party, but mainly the president) is doing well or not is the presence of open conflict. If there’s open conflict, that sends a signal to voters that the president is not doing his job well. If there’s relative quiet and things are getting done – even if they are things that voters don’t necessarily agree with – that sends a signal to voters that the president is doing a good enough job. This is a well documented phenomena which has strongly influenced which party holds power in the legislative branch for the last 30 years.

Typically, the conflict is created by the politicians from each party on capital hill. But given the Democrats’ demonstrable inability and unwillingness to provoke and sustain conflict, the work of creating conflict has fallen to the American people. While conservatives have been busy having a meltdown over the protests which basically amounts to screeching “shut up stupid women” over and over, this massive show of discontent and opposition sends a powerful signal to the average low information voter that there’s a problem. And when there’s a problem, it’s the president and his party which gets blamed.

Of course, one protest isn’t going to change things, popular though narratives about “protests that changed the course of history” are. In order to bring about change, there needs to be sustained efforts, protests and confrontations which keep the conflict front and center in the public’s eye. At this point it seems likely that those of us who oppose Trump aren’t going to settle quietly back into normal life. The election of Trump has already radicalized a significant number of people. And Trump appears determined to do his part to keep the movement motivated and active.

The problem we face is that Trump and the GOP are authoritarians who don’t much care what the public thinks or wants. And the GOP has managed to gerrymander and essentially cheat their way into a permanent grip on power. Which just makes it all the more important that we continue to engage in frequent, highly visible displays of opposition. While our opposition may not move Trump or lawmakers, the public has the expectation that the president will create peace, not turmoil. Really, there’s nothing that the average Joe blow wants less than a breakdown of social order and the ongoing presence of this conflict will send a powerful signal to them that the president is failing in his most basic tasks and duties.

The danger of pursuing a course of action which maximizes conflict is that Trump’s authoritarian impulses will lead him and/or his supporters to respond with a show of force meant to shut down opposition. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the kinds of state violence which we observed against Standing Rock water protectors will become common place throughout the country.

However, a president who essentially goes to war against his own people will be signing his own resignation papers. Americans value peace and order (at least within our own borders), but at the very core of our identity is that we are a free people. We can be manipulated, but we’re damn hard to exert control over. No president who openly turns on masses of his own people will long endure. And when that president seems to be going out of his way to be as divisive and unpleasant as humanly possible, people are not likely to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I mention the possibility of provoking a dangerous, repressive response because we need to be honest with ourselves about what we’re dealing with. However, I don’t think it will come to that. While it’s been criticized by the “give cheeto Mussolini a chance” brigade, the fact that there is such intense opposition right out the gate will work to our advantage so long as we maintain it going forward. Donald Trump is a thin skinned, vengeful billionaire who isn’t used to engaging in fights that he can’t just buy his way out of. He’s also a megalomaniac who has to bring his own cheering section with him where ever he goes. Either he’s going to start trying to placate us (getting rid of his appointees and advisers who have ties to white nationalists would be a great place to start). Or he’s going to continue to misstep badly. Either way works to our advantage.

Never forget: both reality and the will of the American people are on our side. So protest away! It’s going to make all the difference.

Let’s Be Real About What We’re Looking At Here

I didn’t mean to make this an all Trump Monday, but I suppose it’s appropriate given the electoral college vote this morning. Which I’ll probably have something more to say about tomorrow. But now that that’s done, we have a very serious issue to grapple with that I think we’d be fools not to take seriously. It boils down to three straight facts that probably 90% of American can agree are true:

  1. A white nationalist leader ran our president elect’s campaign and is acting as his personal adviser.
  2. People bought a shit ton of weapons over the last 8 years.
  3. We have seen the development of a branch of media which devotes serious time to explaining why people should distrust, fear and flat out hate libraturds, feminazis, black power movements, intellectuals, the media, educators, lgbt people, scientists and other sorts of people otherwise known as your neighbors and fellow countrymen.

There is such a thing as evil. And in other places when evil has shown its face, this is what it showed up looking like. Lots of weapons, hostility towards “the other” and a media campaign which stoked hatred and fear of “the other” has lead to massive blood shed more than once. I keep trying to think of examples where the above ingredients lead to something else, but none come to mind. Feel free to give me ideas in the comments, because there’s a lot of stuff to know and I can’t know everything. But my concern is that we already know the worst case scenerio and it’s ugly.

Now, this is certainly a dangerous situation – too dangerous to sit back and hope for the best about. There’s a very good reason the bible says to avoid the appearances of all kinds of evil; people aren’t required to wait until it’s too late to respond to the appearance of evil. We have to be realistic about the fact that within living memory open white supremacists were in charge of the country. It’s foolish to think that their will to power disappeared so quickly or that they have developed morals and a respect for fair play over the last few decades.

While all of that is genuinely scary if we let ourselves think about it, we do have advantages that people in places where things have gone way south under these conditions didn’t have. Probably first and foremost, we have a history of freedom in this country. Even the most oppressed American feels free to say what the fuck they want on a regular basis. So we have voices. And not just one voice, but many different voices. The upside of our individualistic culture. Which means diversity, which is going to serve us well.

We also have a solid contingent of people who are committed to love, peace, non-violent resistance, organizing, solidarity and the like who are already activated and networking owing to the BLM and Standing Rock movements. I am consistently impressed with the quality of leadership behind BLM. They have studied the history of various protest movements through out history and have been learning from what worked and what didn’t. The fact that the movement’s still a movement even after everything that’s happened ought to tell you something.

And the Standing Rock movement is not just tapping into, but grounding itself in a deep, deep spirituality. I have friends who have been to the Oceti Sakowin Camp and they say there is just prayer room after prayer room after prayer gathering going on. These people are praying without ceasing. Literally. And I don’t care if you’re a believer or not, religion is a powerful, driving force in human affairs. And the people involved in both of these movements are training people constantly.  So there’s this network under the surface already of people committed to activism and resistance.

And we have technology. Social media. I have a friend who actually marched with Dr. King against the wishes of her very racist family. She was active for years in social justice issues and has been disappointed to see that we’re apparently not nearly as far from where we started as we ought to be by now. But when I asked her what sort of difference it would have made to have had access to today’s technology and she got excited at the very idea of it.

Now, it would be wonderful if Trump turns out to be merely incompetent and not the president who tries to unleash the wrath of hell on us. But those three basic facts mean we need to be fighting now, before things have a chance to start going south fast like they have in other places. I truly believe that whatever happens, we the people of the United States of America and our friends around the world can make it better. And we can do it without returning hate for hate or violence for violence. I’ll talk more about all of this over the next few days and I hope that if you’re reading this, you’re brainstorming about what you can do from where you are and with the voice you have. Because I’m just having a hard time seeing a path forward that isn’t going to require us to fight. And, while I hate to be an I told you so, this situation is exactly what I was warning was coming way back in 2014. So don’t be too quick to write me off here, k? This is not a drill, peeps.

 

I know how to fix our illegal immigration problem

Here’s a juxtaposition for ya: two columns about immigration one by Juan Williams and one by Mark Steyn.
Juan Williams actually claims that the pro-illegal immigration rallies we are seeing are comparable to the black civil rights movement. A couple of facts perhaps Mr. Williams failed to consider: the black Americans who fought the civil rights movement were here because their ancestors were forced here against their will and forced into perpetual servitude. Illegal immigrants are here because they CHOSE to break our laws in order to make money and gain access to our way of life. Black Americans who fought the civil rights movement were full American citizens fighting for the rights guaranteed to them by our constitution. Illegal immigrants are not U.S. citizens and have no rights guaranteed to them under our constitution, but think they should be given such rights simply because they are willing to break our laws and demand them. Black Americans were routinely murdered, disfigured and terrorized if they did something which met with white disapproval. Illegal immigrants are routinely given jobs, medical care, and education for breaking our laws. Black Americans faced (and sometimes still face) actual hatred and racism. Illegal immigrants face legitimate law enforcement. It is a grievous insult to those who fought and died for the rights of black Americans to compare their fight to the demands of people who break laws and face not death, but jobs and social services for it.
In contrast Mark Steyn points out the incredible ineptitude and inefficiency of our legal routes towards immigration and compares that with rewarding someone for coming into the country illegally and acquiring false documents.
Here’s the bottom line: there is not a right for non-native people to be in our country. We have an immigration system which should be overhauled and fixed post-haste, but this does not mean that we have a moral obligation to accept that anyone dishonest enough to break our laws in order to get into the country should automatically be granted a spot at the table. Over at the Corner on the National Review Online, John Derbyshire talks about a friend from Egypt who over stayed his visa in England for a year. The man nearly starved. Here, we give you a job and after awhile say, “oh, why don’t you just stay?”
Here’s my fix for immigration:
1. Fix our legal immigration system. Make it easier, more respectful of families and common sense. Reduce the time, paperwork and hoop-jumping. Make it easier to move in and out of the country with a legal visa in order to accommodate those who really do only want to be here seasonally. Heck, increase the number of visas available. Stop punishing those who are willing to come into the country legally.
2. Require all companies to run the social security numbers of new-hires through an easy to use database of legal social security numbers. We have these things called computers – it’s about time our government figured out how to use them. Divert the money we’d spend on building a wall or whatever towards putting this together and towards drastically increasing enforcement and penalties for companies who hire illegal workers. Once people who come here illegally see that they must either go home or starve here for lack of work, both the existing population of illegals and any considering coming here illegally will lose their incentive for breaking our laws.

We keep hearing that this is a complicated problem and therefore, we must contort ourselves and the law in order to fix it. However, whatever complication there are belong to the individuals who have chosen to break our laws and their families and to the companies who have allowed themselves to become dependant on breaking the law. It is not the government’s job to fix or accommodate the problems created by those who have broken our laws. It is the government’s job to create common sense rules governing the right to reside and work in our country. If this makes things difficult for a company, well it’s a free market system where laws of supply and demand rule even in the sphere of jobs. If your company can’t navigate a free market system, you probably need to take another look at your business model and adjust. If a family has illegal, legal and citizen members, as hard as it may be should our lawmakers ever grow up and fix our laws, they are going to face hard choices. That’s not punitive, unfair or immoral. That’s life. Life is hard. Ask the black Americans who fought a real civil rights movement 50 years ago.