What Resistance Means

by Berry Friesen (February  10, 2017)

Earlier this week, I read Chris Hedges latest essay, “Make America Ungovernable.”  He makes a bleak forecast: “Donald Trump’s regime is rapidly reconfiguring the United States into an authoritarian state.”

In response, Hedges calls for the immediate organization of a movement of resistance: “Now is the time to resist. It is our last chance. The fanatics are moving with lightning speed. So should we.”

Hedges is a journalist with extensive international experience; up close, he has seen authoritarian governments at work.  He is fiercely opposed to militarism and imperialism, a perceptive analyst of what he calls “the liberal betrayal” of working class Americans, and a severe critic of both political parties.  I respect his work and take his forecast seriously.

Yet I find aspects of Hedges’ forecast to be hyperbolic.  For example, he apparently expects the checks-and-balances built into our system—the thee-way separation of powers, the residual authority of state and local governments—to collapse in a matter of months.  I do not expect this to happen.

On the other hand, were some highly dramatic event to further roil the public mood (and recent history shows such events typically occur during the first year of each new administration), then we could see a rapid consolidation of power in the Trump Administration just as Hedges predicts.  I remember the dark days after 9/11, when stories of anthrax attacks filled the media and America’s fabled checks-and-balances became paralyzed by fear. *  Then the Bush Administration had virtually a free hand to impose its will on America and used the opportunity to pass the Patriot Act and launch wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We dare not forget this history nor relapse into naiveté.

Equally important is that we think about the images of “resistance” we carry images in our heads.  Now is a good time to review and update those images.

In his essay, Hedges writes briefly about a nationwide work stoppage as one way we may be asked to resist what he sees coming.  Would you or I participate in such a strike action if one were called? I’m guessing it would depend on the circumstances at the time.

Political scientist James C. Scott broadens the meaning of “resistance” to include unorganized activity.  His Weapons of the Weak describes how peasants living in a Malaysian village struggled to retain a measure of autonomy from state and corporate control.  Rather than outright defiance, they resorted to conduct often perceived to be personal and idiosyncratic:  negotiation, gossip, petty theft, foot-dragging, feigned ignorance, poor performance, and so on.  These “everyday forms of resistance” have certain advantages, says Scott:

“They require little or no coordination or planning; they often represent a form of individual self-help; and they typically avoid any direct symbolic confrontation with authority or with elite norms.

“Everyday forms of resistance make no headlines. Just as millions of anthozoan polyps create, willy-nilly, a coral reef, so thousands of individual acts of insubordination and evasion create a political or economic barrier reef of their own. There is rarely any dramatic confrontation, any moment that is particularly newsworthy. And whenever, to pursue the simile, the ship of state runs aground on such a reef, attention is typically directed to the shipwreck itself and not to the vast aggregation of petty acts that made it possible.” **

Sharon (my wife) and I practice war tax resistance.  It is a quiet way of opposing imperialism and building that “reef” Scott speaks of.  Certainly any of us considering resistance to the Trump Administration will want to consider whether this is the year to pay less than the full amount due on Form 1040.  (For help in thinking that through, go here or here.)

Tony Cartalucci combines “everyday resistance” with purposeful intent in his essay, “So You Want to Start a Resistance?” After explaining how our political crisis goes much deeper than the Trump Administration, he describes two major economic sectors where alternative business models have been effective at subverting authoritarian control:   locally-supported agriculture and the alternative media.  Writes Cartalucci:

“Americans must realize by now, having protested the war in Iraq in 2003 only to be completely ignored and have the war rage for now 16 years under both a Republican and Democrat president, and having protested almost continuously since President Trump's election in 2016, that protests alone accomplish nothing.

“Without leverage, the special interests that dominate American politics have absolutely no reason to listen. By cutting these interests off from the very source of their strength—and channeling that strength instead into local movements like organic agriculture, alternative energy, local manufacturing, alternative media and entertainment, and alternative currencies—we empower ourselves with overwhelming leverage—not only to exact our demands from our elected officials, but to implement policy locally without conferring with or receiving ‘approval’ from Washington in the first place.”

So yes, let’s seriously consider participating in conventional forms of resistance:  vigils, calling our members of Congress, participating in a nationwide strike.

But let’s also value everyday resistance—the informal ways a subculture painstakingly constructs a life outside the authoritarian mainstream.  To review, this can include:

--patronizing local merchants (e.g., not Amazon or Wal-Mart) and local food growers;
--failing to cooperate with the enforcement of unjust laws;
--supporting alternative news media (that’s not National Public Radio) with your dollars;
--supporting local refugee resettlement efforts;
--joining a credit union and avoiding New York Stock Exchange investments;
--failing to pay the full amount of federal income tax due;
--living locally and minimizing use of carbon-based energy sources;
--loving our country but refusing to regard it as "an exceptional nation;"
--voicing skepticism about official statements on terrorism; and
--repenting of loyalty to either War Party (Republican or Democrat).

Finally, let’s recognize that religious faith enables us to imagine alternatives to the authoritarian/corporate way. As Kim Domenico puts it in “Revolutionary Lessons from Flyover Country,”

“Religion—even the conservative evolution-denying kind—is a way of applying an imagination-based program to enlarge the meaning of everyday committed life in families, in communities, stable over lifetimes.  Religion—the inner adventure that must be taken on—is key to the very project we are interested in: halting the unstoppable barbarism of corporate capitalism allied with American militarism and imperialism, and restoring a way of life that supports generativity, caring, neighborliness, and the pleasures of humanity-affirming culture.”
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* The October, 2001 anthrax attack shutting down Congress is one of the most chilling events in US history.  Anthrax developed and weaponized in top secret US government labs was used in the attack; thus undisputedly, the attack on Congress was an inside job.  The FBI closed its investigation of the case, saying it had been resolved by the 2008 suicide of its leading suspect, a US Government microbiologist named Bruce Ivins. The FBI makes this claim even though it admits the anthrax used in the attack could not have been weaponized at the lab where Ivins worked, and even though the FBI has produced no evidence that Ivins had access to another lab with the equipment to weaponize the anthrax used in the attack.

** For a review of Scott’s recent book, Two Cheers for Anarchy, see here.