Think before you do anything. You need a lot of knowledge first.
April 14, 2017 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Until now, [Gene] Sharp’s ideas have largely been applied in authoritarian contexts abroad, whether in the Middle East, post-Communist Europe, or elsewhere. But under Trump, Sharp’s ideas have become all too relevant to the contemporary United States. What insights could American activists today glean from his work about the possibility of resisting the Trump administration? How to Bring Down a Dictator: Reading Gene Sharp in Trump’s America (Dissent Magazine)
A longtime and prolific theorist of nonviolent direct action, Sharp first came to international prominence in 2000, when Serbian democratic activists inspired by his ideas helped to depose Slobodan Milosevic, as portrayed in the powerful documentary Bringing Down a Dictator. Sharp’s name resurfaced in 2011, when the activists of the Arab Spring found inspiration (previously) in his books and pamphlets, and CNN referred to him as “a dictator’s worst nightmare.”
...
Compliance is key to the legitimacy of any regime, and Sharp offers a handbook for how to effectively withhold it. His compendium of 198 Methods for Nonviolent Action presents a wide range of techniques—from letters and speak-outs to boycotts, strikes, sit-ins, blockades, and slowdowns—that citizens can employ to refuse an illegitimate authority. When coupled with more traditional forms of protest, these tactical disruptions of the normal functioning of the system can place immense pressure on dictators. Sharp treats authoritarian regimes as fragmented coalitions held together by a tenuous obedience to authority. Once the perception of invincibility is removed, such regimes can rapidly disintegrate.
How to Stand Up to Trump and Win (New York Times)
Today Sharp is 89 and in fading health. But his longtime collaborator, Jamila Raqib, has been holding workshops for anti-Trump activists, and there have even been similar sessions for civil servants in Washington exploring how they should serve under a leader they distrust.

The main message Sharp and Raqib offered is that effectiveness does not come from pouring out into the street in symbolic protests. It requires meticulous research, networking and preparation.
Gene Sharp is the founder of the Albert Einstein Institution, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the study of nonviolent action. The Institution's publications are free online, and translated into dozens of languages, along with more free resources on their website (previously).
posted by filthy light thief (21 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
effectiveness does not come from pouring out into the street in symbolic protests. It requires meticulous research, networking and preparation.

One of my greatest fears is that all the anti-Trump energy will go the way of Occupy Wall Street, and we'll ratchet to a new, shittier normal. (Regarding research, preparation & thinking: insert that Trump/DeVos meme: "I love the poorly educated!" "I'm on it!")
posted by spacewrench at 9:30 AM on April 14, 2017 [4 favorites]


effectiveness does not come from pouring out into the street in symbolic protests. It requires meticulous research, networking and preparation.

Por que no los dos?
posted by praemunire at 9:36 AM on April 14, 2017 [3 favorites]


Related: Message To 'Resistors' From Occupy Co-Creator: Stop Protesting. Run For Office (NPR, March 28, 2017)

Spoiler: don't move to a rural town and try to push changes that your new neighbors have asked for before.

Counterpoint, of sorts: Democrats In Illinois Just Unseated A Whole Bunch Of Republicans [HuffPo]

In a spate of local elections last week in Illinois, Democrats picked up seats in places they’ve never won before.

Protesting isn't enough - work with those in power, and if they're not acting, run for office and/or support like-minded individuals who are running.

Also, there a lot of other actions you can take in addition to protesting.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:41 AM on April 14, 2017 [3 favorites]


One thing I've learned on MeFi is that you can never, ever question the effectiveness of marching in symbolic protest. Even wanting to ask that question is proof that you're a stooge of the powerful.

The problem with things like the topic of the post is that, however shitty he is, Trump is not a dictator, at least not yet. His authority is not illegitimate. He won an election because the Democrats fucked up. You might say that that was largely thanks to Republican shenanigans on the state level, but that is also a result of the Democrats fucking up and ceding control of the states to the Republicans for decades.

Approaching Trump as if he's a dictator like Milosevic is not only wrong it's counter-productive. To stop Trump and his ilk, start winning elections. And, as filthy light thief notes, don't just try to win the Presidency every four years. Win elections at every level from dog catcher to Senator. The Republicans learned this lesson well and that's how they're crushing progressives.

I think framing this in revolutionary, "resisting a dictator" terms is fantasy that's comforting because the reality of winning through existing democratic mechanisms is boring and difficult.

As to the shitty things he can do until he and the Republicans are ousted, the courts are and have been the most powerful weapon. Continue to challenge everything that violates the law when you can. It's been working, and will continue to work. Again, though, "file a lawsuit" is a lot more boring than "revolution!"
posted by Sangermaine at 9:46 AM on April 14, 2017 [4 favorites]


I still go by the revolutionary principles of George Clinton:

1) Think! It ain't illegal yet.
2) Free your mind and your ass will follow.
3) The bigger the headache, the bigger the pill.

4) If #1-3 fail to help, smoke an astounding amount of weed and wait for further instructions.
posted by delfin at 10:03 AM on April 14, 2017 [5 favorites]


How much voter suppression and colluding with foreign intelligence agencies to manipulate elections does it take to make an election "illegitimate" then? Because dictatorships around the world still hold what they claim are legitimate democratic elections. It's only he-said/she-said level evidence people who aren't in a position to see the evidence go on when making claims about those "other countries'" elections being illegitimate (with a handful of exceptions like NK where there's not even a pretense of fair elections). On what basis are our elections known to be more legitimate than those? We even turned away international observers in some cases, just like authoritarian regimes do.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:05 AM on April 14, 2017 [11 favorites]


The old Jello Biafra mantra -- don't hate the media, become the media -- has helped, and is increasingly relevant in the Twitter age. Though part of the problem is that the right wing does that too, and decades of GOP deregulation have made it easy for them to flood the information space.

The Micah White link above is interesting but kind of has a HST-in-Aspen ring to it in my head. A great thought experiment and full points for effort but a Quixotically difficult target to crack. You have to figure that 30-50% of any small town will respond to change and outside ideas by shrieking WOOGA STRANGER UNCLEAN and reflexively opposing them unless you aim surgically precisely at the specific pain points in their lives. And half of those will oppose them anyway on principle.
posted by delfin at 10:20 AM on April 14, 2017 [3 favorites]


How much voter suppression and colluding with foreign intelligence agencies to manipulate elections does it take to make an election "illegitimate" then? Because dictatorships around the world still hold what they claim are legitimate democratic elections. It's only he-said/she-said level evidence people who aren't in a position to see the evidence go on when making claims about those "other countries'" elections being illegitimate (with a handful of exceptions like NK where there's not even a pretense of fair elections). On what basis are our elections known to be more legitimate than those? We even turned away international observers in some cases, just like authoritarian regimes do.
saulgoodman

We might at least try to look at why progressives lost the recent Presidential election and decades of state elections before we give up and declare all elections rigged.

Despite all their shenanigans and help from Russia, the Republicans just barely beat Hillary. Had she ran a better campaign, they likely wouldn't have. Had the Democrats had a better national electoral strategy for winning state power like the Republicans did, things might have turned out differently. Figuring out why the Democrats get their asses kicked on the state level, and how that can be stopped, would be a good start. Howard Dean, for example, tried to address this problem but ended up ridiculed and the Democrats largely abandoned his Fifty-State Strategy, to their detriment I believe.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:21 AM on April 14, 2017 [3 favorites]


Figuring out the state level is not only important but a matter of sheer survival at this point. Not only is regaining ground in the House mandatory for any hope of sane governance in DC, but the GOP is just short of the number of governorships and state legislatures they need to be theoretically capable of rewriting the Constitution and really writing Game Over on our republic. Or at least gerrymandering both districts, courts and laws to keep themselves in that position for decades.
posted by delfin at 10:27 AM on April 14, 2017


> One thing I've learned on MeFi is that you can never, ever question the effectiveness of marching in symbolic protest. Even wanting to ask that question is proof that you're a stooge of the powerful.

The problem with things like the topic of the post is that, however shitty he is, Trump is not a dictator, at least not yet. His authority is not illegitimate. He won an election because the Democrats fucked up. You might say that that was largely thanks to Republican shenanigans on the state level, but that is also a result of the Democrats fucking up and ceding control of the states to the Republicans for decades.


This is silly. First, I waste waaaay too much time on this site, and I have never observed any sort of "you can never, ever question the effectiveness of marching in symbolic protest" sentiment here. There are many issues that we simply do not talk about around here, because we are not good at talking about them, but the effectiveness of marches and street protest is not on that list.

Secondly, though, the phrase "symbolic protest" is begging the question in the original technical sense; you're assuming the purpose of protest is symbolism and then dismissing it as symbolism. I was going to make a list of what protest is for, but then I realized I should just encourage you to read Gene Sharp on the role of protest. Fortunately, there are numerous links on the subject in this post, including one that points to a page that's got the full text of Sharp's From Dictatorship to Democracy. It's short. And it's a damn good read. I don't agree with everything that Sharp says, but I think that my politics have been improved by reading him and by talking about him with others. You should engage with him more; it will be to your benefit.

Bracketing off the whole "uh wait you're using Gene Sharp in an argument against mass action?" question, it's best not to treat the concepts of "legitimacy" and "illegitimacy" as things that fall from the sky or descend from the heavens or whatever. Both legitimacy and illegitimacy are things that are manufactured by political actors — when we get into political disputes, we are always hashing out what exactly these concepts mean, rather than referring to some infallible authority. One thing uniting Sharp's methods is that all of them are about generating a sense that a ruler is illegitimate, building space for people to show to their fellows that they have a sense that the ruler is illegitimate, and then using that popular sense of the ruler's illegitimacy to drive shut-downs and slow-downs that materially demonstrate the ruler's lack of power in the face of a populace that considers it illegitimate — and thereby materially take away the tools the ruler needs to continue to rule.

The ruler will always claim legitimacy, right up until the moment that they surrender and hop on a plane taking them into exile. So we have to make them illegitimate.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:35 AM on April 14, 2017 [18 favorites]


> 1) Think! It ain't illegal yet.
2) Free your mind and your ass will follow.
3) The bigger the headache, the bigger the pill.


Although George Clinton is a genius, point 2 on this list is marred by its idealist perspective. We should make Clinton rigorously materialist by standing him back on his feet — or, more properly, on his ass — by instead saying "free your ass and your mind will follow."

also, though, if you find your dialectics aren't funky, beware: funk is the essence of dialectical materialism.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:43 AM on April 14, 2017 [5 favorites]


The new DNC Chairman (Perez) made a statement downplaying a 50-state strategy (not good) but he appointed a top deputy (Ellison) who is solidly in the Dean/Sanders/Warren camp, and I got onto a couple Progressive Politics mailing lists that suggest that there is more outside-the-party activism going on than ever before and, well, maybe it's better that the attack comes from two armies, as long as they avoid attacking each other (so just avoid Jill and her American Greenies).

Despite all their shenanigans and help from Russia, the Republicans just barely beat Hillary.
Without suck-all-the-oxygen-from-the-room-Donald, the Rs would have been solidly united (especially in $$$), and MIGHT have won bigger and more legitimately (although there's a lack of legitimacy in the entire 'Rise of the Republicans' this decade). One of the reasons I've been in "could be worse" mode. The Clintons and the Clintonistas have actually become one of the weaker parts of the Democratic/Anti-Republican Coalition; again, let's not attack each other, but these are not the leaders we need.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:43 AM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


The ruler will always claim legitimacy, right up until the moment that they surrender and hop on a plane taking them into exile.

This is exactly the sort of fantasy I was talking about. Drive the ruler into exile? Trump didn't take over in a coup, he barely won an election, even with outside support, where the other side who should have won handily fucked up. We don't need fantasies about driving out dictators, we need real analysis of exactly how and why Clinton failed and how to fix those mistakes in 2020. We need a real, concrete strategy for starting to take back the House and Senate, and the individual states.

A lot of this boring, hard work but it's what will get the policies you want enacted. Fantasies of revolution and bloviating about illegitimacy and exiling Trump may feel good but accomplish nothing. We need to operate in reality and figure out how to get from the way things are to the way we want things to be. You won't need to protest if you find a way to win elections that get your people in power. So far, the Democrats for whatever reason have come to really, really suck at that.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:47 AM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


> This is exactly the sort of fantasy I was talking about. Drive the ruler into exile? Trump didn't take over in a coup, he barely won an election, even with outside support, where the other side who should have won handily fucked up. We don't need fantasies about driving out dictators, we need real analysis of exactly how and why Clinton failed and how to fix those mistakes in 2020. We need a real, concrete strategy for starting to take back the House and Senate, and the individual states.

I think you may be arguing against a strawman. Why are you presenting the hard work of building concrete strategies for taking back the house and senate as being incompatible with protest? Why is direct action of the sort organized within Indivisible understood as separate from the hard political work of building electoral campaigns? Folks activated by the Women's March are already running for office. People who marched around in the streets chanting "no more Presidents" are running for school boards and city councils. You seem to have a hard dichotomy between direct action and electoral campaigning in mind; this dichotomy is false.

I could see where you were coming from if you were talking before the disaster of 2016, and I could really understand where you were coming from if we were before the disaster of 2000. But now, the set of assumptions in play — the assumption that electoral politics is the only valid form of politics in America, the assumption that direct action is separate from and incompatible with electoral politics, the assumption that the institutions of American electoral democracy are healthy and strong — seem to be undergirded by nothing but American exceptionalism and the sense that the times we're living in are normal. There is nothing inherently special about American democratic institutions, and the times we are in are very much not normal.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:58 AM on April 14, 2017 [9 favorites]


He barely won an election whose legitimacy he and his supporters attacked when they looked like they were going to lose. I personally had people tell me they were considering violent rebellion if Clinton won and not in a joking way. And who the fuck was I gonna tell? The police? The FBI? They by and large were supporting Trump.

Legitimate elections require that both parties peacefully accept the outcome, no matter what it is. You are lying to yourself if you think that was the case here.

On top of that, Trump and his more rabid supporters don't really believe they elected a president, they believe they elected an autocrat.

So... pretending like this is only going to be about winning legitimate elections is foolish. Now it is an important part of it. We need to fight the growing tide of ethnic nationalism and authoritarianism in this world by legitimately winning elections. We need to prove that democracy works. But now that is not going to be enough. There are people who don't give a rat's ass about democracy and they are being put in charge of enforcing the rules. If you want a realistic hope of winning elections, you're going to have to be able to fight the illegitimate tactics effectively. Now is a really good time to strategize and prepare.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:04 AM on April 14, 2017 [6 favorites]


Like, I know I'm an unreasonable person, but nevertheless "do real analysis of how Clinton fucked up and don't do that again" is the textbook method of finding strategies to win the previous war and lose the current one.

Winning in politics, electoral or otherwise, isn't about "real analysis" and "concrete strategies"; it's about getting analyses and strategies into the world, about building relationships, organizations, and eventually institutional power that allow us to put the results of our analyses and strategies to use. And it's about personally participating, rather than just opining about what strategies are good and what ones are bad. Strategies aren't concrete. Analyses aren't real. Letters and strikes and phone calls and marches and electoral campaigns are real. All these things must be informed by strategy and analysis, but strategy and analysis themselves aren't real until they're put into action.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:06 AM on April 14, 2017 [6 favorites]


And it's a damn good read. I don't agree with everything that Sharp says, but I think that my politics have been improved by reading him and by talking about him with others. You should engage with him more; it will be to your benefit.

Absolutely. Sharp made me realize that nonviolent action has far more potential than suggested by the dominant, naive narrative about nonviolence in US, which assumes that nonviolence works largely or only by persuading people or shaming them into change.

Under Sharp's analysis, nonviolent persuasion is one of three "broad classes of methods," with the other two being noncooperation and intervention. These can produce change through "conversion" (i.e. changing minds) but also through forcing opponents to change actions without changing minds. Boycotts, for example, can get a business to change its actions because of the financial cost imposed without the business owners changing their minds about the morality of the issue under contention.

Nonviolent direct action isn't the best answer in every possible conflict situation, just as violence isn't always the most effective option, but it's far more applicable than is usually assumed. From the "Correcting misperceptions" section of Chapter 2 in The Politics of Nonviolent Action Part One: Power and Struggle:
2) Nonviolent action is not to be equated with verbal or purely psychological persuasion, although it may use action to induce psychological pressures for attitude change; nonviolent action, instead of words, is a sanction and technique of struggle involving the use of social, economic and political power, and the matching of forces in conflict. 3) Nonviolent action does not depend on the assumption that man is inherently 'good'; the potentialities of man for both 'good' and 'evil' are recognized, including the extremes of cruelty and inhumanity.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:59 AM on April 14, 2017 [4 favorites]


As to the shitty things he can do until he and the Republicans are ousted, the courts are and have been the most powerful weapon. Continue to challenge everything that violates the law when you can. It's been working, and will continue to work.

I'm sorry, but this statement reflects a terrifying failure to grasp exactly how much damage Trump can do (and is already in the process of doing) through strictly legal means. The administrative and regulatory state is largely in the executive's hands, as somewhat constrained by the APA. If he chooses to appoint incompetent and indifferent people to head agencies, if he directs those people (or allows industry to direct those people) to roll back policies or abandon their enforcement, if he chooses to offer a budget that defunds the agencies so that competent people are no longer able to work there...for the most part, at least, such actions are impervious to lawsuit. These things are all happening, or have been announced.

Also...most people are not actually in a position to file lawsuits. Not being lawyers. Giving to the ACLU is nice, but many people want to do something more active, and many others can't afford much in the way of political donations.

Again, though, "file a lawsuit" is a lot more boring than "revolution!"

Not for most lawyers! But judges and juries don't exist in vacuums. See comments above about manufacturing and destroying legitimacy. As a lawyer, I consider a purely legal strategy its own form of dangerous fantasy.
posted by praemunire at 12:22 PM on April 14, 2017 [5 favorites]


As someone whose "knowledge" of the law mostly comes through critical legal studies, I never know whether I should feel good or terrified when actual lawyers agree with me on anything.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:28 PM on April 14, 2017


Howard Dean, for example, tried to address this problem but ended up ridiculed and the Democrats largely abandoned his Fifty-State Strategy, to their detriment I believe.

Yeah it bugged the hell out of me how quickly everyone--even including lifestyle liberals--jumped on mocking Dean and going along with the narrative that he was now unelectable all because he made one awkward noise at a rally. Opened my eyes to the fact some of the more privileged white liberals enjoy making fun of things too much for anyone's good.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:31 PM on April 14, 2017 [4 favorites]


Things that are mildly promising:

1) Almost no one is happy right now.

Oh, there are Trumpoids braying on Twitter and Facebook. But for the most part, non-diehards aren't impressed. The left is aghast. The Clinton wing is still recoiling. The people who like healthcare and civil rights and not being at war but Couldn't Trust That Woman are not impressed by Trump's antics. The people who voted to get their coal and assembly jobs back don't have them yet. The hardliners are pissed that we're not officially Gilead yet and food stamps still exist. And the so-called pragmatic right can't get anything done between the hard right and the mainstream both opposing them and Trump being Trump. Out of chaos and mass discontent comes opportunity.

2) We have a somewhat energized left for once.

Between Bernie's showing, the protests, the marches, the angry town halls and the sheer disbelief that President​ Trump was allowed to happen, the left flank is more engaged right now than they have been in decades. We'll see if anything can harness some of that productively.

3) Team Trump is not very coherent.

The various factions among Trump's inner circle are jostling for position and impeding each other. Trump himself has his pet issues but the attention span of a gnat for anything else. It's harder to target one element of America and annihilate it when they can't agree on who, how, when and why. It's harder still to come up with coherent policy, as Trumpcare evidenced.

4) These people have enemies in the right places.

There are plenty of career politicians, intelligence operatives, mainstream Repubs and plutocrats who are none too happy that it's amateur night on Pennsylvania Avenue. The journalists are pissed off. People who know how the sausage is made are being elbowed aside. Catching Trump stepping on his own dick on a regular basis and getting that to the media is pretty likely. I'm hoping they can get meaningful dirt on more dangerous people like Sessions as well.
posted by delfin at 2:19 PM on April 14, 2017 [5 favorites]


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