One of the most striking aspects of principled nonviolence is the way in which it compels us to reconsider our understanding of familiar terms and practices. For instance, our commonplace idea of what it means for something ’to work’, or for someone ‘to win’, or how to distinguish ‘ends’ from ‘means’ are reconceived when explored through the lens of principled nonviolence.
The same is true for the word ‘prayer’. If we think about what it means to pray, we tend to imagine that we send our prayers out from within us towards someone or something else: we have a need or a desire — some kind of lack — and we pray for support, we pray to be fulfilled from a source that lies beyond and above our own particular selves.
Professor Michael Nagler explains how we might think about prayer differently, and this new understanding is grounded in the notion that prayer is not something that flows from us, asking something of the same entity external to our individual being. Instead, genuine prayer grows from the idea that reality, that entity to whom we pray, is actually within each and every one of us. This reality is the source of our power, and a reflection of the fact that we are inextricably connected to one another, to the earth and all other beings. Most people already feel a kind of connection to families and close friends, but principled nonviolence sees this unity as the dynamic force of love, embracing not only our dearest but our fiercest enemies. Meaningful prayer must be directed to that deep, eternal and internal reality which is our own true self.
This relocation of reality from without to within is perhaps the most radical shift principled nonviolence makes to the usual notion of prayer. But Gandhi recognizes two other key aspects of prayer, the first might seem counter-intuitive: prayer must be selfless. Prayer cannot be aimed solely at one’s own private gain, rather it must serve the greater good and benefit others as well. And given the notion that we are all in and of the same reality, the entire notion of selfless is another term that’s turned on its head!
Finally, prayer entails real concentration. Prayer is not a casual exercise, to be taken up lightly, on a whim. It must be thoughtful, pointed and deliberate. After all, a prayer is an attempt to shift reality in some way; in a sense, when we pray, we want to make the force of love shine brighter. This exalted aim deserves our full attention.
If you are seeking a path of potential and centeredness, a space to explore what is noble and beautiful within ourselves and our world, check out our self-paced online retreat, Sacred Humanity.
Winning feels good — so good in fact that it can be easy in the moment to forget how bad losing feels. Losing is especially painful after a conflict in which one is fully committed, when one’s skin is definitively ‘in the game’. Stretching the metaphor, to lose is, in a sense, to lose one’s skin, one’s most immediate and intimate protection against the world. Losing reveals our vulnerability and can leave us feeling humiliated and embarrassed.
The principle of non-embarrassment — never invoke any mechanism that would compromise the dignity of the other, and never put up with a compromise to your own — is a core value in principled nonviolence and relates directly to the fragile state of the loser just described. Principled nonviolence calls on us to respect the dignity of all human beings, even those with whom we most profoundly disagree. It is this respect for the dignity of all and the steadfast commitment never to compromise that dignity that requires a reorientation of the traditional notion of struggle/fight/conflict.
Principled nonviolence rejects the idea of the zero-sum game. Practitioners of principled nonviolence do not aim to ‘win’ per se, rather they endeavor to find truth, which is not the property of only one party in a dispute. This is because conflict, as Professor Nagler explains, need not be construed as a power struggle but instead can become a conversation, a joint attempt, however fraught, to come closer to truth. And truth, like love and peace, is essentially abundant; everyone can, should, and in fact, does already share in it.
Adhering to the principle of non-embarrassment is not only good insofar as it allows ostensible opponents to gain a broader perspective (hopefully allowing them to understand better and move closer together), but it is also effective. An opponent who is made to feel embarrassed is often confused and distracted, certainly not in a position to listen, nor even to articulate his/her own position clearly. Alternatively, a conversation partner might help us to find increased clarity and greater understanding — and more, can free us from destructive power struggles intent on establishing winners and losers. When we can disagree and argue with respect, we are recognizing each other’s dignity and in this, we are in a position to create new spaces for compromise and growth.
We, the board and staff of the Metta Center, have been in the process of writing something for our friends and followers about the electoral crisis, but the situation has been and remains so fluid that we waited for a definitive outcome at least of the election itself, though there are still dangers and unknowns ahead of us.
One thing is already certain: the last four years have deepened the already painful divisions between people of different races and persuasions. We must do everything we can to heal those divisions, not only for its own sake (differences are normal, divisions painful and can be healed), but to restore faith in democracy worldwide.
Democracy is based on a positive image of the human being, so to restore it in this highly influential country would mean not only to restore faith in democracy but restore our faith in the human image, throughout the world. It would also remove from our path a distraction that has kept us from attending to the biggest problem that has ever faced the human race: how to reverse the destruction of the planet’s integrity that is threatening to make our only home uninhabitable to life.
In the recent election, 99% of the Congresspeople who supported the Green New Deal won reelection. According to a Yale University poll, 82% of voters agreed that America’s main energy goal should be to reach 100% green energy. The stage is set.
In Common Predicament by Sharif and Sharif shows that working on a common problem is the most effective way to heal divisions. These two problems, then, the division and the climate menace — and add in the pandemic for good measure — need not be competing priorities. The first step in realizing this potential is somehow, slowly but steadily, to convince people that both the pandemic and the related issue of climate are human issues, not ideological issues, that we likely can only solve together, by cooperating.
The outcome of the Presidential race is favorable to the cause of nonviolence; but nonviolence can do much more: it can go on to assuage the feelings of those who are smarting from what they perceive as a loss. And this we must do. In Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King relates how the Montgomery bus boycott had almost won the day when a white citizen warned at a council meeting that if they gave in “the Negroes [sic] would say that they had won,” and that was intolerable. In fact, both Gandhi and King warned their movements that they could certainly take pride in and learn lessons from their successes, but they must never yield to triumphalism. We are now in exactly that position, and if we heed that warning we can avoid the backlash that often reverses the successes a nonviolent movement gains.
As we put it at Metta, “When you succeed do not try to work in a new issue, or yield to the temptation to triumph over your former opponents. Remember, the goal is not to ‘win’ but rebuild relationships.”
We learn once again, doing this, that there is no trade-off between ethics and strategy, between the right thing to do and the most effective. In nonviolence, they’re the same.
How can we begin that kind of change in this atmosphere of incivility where polarization has gone so far as to make people vote for death rather than face facts, just because the other side espouses them? One principle we can bear in mind here is Gandhian svadeshi, roughly ‘localism,’ which became the key to Gandhi’s economics and beyond that the whole philosophy of social change and human relationships.
Which of us does not know someone, be it a relative or coworker or friend, on the ‘other’ side? Using whatever relationship we can as a basis, we can follow the successful formula of the very effective peacebuilding organization, The Search for Common Ground: “Find the commonalities, work on the differences.” Armed with this, it becomes easier to reach out and at least hear with respect what they have to say. Respect benefits all and is a powerful force for transformation.
Arnold Toynbee, the great British historian, explains beautifully how it feels like on the receiving end of that kind of respect: “He (Gandhi) made it impossible to go on ruling India; but he made it possible to leave without rancour and without humiliation.”
What we’ve been suggesting is small scale, but small changes can become nodes that interconnect and become the network of a new reality.
Mother Teresa said it beautifully: “We feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if the drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. I do not agree with the big way of doing things. To us what matters is an individual. To get to love the person we must come in close contact with him. If we wait ‘til we get the numbers, then we will be lost in the numbers. And we will never be able to show that love and respect for the person.”
After all, why are we so passionate about democracy? Because, fundamentally, it elevates the dignity of the human being. So does real nonviolence. The consistency of method and goal is powerful.
I once believed, rather naively, the literal truth of the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies.” Over time, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that this is impossible. We cannot love our “enemies.”
When we make others into the enemy, there is no room for love. The consciousness that creates enemies is antithetical to the consciousness that is love.
Saint Augustine exclaims in the Confessions, “Imagine thinking that one’s enemy could do them more harm than their enmity.” When I strive to fulfill the teaching to ‘love my enemy,’ I’m actually answering the call not toward some outward person that I must accept and treat with respect–there’s something that comes before that. I’m being asked to heal my own inward wounds that makes me believe I have to hurt others in order to stop hurting. That for me to win, someone else has to lose. For me to be happy, someone else has to be sad or demoralized. Politics in America has sunk to this level; but we do not have to stay there. Nonviolence can help free us from this mindset. And when we are free, we cannot help but help free others, by our very example.
When I defiantly triumph over others, humiliate others, willingly degrade or hurt others, I do that to the whole of humanity, myself included. I impede our collective progress toward peace. When I heal those parts of me that are wounded, I make room for seeing the world as whole, for seeing all of humanity as one single body, clothed, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “in a single garment of destiny.” That destiny, our evolutionary potential: I’m not sure we cannot even grasp its power and fullness. Consider what we could do if we did finally realize that we were not separate from anyone or anything — and we were meant to work with each other instead of against each other, meant to nourish and not destroy what is ultimately our own self? How many trillion bacteria work with our (vastly outnumbered) ‘human cells’ making up our seemingly independent human bodies…these bodies that are somehow filled with the consciousness that makes you think that you are you! And I am me?! And what more on our journey do we need to see that you are me, and I…am you? What is next for us if we can just get there? Can we get there?
We have a lot of work yet to do. But all of the great mystics as well as all of the great nonviolent leaders of great democratic movements have shown us and told us time and again: we’re here for a purpose and not for rest. And still…
Saint Teresa of Avila in her spiritual testimonies repeats over and over, “Love turns work into rest.” Love transforms not just enemies into friends, but the very mechanism that creates enemies in the first place. Let that be our work. And then, may we work, and work, and work …
for peace, for healing, unceasingly, in all ways possible, and may that work always be for all of us, the highest form of rest we shall ever find here on Earth.
If we admire democracy, a government that aims at the common good, that responds to the needs and interests of the people, that is chosen by the majority but also protects minority views, we might ask ourselves: is democracy so important that we should support and defend it by any means? More specifically, is it permissible to use violence in order to bring about and secure a peaceful democratic state?
For some, the answer to this question is an unequivocal, yes. The road to democracy, they claim, may well call upon us to use tactics that are decidedly undemocratic. In certain cases, these supporters continue, we must turn a blind eye to the use of violence and oppression even if such means conflict with deeply held principles we have — after all, isn’t democracy worth such momentary lapses?
Professor Nagler looks at American involvement in Iraq as a clear example of this belief put into action. It is now abundantly clear what the American war in Iraq wrought, and it is not the democracy that was our professed end. Rather, hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions displaced, destruction of infrastructure and an administration so indifferent to the needs of Iraqi citizens that it was forced to step down last fall — in response to nonviolent protests! While the October Revolution in Iraq has been thwarted in many ways; first by brutal repression from the government and armed militias, then by COVID, the movement that was initiated by nonviolent protestors in 2019 has succeeded in bringing about dramatic change to Iraq’s social landscape: women have been empowered, working-class people have made their voices heard, and diverse groups have come together, united to call for their rights in hopes of building a democracy from the ground up.
Given this example — and many more in history — it is worth considering whether it in fact makes sense to separate means and ends. We might instead see the two as inextricably connected. After all, ‘ends’ have blurry edges, there are always ripples that flow from them, rendering each end in turn a means to other, often unintended further ends. Every action we take is therefore an end in itself.
When we act violently in order to defend or promote democracy, we are weakening the very foundation of the reality we wish to bring about. Democracy is not static, rather it is an ongoing process which we are always improving, tweaking and perfecting. Sustaining a dynamic and peaceful democracy is best achieved through a commitment to nonviolence that ‘goes all the way down’ that is, through deeply held convictions which consistently lead to actions reflecting them — in short, through principled nonviolence as opposed to strategic nonviolence.
As we look at the state of the American democracy today — polarized, marred by fear and anger — the threat of violence looms. It is now more urgent than ever that we rely upon principled nonviolence. As we move through this next week and those that follow the election, we’d do well to remember Gandhi’s words if we feel inclined to lash out: “Means are ends in the making.”
Beyond the storm of political, health and climate disasters — a conversation with Michael Nagler
Many of us are deeply engaged in preventing a coup and otherwise securing a free and fair election. Metta Center President and author Michael Nagler, in addition to engaging in these efforts, has also been taking a long view. In a recent conversation, he spoke about how we can get past our present calamities and become proactive about building a livable future.
You’ve said you are very concerned about the parallels between what’s happening here and Nazi Germany. What do you mean?
I once had the opportunity to study some popular magazines published in Germany during “the nightmare years,” late ‘30s through early ‘40s. I expected that the tone would be very violent. But it was more dangerous than that: It was whining. “They did this to us, they did that to us.” When we hear white nationalist groups today chanting “You will not replace us,” we’re right back to that dangerous mindset. It can happen here. It’s starting.
Are there other commonalities?
There is at least one other characteristic contemporary neo-fascist groups have in common with that template, which is in fact more extreme today and something we need to address going forward. It’s the susceptibility of more than marginal groups (one participant will soon be a member of Congress) to swallow the most fantastical, bizarre and dangerous tales of conspiracy. QAnon, even if it were not supported by the highest political office in the nation and similar shadow phenomena, would be alarming enough.
How did it come to this?
I believe this phenomenon should be regarded as a colossal failure of education.
How is that?
Well, I don’t mean it was primarily a failure of our schools and colleges — though they certainly failed to realize what was happening and resist it — but any influence educators used to enjoy has long been overshadowed by the mass media, which of course has been growing more potent with each new generation of the technology. Social media can now give seriously deluded people a way to spread their messages to the increasing number of people who have apparently lost any ability to discriminate between fact and fantasy. According to the New York Times, a video posted to Facebook on Sept. 14 by Dan Bongino, a popular right-wing commentator and radio host, warned that Democrats were planning a coup against President Trump on Election Day. It was viewed 2.9 million times! How such patent nonsense can be accepted by millions of Americans, assumedly educated, in the 21st century, we really must understand and address.
Yes, but social media are a relatively new phenomenon. A change like this doesn’t happen overnight.
Long before social media, the soil for losing a grip on truth — and eventually being susceptible to delusion — was prepared by commercial advertising. Its relentless depiction of the human being as a needy fragment concerned only with his or her own material welfare, without agency in a hostile world created a compelling, but dangerously pessimistic narrative about the world and human nature that has come to set the tone of American popular culture. When you’re advertising toothpaste or life insurance or whatever, you may not have a political purpose, but your willingness to bend truth and propagate this underlying story of reality and human nature is never without a political impact. Both propaganda and advertising grew up together, largely due to the efforts of one person, Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays, who seized on the discoveries made by his uncle about the subconscious to mentor both business and government in how to manipulate people without them being aware of it. This is described in the six-part BBC documentary, “Century of the Self.” Ironically, one of the main groups to seize on Bernays’s idea was the Nazis. Untruth and violence always go together, it seems.
Now the storm has galvanized an inspiring and unprecedented unanimity of concern among groups and people from across the political and social spectrum to protect our democracy. This is a real silver lining that may help us go to a better place than we were at even before the “perfect storm” of political, health and climate disasters struck — if we can build on it. I entirely agree with Howard Richards, writing for Transcend Media recently, when he points out that, “If we get past today’s calamities, I assume the same causes that generated them will generate more calamities unless human institutions are radically altered.”
Is that sufficient?
No, I would actually go a step further. We should be thinking about not just those institutions, but the implicit value system and implicit narrative on which they’re based. To do this would by no means detract from the job at hand, namely guaranteeing a free and fair election. On the contrary, it can strengthen it.
Studies have shown that when movements have an inspiring goal beyond their immediate grievances it enhances their longevity and their power. As I see it, then, we want to be thinking about three big steps: 1. blocking the effect of the various forms of electoral fraud the system has accumulated over the years, 2. correcting the institutional expressions of that fraud, and 3. addressing their educational and cultural infrastructure.
Now we are largely in a reactive posture, as we must be given the atrocity facing us. Once the immediate crisis is behind us, while some kinds of confrontation and struggle will likely still be involved, we will be largely proactive. It’s a bit like the alternations Gandhi always provided between satyagraha, or what I call “obstructive program” and constructive program, where you go ahead and build the structures and institutions you need — hopefully before the unjust ones have crumbled.
Say more about the next steps, then.
Step two would include, but not be limited to, vacating Citizens United, reforming or (more to the point) abolishing the antiquated and totally unnecessary Electoral College, and passing a robust voting rights act.
This will require some careful analysis and long-term strategy. But to return to the point I began with, there is one concrete thing that needs to be attended to going forward: education. In any sustainable, democratic future no child educated in this country should leave school without two capacities they are not getting today: a moral compass (think of William Kilpatrick’s 1972 book, “Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong”) and secondly the ability to tell fact from fantasy. Otherwise put, an ability to tell right from wrong and common sense!
What do you mean by a moral compass in 2021 and beyond. What would that look like?
A moral compass, as I see it, would include an ability to judge human character. They should be intuitively aware that a person who boasts, “I could murder someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight and get away with it” is a sick person who should never be put in a position of power for his own good, not to mention ours. It should not be necessary for psychologists to diagnose such a person as a malignant narcissist (see, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump”). We might not need the vocabulary, but we should all have the spiritual antennae to realize he is not fit to lead.
And common sense?
As for having a ground in common sense, we would give students first of all a solid framework in which to understand the world and our place in it: that we are beings of body, mind and spirit — with a critical, if limited, agency to direct our own destiny in a meaningful universe. They would then know instinctively that they can never be fulfilled by accumulating more possessions than anyone else, they can never buy security through toothpaste or a new cell phone, or anything else for that matter. As evolving beings of body, mind and spirit they would understand that their real needs are for love, community and service. Also, they would be able to understand what science does — and what it does not do. They could, of course, have some exposure to the basics of one or more sciences in particular, but they would definitely have an awareness of how science (as we understand it) gets to its truth, and where we have to look sometimes beyond it to our own experiences of life and other modes of exploring reality.
Finally, and I’m still within the commonsense achievement, given the tremendous damage being wrought by certain kinds of “religion” today, we would certainly want them to have some sense of culture and how it has evolved. That way, for example, they would not pick up an ancient document that was obviously meant to be allegorical or mythical and take it for the literal truth, in the face of science and reason.
This is asking a lot.
A: Yes, it’s a tall order. But there’s no reason why we couldn’t do it. And every reason we must.
“What a joy!” says Jim (Sky) Schuyler, the composer who scored and recorded the music for “The Third Harmony.” His contribution to this film was a labor of love that started nearly a year ago when he saw an early cut of the film. Working with Sarah Gorsline, the film’s editor, they selected music he had written over the last few years and then collaboratively adapted and re-wrote it to fit the flow and character of each scene in the film. It ended up being almost start-to-finish music.
The music has an easy instrumental vibe with mostly piano, strings, and synthesizers. It adds motive force where needed, and flows lazily at other times. Several scenes feature cello work by Kathryn Bates of Del Sol String Quartet.
Sky says, “It was also my pleasure to be able to produce an Original Motion Picture Soundtrack album, that is now available on all the music streaming services.” The music was created at no cost to The Metta Center, and anyone who streams or purchases the album online is contributing by supporting independent music creation and distribution.
“What they’re most scared of is mass noncooperation. And when mass noncooperation is organized and strategic and targeted well, it has shown again and again that it can protect democracy and challenge authoritarianism.” ~Hardy Merriman
This is an excerpt from our upcoming episode of Nonviolence Radio. Please join us on October 23rd for the entire interview.
My work focuses on nonviolent civil resistance movements around the world, fighting for human rights and democracy. These are movements that use tactics like strikes and boycotts and civil disobedience, and many other forms of noncooperation, often against authoritarian governments. And what’s interesting, and I wish this was more widely known, is that these movements actually win. These nonviolent movements win a surprising amount of the time.
Throughout the Trump administration, the parallels between what he’s been doing in the United States and what I’ve seen in other countries is pretty remarkable and disturbing. And so, on June 1st, 2020 after President Trump ordered members of the military to repress nonviolent demonstrators in Washington D.C., I decided I had to do something more. And that led the four of us to get together and write Hold the Line.
My work on Hold the Line I should note, was done independently and on a voluntary basis, so it’s outside of my employer. And so, I’m also speaking to you today just independently and on a personal basis, not trying to represent the views of my organization.
This document gives a kind of strategy for what people have been calling, “A potential November surprise” or, “A political coup,” that could take place with the Trump administration. Can you speak to what this strategy entails?
Hardy: The first thing we want to make sure people know is that all the normal rules apply in this election in one sense. It’s important to vote. It’s important to get out the vote. So, those haven’t changed at all.
Any efforts to tell you your vote doesn’t matter or to discourage you from voting, do not listen to them. It’s incredibly important to vote and do all the things we normally do during elections. And then in addition, COVID has created a real challenge with regards to poll workers. And fewer poll workers means fewer polling places will be open. And few polling places means likely to press turnout, particularly in a densely populate areas. And history, that has affected communities of color even more.
We also tell people right up front in the guide if you feel safe and comfortable being a poll worker, please volunteer to do that because these are all aspects of just making us have a successful effective election. Then the rest of the guide really focuses on what could happen afterwards that could be really challenging if attempts are made to subvert the election.
One of our contributions that we offer is a four-step process to forming an election protection group in your community. It’s our view that the infrastructure for mass mobilization, sort of centralized infrastructure doesn’t exist. There are lots of community groups and state and sometimes regional groups that focus on mobilization.
But mobilization around a contested election and attempted subversion of democracy is slightly different. We try to sort of directly speak to that question about, you know, by saying, “Look, the infrastructure doesn’t exist in your community to tap into on this, you can actually create your own. You can create your own election protection group.” And people may actually start to tap into you. You may become the infrastructure.
We go into a lot of detail on that because we think everyone has a role to play, even people who don’t consider themselves activists. We provide detailed meeting agendas for people to start forming their groups. We layout principles around which groups can organize. We really try to make it possible for anyone to say, “Okay, we’re going to do this.” Because that’s what very well may be needed.
Then the last part is just about bringing in a sort of civil resistance perspective in terms of models of change and talking about the critical importance of remaining nonviolent. Certainly, being disruptive through strikes, boycotts, protests, and many other acts of noncooperation to resist subversion attempts, but remaining nonviolent for all the reasons we know. Particularly, based on international cases where authoritarians often prefer violent opposition. They will attempt to provoke violent opposition because they know that gives them lots of advantages.
What they’re most scared of is mass noncooperation. And when mass noncooperation is organized and strategic and targeted well, it has shown again and again that it can protect democracy and challenge authoritarianism.
Would you like to give an example from somewhere else around the world that you drew inspiration from for this guide?
Hardy: Sure. Some of the thinking for this guide came from reading about how nonviolent civil resistance had stopped coups – like military coups, which there’s been a few notable publications on that. And then some of the thinking came from just looking at movements against authoritarianism in general. Perhaps one of the best known is the Serbian movement, Otpor, against Slobodan Milosevic, which actually I think is a really poignant comparison right now because, you know, NATO bombed Serbia in 1998, if I recall correctly.
And during that bombing period, there was a strong opposition movement to Milosevic that just sort of went underground. Suddenly, people couldn’t be activists anymore and their country was being bombed. It was really unclear what was going to happen and it was really unclear what this meant for dissent. I kind of liken that period to COVID, right? Where six months ago people were like, “What do we do? And like how do we protest? What does this mean? We’re angry at our government but also depending on it for guidance and to protect us from this disease.”
And so, it was this really disorienting time. You never would have thought from that period of extreme disorientation that a movement would have risen up, and within a year and a half ended a decade long dictatorship, but that’s exactly what happened. And so, you know, how did they do it? Well, it started with Serbian youth who did decentralized organizing, basically saying, “We’re going to start groups based on a shared set of principles. We’re going to invest heavily in training people. We’re going to spread so that instead of having a top-down command and control structure. Everyone has been trained and everyone has some orientation to our principles.” And that’s going to allow us to spread really quickly, but also be strategic at the same time.
And that’s a good chunk of what moved things there. And once the movement picked up steam, of course, the politicians join in and, you know, they play their role and things start moving as a whole, and Milosevic fell. And, you know, I just want to be clear, in the United States, we are not a comparable authoritarian government compared to Serbia in the 1990s. Of course, our democracy has been incomplete and imperfect for a long time and there are certainly people who experience this sort of functional tyranny in this society of functional authoritarianism.
The benefits of democracy are not distributed equally at all. At the same time, we still have enough democracy that it’s certainly worth defending. We’re not an authoritarian government, but we do have an authoritarian-style president. And one thing we know about authoritarian-style personalities is that they don’t constrain themselves. They tend to actually become emboldened when they get what they want and they keep pushing.
The question of what do we think Trump will do, I don’t know the answer. You know, do I think he’s going to – based on precedent, if past is prologue, then likely he’s going to push things, right? And even if you think he doesn’t, even if you’re like, “Well, there’s only a 20% chance he’ll really do something outlandish and try to do a power grab and steal the election,” I’m not comfortable with a 20% chance. We need an insurance plan. We need an insurance policy. That insurance policy around the world is organized people mobilizing when institutions fail.
When institutions fail to constrain an out-of-control leader, it’s ordinary people who do that job if you’re nonviolent organizing. That’s what the research tells us. That’s what the case accounts tell us. That’s what our own history in this United States tells us. So, I’m absolutely confident that we can do it again. But it’s also important to prepare.
You talked about the importance of ordinary citizens acting in Serbia, which then encouraged the politicians to get involved. Can you talk a little bit more about that line between citizens versus politicians? Isn’t that the politician’s job in the first place to defend the democracy in the role that they’re in? And why wouldn’t they stop him if he tried to grab power?
Hardy: Yeah. I mean it’s a great question. And, you know, institutions, they’re not inherently strong. They can degrade. They can be corrupted. They can erode. They can weaken. And so, the U.S. system is designed for Institutions to be strong enough to constrain an out of control executive. But there’s no guarantee, right? In fact, what we’ve seen is institutions in this country weaken.
There’s supposed to be tension between the legislative and executive branches of government, but we really haven’t seen that from the Republican senate. Just the opposite, which is very concerning. There’s supposed to be a check, and they’re not, right? There’s some other roles that are also not applying that normally you would expect would.
The conventional view of U.S. politics is that if a politician does things that lower their approval rating, that that should be self-correcting, right? So, if a politician is holding at 40% around re-election, you would think they would want to do something to bring that number up because that’s generally been the rules of the game. That’s also not operative right now, particularly.
When you have a politician who’s basically saying, you know, “I’m going to be under 50%. I’m not going to commit to accepting an election result,” in a party that hasn’t really held it accountable. And regular attacks on the press and numerous other attacks on institutions through the years, it’s incredibly concerning.
We’ve seen no shortage of media articles documenting all the things that could go wrong, from disputes about the legitimacy of the election leading to alternate slates of electors being sent to congress, to the risk of violence, to what happens if the Department of Justice gets involved and tries to get a court injunction to stop ballot counting in a certain state? I mean there’s lots of scenarios we can spin out. We really don’t know what’s going to happen.
But it’s concerning enough that, again, the people need to think about backstopping here. It’s really on all of us. What I’m telling people is that, you know, when we think about what might Trump do or what might his allies do, that’s speculation. The real question in the next 20 days is what can we do, right?
He’s going to do what he’s going to do. The question is how are we going to respond? Are we going to be ready?
Could he attempt to subvert the election? The answer probably depends more on us in our capacity to stop that from happening if that’s what he wants to do. And that’s something that we can – in a weird way, that’s actually good news because we can focus on the things we can control. We don’t have to be distracted by every outrageous thing on the Internet, every distracting news story, every outrageous news story. We can follow them, but we can say our time is precious.
There are things that people in other societies have done to defend democracy. We too can do those. One of the things we say in Hold the Line is, “Start by mapping the power holders in your community.” From your governor all the way down to your county clerk and try to figure out, like are they really committed to a free and fair election, to making voting accessible, counting every vote, and investigating irregularities and attempts at suppression.
And if they’re not, let them know now, right? You don’t have to wait until November. You can start in October. Likewise, if your police have not really protected people’s First Amendment rights to protest, start demanding now that they do. You don’t have to wait until November. Actually, on this point, Hold the Line and several other collaborators and individuals developed a plan called, “The Commitment to Uphold Democracy Campaign.” And it’s a plan that anyone can download in their community and it’s designed to guide them to identify and then put pressure on power-holders such as elected officials and police, and even members of the national guard or military to try to get them to reaffirm their commitment to democracy now.
How can people find Hold the Line and get involved?
Hardy: They can go to HoldtheLineGuide.com. And that will have all the information that they need. They’re welcome to also follow us on Twitter and Instagram. Our handle is @TheRedLineGuide for both of those. They’re also welcome to email us at email@example.com. I don’t know why our email address is .org, but actually when you go to our website, go dot com. This is one of things about an all-volunteer effort. There’s a lot of things we should do. We can think of 100 ways to make our website better, do this or that. But like these are four people who volunteered and did this and we’re really proud of what we did and the response has been amazing.
We’re really actually depending on people to go and share it. We don’t have some big social media plan or a lot of people working for us to do this. The way Hold the Line has spread has been based on attraction. And a lot of people have said really great things. We’ve got 22 days [Less now]. Let’s keep pushing it. So, HoldtheLineGuide.com. And if you like it, please feel free to share. Thanks.
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