7 Rules For Resistance

01/31/2017 11:40 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2017
Steve Dipaola / Reuters

After Trump’s executive order banning U.S. entry to resident aliens, visa holders, legal immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim countries, and the firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, we’ve all run out of time to be complacent. Congratulations! You’re all part of the Resistance now. Here are some guidelines to make you more effective:

1. This is war, and you are a warrior. It takes a lot to rile up polite folks who believe in playing by the rules. For better or for worse, that describes a lot of progressives.

Well, the time for politeness is over. Foundational values of this country like pluralism, inclusion, and freedom of expression are under siege. This is war. And you are a warrior. You’re up against rude, ruthless, amoral, cheating adversaries. They play hardball all day, every day. Time to step up your game.

Your weapons are letters to your Members of Congress, petitions, organization, boycotts, demonstrations, and all forms of nonviolent resistance as enumerated in books like Srdja Popovic’s Blueprint for Revolution (ebook and paperback). All of us are called upon, and twenty years from now, we’ll want our descendants to know that we gave it our all. Don’t wuss out.

2. Empathize, don’t demonize. The other day, a friend posted a picture of Trump’s campaign manager on social media. A bunch of people piled on her, calling her names and making fun of her appearance.

Besides the fact that it’s pointless to call names a mother of three, angrily demonizing your opponent makes you an ineffective warrior. (Also, her last name is Con Way – you really think you can improve on that?)

Rage shuts down your reasoning and analytical ability. As William Blake said in Auguries of Innocence, “To be in a passion you good may do, but not when a passion is in you.”

To defeat your adversaries, you must empathize with them. What drives them? What do they want? What’s their con? Only when you empathize with them can you understand them. And when you understand them, you can undermine them. And ultimately, defeat them.

3. Channel anger into action. Moreover, when you demonize an adversary like Trump who thrives on belittling people, you hand him the ultimate victory by becoming just like him. He wants nothing more than to set you off such that you lose your mind with hate-fuelled outrage. Instead, listen to the counsel of Krishna to Arjuna from the Bhagavad Gita: “Place your heart at the lotus-feet of the Lord, and plunge into the heat of battle.”

So let go of destructive emotions. Channel the energy of anger into clear-eyed action. Organize. Write. March. Protest. Sit in. Donate to trustworthy resistance causes. That’s how you win the long race.

4. Never underestimate your adversary. Throughout the Presidential campaign, many people saw Trump as a bumbler who could barely keep his team together. Yet, Steve Bannon and the Trump campaign had access to Cambridge Analytics, a highly sophisticated big-data company that targeted voters based on individualized personality profiles. This is the same company the Brexiteers had hired, with similarly astonishing results.

So assume they are smarter and more sophisticated than you. Assume that they value their odious principles as much you value your high-minded ones. And assume they have the will to oppose you, the means to do it, and to play dirty. Then prepare accordingly.

5. Embrace effective tactics, even if they initially feel outside your comfort zone. As illustrated in the widely-distributed pamphlet Indivisible, a minority caucus of Tea Partiers thwarted Obama’s legislative agenda with a combination of underhanded but effective tactics: filibusters, secret holds, procedural tactics. Voters organized locally and relentlessly harassed their Members of Congress with their demands.

The Tea Partiers may have been vile, petty people with a racist agenda. But their tactics worked. Do not be above using against them what they used against us – ‘cause it worked. The difference is that your cause is just. And remember: this is war.

6. Present a unified front. Throughout the Obama administration, I witnessed my progressive friends bickering over how Obama isn’t doing enough of this or that. ‘Cause, you know, progressives value pluralism, fair-mindedness and debate. So they cut each other and their own causes down.

You need to stop that counterproductive nonsense immediately.

While you were bickering, Republicans banded together in a completely cohesive front to obstruct Obama at every turn, and succeeded. And then they all got behind Trump to get him elected, even those who didn’t like him that much. Meanwhile, you were busy trashing Hillary Clinton because she was no Bernie. Maybe you were even dumb enough to cast a “protest vote” for a hopeless candidate who nevertheless turned the election.

We are at war. Unless we present a completely unified front against the adversary, they will exploit our internal divisions and defeat us. Like Benjamin Franklin said during the signing of the Declaration of Independence: “Yes, we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.”

7. Confront. Trump got elected on the strength of a persuasion principle called social proof, as described in Robert Cialdini’s classic, Influence: Science and Practice. Basically, people saw him on reality TV, acting as “boss.” Then they saw his campaign rallies and speeches covered on TV around the clock. Constant coverage on mass media = importance = salience = votes from those who are susceptible to such things (i.e. humans), regardless of the content of what he’s saying.

Some Trump supporters are so far gone as to be irretrievable; don’t waste your time on the True Believer. But many of his supporters can change their minds; many have already. If they made their mind via social proof, they can change it via social proof.

So remind acquaintances why it’s not okay to support Trump. Make it personal: tell them why their support of him compromises your relationship. If you can’t have friends who support a racist, xenophobic, misogynist con man, tell them exactly that. If need be, end the friendship, preferably publicly. Let these people know that their actions are not socially acceptable, and make the consequences clear. Raising the social cost of their behavior may not work every time, but it’s one of the few things that works at all.

Now you may think that some of these practices are extreme. End friendships? Shame family members? But let me ask you this: if it were 1933, and you had a friend who was a Nazi fanboy, and you knew the havoc that Hitler would wreak upon the world, is there anything you would stop short of to change his mind?

Use that as your guide. Yeah, it’s that kind of emergency. Your cause is just: 7 billion earthlings think so. So be bold; the rest of the planet has your back. Go make your descendants proud.

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