For Effective Resistance, Keep It Nonviolent, Respectful, And Clean

03/21/2017 02:02 am ET Updated Mar 22, 2017

Third in a series, Annals of Resistance

With anti-Trump resistance “bursting out” across the country, as The New York Times describes it, some rules of the road―or rather, of the street―are in order. They are simple and have been historically proven successful: Keep all resistance nonviolent, respectful, and clean.

These all-purpose rules also apply to resistance conducted off the streets―in town halls, in lobbying, in campaigning for office. And they might decompress family gatherings where anti-Trump and pro-Trump supporters are likely to mix (or not).

Maintaining this discipline becomes all the more crucial as Republican lawmakers seek to introduce legislation to curb mass protests. The Washington Post reports such efforts by Republicans in 18 states (as of Feb. 24) since Donald Trump’s inauguration:

“From Virginia to Washington state, legislators have introduced bills that would increase punishments for blocking highways, ban the use of masks during protests, indemnify drivers who strike protesters with their cars and in at least one case, seize the assets of people involved in protests that later turned violent.”

The majority of these anti-protest bills were defeated, but five have been passed―in North Dakota (4) and South Dakota (1)―according to The Voice Project. No doubt there will be more such attempts, including bills to indemnify those who use their cars to “accidentally on purpose” run down protesters in the streets. Thus, our resistance must be by-the-book defensible.

Remember, the right-wing outrage-amplification machine will pounce on any misstep on the part of liberals. That lone misstep will be amplified to tarnish the well-meaning effort of the entire mass. So check any impulse to do the wild-and-crazy and consider how it could be manipulated to hurt the common purpose.

Keep resistance nonviolent

The masses out in the streets on the day of Trump’s inauguration, and the weeks since, are concrete evidence of the profound resistance to this administration that exists and is building around the U.S. (World, take note, please, all is not lost here.) It is on us, the world’s oldest democracy, to conduct this resistance in a nonviolent way, without bloodletting.

Unfortunately, on Inauguration Day in Washington, there were several outbreaks of violence, with six police injured (none seriously, fortunately). Reportedly those responsible for the violence were mask-wearing individuals, presumably anarchists or young toughs. To their credit, others in the crowd tried to shout these marauders down. But it can easily be seen, with the media too often following the “If it bleeds, it leads” precept, how spiraling violence at protests could dominate the news. Tactically, nonviolent resistance neutralizes and controls the opponent’s aggression.

The ultimate aim of nonviolent resistance, wrote Martin Luther King, Jr., is a moral one: “to awaken a sense of shame” in the opponent. Ultimately liberals, whose mission in essence is moral―-tolerance, dignity, civil and human rights, rule of law, peace, simple humanity―-want to reach those Trump supporters who subverted their conscience for the economic relief and jobs that Trump promised: How else could they abide Trump the sexual predator, the racist, the proto-autocrat who’s fine with torture and violence? If liberal resisters resort at any point to violence, they subvert both their own moral essence and their outreach to the opposition.

Trump supporters, as one man angrily emailed me, equate the anti-Trump resistance with rioting. Let’s not prove them right. With passions running high, keep calm when resisting. And beware “protesters” in masks.

Keep resistance respectful

“Respectful” here is used in two senses: civilized behavior and respect for the law, from the Constitution down to local ordinances.

Case in point illustrating both meanings: the recent student protest at Vermont’s Middlebury College to the appearance of conservative Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, which argues that African-Americans are intellectually inferior to whites. The student protesters not only turned their backs to Murray, which is defensible, but they shouted him down, forcing him from the stage. When he and his Middlebury host went to another location to stream his talk, protesters pulled fire alarms to drown him out. Upon leaving, both were roughed up by individuals wearing masks. (Again, beware “protesters” in masks.)

The Bible for liberals is the First Amendment of the Constitution, guaranteeing free speech. By shutting him down, the Middlebury protesters abrogated Murray’s own right to the free speech that they themselves purport to cherish. As Times columnist Frank Bruni put it, by issuing “repressive rules about what people should be able to say and hear,” students at this liberal college in fact displayed illiberalism.

Voltaire points the way here: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” It’s cliché, but it holds: The antidote to speech you don’t like or approve of is more speech. Liberals need to learn to argue.

As for local ordinance and other rules of the street, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a leader in organizing against Trump’s policies, provides a guide on street resistance. (Ex., you cannot block a road without a permit.)

Keep resistance clean

Again, to keep the moral high ground, resistance needs to be kept clean. Liberals can be profane and salacious (see: today’s movies and TV), but, in the context of resistance, profanity and salaciousness hurt the cause.

Case in point: the pink “pussy hats” in the historic Women’s March which took place the day after Trump’s inauguration. Yes, these hats were intended to be a “creative and impactful” response to Trump’s repugnant bragging during the campaign about grabbing women by their, um, private parts (which is, technically, sexual assault). But what was intended as a clever use of a vulgarism can be turned around to make the wearer a joke. As the above-cited Trump supporter emailed me: “What’s with all the women wearing vaginas on their heads?”

In communication, especially in politics, avoid handing your opponent the “frame” by which to label you and your cause, counsels linguist George Lakoff, author of Don’t Think of an Elephant (also here). The p-word frames women and their cause as less than serious―-and why ever would women, in their continuing quest for dignity and authority, do that to themselves? It also frames sexual assault, Trump’s instigating offense, as less than the serious crime it is. I realize this particular train has left the station (here), but with more follow-on events planned for the Women’s March, how about rethinking those hats? Hey, how about ball caps that say “Make America sane again” or “Make America human again”?

In this existential struggle against an administration seemingly bent on destroying so much of what liberals value, we will prevail with disciplined resistance. And, during Trump’s tenure, if resistance is carried out in a manner that’s nonviolent, respectful, and clean, it will pull in those who have not participated in protest but who realize that, on the other hand, they cannot passively sit by as Trump dismantles the America we love.

To the disciplined Resistance.

Carla Seaquist’s latest book is titled “Can America Save Itself from Decline?: Politics, Culture, Morality.” Also a playwright, she published “Two Plays of Life and Death” and is at work on a play titled “Prodigal.” She received N.O.W.’s Susan B. Anthony award for her service as Equal Opportunity Officer for the City of San Diego (1977-80).

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