Hypocrisy is progress

After Donald Trump reluctantly apologized for comments he could not deny–they were caught on tape–debate moderator Anderson Cooper forced him to explain whether or not it was just talk. Cooper deserves credit for pressing Trump to answer whether he sexually women protest donald trump and the gop in new york city #gophandsoffmeassaulted women or just bragged about doing so.

It’s generally been a safe bet that Trump’s bragging has far outstripped his accomplishments, but this was different. Trump himself denied that he had made unwelcome sexual advances on women–ever; it was just “locker room” talk. Given that there were already many public reports of such advances, the denial wasn’t very believable, but it must have seemed like the best answer available to someone running for president and facing a television audience of tens of millions. But the lie was progress.

Trump denied committing sexual assault because grabbing women isn’t a prerogative of wealth or power, a new truth that Trump, begrudgingly, acknowledged. In trying to put himself on the sunny side of respectability, Trump admitted where the line was. Many others weighed in to explain that lockers and showers don’t signal a suspension of such basic values.

The maxim that “hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, ” ascribed to François de La Rochefoucauld, is operative here; the lie reinforces the norm.

And the lie provides leverage to dig for the truth. Protesters who challenge sexual violence now joined those concerned with racism and xenophobia in turning out against Trump. More than that, it’s hardly surprising that Trump’s assertion of probity would provoke challenges–or that any media outlet not already in the tank for him would investigate and publish stories that expose the lie.

But the longer term effects are far greater. At once, all sorts of people had the opportunity to declare that it’s wrong to claim sexual favors just because you want them. Unwelcome grabbing, groping, and slobbering aren’t okay, and this is something that everyone gets to know again. Public confirmation of this value affects conduct, partly because of human awareness or moral education, partly because of fear of punishment. All of this is to the good. The lesson should extend far beyond the presidential campaign.

Anita Hill’s testimony about sexual harassment before a Congressional committee didn’t stop Clarence Thomas from taking a seat on the Supreme Court. Thomas denied the How we know Clarence Thomas did itcharges, and the Senate really didn’t press. The testimony did, however, go a long way toward defining and stigmatizing sexual harassment in the workplace, and law, culture, and practice evolved. I’m sure harassment still takes place, but it’s now clearly not legitimate, and sometimes perpetrators are punished (e.g.).

Oddly, being forced to lie about sexually assaulting women represents progress.


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Persistence, part III: William Barber is ready

As the demonstration and discussions about the killing of Keith Scott continued, The New PHOTO: Protesters sit and hold a moment of silence for Keith Scott during another night of protests over the police shooting of Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sept. 24, 2016York Times found an activist voice to explain what was going on. On the Op-Ed page, Rev. Dr. William Barber published “Why are we protesting in Charlotte,”  offering moral and religious motivations for his presence–along with that of many other clergy–at the protests. Barber explained:

In the Scriptures, the prophet Jeremiah denounces false prophets for crying “peace, peace when there is no peace.” We cannot condemn the violence of a small minority of protesters without also condemning the overwhelming violence that millions suffer every day.

But Reverend Barber didn’t emerge in the national news from out of nowhere. Over many years, he had been building an activist career on issues exactly like these, and when the Times sought an informed and respected voice, he was experienced and ready.

Since April of 2013, Rev. William Barber has been leading protests outside the state capitol in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Moral Monday (discussed here) protests focused on policy, specifically the new political agenda that Governor Pat McCrory and a Republican majority in the state William Barber at Moral Mondays rally.jpglegislature were pushing: measures to require photo ID to vote, restrict unemployment insurance and Medicaid. raise sales taxes to cut income and property taxes. relax environmental regulations, and cut funds for public schools. He lost on almost all these issues–at least in the short run.

But the protests continued, and have inspired like-minded efforts in neighboring states. (The Moral Monday campaign in Georgia supports an informative website.) In North Carolina, the campaign is explained on the site of the state NAACP; Barber is its president. In addition to the NAACP work, Rev. Barber, who holds a doctoral degree in theology,  and serves as pastor of the Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, about a 3 1/2 hr. drive from Charlotte, where he’s been demonstrating.

Reverend Barber’s continuing work in North Carolina helped him develop local credibility and contacts as well as national visibility. His persistence and visibility earned him a prime time speaking slot on the fourth night of the Democratic National Convention, where he outlined a vision of social justice that comes straight from the Biblical prophets.

This is another way in which protest matters, even if not at the time or in the way that activists hope.

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Persistence, part II: Kaepernick’s anthem protest and police violence

Most attempted campaigns stall out quickly, but sometimes…

Almost no one noticed when San Francisco 49 back-up quarterback Colin Kaepernick started his protest of police violence. Conservative media and the professional football commentariat pilloried Kaepernick, suggesting that his protest was ill-considered, inappropriate, and ineffective (see part I). His first defenders emphasized civil liberties and the quarterback’s right to protest more than his claims about police violence and race.

Tragic events, particularly police killings in Tulsa and Charlotte, turned attention from the Kaepernick’s physical posture to his political stance. Suddenly, the play that quarterback called seemed exactly on target. The protest about police violence echoed with enhanced resonance, and then spread to

Football players on other teams (Philadelphia Eagles here):

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles





College football players (Michigan v. Michigan State)

Michigan football players raise their fists up in protest during the National Anthem, before an NCAA college football game against Penn State, Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich.

High school football players in Oakland, visited by Kaepernick


UNC students protest during the national anthem before the start of the Tar Heels’ game against Pittsburgh at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill.

Athletes in other sports (entire Indiana Fever team)




Spectators in the stands (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)


Musicians in the marching band (Southern Methodist University)





And cheerleaders (Garfield High School, Seattle)


It’s mostly not majorities who are protesting, but it almost never is. The iconic campaigns of the past all started with a few people who were ridiculed by others. And there were always lots of false starts, where nothing seemed to take off. A successful campaign is a coincidence of commitment and opportunity, and the people who start it really never know how receptive the world will be.

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Persistence, part I: Charlotte videos

The big story that activists always face is one in which authorities tell them that their efforts are inappropriate, ill-considered, and ineffective–or even counterproductive. (And, sometimes, they are.) It takes a certainty that comes from courage, social support, and stubborness toResidents and activists march in the streets of Charlotte on September 22. There was a heavy police presence, and the North Carolina National Guard was also on hand. keep at it. Sometimes persistence pays off all by itself. Sometimes, events vindicate and validate claims that previously seemed unimportant enough to generate protest.

So, once local and national activists learned of the existence of Charlotte, North Carolina police videos of the confrontation and killing of Keith Scott, it’s hardly surprising that they would demand their release. Scott’s family echoed that call, particularly after they had been allowed to view the police videos.

Rakeyia Scott released her own phone video of her husband’s death. It doesn’t show Keith Scott’s demeanor, nor whether he was armed, but you can hear Mrs. Scott imploring the police not to shoot her husband, then reacting to the shots and watching her husband die. It’s awful.

Protestors dump cargo from tractor trailers on a fire on I-85  during the Charlotte protests.Demonstrations shook Charlotte, night after night. Most, but not all, demonstrators were peaceful each night. There’s an ongoing battle to control the story and control the images. Black Lives Matter activists wanted the peaceful demonstrations to represent the conflict in Charlotte. Their opponents wanted images of disruption, looting, and violence. It wasn’t hard for either side to find what they wanted.

The police announced they wouldn’t be releasing their videos until an investigation was complete–however long that took. (Understandably, it’s harder for people to do most jobs when audiences are watching and commenting.  Public disclosure is a benefit–and a cost–of democracy.) The mayor then announced that the videos would come out some time–soon. She wasn’t very specific.

But after Mrs. Scott’s video came out and the demonstrations continued, the police released the videos the next day. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney explained that he’d been assured that the ongoing investigation would not be affected by their release–allaying his earlier worries.

The videos, as Chief Putney acknowledges, don’t show that Keith Scott had a gun or threatened the police, but the chief is confident that there is enough additional evidence to support the police version of the story.

I doubt that this will be resolved easily or quickly. But the impact of the protests, in spite of what authorities and pundits said, is pretty clear.

Meanwhile, a new law that takes effect in North Carolina next week will prevent future videos from disclosure.

Expect a challenge here as well.

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Where’s Occupy? (five years on….)

What happened to the amazing movement that captured public attention five years ago? Image result for Occupy ballerinaLast Saturday was the anniversary of the day the first Occupiers ambled marched through lower Manhattan and ambled into Zuccotti Park–where they stayed for two months, inspiring similar Occupations across the United States and scattered around the world.

Photographer Accra Shepp produced photographic portraits of some 400 Occupiers at the height of the movement, and then followed up and produced new portraits of the same people now. You can see some of the originals at the Steven Kasher Gallery site. Some were published in The New York Times.

Even for a movement that was particularly good at producing powerful images, Shepp’s artistry is still evident.  The photos are arresting and powerful.

But Shepp also provides capsule updates of the lives of the Occupiers. Dr. Alexandre Carvalho (below), for example, took a position overseeing health care for workers on an oil rig in the Atlantic, before he was fired for protesting the conditions they faced.

Reading through the stories, we get a sense not only of the surprising and often unexpected paths of individual lives, but also of the ongoing commitments these people made to spotting and fighting political and economic inequality. The commitments didn’t evaporate with the Occupations, but spilled out into many other movements and an even larger number of individual efforts.

Occupy continues, but not in any coherent, organized, or visible form.


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The repressive power of tolerance

One way protest works is by provoking overreaction from opponents. Remember, Colin Kaepernick sat out the national anthem for three days before anyone noticed. It was the reaction from people who took offense that drew attention to the quarterback and–to a Image resultsomewhat lesser extent–his concerns. The tempest surrounding the anthem protest drew others in, including people who emphatically supported his right to protest more than the justice or wisdom of his approach.  The Seattle Seahawks are apparently planning a team action during the anthem of their next game, emphasizing their unity.  Three women on West Virginia Tech’s volleyball team took a knee during the pre-game anthem, in support of Kaepernick’s protest.

And high school athletes scattered across the country are beginning to see new opportunities in the anthem as well. If this leads to discussions of police violence in American high schools and stadiums–or even the Bill of Rights, it’s due not only to Colin Kaepernick, but also the people who would shut him down.

Indeed, part of the classic Constitutional strategy for dealing with dissent was to allow space for protesters–and freedom for those who wished to ignore them. The founders, by the way, generally understood the power or tolerance–but frequently forgot. (See, for example, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison on the Alien and Sedition Acts, 1798. Marvel again at Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliant creativity in portraying Hamilton as a champion of immigrants.)

Now Republicans in the House of Representatives have to figure out when reacting will be overreacting. Frustrated Democrats literally took to the House floor in JA photo shot and tweeted from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives shows Democratic members of the House staging a sit-in on the House floor "to demand action on common sense gun legislation" on Capitol Hill, in Washington, June 22, 2016. une of this year, staging a sit-in to call for votes on a series of gun control measures.  Incensed, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan closed the session. The sit-in violated both the informal norms and the rules of the House, which allow the majority to dominate and marginalize the minority.

Republican representatives are still angry, and they want to punish the Democrats for their insolence. Punishment here is less likely to involve police dogs than a nasty resolution of disapproval. The question: is it worth it? Any punishment will recall–if not reopen–a debate about gun control on which the Democratic position enjoys more popular support. It will put the well-liked and collegial Speaker Ryan in direct confrontation with Rep. John Lewis, always (and accurately) described as an iconic hero of the civil rights movement. It’s ground Democrats would like to defend in the run-up to an election.

The Democrats are daring the Republican leadership not to do the smart thing–and look away. I’d bet the Republicans take the dare.

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The risks of standing out–by sitting down

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, middle,San Francisco 49er quarterback and national anthem dissenter Colin Kaepernick stands to earn more than $10 million this year, and most of it is guaranteed–unlike the contracts for most professional football players. This very substantial sum belies the very serious risks Kaepernick is taking by standing up, sitting down, or kneeling for his beliefs.

Something less than a handful of professional athletes have thus far joined the quarterback in his protests. Partly, it’s likely that many don’t agree with his ideas or his actions. Surely, however, another obstacle to action is a real fear of retaliation. Professional football is an extremely difficult and dangerous way to earn an immense amount of money, and it’s not a career path that’s available to many people or for very long. Coaches and general managers, themselves under great pressure to win, try to avoid troublemakers–and the new attention to the anthem is certainly trouble. Exceptional performers can get away with a little bit more than those deemed to be more replaceable. There are many accomplished and committed people ready to do the job who won’t make trouble, as people who might make waves are constantly reminded. Kaepernick surely knows that he could be replaced by someone who won’t unite a massive crowd in coordinated booing. This replaceability is true on the field, on a movie set, and virtually anyplace else that there isn’t tenure.

Soccer star Megan Rapinoe followed Kaepernick’s lead, making her own gesture of supporting, adding her own concerns about injustice in the United States:

I think it’s actually pretty disgusting the way he was treated and the way that a lot of the media has covered it and made it about something that it absolutely isn’t. […] Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties. It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it. It’s important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this. We don’t need to be the leading voice, of course, but standing in support of them is something that’s really powerful.

Football players who might have followed Kaepernick were reminded that such actions could jeopardize their careers, which are always even more tenuous than they appear. Richard Sherman, a star cornerback on the Seattle Seahawks, was clear in expressing support for Kaepernick’s concerns, even as he steered clear of taking on a similar protest. When asked about his advice to teammates who might have similar concerns, Sherman emphasized awareness of the risks: “Every action has an equal or greater reaction, and there’s going to be criticism. There’s going to be backlash. There’s going to be people behind screens that will judge you, that will criticize you, and you’ve got to be ready to deal with that.”

It’s not just a professional career that’s at risk, but a means of livelihood afterward. Taking a stand against the anthem is hardly an effective way to secure endorsements or motivational speaking engagements at corporate retreats afterward. Stepping into the political spotlight can also expose far more about an individual’s political commitments and ideas than most of us are ready for. Thus far, Colin Kaepernick has tried to step up to those challenges.

Nate Boyer, formerly a Green Beret, and a veteran of both combat and a very brief professional football career, published an open letter in Army Times trying to make sense of his own complicated feelings about Kaepernick’s actions, and inviting engagement. The quarterback responded by inviting Boyer to last Thursday’s game, and talking in detail about his issues and his options for action. When the anthem played, Boyer stood next to Kaepernick and teammate Eric Reid, who were kneeling, trying to signal respect for their country in conjunction with their concerns. Kaerpernick was visible in applauding the veterans honored that night, following the singing of “God Bless America” (a better national anthem I think; John Legend suggests “America the Beautiful”–even better).

Nate Boyer wasn’t alone; many veterans tweeted support for Kaepernick’s right to protest. Look for #VeteransForKaepernick and you’ll find pictures of servicemen and women and veterans of all backgrounds, deployed and at home, emphasizing their commitment to first amendment rights.

Between the kneel and the applause, Colin Kaepernick tried to navigate a course in which his gestures would signal both respect and concern. He found himself in a harsher spotlight than his passing alone would invite. Kaepernick emphasized his commitment to do more than complain, announcing that he would donate the first $1 million of his salary to community organizations–just about a tithe–starting with $60,000 worth of backpacks to school children in Harlem and the South Bronx. The criticism may have loosed the donation, but the money won’t stem the criticism. It’s worth asking how many of his critics–or the rest of us for that matter–are tithing in support of the causes we claim to support.

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