Happy birthday, Rosa Parks (2019)

It’s 2021, and Jeanne Theoharis has published an excellent op-ed reviewing Mrs. Parks’s extraordinary life. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/01/opinion/rosa-parks.html

Politics Outdoors

(In thinking about this repost, I want to encourage readers to take a look at the link to To Tell the Truth, the tv game show. These days, her face is far more familiar, but her long term efforts are even more obscured.)

Happy birthday, Rosa Parks!  Born on February 4, 1913, Parks was not a tired old lady in 1955, when she refused to move to the back of the bus.  She was an experienced and committed activist, deeply tied into the activist networks that animated the civil rights movement.  She wasn’t the only one who took a risk to challenge segregation laws in the South, but that hardly makes her less heroic.

Activism in the civil rights movement was hardly a career move for Rosa Parks. She paid a serious price over many years for stepping outside of expected norms of behavior and into history. Her role…

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Greensboro sit-in anniversary, 2021

Today marks the anniversary of the start of the sit-in campaign in Greensboro, North Carolina. I’m always moved and encouraged by the audacity of those young men. (repost)

The anniversary is also a great reminder of the important leadership roles that young people have played in making social movements and social change. It’s particularly relevant when we’ve seen young people at the front lines, innovating, in the campaigns for gun safety, action on climate change, and –still–racial justice.

Woolworth sit-in

There was once a store called Woolworths.  It sold dry goods, mostly cheap stuff, including paper and pencils.  Many Woolworths also housed a cheap restaurant where you could get coffee and a grilled cheese sandwich, also cheap.  Fifty-three (61!) years ago today, a
Woolworths in Greensboro, North Carolina, was the site of a new phase in the civil rights movement, the beginning of the sit-in campaign.

On Monday morning, February 1, 1960, Ezell Blair, Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond, wearing their best clothes, went shopping at the Woolworths, bought some school supplies, then sat down at the lunch counter and tried to order coffee.  The four young men, freshmen at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College,  knew the store wouldn’t serve food to black people, so they waited.  Woolworths shut the lunch counter down.

The next day, black and white students filled the lunch counter at Woolworths, and by the end of the week, every lunch counter in downtown Greensboro was filled with students protesting segregation–and organizing a boycott of the downtown businesses that practiced segregation.  Over the next weeks, sit-ins spread across the segregated South, led by student activists.

The four freshmen, no not the singing group, had all been active in the NAACP’s youthcouncil, but none of them saw the large organization as a good foundation for a more activist and confrontational phase in the civil rights struggle.

Pushed by the heroic Ella Baker, the NAACP launched an initiative to create a new student-based civil rights organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which staged dramatic education and direct action campaigns across the South for most of the rest of the decade.

Today is a great day to commemorate the sit-in movement, but anniversaries can be slippery.  When I tell the story to my classes, I usually start with the long Sunday night conversation when the brave young men talked themselves into action.  You could start the story much earlier, with the sit-ins organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized decades earlier, or with the sit-down strikes organized by the Industrial Workers of the World at the start of the 20th century, even before the founding of the NAACP.  You could also start the story with the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Rosa Parks, or the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954.  The Greensboro students knew all those stories.

Anniversaries help us remember important events and twists in history, but they invariably simplify longer and more complicated stories.  The drama of the Greensboro sit-in makes for a good entry into thinking about the civil rights movement, and into thinking about how regular people sometimes make history.  The names of Baker, Blair, McCain, McNeil, and Richmond are not particularly well-known today, not like those of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, John Lewis (who would lead SNCC), or Thurgood Marshall.  The names of the thousands of young people crusading against segregation with them are even lesser known.  But movements are only possible and potentially effective with people willing to take risks without counting on seeing their names in the history books.

Woolworth lunch counter

The lunch counter itself, or at least a portion of it, has been reassembled at the American Museum of National History (Smithsonian) in Washington, DC.  There are only four seats on display.  When we think about the civil rights movement, however, we need to extend the counter a long way.

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Conservative activists have to take sides

When a line is drawn in the dust and you must decide whether to cross or not, most folks peek to see who they’ll be standing with before taking a step.

The Capitol invasion drew a line in the dust, and the prosecutions may dig it into a trench. (At the same time, Republican politicians in Congress are furiously working to fill in that hole.)

Let me explain:

Social movements are most difficult, volatile, and potentially powerful when they unite a broad coalition that extends from the margins to the mainstream. Protesters in the streets find common cause with allies in government and draw cheers from at least some people watching from a distance and may occasionally throw in a petition signature, a few dollars, or a vote.

Such broad coalitions are extremely difficult to maintain; authorities work to split them up, greatly aided by the charms and obstacles of institutional politics.

For the past few years, Donald Trump provided a crude unifier for such a broad coalition. White nationalists heard racist dogwhistles, while business conservatives and institutional Republicans worked hard to ignore blustering bullhorns. Without much of a clear agenda beyond his self-interest, Trump somehow convinced people in the streets that he worked for them, and Republican politicians that they needed him.

Such beliefs should be even harder to sustain than before.

President Trump did not include the names of any of the Capitol invaders in his collage of pardons and commutations. It would have been easy to find the names–it’s been pretty easy for the Justice Department prosecutors filing charges.

The invaders who broke windows, looted Congressional offices, carried white supremacist flags, and fought police officers took selfies and livestreamed their efforts, later posting them on social media when they returned home.

They thought that God or Q or Trump was on their side, and that they were safe in public insurrection. Not so much. The Lord continues to work in mysterious ways, and doesn’t routinely weigh in on matters of vandalism. Q has gone silent, congratulating followers in the fun they’d had and the friends they’d made. And Trump deserted them to save himself.

Sure, Trump promised that he would march with the protesters to the Capitol to intimidate opponents, but he went back to the White House. Sure, candidate Trump encouraged violence against protesters at his rallies, promising his would-be protectors in the stands that he would pay any legal fees. They heard, but no checks or legal referrals were forthcoming. Trump’s worried about securing his own defense attorneys, and at least some of his once-faithful are disappointed.

Partly because of a massive military presence in Washington, DC, massive crowds of disappointed Trumpians didn’t turn out to protest on inauguration day. But it wasn’t just the intimidation of well-trained, well-armed troops. Across the states, where capitols were marginally less militarized, promised rallies in support of the defeated president fizzled. What happened?

Trump’s supporters learned their efforts could bring unpleasant consequences: criminal prosecution, lost jobs, and social ostracism.

  • Demonstrators saw that they would not be welcomed as heroes when they came home.
  • Would-be revolutionaries learned that their prospects for success were much much worse than they’d led themselves to believe.
  • People who thought they were committed to protecting the Constitution and law and order, no matter how poorly defined, were reluctant to sign onto kidnapping politicians or killing police officers.

To be sure, some of the faithful will hold fast and find camaraderie and courage in more distant corners of the Internet, perhaps in training exercises in the woods or meetings around kitchen tables. But there will be fewer of them, more distant, and they will have a much harder time reaching a broader public.

Absent the almost protective umbrella of a tweeting president which supported largter more enthusiastic crowds, they won’t seem like the powerful, wise, or attractive allies that they once were.

Few people will want to stand on their side of the line.

A larger number, I’m sure, will do as Q’s handler suggested, return to their lives, which might include some politics, but maybe not. They might recall their revolutionary moments and friends with fondness–or perhaps realize that they’d been misled and exploited.

QAnon and the storm of the U.S. Capitol: The offline effect of online  conspiracy theories

That’s how movements divide in decline, and it makes them easier to repress, ignore,and generally marginalize.

Republican politicians are mostly trying to stall the same process of fragmentation within their own ranks. To be sure, many members of the House, secure in well-crafted and safe districts, can continue to support some imagined vision of Trump or Q. But Republicans who have national aspirations are concerned about the social approbation the Capitol invasion brought, and actively worried about business leaders who may refuse to fund them.

The near horizon isn’t so sunny. True believers in the streets or woods or basements, unable to create crowds, are liable to find more extreme tactics more attractive–particularly if their political allies can’t convince them of another route to meaningful influence. And any extreme act is likely to make it harder and harder to maintain, much less attract, support from those not already on the margins.

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Martin Luther King Day, 2021

January 18, Martin Luther King Day, falls three days after what would have been King’s 92nd birthday, a reminder of how young he was during his ministry. Here I repost a slightly edited version of last year’s post on the holiday.

On the eve of the Martin Luther King Day holiday last year, the president of the United States announces, emphatically, that you can’t find anyone less racist than he is. If you’re suspicious of such proclamations, perhaps it’s just that you’ve learned to distrust people who laud their own honesty, their color-blindness, their respect for women, or concern for the poor. Like the salesman who claims the nickname, “Honest,” Donald Trump has never succeeded in fooling most people, just enough to sell the next condo or secure the next loan. Then some large number of elected officials and voters who knew better chose to look the other way, and Trump won the 2016 election.

The office of the presidency, however, starts with obligations to all Americans, and it doesn’t end there. Trump is hardly the first US president to harbor racist thoughts or sentiments, but he’s displayed less worry about revealing them to large audiences, often through words, and consistently through deeds.

We will have a new president, and an African-American vice-president, but white supremacy will hardly disappear into a Florida estate without its most visible champion.

The last hours leading up to the inauguration of a new president are filled with worry about armed white nationalists attacking not only the Capitol, but state capitals across the country.

It’s worth considering the resources and possibilities Martin Luther King’s memory gives us in combating those who would restore what he fought against.

One of the hard-won achievements of the civil rights movement was the establishment of King holiday. This means that Americans expect any president to pay respects to the man, and even more, to the movement. Tradition really is powerful, and activists are wise to attend to establishing new ones.

If Donald Trump displayed less appreciation or enthusiasm for the King holiday than, say, pardoning Thanksgiving turkeys, that’s no mystery or surprise.

Each holiday event is a moment, unlikely to capture much attention in the White House during the rest of the year.

For the rest of us, however, the King Day reminder is an alert. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many many others, put work behind their words on social justice, often facing great risks and paying serious penalties. Their heirs continue today.

Martin Luther King died young enough and dramatically enough to be turned into an American hero, but it was neither his youth nor his death that made him heroic.

To Build a Mature Society: The Lasting Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s  “Beyond Vietnam” Speech — The Gotham Center for New York City History

In his rather brief public life, beginning in Montgomery at 26, and ending with his assassination at 39, King consistently displayed rhetorical brilliance (on the podium and the page), strategic acumen, and moral and physical courage.

The effort to honor Martin Luther King with a holiday commemorating his birthday started at the King Center, in Atlanta, in the year after his assassination.  States began to follow suit, and by 1983, more than half celebrated King’s life with a day.  In that year, Ronald Reagan signed a bill making Martin Luther King day a national holiday expressing ambivalence, acknowledging that it was costly, and that King may have been a Communist.

The King holiday was about Martin Luther King, to be sure, but it was meant to represent far more than the man.  King stands in for the civil rights movement and for African-American history more generally.  I often wonder if the eloquence of the 1963 “I have a dream” speech winds up obscuring not only a man with broader goals, but a much more contested–and ambitious–movement.

The man and the movement are ossified into an iconic image, like a statue, which locks King and the movement into the politics of 1963-1965.  We accept King’s dream, that little children will play together, and that people will be judged by “the content of their character” (a favorite phrase on the right).

The image, like a statue, is available for appropriation to advocates of all political stripes, and the establishment of the holiday itself represents an achievement of the civil rights movement, winning the holiday if not broader economic and social equality.

Before the transformation of the man into an icon, King transformed himself from a pastor into an activist, a peripatetic crusader for justice.

But the pastor didn’t disappear; rather this role grew into something larger, as King himself transformed himself from a minister into a an Old Testament prophet, one whose primary concern was always the people on the margins, the widows and orphans, the poor and hungry.  In standing with those on the margins, King courageously used–and risked–the advantages of his privilege, pedigree, and education.  He also knew that he risked his safety and his life.

In his writing, King used his education and his vocation to support his political goals.  In the critically important “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” he cited both the Constitution and the Bible in support of Federal intervention in local politics to support desegregation and human rights.  (We know that other activists now use the same sources to justify pushing the Federal government out of local politics.)

King explained that he was in jail in Birmingham, Alabama, because he had nonviolently defied local authorities in the service of higher laws, the Constitution and the Gospel.  This was not like making a provocative statement on one’s own [profitable] radio or television show.  There were real costs and severe risks.

King was never less than controversial during his life, under FBI surveillance during his political career, and vigorously criticized by opponents (for demanding too much and too strongly) and allies (for not demanding more, more vigorously).

When he was assassinated outside a Memphis motel in 1968, he was standing with sanitation workers on strike, straying from a simpler civil rights agenda.  He had also alienated some civil rights supporters by coming out, strongly, against the war in Vietnam.  And Black Power activists saw their own efforts as overtaking King’s politics and rhetoric.  By the time he was killed, Martin Luther King’s popular support had been waning for some time.

Posterity has rescued an image of Martin Luther King, at the expense of the man’s own broader political vision.

Ironically, in elevating an insurgent to a position in America’s pantheon of historic heroes, we risk editing out the insurgency.

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Capitol invasion splits badly for Republicans

The dramatic, destructive, and disturbing attack on the Capitol building, incited by Donald Trump, and resulting (so far) in 5 deaths, doesn’t seem to be working out too well for Trump or his supporters.

Protest polarizes. Social movements and their events work by pushing people to take sides. When things go well for the activists, a dramatic campaign stiffens the spine of institutional allies, engages passive observers, and creates doubt and division among opponents.

Making things go right is the result of good choices about tactics, locations, demands, and allies–and it’s not always in control of the planners.

But think, for example, about the March from Selma to Montgomery, in which well-dressed and well-disciplined activists calling for the right to vote suffered horrific violence from state troopers at a bridge named after a Confederate general and leader in the Ku Klux Klan. Committed activists grew more committed, allies distracted by other matters–most notably, President Lyndon Johnson, developed focus, and some of the resistance wore down.

In almost caricatured contrast, the assault on Congress backfired in almost every way. Trump bears a great deal of the responsibility. In a crazed calculus of confrontation, Trump reasoned (that can’t be the right word) that pressuring loyal allies to abandon the Constitution and refuse to recognize the electoral votes that cost him the election, would keep him in the White House. When they refused, Trump accelerated the pressure, calling out a bizarre coalition of the willing to show strength and intimidate squish Republicans who somehow took their oaths of office at least a little seriously. Most notably, he loosed his allies on the most obsequious of all, Vice President Mike Pence.

On the Galling Double Standard of What Happened at on Capitol Hill | Vogue

Bizarre costumes and incoherent claims probably didn’t help, but the scuffles with police, the destruction of property, the looting and disrespect, and especially the violence, all made it harder for most Trump supporters to stay on board.

It will get harder.

Although most Republican representatives stayed in the fold, voting to reject votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania, about half of the sprinkle of Republican senators who’d pledged to do so, backed off and voted to recognize Joe Biden’s victory and certify the elections, leaving only 6-7 senators voting to reject electoral votes. Most visible among them, Senators Josh Hawley (Missouri) and Ted Cruz (Texas), who both reek of presidential ambitions. Experienced attorneys with Ivy League law degrees, they certainly knew the weakness and dishonesty of the arguments they made, but also made a calculation that trying and failing to win Trump a second term by a grandstand effort would pay off for their own ambitions.

Note that other very conservative and equally ambitious contemporaries in the Senate, Tom Cotton [Arkansas] and Ben Sasse [Nebraska], made a different bet–that standing up for law and order and tradition and the Constitution would bring a bigger payoff. The destruction at the Capitol made it much easier for advocates of the institutional path.

But it’s hard right now to think that anyone will be able to hold the entire 46% of the American electorate that Trump twice collected, and Trump’s crusaders in the Senate are already paying a price.

Hawley, for example, lost a book contract and the support of an early mentor, former Missouri senator, John Danforth. His newfound national visibility has come packaged in ridicule, and accompanied by calls to resign.

But his opponents have also paid a price. Republican senators Mitt Romney (Utah) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) have been jeered at airports for failing to support the president. In a historical moment when both peaceful protesters and vandals have appeared at the homes of members of Congress, this has to be uncomfortable.

My point: the Capitol invasion banged right into the growing split within Republican ranks, undermining rather than promoting unity.

It’s even worse at the grassroots. No doubt, plenty of Trump supporters are uncomfortable in standing with costumed people who mix Molotov cocktails, carry zip-tie cuffs and body armor, and brandish Nazi and Confederate symbols. Looking around at their putative teammates, they’ll bow out of the game.

The fracturing of the coalition will speed up as law enforcement goes after the most egregious transgressors. Already, some invaders caught in photos and videos–sometimes ones they took themselves–have issued admissions and apologies. Members of state legislatures have resigned, and local police forces and school boards are investigating their employees who posted themselves violating the law.

The easiest to identify, like the enthusiast taking a podium for a joyride, have already been arrested. There will be more arrests and prosecutions. Identified transgressors have appeared on no-fly lists already, and those who escaped identification have faced jeers when they boarded their flights.

Prosecution,punishment, and social sanction all make it easier to draw a sharp line between political populists and their one-time allies affected by conspiracy theories or visions of revolution, who’ve turned themselves from cranks into criminals.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political spectrum, now democratic socialists, institutional Democrats, and old-school main street Republicans have made a common cause with defending the institutions of governance.

The other day, a student who described himself as far left told me that he’d spent hours online working to identify people who participated in sacking the Capitol, and sending names and documentation to….the FBI. I know he’s not alone. Watching the failed matador defense of the capitol grounds, critics of racist policing are going to have to develop more detailed ideals for public safety.

It’s not that the white nationalists and Trump true believers are going to go away, it’s just that they’re going to have a much harder time mobilizing support and attention, as they become increasingly marginal. Trump himself, thrown off Twitter and Facebook, and virtually every other social media site you’ve ever heard of, is having a harder time finding a platform than a polar bear in the summer.

All this means that those who remain are going to be those who are more willing to take extreme and disruptive approaches and are less amenable to either reason or self-interest.

Nothing easy is on the horizon.

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(More) conservative protest in the pre-post-Trump era: storming the Capitol.

The chaotic insurrection effort at the Capitol building today showed that 14 more days is far too long for Donald Trump to continue to serve as president.

As promised, Trump showed up early in the day to speak at a rally in support of his baseless charges that the presidential election was stolen.

Mostly, his speech reprised the recitation of imagined achievements and accumulated enemies familiar from his campaign appearances. But the enemies list got longer, now including former Attorney General William Barr, Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Congresswoman Liz Cheney. Their sins: not supporting Trump aggressively enough, and then clinging too tightly to the norms of Constitutional governance.

Trump (again, falsely) claimed an electoral landslide, whined about being cheated, and demanded that his followers fight on to keep him in office. He proclaimed that he would never concede, and announced that he would march with them to the Capitol building to stop Congress from accepting the Electoral College results. Then Trump went back to the White House.

The supporters marched on, and somehow forged a column that got through the blockades around the Capitol, and then invaded the building. (At least one video circulating seems to show police removing the barricades to invite the insurgents in.) You’d have to go back to 1814, when the British invaded (without guitars) to find anything remotely similar. Ironies abounded as the folks who march to support blue lives battled with police.

Trumpians raced up the Capitol steps, and surged through the hallways, claiming space on the floor of the House and the Senate, occupying Statuary Hall, invading offices, rummaging through desks, breaking glass, and looting–taking selfies all the way.

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                      file name is d987f9438d423bf38ef9bf0e7f61d6c0

Although it seems likely that at least some of the vandals planned the incursion, it looks like a lot of the insurgents just got caught up in the moment.

There was little apparent coordination on a plan once security personnel had evacuated the members of Congress, nor any consideration of a common message.

There were oddly costumed demonstrators, a variety of flags brandished (see the Confederate flag above, almost covering what I’m pretty sure is a portrait of John C. Calhoun, the chief political theorist of Southern secession to preserve slavery), MAGA hats, but not many masks in deference to a global pandemic.

The vandals’ seemingly easy access to the building and their ability to disrupt the functioning of the national government raised obvious questions about policing.

Tweeters were quick to notice that blockades, arrests, beatings and chokeholds, tear gas, and gun shots came far more slowly to this group of white demonstrators than to discipline the Black Lives Matter demonstrators of last summer, much less the occasional Black or brown motorist, jogger, shopper, or sleeper.

Trump’s belated effort to promote public order came with a one minute video, in which he reiterated his unsupportable grievances about the election, and declared his love for the insurgents before encouraging them to go home.

PHOTOS: Pro-Trump protesters swarm Capitol in protest of election results |  News Headlines | kmov.com

Coordination of public safety was scattered at best, partly a function of a dysfunctional and disinterested administration, partly a result of the odd governance of Washington DC. Note that it was VP Pence who called out the National Guard, although the Vice President has no authority to do so. It took hours for a collection of law enforcement agencies to clear out the building, and, slowly slowly, the surrounding areas.

Congressional leaders announced that they would reconvene and accept the results as soon as the building was cleared, and presumably, when the tear gas had cleared as well. They were determined not to give the insurgents even the whiff of a victory to claim. It looks like at least a few of the members had abandoned their plans to challenge the votes from some of the swing states.

Reporting at this stage, no matter how earnest and well-intentioned, is unlikely to be fully reliable, so we’re waiting to get a fuller story, much less tease out implications, but here are a few guesses:

The insurgency will further challenge at least some Republican politicians’ faith in the president, exacerbating a growing split in the party.

Speaker Pelosi and Senate Leaders McConnell and (now!) Schumer will be trying to coordinate some way to remove–or at least muzzle–Trump to avoid more damage. (Twitter has, temporarily, frozen his account.)

Congress–and state legislatures–will install bigger barricades and staff more police and security forces, making it harder for people to confront–or even connect with–their representatives.

Maybe, there will be more urgent support for DC statehood–a governor could do things to protect public order that the mayor could not.

Maybe, there will be a little bit more support for modest gun safety regulation–depending on just what all happens next.

We’re living through an odd and disturbing chapter of the American story; I’d be fine with skipping the last few pages, and getting onto something different.

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Conservative protest in the pre-post-Trump era

Streams of disappointed Trump supporters are spilling into Washington, DC, partly in response to the president’s enthusiastic invitation. Expect to see devotees of QAnon mixed in with some social conservatives, white nationalists, gun rights enthusiasts, and fans of reality television.

It’s hard to know at this point the extent of the likely turnout and the likely disruption, nor how long it will all last. At this point, Washington DC expects growing numbers and disruption through, at least, Congressional consideration of the electoral college results. At least one group of demonstrators has revised its park permit, raising the expected number of demonstrators from 5,000 to 30,000.

But much is uncertain: although demonstrations of the disappointed are common after national elections, there’s a lot that’s likely to be different this time. Comparisons with protests from the left 4 years ago are instructive:

Lots of different protesters with different aims turned up to protest at Trump’s inauguration. Most notably, on inauguration day, Disrupt-J20 filled a few blocks with protesters determined to disrupt, leaving some broken windows, a vandalized limousine, and a trail of scuffles with the police. Local police arrested hundreds of people, and most of the charges were ultimately dismissed. The next day, hundreds of thousands participated in a much larger and far less confrontational Women’s March. (The safe bet is that Trump supporters will outnumber J20 activists and be far less numerous than than the half-million Women’s Marchers in DC–along with millions elsewhere across the United States.)

Although many national Democrats were quick to align themselves with the efforts of the massive Women’s March, I’m unaware of any that endorsed the people who smashed the front windows of Starbucks or the Bank of America.

It matters.

Donald Trump’s inauguration, like every previous inauguration, demonstrated the precedence of rules and procedures over passions. Barack Obama, outgoing president, and Hillary Clinton, defeated challenger, sat on the podium and listened to Trump’s American carnage speech, probably seething inside, but deferring to institutional politics. The demonstrators showed that the passions remained–and would return throughout the Trump era. This is normal protest politics in America, even if buttressed by much greater participation than ever before.

This is something different. The outgoing president has evinced not a bit of commitment to the institutions of politics or governance, and shown that he’s willing to do….a lot…to try to stay in office, regardless of how the election turned out.

Trump has fed a torrent of misinformation to breed distrust in American institutions, actively recruiting allies in government and in the streets.

I’m not aware of anything like this since the end of the Civil War. (Let me know if I’ve missed anything.)

And then there’s the tactics. Basic first amendment principles allow for peaceful assembly to petition government, disciplined with “reasonable” time, place, and manner restrictions. The content of the grievances and ideas of protesters aren’t supposed to matter at all: Proto-fascists and communists can hold signs and enter the public debate, but people who break windows or attack police can be prosecuted.

In 2017, some of the Disrupt-J20 arrived ready for trouble, carrying gas masks and helmets for defense, and some carrying sticks or rocks for something more aggressive.

(I’ve sat through hours of video of those demonstrations, and seen guns only carried by law enforcement.)

Likewise, some of the Stop the Steal folks will come prepared for trouble, but their preparations are quite likely to include firearms. Already, Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, has been arrested for destruction of property (he burned a Black Lives Matter banner flown by a DC church), and found to be carrying large capacity firearm magazines that violate local laws. A DC judge banned him from the District, presumably until the various charges are resolved.

Even if Tarrio won’t defy a court order to march, he can confidently predict that his white nationalist group will be well-represented, and–like the local police–we can expect that some will be armed. And, against the strong recommendations of DC officials, there are sure to be counterdemonstrators.

Will they rush to the airport, bus station, or parking lot when Congress, after a heated debate, affirms the Electoral College result and announces Trump’s defeat? If not, what will they do instead?

Under normal circumstances, mainstream allies would issue statements supporting the right to protest, deploring violence, and affirming a commitment to institutional politics, even while acknowledging that their faith is sometimes tested. Hard core partisans might break windows, but their numbers and influence will be limited, while the much larger faction of protesters would keep clear of the danger.

But this time, there’s no reason to believe that Trump will do so, and just how many Congressional Republicans will follow his lead remains an open question. Really! Trump is expected to address the demonstrators and endorse their claims!

Demonstrators and local police will get mixed signals from government. Street fighting and injuries, involving protesters, counterprotesters, and police are a much greater risk, and more guns in more hands are unlikely to make anything more peaceful.

So, will we see liberal Democrats endorsing harsh policing while conservative Republicans defend defiance of public order? Yipes.

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Pushed to protest, how many Republicans will be pulled to join?

After a sharp rejection from the Supreme Court, and after similar–if more detailed–dismissals from dozens of lower courts, Trump’s promise to fight on to hold the presidency must move beyond the legal system. Protesting in the streets is a step that remains available. But will it help in any way?

Watch Live: Trump Supporters Gather in DC Again Before Electoral College  Vote – NBC4 Washington

Saints and psychopaths turn out in the streets without worrying about their likely impact, but most people consider the consequences. Most will show up only when they think their efforts might matter.

There won’t be an official count on turnout. Neither the park service nor the police do that any more, and activist and media counts, particularly when offered from a worm’s eye perspective of the crowd, can’t be taken as certain. Reports estimate “thousands,” but observe fewer people than pro-Trump demonstrations weeks ago.

When fewer turn up to march, it’s the most stalwart who remain, and who become far more visible. At today’s demonstration, we have the white nationalist Proud Boys, noted conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, recently pardoned short-lived National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, and newly elected incoming Congressman Bob Good (Virginia). Good, who decided to run for an already Republican seat when he learned that the incumbent had officiated at a same-sex wedding, proudly announced that the crowd knew the pandemic was a fake.


It’s hard to think that there are large numbers of regular Republicans, much less non-partisan activists, who will want to be in that company. And here’s the dilemma for the Trump supporters who hold on.

The Republican Party has demonstrated the way slippery slopes work far too clearly. One-time vigorous opponents, like Senators Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz, warned about the damage Trump would cause their party–until the candidate won. In office, Trump demanded–and got–more and more Republican deference to his own cause, and any bright lines that Republican politicians might have promised themselves they’d observe, disappeared. But this doesn’t have to keep happening.

It was bracing to see that 17 Republican state attorneys general and more than half of the Republicans in the House signed onto the Texas call to invalidate millions of votes in other states. But none of the Republican senators, including Trump’s most rabid supporters, did.

There’s no longer a needle’s eye to thread, and regular Republicans are less and less likely to want to keep dancing on the head of a pin with the likes of Alex Jones and the Proud Boys.

As institutional routes to power disappear, the protests won’t stop. They’ll probably get smaller and less disciplined, maybe more dangerous and disturbing. The question is who will be willing to join in.

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Rosa Parks bus defiance, anniversary.

Today’s entry reposts on the anniversary of Rosa Parks’s refusal to move to the back of a Montgomery bus.

Fifty-seven (now, 61) years ago today, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  When local activists learned about her arrest, they organized a city-wide boycott and filed a lawsuit, kicking an emerging civil rights movement into a higher gear.

Mrs. Parks’s non-cooperation was courageous, but it wasn’t an isolated act.  She had been an activist for most of her life, and was chapter secretary of the local NAACP.  She had taken a summer course at the Highlander Institute, where she read about civil disobedience, the Constitution, and the Brown versus Board of Education decision.

She also wasn’t the first person to defy segregation laws on the city buses; earlier that year, Claudette Colvin (at right), then fifteen, was arrested for the same offense, but local activists were reluctant to organize around her.  She was young, less experienced, pregnant, and not married.  Image matters.

The Montgomery bus boycott spurred similar efforts around the United States and brought global attention to the civil rights movement.  It also introduced Martin Luther King, then a young minister, to national visibility.

Mrs. Parks herself became an icon of the movement–and indeed, in American history.  When I ask my students to list heroes of the American civil rights movement, she is second only to Martin Luther King in mentions.  Often, students know no other names from the movement.

Twenty-five years after her arrest, Mrs. Parks’s celebrity brought her an appearance on a game show, To Tell the Truth.  In the video below, you can watch celebrities question her–and two impostors–about the bus boycott.  It’s bizarre and compelling.  The last questioner is comedian Nipsey Russell, who uses his brief turn to shout out to other important, courageous, and now lesser-known heroes of the movement.

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Music and politics (1st covid): Who’s not gonna take it?

Florida man–and others–march maskless through a Target to protest wearing masks, urging byshoppers to drop their own masks and join the pandemic. In the background, you can hear another shopper taping and commenting. (Yes, there’s a curse.)

In the background, you’ll also hear Twisted Sister”s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” an appropriated anthem for the cause.

Twisted Sister’s frontman, Dee Snider, who wrote the song decades ago, was appalled and scatalogical, tweetingNo…these selfish assholes do not have my permission or blessing to use my song for their moronic cause. #cuttheshit.”

Nothing so new here; once art of any kind goes public, people attach their own purposes, and the creator often has little influence on how something is used. Copyright law provides some protection for songwriters–and the list of musicians who’ve demanded that Trump stop using their stuff at his rallies is long, including The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Adele, Aerosmith, and R.E.M.

Sometimes, though, the artists are pretty intentional. It’s hard to find any ambiguity in the new songs Van Morrison is releasing to protest restrictions on public life in the UK. He sees public health efforts aimed at reducing the Covid carnage as infringements on his freedom.


Truth: My appreciation for Morrison as a musician and composer has only grown over the decades, and I’ll pull out old songs and find new things to like. I think I can separate the politics and the art.

But I may also give Twister Sister’s stuff another listen.

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