Tag Archives: midterm elections

Step 9: “Resisting plot is a political act”

When Lidia Yuknavitch spoke these words at her workshop last May, I scribbled them in my notebook and something broke loose. My entire life has resisted plot, and seeing my writing life in this context was more than pivotal – it’s become a daily mantra. (If you’re nodding your head, you know.) Art as an act of political resistance is the theme of Step 9, but first, a quick announcement:

melidleighIn November, I’ll be joining Lidia Yuknavitch as an online workshop leader for Epistemologies: Writing to Unmake and Remake Meaning. Over the past year, I’ve been a columnist and the curator of Corporeal Clamor, a curated series at Corporeal Writing. Part of the CW philosophy is “leading people into new and unknown territories from which they can make art,” and because I so love collaborating with other writers, this new role at Corporeal Writing sets my heart on fire.

Class begins November 4.

Over the past two years, the writers I’ve met through Corporeal Writing are part of a revolution. They’re publishing pieces like this one by my friend Marissa in Harper’s Bazaar, and last week, NPR featured artist Laura Gibson’s song “Domestication.” Laura was working on lyrics to the song when she took the “Exhausting Metaphor” workshop at Corporeal Writing a year ago. As an added bonus, Anya Pearson, who she met at the workshop, plays a character in the video.

This is what Lidia means when she calls Corporeal Writing “a creative process that values participant collaboration.” If this idea sets a fire inside of you and you’ve got something to say, come write with us.

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Step 9: Leaflets, Pamphlets, and Books

Step 9 in the “blueprint” From Dictatorship to Democracy emphasizes the critical role of artists and intellectuals in making political and social change. Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan was released just after T– entered the White House, and the post-apocalyptic nature of the work struck a chord with the public.

From the New York Times Book Review:

“Telling the truth with precision and rage and a visionary’s eye, using both realism and fabulism, is one way to break through the white noise of a consumerist culture that tries to commodify post-apocalyptic fiction, to render it safe.” – Jeff VanderMeer, A Brilliant, Incendiary Joan of Arc Story for a Ravaged Earth, The New York Times

Throughout history, times of political turmoil have been influenced by works of art. My project 3.5% was inspired by a pamphlet by Gene Sharp that has been passed around the globe since its release in 1993. Others on the list of transgressive game-changers:

The Republic – Plato

Liberty Leading the People – Eugène Delacroix

A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Wolfe

The Jungle – Upton Sinclair

1984 – George Orwell

Beloved – Toni Morrison

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

When Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

50 books that changed the world.

15 Banned Books

What’s on your list?

Share it in the comments.

Step 7: What will we do with a drunken justice?

Margaret Atwood wrote that when she asked a male friend why men feel threatened by women, he answered, “They are afraid women will laugh at them.”

When she asked a group of women why they feel threatened by men, they said, “We’re afraid of being killed.”

Whatever the outcome of this morning’s vote, today will change history.

Last night, I cried, but this morning, on my birthday, I woke up 50 and full of rage.

For weeks, I’ve been putting my fury into grassroots organizing and releasing the steps from From Dictatorship to Democracy – a pamphlet based on forty years of non-violent methods of demonstration – written and printed by Professor Gene Sharp. Now in its fourth edition, the pamphlet has been translated into thirty-one languages. It was passed hand-to-hand as a photocopied pamphlet from Burma to Indonesia, Serbia and most recently Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, with dissent in China also reported. Surreptitiously handed out amongst youth uprisings the world over, this how-to guide played a role in successful uprisings across the globe.

Just 3.5% of us engaging in sustained non-violent action – that’s what this takes.

Steps 1-6 were on the list of formal actions, but today we move on to the nonviolent informal actions, the actions that might seem harmless, but are on the playlist of every successful nonviolent campaign.

This is where we laugh at them.

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– images courtesy of Marilyn Wood, a fellow activist and friend, taken during DC demonstrations on Thursday. Senator Elizabeth Warren was the only person who joined them in the streets. 300 people were arrested. Marilyn wrote to me: “It matters most that we fight back.”

Step 4: Signed Public Statements

To offset Trump Suck, I promised myself to keep looking for examples of the progress we’re making. By now, you’ve heard of Stacey Abrams, who won the Democratic primary for the Governor of Georgia in May. This video made me stand up and cheer:

Read TIME Magazine’s profile of Stacey Abrams here.

Step 4: Signed Public Statements

Step 4 of Gene Sharp’s blueprint for removing a dictator is listed as one of six formal actions that can be taken to oust a corrupt leader. In June, the CEOs of major companies like Google, Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, Chobani, and Cisco released a statement speaking out against the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy, which separates immigrant children from parents at the border. In addition, more than 100 Microsoft employees signed a letter pleading with the company to end its contract with ICE:

“We believe that Microsoft must take an ethical stand, and put children and families above profits,” stated the letter. “We request that Microsoft cancel its contracts with ICE, and with other clients who directly enable ICE. As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit.” [read more]

History has shown that when institutions and organizations with power and agency make formal statements against a leader’s policies (among other nonviolent actions), this resulted in the overthrow of a government. And as consumers, we have the power to put pressure on companies to use their influence to keep the pressure on.

No matter what we’re led to believe by the Tweeter in Chief, we have the power.

If this message speaks to you, share it on Instagram or Facebook.

Step 3: Declarations by Organizations and Institutions

A few days ago, Martipants asked this question about my recent post: 

“Why can we not share our fury and still protest non-violently?”

Martipants, I’m glad you asked – I’ve been wanting to dig into this.

We CAN and SHOULD be outraged, but as I keep reminding myself, it’s what we do with it. (To cut to the chase,* see below the handmaids photo.) For the past 2 years, I’m the person who shows up to a party and rants, which usually produces this kind of response. I’m a total buzz kill. However, when I ask friends if they’re willing to help get out the vote for midterms, the response is basically: “where and when?”

Here’s a phenomenal example on what to do with fury. Last week, when VP Mike Pence visited Philadelphia for a fundraising dinner, activist Samantha Goldman of RefuseFascism.org put the word out that they were recruiting 100 handmaids to organize attend a protest. As Sam wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer:

One of the “handmaids,” Michele, said to me, “I protest for any person that feels that this administration is gunning to strip them of their rights and who live in fear as to what’s going to happen next … I will not just calm down. I will not avoid what’s going on just because it hasn’t impacted my privileges …. yet.”

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When applied quickly and consistently, this is the kind of nonviolent action that takes down regimes, and history is on our side. The point * is that whenever possible, our outrage needs to be fueled, because over time, it has the psychological effect of weakening our resolve – and that’s when the members of a regime often choose to act. As UC Berkley Professor Robert Reich reminds us,

“Keep your message positive. They want the country to be angry and fearful because this is the soil from which their darkest policies grow. No more helpless or hopeless talk.”

 

Step 3: Declarations by Organizations and Institutions

Step 3 of Gene Sharp’s blueprint for removing a dictator is listed as one of six formal actions. The American Psychological Association (APA) and American Psychiatric Organizations have been leading examples of how to use your organizational power for good. The APAs have released statements on everything from Post-Election Stress Disorder to the GOP Administration’s position on Standing Rock or the attempt to enact a transgender military ban to the separation of immigrant families at the border to gun violence:

The president of the American Psychological Association, Antonio E. Puente, PhD, issued a statement decrying President Trump for ref

erring to attacks such as the massacre at a Texas church on Sunday a mental health problem, opining, “Calling this shooting a ‘mental health problem’ distracts our nation’s leaders from developing policies and legislation that would focus on preventing gun violence through a scientific, public health approach.”

Today’s Action

SHORT GAME: Set aside 10 minutes to research some of the organizations you’re invested in, and learn more about their positions on current GOP Administration policies. Focus on the causes that matter most to you. (You might remember when a “rogue” National Park Service employee had something to say about climate change.)

LONG GAME: If you think your favorite organization could be stronger on specific policies, send a letter and let them know. If it applies, remind them that you’re a longtime supporter/donor and how these policies impact your life. If you’re up to it, you can even stop by their local offices and ask to speak to someone directly. This is the kind of nonviolent action that really makes an impact.

If you think your favorite organization is doing a great job, tweet it out, write them a letter, or send a donation with a thank you letter.

If this message speaks to you, share this post on Instagram or Facebook.

 

 

 

Step 2: Letters of Opposition or Support

Before I tell you what I was up to today and move on to Step 2 of the blueprint, here’s  a question from one of my subscribers:

“There are countries where people have experienced genocide and other hardships way worse than what we’re going through. Are you sure we should call this a dictatorship?”

No, I’m not sure. On a technicality, this could <just> be fascism, “a government that exalts nation and often race above the individual” headed by a dictatorial individual who forcibly suppresses opposition.

UC Berkley Professor Robert Reich offers suggestions for how to manage talking about this, including the recommendation to replace T’s surname with “The GOP Administration” every time you mention him. Historically speaking, the GOP is behaving like a regime. It’s more effective to put the pressure on them. Either way, we’re witnessing the precursors to and/or direct dictatorial and fascist behaviors on a daily basis.

If you’re like me, you’re part of the 3.5%, so we’re not sitting on our hands while we wait to see what happens next. (For more reasons about why I’m using the d-word, see Jim Powell’s How Dictators Come To Power In A Democracy from Forbes magazine way back in 2013.)

Step 2: Letters of Opposition or Support

Last week, I introduced Gene Sharp’s blueprint for removing a dictator with a list of 198 methods of nonviolent action and persuasion. Step 2 is listed as one of the “formal” actions.

Wait – number 2? Does letter-writing actually work?

If it’s part of a wider strategy, YES.

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Since June, my local coffee shop has been hosting a weekly letter-writing campaign, so today I stopped by to help. When I walked in, every table was filled. As I was looking for a seat, a woman who stopped by during her lunch break offered me her seat, along with a pen, a stack of postcards, and a suggested script.

Today’s focus was on getting out the vote for the midterms by sending hand-written postcards from community members to neighbors. The event was organized by a local organization connected to the state-wide coalition Turn PA Blue.

Here’s a bit of the buzz:

Today’s Action

If your community hosts letter-writing events, go whenever you can – and keep showing up. I found mine on Facebook, so check around to see if your state has something similar. It felt good to have an outlet for my outrage, and it was inspiring to be around people who felt the same.

Until today, all of my letter-writing has been a solo act, so if you can’t find anything local just yet, here are the ACLU’s tips on writing to your representatives. 

  1. Keep it brief: Letters should never be longer than one page, and should be limited to one issue. Legislative aides read many letters on many issues in a day, so your letter should be as concise as possible.
  2. State Who You Are and What You Want Up Front: In the first paragraph, tell your legislators that you are a constituent and identify the issue about which you are writing. If your letters pertains to a specific piece of legislation, it helps to identify it by its bill number (e.g. H.R. ____ or S. _____).
  3. Hit your three most important points: Choose the three strongest points that will be most effective in persuading legislators to support your position and flesh them out.
  4. Personalize your letter: Tell your elected official why this legislation matters in his community or state. If you have one, include a personal story that shows how this issue affects you and your family. A constituent’s personal stories can be the very persuasive as your legislator shapes his or her position.
  5. Personalize your relationship: Have you ever voted for this elected official? Have you ever contributed time or money to his or her campaign? Are you familiar with her through any business or personal relationship? If so, tell your elected official or his staff person. The closer your legislator feels to you, the more powerful your argument is likely to be.
  6. You are the Expert: Remember that your legislator’s job is to represent you. You should be courteous and to the point, but don’t be afraid to take a firm position. Remember that often your elected official may know no more about a given issue than you do.You can get the contact information for your Members of Congress at Congress.org.

 

If you need more fuel for your fire, read this.

Your voice matters. Every word counts.

 

RobertReich.org