In May 1968, the entire nation of France shut down. I remember it. I thought it was amazing that an entire country could organize, mobilize unions, students, and citizens of all kinds, to make a statement of displeasure like none I had ever seen before. DeGaulle left the country, only to return willing to make changes and concessions. Here in the US, students and activists were motivated to try the same tactics to bring the war in Vietnam to an end with a national movement called the Moratorium.
As member of my campus Community for Social Action, I was eager to join in and each month, starting in September, we went out into the larger community expecting to bring more and more people into our protests and finally do as the French had done. As others went to factories with their anti-war literature, petitions and arguments, I went to local malls with the same. I was met with some tepid support, some rancor claiming I must be a communist, and even more apathy, so that I learned rather quickly that we were not France and that what worked there so splendidly, wouldn’t even make a dent here. The Moratorium petered out within a few months. We were a nation divided and despite what we think today, under a president who has not one redeeming human quality, we are not even close to being as divided as we were in the 60s and 70s. And yet we seem powerless to stop the madness as we watch each day unfold with more incredible tweets, foul language, insults of other nations and childish excuses for not doing his job. So what do we do now? Join the Resistance!
During all the protests and activism of the Vietnam and Civil Rights Era, I watched as the intoxication of protesting and speaking out started to become more important to far too many people than our worthy goals. Suddenly the feeling that we were accomplishing great things overshadowed the reality that we were not really accomplishing much at all. When President Johnson spoke on TV telling us that he would not run for another term, we were ecstatic. VICTORY! But then, despite the many Democratic candidates that offered some level of promise, Nixon won the election.
Over the years I have considered how wanting to isolate ourselves from the SYSTEM, to build a better future, is just counterproductive. I have recently read of plans not to spend any money for a week or for anything beyond survival basics for an extended time. STARVE THE BEAST! Well, while the rallying call sounds radical, in fact, it is the most reactionary idea imaginable. We are not separate from the “beast” and all of us are affected by the very beast some want to starve. When people don’t spend, business fail and people lose their jobs, not just the “fat cats”, but the little guys who own their own businesses or work at a franchise. The pain is rarely felt at the top, but reverberates in the middle and suffocates the bottom. One less million for the CEOs, while they may complain, means little to their families and lifestyles. Someone recently disagreed when I said we are all affected by Wall Street, pointing out that only a few people own stocks. But stock ownership is not the point. There is nothing that is not connected to the financial center of this nation. Do some research on the Great Depression. While we now have the FDIC to protect some our funds, we are still vulnerable to any change that impacts our financial lives. So when I suggest we work hard within the system and recognize that we are part of the very “beast” we may blindly attack, I know it is not exciting, but pragmatic, a word that means, “doing what works.” (A word that in part may have brought Hillary down.)
But there are things we can do to break with tradition and show our resistance to this administration, acknowledging that government and administration are two separate things. Boycotting businesses that discriminate on the local level, taking a knee and sticking up for others who take a knee to protest violence and brutality, reminding our public officials and vets that their oaths require them to protect the Constitution and not any other document, symbol or person. As for sports teams and celebrities of all kinds, refusing to go to the White House as those in the past have done, it is a strong form of resistance and reminder that the POTUS actually does work for all of us and that no one is required to show up to validate what violates their basic values and humanity.
The Women’s March held this past January 20th was impressive, but with 65 million people voting against the present occupant of the OVAL Office, one would think that we could get at least half that many to divide up and keep the marches and demonstrations coming. Let’s say 36 million divided by 12, making for a march of 3 million each month in our big and not so big cities. Keep the movement going and end in one huge march. Flood the White House and Capitol with letters, the old fashioned handwritten kind and tweet away like we have never tweeted before. But use the system to fix the system. The Constitution is still the law of the land. Make it work and let it work. Quote it everywhere and everyday wherever you can. You can get a free copy from the ACLU. Then read it and have a national read-in and conferences all over the country. We need to be focused and consistent and annoy the hell out of the least qualified president this country ever know. We are the government so we need to stop making it our enemy and grab hold of the reins until everything comes together to head us in a better direction.
Written by Margaret Shaw
Edited by Rachel Tannenbaum