It’s Time to Take Action

By George Payne

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

To passively accept the Trump agenda is to cooperate with evil. By evil, Dr. King always implied the forces of selfishness, pride, ignorance, and mercilessness that arise when the virtues of wisdom, love, compassion, and courage have been silenced.

With King’s prophetic words in mind, now is the time for the peace and justice community to respond with a unified, unambiguous, strategic voice of dissent against Donald Trump. Now is the time for creative disobedience and loving confrontation. It is not the time for mere passive disapproval and veiled complicity.

Since most people who oppose Trump are feeling incapacitated right now, the best way to overcome this sensation of helplessness is to do something constructive, hope inducing, and goal oriented with others. For expert help, the most prolific source of information about active nonviolence resistance is the work of Gene Sharp. (See more about Sharp’s methods at 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.)

If I had to choose a few immediate actions from Sharp’s list, I would recommend assemblies of protest or protest meetings. Public assemblies empower those in attendance and send a message to the opposition that there is an active community which is working behind the scenes and on the front lines.

Secondly, I believe that ostracism of persons can be effective if done with the right intention. Social boycott of Trump’s products, selective social boycotts of companies that are in business with Trump, and a variety of symbolic nonaction days can all have a powerful effect.

Thirdly, I would recommend action by holders of financial resources. Withdrawal of bank deposits, refusal to pay fees, dues, and assessments, refusal to pay debts or interest, severance of funds and credit, revenue refusal and even refusal of government money can be potent forms of resistance.

Last but not least, peace and justice organizations should be mobilizing their members and constituents to physically intervene by engaging in sit-sins, stand-ins, ride-ins, wade- ins, mill-ins, and pray-ins.

There are so many ways to actively oppose Donald Trump by using nonviolent civil resistance, that perhaps the most consequential act is to do nothing at all. As King put it: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

George Payne
Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Finger Lakes Community College

A Note from Michael Nagler:

We are pleased to share this blog from our friend George Payne. We could not agree more that this is not a time for passivity. Indeed, Gandhi would call passivity a form of violence. To add to his apt quote from King, (I paraphrase) the problem is not that ill- intentioned people do so much but that well-intentioned people do so little.

However, there are several pretty major disagreements we at Metta would have with George’s article, some of which have no doubt already leapt out at our readers, and George and I agree that it might be instructive to list them here:

  •   Gene Sharp is no longer the “most prolific source of information about active nonviolence resistance.” Happily, a whole generation of top-notch scholars has become quite active, starting perhaps with the marvelous study of Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works. A whole new genre has arisen, and it goes far beyond Sharp’s invaluable pioneering work.
  •   Sharp got some public attention to nonviolence, but to do so he paid a price we regard as unfortunate: he ignored the deeper principles of “the greatest power humankind has been endowed with” and presented not nonviolence so much as non-violence; not the presence of that power but the mere political expedient of withdrawing ordinary power, namely consent from political oppression. One consequence was to focus all attention on one only of the infinite applications of real (principled) nonviolence, namely overthrowing oppressive regimes. Modern history (think of Egypt, for one example) shows that with this “strategic non- violence” you often only swap one set of dictators for another. But the deeper consequence is to stay within the “old paradigm” framework, which we think cuts off nonviolence from its future.
  •   The famous 198 techniques listed by Sharp therefore have to be sifted by the criteria of principled nonviolence (PNV). Some dozen or so of them are completely unacceptable by those criteria, for example those that advocate humiliation of the opponent; and so when George recommends “ostracism of persons” in his second recommendation for action we would have to demur. The very core of nonviolent power, virtually all major practitioners and advocates would agree, is the separation of the person from the deed: to “hate the sin but not the sinner.” In strategic nonviolence (SNV) á là Sharp (in his later work) the goal is to defeat the opponent; in PNV it is to win him or her over, if at all possible in the given time.
  •   Back up to recommendation #1: “protest meetings.” 90% of protests today are too little, too late. They apply only in stage one of our escalation curve, and the conflicts we will be facing are well beyond, deep in stage two.

This means that we are in complete agreement with George’s last two recommendations, which in fact represent a constructive and an obstructive approach. On a final note, then, it is a great thing that we are able to have this cordial discussion, even about things that mean a lot to both of us but on which we have some substantial agreements. If only the political discourse in America could return to that cordiality!