Even during a constitutional crisis and a white nationalist assault on the executive branch of federal government, the kids still need to get to school, bills must be paid, homework done, groceries bought, clothes washed, church attended.
In addition to your regular job, you are now a full-time grassroots organizer and obstructionist, showing up for protests and rallies. You're also trying to implement a full-time legislative strategy, calling representatives, signing petitions, encouraging others to do the same. And for some, your full-time government job or journalism job or advocacy job now requires a renewed understanding of the ethics of public service, while also developing strategies to implement or refuse unclear and possibly illegal directives.
How do you keep from flaming out?
All great resistance communities practice a two-pronged approach. Mohandas Gandhi described this as an “obstructive program” alongside long-term “constructive engagement.” Both are needed for the wheel of resistance to turn.
The “obstructive program” entails direct confrontation, noncooperation, and public resistance to oppression. The election of Mr. Trump to the presidency — and his ensuing policies and choice of advisers — has motivated Americans and others into streets, airports, congressional offices, federal buildings, state capitols, construction zones, and elsewhere to put their bodies on the line, interrupting Mr. Trump’s white nationalist, un-American, unconstitutional agenda.
This must continue, whenever and wherever it can. It must be creative and unexpected, and it must remain nonviolent.
For those new to this kind of civilian resistance it’s easy to flare up, then burn out. You may find yourself exhausted, depressed, and bitter, tired from what you thought was the "big push," before the next (or real) "big push" of resistance has even started. (Believe me, demagogues and authoritarians count on this.)
To keep the wheels turning, and prevent againt burnout, you also need a "constructive engagement." Remember Assata Shakur’s powerful social contract: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
To uphold that oath, we need some co-commitments:
1. Reinvigorate your daily spiritual practice.
Pray. It helps de-colonize your mind. Prayer is the most effective way to block the corrosive effects of an authoritarian bully who has made our American family his punching bag. Chant the psalms. Celebrate silence. Practice forgiveness. Meditate on freedom. Create a home altar. Be extravagantly gracious. Bless your house. Hold worship services at home to celebrate births, anniversaries, and lives well lived. Listen. Let your mind and spirit focus. When it’s time to act, follow God. Act on principle, rather than emotion. Collect solutions. Practice insurrectionary resurrection.
2. Practice supper table fellowship.
Take in strays — both people and animals. Cook — it’s creative, a great way to teach real math, and (usually) tastes good. Invite friends for meals. Eat food grown in your watershed. Practice the fine art of conversation. Play cards. Play music. Don’t live alone if you can help it — if you can't, regularly welcome others in. Practice moderation. Adopt an elderly neighbor or someone who could use a friend. Have fun. Get to know your neighbors — from the drug dealers to the shop vendors to the old-timers. Ask what “winning freedom” looks like. Invest in local economies. Get out of debt. Drink water — it makes you less susceptible to advertising and social media hype. Feed the birds.
3. Intersectionalize yourself.
Friend people unlike you on Facebook. Read reputable print newspapers for a cross-section of news (not just what a corporate algorithm wants you to see). Learn your own family history — it’s more complicated than you think. Use the public library. Tutor someone learning English. Get trained in active bystander intervention. Support a local union. Review the principles of nonviolence. Identify your “chains” — ask for help in breaking free of them. Eat lunch and eavesdrop in a small-town diner or truck stop. Teach your kids to be social critics by having them write reviews of favorite TV shows, video games, or music. Discuss with them difference between what’s good and what’s popular. Teach “deconstructing advertising” and “deconstructing political speech” in your church or community group. Practice solidarity across issues and “isms.” Show up for racial justice. Examine privilege. Study power.
Gandhi taught that if the “constructive engagement” for independence was adopted broadly enough, then the “obstructive program” to resist injustice would be less necessary. All of this serves the nonviolent revolution.
One does not have to “believe” in nonviolence as a personal or religious theory to practice this form of resistance. The reason the revolution must remain nonviolent is in the math.
Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan have collected data on all major nonviolent and violent campaigns for the removal of a government or for territorial liberation since 1900. Chenoweth says, “Nonviolent campaigns worldwide weretwice as likely to succeed outright as violent insurgencies.”
Additionally, Chenoweth and Stephan’s data shows when 3.5 percent of a population participates in an active, sustained campaign against an unjust government or authoritarian leader, that government or leader will not remain in power.
In the U.S., we need 11 million people to be active in a sustained campaign against Mr. Trump’s agenda. Being “active” in the streets is the obstructive program. Being “sustained” over the long-haul requires constructive engagement.
Remember: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”