Starting my COVID vaccination is thrilling, liberating, a massive relief. It’s also terrifying. (Content notes: depression, anxiety, American assholes.)
It’s like a year ago, we slammed on the brakes.* The roads all turned into lava or something, and we slammed on the brakes and pulled over. And we’ve been living in our cars ever since. We’ve been eating junk food from the gas station; getting crappy sleep in the back seat; doing video calls with the people with we love, trying to shut out the pain of not touching them, not having touched them for months.
A year ago, we slammed on the brakes. And now the road crew is on their way. I’ll be able to start the car soon. I’m excited, elated, relieved beyond measure.
You might think leftists need to stop painting conservatives as heartless bigots and stop painting the Republican Party as the Evil Empire. You might think punching Nazis or throwing milkshakes at fascists is unacceptable violence. You might think the word “fascist” is leftist hyperbole.
How bad do things have to get before you’ll change your mind?
Fascism typically turns the heat up a little at a time. “First they came for the socialists,” and all that. Each new horror is just a little bit worse than the last, normalizing the ones that came before it and numbing people to ones that are coming. It’s easy to see in retrospect that strong action should have been taken earlier — but when it’s happening, it’s easy to convince yourself that it isn’t really that bad. Especially if you’re not one of the main targets. Yet.
How bad do things have to get, before you’ll recognize that this is a crisis? How bad do things have to get before you’ll stop seeing this as a problem that can be addressed with civility and debate? How bad do things have to get before you’ll agree that milkshaking — a form of resistance activism that’s been shown to be effective, one of the few forms of resistance that increasingly powerless people have — is acceptable? How much violence does the regime have to inflict before you’ll accept the morality of self-defense?
I don’t want you to answer right away. I just want you to think about it.
Your position should be falsifiable. If you’re an atheist or a skeptic, you should already be allergic to unfalsifiable opinions, goalposts that keep moving. So if you think fascism is not on the rise in the United States, draw your lines. Think now about what you’d consider business as usual, and what you’d consider to be crossing a line. Don’t let the heat get turned up another degree, and another, and another, while you insist that 200 degrees is certainly very hot but technically isn’t boiling. Don’t insist that, because you don’t personally know anyone in the cooking pot, the people screaming about the heat are being hysterical. Draw your line. And make it one where the goalposts won’t keep getting moved, a foot at a time, deeper and deeper into fascism.
We’re having a Godless Perverts Social Club on Tuesday, October 3, at Wicked Grounds, 289 8th St. in San Francisco (near Civic Center BART), 7-9 pm. Our discussion topic for this evening: Sustaining Resistance.
How do we sustain political resistance for the long haul? How do we stay involved and informed, without becoming overwhelmed and burning out? How do we move forward with our everyday lives, without letting fascism become normal? Join us for a discussion about self-care, taking care of each other, deciding on priorities, taking breaks, folding resistance into our everyday lives, and more.
Some political protests are relatively safe. Others are more risky. And we don’t always know ahead of time which is which. Whether you’re planning to be in a protest with a known risk of injury or arrest, or you just want to be ready in case it happens, it’s good to be prepared, so come attend this Protester Safety Training session, featuring Guy Vandenberg and Kitty Stryker, hosted by Godless Perverts. Wednesday, August 23, 7:00 to 9:00 pm in San Francisco. This training will cover:
Preparing for action, anticipating and avoiding violence and injury
Tactics for non-violent self-defense and de-escalation
What to do — and what not to do — when you’re injured and/or arrested
Taking care of yourself and each other after an action
PLEASE NOTE: The space for this event is limited. If you’re planning to attend, please email [email protected] to RSVP and get the location.
Guy Vandenberg is a registered nurse and HIV specialist who began work in the fight against HIV/AIDS in 1985. A veteran of ACT-UP, the AIDS activist organization, he has founded needle exchange programs, worked with homeless populations, and done continuing education about HIV care for physicians and nurses in correctional settings across the US. He has done numerous trainings in protestor safety.
Kitty Stryker is an experienced activist, the ringmistress for Juggalo resistance group Struggalo Circus, and an active member of the genderqueer feminist art collective the NorCal Degenderettes. She has been on the ground acting as a street medic since Occupy. Her first book, Ask: Building Consent Culture, is an anthology with diverse voices discussing consent, from Thorntree Press and coming out in 2017. For media inquiries and bookings, email [email protected].
GODLESS PERVERTS is a non-profit organization that presents and promotes a positive view of sexuality without religion, by and for sex-positive atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-believers. We host social meetups, educational events, performances, and fundraisers for other organizations. We are committed to feminism, diversity, inclusivity, and social justice. All sexual orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) are welcome.
I’m writing this three days after the last round of the Big Health Care Showdown. For seven years, Republican legislators in the U.S. have been screaming that they wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Yet despite having control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, despite arm-twisting and deceit and heavy-handed manipulation of legislative procedure (including introducing their final bill at ten p.m. for a vote at midnight), they failed.
There are a lot of reasons they failed. Even though they had seven years to prepare, the Republicans weren’t prepared with actual legislation. Their own party was divided: a large branch of the party thought the bills being proposed weren’t draconian enough. And, of course, the president is an arrogant, incompetent, willfully ignorant buffoon, who failed to do the difficult work of convincing legislators and citizens to accept the legislation, and didn’t even see the value of doing so.
But one of the biggest reasons the Affordable Care Act was saved was a massive outpouring of resistance from citizens, beseeching their representatives not to take health care from millions. The ACA was saved, in large part, by a flood of people contacting their Senators and Congresspeople: calling, texting, emailing, sending letters and postcards, protesting, lobbying, getting arrested, and organizing others to do all the above. Everyone familiar with how federal government works says contacting elected officials is effective, and when it happens on this scale, it’s hugely effective. Everyone familiar with federal government says the recent flood of civic engagement was a major reason a handful of Republican legislators broke ranks — and all Democratic legislators held firm.
On the one hand: We don’t want to normalize the Trump regime. One of the ways fascism and authoritarianism get a foothold is by turning up the hot water a little at a time. We get used to a little more autocracy, a little more corruption, a little more contempt for democratic government, a few more foxes guarding the henhouses, a few more basic rights dissolving into the night.
And once we get used to all that, the regime makes it all a little bit worse. We can’t allow ourselves to get used to it. We have to resist it at every turn, and we can’t allow ourselves to think it’s normal or okay.
On the other hand: We can’t live in a constant state of crisis. Emotionally, psychologically, that’s just not tenable. It’s exhausting and demoralizing. For those of us with mental health problems — and those numbers have gone up dramatically since the election — a constant state of crisis can make those problems worse. And it can lead to the exact numbness we’re trying to avoid. If we’re going to have the strength to resist, we have to live our lives. We have to have some sort of routine: eating meals, going to work, playing games, paying bills. We have to put one foot in front of the other.
That’s especially true when we’re in it for the long haul. We might be able to drop everything and throw all our reserves into a political crisis if it can be resolved in a few weeks, or even a few months. We can’t do that if the crisis will be going on for years.
So how do we do this? How do we live with the unacceptable, without accepting it? How do we get on with our lives, avoid treating every day as a crisis, without allowing the intolerable to become normal?
Here’s how I’ve been framing this for myself:
Don’t normalize fascism. Normalize resistance.
Make resistance part of our daily or weekly routine. Do something on a regular basis to resist the current regime. Call or fax elected officials, every day or every week. Post notices on social media every day or every week, encouraging our friends and family to call elected officials. Put the phone numbers of our elected officials in our phones, to make these calls easier. Sign up for notifications of resistance actions. Go to meetings of resistance organizations, every week or every month.
Go to protests when we can: make plans with our friends to go. Donate money to resistance organizations: set up regular automatic donations every month. Subscribe to good sources of news. Wear buttons and T-shirts, put bumper stickers on our cars, signaling our resistance. Participate in boycotts. Stay on top of the news. Stay informed about which news sources are reliable (yes, there’s fake news on the left as well as the right). Share news on social media.
Read about the history of resistance movements. Read about the history and experience of marginalized people, especially in groups you’re not part of. Talk politics with our friends and co-workers and families. Listen to marginalized people when they talk about their experiences and tell you what they need — even when they’re criticizing you, especially when they’re criticizing you.
And very importantly: Keep talking with each other about how bad things are — and what we can do about it. Keep it on our back burner, and bring it to the front burner regularly. Keep it in each other’s consciousness, and in our own.
Don’t normalize fascism. Normalize resistance.
We don’t all have to do all these things. We can pick one or two or three, more if we can but only if we can. We each get to decide which forms of resistance are within our abilities: physically, emotionally, financially. And we don’t have to do resistance work every second of every day. In fact, we probably shouldn’t. Self-care is not selfish; preventing activist burnout is not selfish. Taking care of ourselves is one of the ways we get the strength to resist — and that includes setting limits and taking breaks.
In fact, taking regular breaks can be part of how we normalize resistance. Taking care of each other, building supportive communities with other people doing resistance work, is itself a form of resistance work. Dinner parties, dance parties, chat sessions, game nights — all of this helps us get to know each other better, care about each other more, work together more effectively.
And making resistance pleasurable is an important way to make it normal. People are more likely to keep doing activism if it’s at least occasionally fun — and we’re more likely to make activism part of our lives, part of our selves.
Folding resistance into our everyday lives lets us have “normal” lives in a fascist regime, without letting fascism become normal. And it gives us daily reminders that fascism is not normal.
(Thanks to my Facebook friends for their suggestions of concrete, everyday resistance activities.)
I keep seeing arguments against the massive uprising in protest of the DT regime, on the grounds that DT won the election and we should accept it gracefully and not be sore losers. Weirdly, I don’t just see this from Republicans: I see it from some Democrats as well. So here’s what I want to ask:
Are you arguing the the citizens of a democratic country should not press our elected officials to do what we want? That we should not, as the First Amendment says, peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances?
Are you arguing that once a president is elected, citizens should let him do whatever he wants with no opposition, regardless of whether it’s grossly immoral and indeed illegal?
Are you saying that we should sit back and do nothing while incompetence, raging bigotry, xenophobia, kleptocracy, and contempt for the constitution all become entrenched in law and policy?
Are you arguing that we should ignore the gross irregularities in this election — the widespread and systemic voter disenfranchisement, the interference from a hostile foreign government, the absurd electoral system that allows someone to become president when they lost by three million votes — and accept the results of this election as if they were normal and legitimate?
Are you arguing that the problem with contemporary US politics is that citizens are too engaged, and that our political engagement should involve voting and nothing else?
And are you arguing that people who recognize the warning signs of fascism — who are listening to the historians who study fascism when they say that yes, this is what the rise of fascism looks like — should sit back and let fascism rise, for fear of looking like poor losers?
We are not the ones dividing the country. The people who want to kick out immigrants even if they’re here legally, who want to let poor people die for lack of health care, who want to decimate public education, who want to permit open discrimination against LGBT people, who are tolerating and even encouraging the massive increase in bigoted hate crimes — they are the ones dividing this country. Are you arguing that we should be in unity with bigoted, hateful, kleptocratic fascists?
What’s happening now is exactly how democracy should be functioning. What you’re advocating is a four-year dictatorship.
There’s a nasty strain of dourness in leftist politics. All too often, we run into the idea that activism is only valuable if it’s solemn, focused entirely on the harsh realities of the present or the grim possibilities of the future. This attitude was encapsulated perfectly in a Washington Post column by Petula Dvorak, opposing the pink pussyhats in the Women’s March after inauguration day. “This is serious stuff,” Dvorak said. She argued that the Women’s March was about serious issues of suffering and danger, so the imagery shouldn’t be playful or fun. “The Women’s March needs grit,” she said, “not gimmicks.” (Note: Many trans women and women of color found the pussyhats exclusionary, and there are good arguments against them. Dvorak’s column isn’t one of them.)
Dvorak’s attitude is common. And it needs to be loaded into a cannon and shot into the sun. Pleasure, fun and joy are enormously valuable in activism. Pleasure isn’t a requirement for everyone, of course: different people pursue activism in different ways, and that’s a good thing. But of the many tools in our collective toolbox, pleasure is one of the most powerful. Here are eight reasons why.
I don’t believe we have to discuss this again. But apparently we do.
The right to free speech does not give someone the right to other people’s platforms and microphones. You can respect someone’s right to free speech, and not give them your own space and audience.
You don’t have to invite someone to speak on your campus. You don’t have to interview them in your newspaper or magazine, on your TV show or podcast. You don’t have to let them comment in your blog or Facebook page or YouTube channel. You don’t have to give them a book deal. People are not entitled to these things, and in fact most people don’t get most of them. I haven’t been invited to speak at the University of California, and this doesn’t obstruct my free speech. I can speak in other places.
When you give your platform and your microphone to hateful, bigoted, dangerous fascists known for ugly harassment, it gives them legitimacy. It makes their ideas seem mainstream. It doesn’t necessarily say that you agree with them, but it says you think their ideas are worth considering and are a subject for reasonable debate.
Milo Yiannopoulos is part of a highly dangerous movement, a movement that has been empowered and emboldened by the 2016 presidential election. If successful, this movement will result in a rise in bigoted and xenophobic hatred, a massive upsurge in violent hate crimes, a loss of basic civil rights, severe restrictions on science and education — and yes, the suppression of free speech, for individuals as well as media organizations. Some of these things are already happening; others are already beginning to happen. Do you really want to give this movement your platform, your microphone, and your audience?
History has its eyes on us. In twenty years, fifty years, a hundred years, we will be judged by how we responded to this crisis. Do you want to be one of the people who helped the Nazis reach more people?
In the past, when people have argued that they’re entitled to other people’s platforms (such as commenting on blogs or Facebook pages), I’ve often illustrated the absurdity of this by asking, “Would you let people spew openly hateful racism on your platform? Would you let people advocate genocide on your platform? Would you let Nazis use your platform?” It is highly distressing to learn that for many people, including people I’ve considered colleagues and allies and even friends, the answer is Yes.