I need to say some more about the thinking I expressed in my earlier blog. My main point was and is that our most meaningful and effective protests have their source in sharp strategic thinking that is free of moral righteousness. Full of passion grounded in our values and concerns for a world that can work well, but not in moral righteousness. The Civil Rights Movement changed America through a combination of intense moral conviction without righteousness, nonviolent protest methods, and coherent strategic use of those methods.
In retrospect, however, I think I was weak in presenting strong alternatives for situations like Charlottesville in my previous blog. Citizens in Charlotte, NC in 2012 met a neo-Nazi demonstration with humor and vaudeville. A Huffington Post piece at the time describes what happened.
The other day an excellent piece appeared in the NYTimes that expanded on the idea about the strategic effectiveness of making fun of neo-Nazis and much more. It has a great picture of the Charlotte clowning response. It also tells the story of how a town near the Czech/German border struggled for decades to mount an effective counter-demonstration to an annual celebration of Rudolf Hess at his gravesite. In 2014 the town citizens came up with a counter demonstration that 1) welcomed their arrival with “rainbow confetti” a tactic that turned the neo-Nazi walk into a fundraiser for helping neo-Nazis move away from their ideology. (A Washington Post article at the time has pictures and a video of the event.) The Times column goes into an extended discussion of the effectiveness of nonviolent and nondestructive protest.
I also think I went too far in one of my comments:
In terms of strategic effectiveness the morally righteous effort Cornel West and others mounted was put to shame by the spontaneous candlelight vigil in Charlottesville last night and the mass CEO resignation from the Trump project.
In retrospect, I don’t think any counter-demonstration effort was “put to shame.” What I do wonder about is how much thought went into strategizing an approach to the neo-Nazi demonstration. It seems they were coming to rumble. If so, how much thought went into countering that kind of energy so it was mostly turned back on itself. I wasn’t there so I don’t know.
Finally, I received feedback also on my use of the word “stupid.”
…while the kind of confrontational protest some from the Left mounted in Charlottesville were stupid and self-defeating of the kinds of positive projects the Left can be promoting.
Why stupid? I use that term not as an insult but as an evaluation of a strategic move. Fighting resistance reinforces resistance.
If there wasn’t a confrontational counter-protest, then my observation is not factually grounded, and I need to correct my original statement.
On the other hand, if there was a “confrontational” counter-protest, then I think my descriptive “stupid” was okay. Many decisions are appropriately called ‘stupid” because of the poor thinking and foresight such decisions come from. When I try to persuade someone to change their mind by yelling at them at how stupid they are, then I am being quite stupid. I don’t this much interactively any more, but I certainly do it in fantasy more than a little bit. When I catch myself doing it, I simply say, “Michael, what you’re doing now is pretty stupid. J.”