Alert #16: Hell, No! (Some History)

1. Standing Rock

The Water Protectors at Standing Rock are only the most recent example. They showed us once again that what matters in political protest, as in just about everything else, is staying power: showing up, sticking it out, coming back, not going away. Yes, the Standing Rock fight begins again after Inauguration Day, but those heroes won a battle earlier this month from which very few thought they could emerge victorious. They won because they were there, on the scene, all day and all night, for months and months on end, in all weather.

2. The Rosenstrasse Protest

In Berlin during the Third Reich, so-called Aryan wives of Jewish men showed up and chanted loudly before the prison where their husbands were being held. (Incidentally, Aryan husbands of Jewish women who were taken away did not do the same.) And you know what? After just a few weeks of the Rosenstrasse Protest, named after the street where the prison stood and the women gathered, the Nazis decided it just wasn’t worth the trouble. They released the husbands, and even returned some intermarried Jewish husbands who had already been deported to Auschwitz. These released prisoners lived out the war at home, as free men. Jewish free men. In wartime Germany.

How depressing is that? But also, inspiring.

Thank you, Ma, for keeping a book on the Rosenstrasse Protest on a low shelf when I was a child.

3. Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada

In Every Man Dies Alone, based on a true story, author Hans Fallada portrays an ordinary, uneducated couple, also Berliners, who take action against the Reich. Every Sunday, the husband painstakingly writes out a postcard, sometimes two, with exhortations not to believe government lies, and to resist. He and his wife discreetly drop the postcards in public buildings around the city where, they hope, random people will find them and be touched, persuaded and perhaps moved to action. For a year or more (until they are sussed out and arrested), the couple continues their modest weekly action, flummoxing law enforcement officials, who grow convinced that a vast network of conspirators is responsible for these acts of sabotage.

Thank you, BS, for recommending this book.

Modes of protest are few in number. There are not a whole lot of variations, not a lot of funky positions to try out. Mostly protest involves refusing to cooperate, kicking up a fuss, making a big noise, dragging murky deeds into the light, calling for change. The same stuff, over and over. But if, as my father used to say, removing your ski boots makes for the second most pleasurable feeling in the world (back in the days of lace-up ski boots, in any case), protest, especially protest that achieves its aims, may well come in third.

4. Resistance is rising

In just a few weeks, popular-vote-loser Trump will become President of the Republic. (He is behaving as if he already is. How curious is this time in history, when we have a President on Pennsylvania Avenue and another on Fifth Avenue, utterly at odds with each other. And I do mean odds.) The Department of Energy declined the Trump team’s request to provide names of staffers involved in climate control efforts. The State Department met its request to provide information about programs to benefit women worldwide, especially to reduce VAW (violence against women), but only, said a spokesperson, because it did not ask for staffers’ names. (Those Trumpsters are fast learners.) The General Accounting Office advised Trump that he must liquidate business holdings before the inauguration in order to avoid conflicts of interest. Ivanka and her brothers have backed away from selling access to themselves and Daddy because of the outcry.

Cities around the country have reaffirmed that they will provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants and uphold justice and democracy. The attorneys-general of California and New York State have declared their intention not to implement immoral Trump policies. (Sorry, that’s redundant.) Renewable energy and environmental efforts will continue to move forward at the local, state and international levels, and economics will continue tilting us toward renewable energy. The “deep state,” (the core of veteran policy officials within federal agencies who apparently have greater power to shape foreign policy than many of us realize, ensuring that it does not vary greatly from one President to the next, despite the divergent rhetoric of the two major parties) is preparing, some say, to stand up and refuse to implement outlandish and dangerous policy measures and is quietly making known its opposition to this bizarre Frankensteinian administration.

Thank you, Paul, for introducing me to the idea of the ‘deep state.’

5. Recent cases where loose-cannon leaders were restrained from within the power structure

There are precedents for resistance to nuttiness in the executive branch. Remember, when Nixon was in his cups during Watergate, his closest advisers told Department of Defense officials to disregard any nuclear weapon launch order emanating from the White House. Maybe there were such orders; we don’t know, because none were executed.

And when in 2008 California Governor (“Girly Men”) Schwarzenegger threatened to cut state employees’ salaries to minimum wage to force the legislature to agree on a budget, state comptroller John Chiang announced that he had constitutional and statutory authority to continue paying the employees their full salaries, and that the Terminator was trying to make him do something improper and illegal. The Governor sent Chiang a formal executive order, to which Chiang responded with a formal letter reiterating his position. He handily won reelection to the post in the next election and recently announced his intention to run for Governor in 2018.

It is possible to oppose the use of power for evil ends. There are things we can do. We can affect history. I am hopeful.

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