I’m too Radical for the Violence of the so-called “Antifas”

Writing

I think that the only way I can make this comprehensible to you is to talk in terms of pain. We can follow the faultlines along my body, and trace the damage. Let’s start at the feet, the nerve damage the developed when he would hold me down while he raped me as a toddler. The nerve damage from the hard labor. I’m 29, and some days my compression socks are the only thing standing in the way of me being fully bedridden. These aren’t from the Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. We’ve traced my injuries back to every single memory. The damaged shoulder is from it being dislocated by my parents when they raped me and I struggled.

The knee? I injured that resisting rapes (it turns out that if a small child locks her knees together, it takes a lot of force to separate them and my knee paid for that).

The neck? Is that from the attempted stranglings?

Those scars on my wrist? The time they tried to kill me.

My hands? Hard labor, intentionally sprained wrists and the push to succeed did that.

My ankle is worse because of the rapes while I recovered from surgery after I broke it.

You can see the damage of oppression in my medical chart.

All this physical evidence and no one saw it until my husband did.

Why?

Because I was poor. Because I was white. Because I was accomplished. Because I didn’t look and sound like a victim. Because I was resistant.

Resisting made things so much worse. They did everything they could to break me. They raped me in front of my siblings. They beat me. They punished me when I volunteered to take those hits for someone else. There was nothing they hated more than after ALL THAT, after decades of torture and abuse, after even being exposed to the different forms of oppression at Stanford, I was still kind. Resistant as hell, but not once could they convince me to hurt innocent people. They couldn’t make me into a monster.

If you think that in the course of this time I never wanted to be violent or that being resistant without being violent was easier, you have no fucking idea what you are talking about. It took a tremendous amount of discipline and strength to endure all of that and come out the other side still preaching love and nonviolence. But I have been tested and I have been through the fire, and I have risen out of the ashes over and over again to say the same thing.

We can talk about the morality of violence. It is just wrong to hurt innocent people, if you don’t think so, then you are the monster. But doing violence changes you in ways you can’t take back. I know because I watched the way they destroyed my sister. Her fury and the way she beat my brother and me was never a sign of strength but a sign of profound pain. I didn’t envy her, I just felt bad for her, which is why I often took those beatings.

But violence is also ineffective against actual monsters because we will never out-monster them. True pyschopaths and sociopaths WANT us to be them. They won’t respond badly to violence because that is the world they believe in. We will never be as cruel as them. We will never be able to hurt people as well as them. This is asymmetrical warfare and when you up against a stronger enemy, you have to be more careful and strategic.

There are so many times I would have died if I had made a single mistake. Had I been just a few seconds delayed, the fire might have engulfed my brother and me both. Had I freaked out instead of putting the fire out while in extreme pain, I would be dead.

If the train hadn’t come at exactly the right time, something I had planned and stalled for, I would be dead.

And if I hadn’t told my neighbor to keep an eye on the house the night they tried to stab me, I would be dead. There was no room for error. I could not make mistakes. I could not let emotions drive me. I had other people’s lives on the line, and had I died, more would have followed.

So I’m not someone who is saying this without experiencing oppression. If you know an American with an more harrowing story of oppression, I’d like to meet them so I can have more friends. I’m not saying this as some pansy nonviolent advocate. I have family in the military, and I believe there is a time and place to fight. I’m not saying this because I’m conservative and I think peace and harmony are more important.

First of all, if you showed up to the radical circles I hang with, we’d all be like, “I don’t know her.” I was giving lectures on the way racism is used to divide the masses in 2010 before it was cool. I helped start the movement for poor and working class kids on college campuses. I’m an anti-racist trained teacher with a Master’s degree in education who once got in trouble in grad school for including the Black Panthers in her curriculum. I’ve worked at domestic violence shelters, as a special needs paraprofessional in one of the roughest neighborhoods in the Bay. I wrote one of my admission essays on how the homeless man on the bus who was missing an arm and a leg was the person society should most revere.

You wanna play out-radicalize, kids? Well, you in the big leagues now, sweethearts. And in the big league, we do our homework. So you can’t make that argument.

I disagree with you because I think what you are doing is wrong and ineffective based on life experience and a comprehensive study of social movements around the world. I’m against it because I don’t think it is going to work, and seeing as how I’ve never seen an explanation for how pepper spraying old people would have stopped Hitler, I’m not holding my breath that you even know why you are doing what you are doing.

But this isn’t even close to our only option. And these so-called “antifas” aren’t even close to our only option for leadership in solving the serious problems we face. They don’t know this because they have NO FUCKING IDEA what they are doing. Do you really think MLK didn’t weigh the benefits and consequences of your actions? That you are better at the game than him? That you know more than your grassroots folks? That you know more than people who have been studying and doing this for longer than you’ve been alive? Is it because your parents told you that you were special too many times?

But I also want to be clear. I think the so-called “antifas” are weak willed children who demonstrated that they aren’t fit for leadership. I don’t think they are “strong” or showing Trump who is boss. I think they are fucking babies. I endured actual torture for years and I still have the discipline to plan my actions around how they affect others. I have severe PTSD. My childhood makes McCain’s torture experiences in Vietnam look relatively tame. And I am telling you that this violence and chaos is not strength.

It is the refuge of weak-willed monsters. And if you think it is going to be you dumb fucks that are going to turn me into a monster when my own mother couldn’t do that, you are arrogant at a disturbing level.

I blame your parents, for raising you to believe you are gods among men.

And babies, my sweet, dear babies, I know exactly how to take down Goliaths.

 

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Using Political Jiu-Jitsu To Disintegrate Hostile Regimes

Writing

In the past decade alone, the deaths of Egyptian Khaled Saeed, Iranian Neda Agha Soltan, and other fatalities caused by repressive governments ignited nation-wide revolutions which were recognized and lauded internationally. A youtube mashup by Andreina Nash of violence against student protests in Venezuela brought international attention and pressure on their government. The massacre of dozens of civilians in Sharpetown by South Africa’s apartheid government crushed their reputation internationally. Same goes for Gandi and the British empire. And today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. who brought “Bloody Sunday” to the nation’s television sets.

These are all considered examples of “political jiu-jitsu,” when activists use a regime’s repressive actions to damage the regime’s own pillars of support. It is arguably the most powerful weapon available to activists in a nonviolent struggle.

Yet when nearly two million Indonesians were slaughtered within a period of months in 1965, the international community shrugged, domestic reaction was muted, and the authoritarian Muhammad Suharto rose to power and reigned for the next thirty years. Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt best summed up the western world’s reaction to this genocide in commenting that he was pleased since “‘with 500,000 to 1,000,000 [of them] knocked off… it is safe to assume a reorientation has taken place.”

The difference in results lies in whether the activists or the opponent are better able to manage the outrage or backfire resulting from repression. While the majority of readers may find the above quote by the then-Prime Minister abhorrent in its current form, more than a few would be pacified if the brackets were replaced with “terrorist sympathizers.” The Prime Minister was talking about “communist sympathizers.”

Political jiu-jitsu can nonviolently coerce opponents or even ignite the disintegration of the opponent’s regime. When properly crafted, even if the regime chooses not to repress activists, activists will still be able to claim a victory. On the other hand, if the regime successfully defends against political jiu-jitsu, they can violently repress dissidents without fear of consequence. To understand how regimes fight political jiu-jitsu, the core assumptions behind nonviolent struggle must be examined.

WHY DOES POLITICAL JIU-JITSU WORK?

Perhaps the biggest difference between modern pragmatic theories of nonviolence and Gandi’s beliefs involved explaining the success of this jiu-jitsu. Gandi believed that forcing police to violently repress peaceful civilians would throw off the policeman’s “moral balance” (what Richard Gregg called “moral jiu-jitsu”). This process would be mainly psychological. However, later studies of the Dharasana salt raids found that if the policemens’ moral balance was thrown off, their behavior was certainly not effected. Observers noted that many police became angry at the lack of resistance and even more enraged. Professor Gene Sharp (whose book “From Dictatorship to Democracy” was a guide for several 21st century successful nonviolent revolutions)  , proposed that the effectiveness of Gandi’s acts were due to political, not psychological, processes. Namely, the backlash from Webb Miller’s graphic reporting on the British government’s political, social, and economic pillars of support.

Political jiu-jitsu aims to make repression “backfire” in that it creates more support for activists. This is best done by leveraging the pre-existing beliefs of a regime’s supporters against the regime itself. For instance, the Ukranian student resistance group “Otpor” crafted dilemma demonstrations by identifying regime policies that conflict with widely held beliefs and then forcing the government to choose between doing nothing or applying sanctions that violate those beliefs. If the action goes forward without repression, it accomplishes something worthwhile related to the issue. If the regime represses these actions in a way supporters find intolerable, the regimes pillars of support are eroded and the activists gain even more attention.

If, instead, the action can be ignored or tolerated (such as an antiwar rally on Hiroshima day in Japan) or if the repression does not generate popular concern (such as arresting a protester who punches a policeman), there is no dilemma for the regime. In these cases, the regime will always have the option of avoiding political jiu-jitsu.

HOW REGIMES MANAGE OUTRAGE

Violent suppression does not guarantee political jiu-jitsu will occur. This will only happen if two conditions are met. First, individuals with influence over the regime’s pillars of support must believe the repression is unjust, unfair, wrong, or inappropriate (a receptive audience). Secondly, information about repression must be accurately conveyed to those individuals (a secure communication channel). An empirical study of violent repression against nonviolent protests from 1989-2012 found that regardless of severity of repression, the biggest predictor for the success of political jiu-jitsu was pre-existing campaign or communication infrastructure. For instance, what if Gandi had failed make sure reporters like Miller would cover the march? What if Miller’s newspaper was only read by a handful of British citizens, none of whom could include the relevant pillars of support? This was not the first time police had beaten innocent civilians. It was the first time that these acts were conveyed through a secure communication channel to a receptive audience.

Regimes can prevent backfire by ensuring one of the two above conditions are violated. Brian Martin outlined five such methods: cover ups, devaluing the target, reinterpreting what happened, using official channels to give the appearance of justice, and intimidating or rewarding people involved. Cover-ups involve restricting media access, censoring the media, and discrediting any sources. Devaluing innocent Indonesian women and children as “communist sympathizers” allowed the Australian Prime Minister to condone Indonesian atrocities without so much as an angry letter to the editor. Americans in Guantanamo Bay tortured “terrorists” and “criminals” not “men and women imprisoned without due process.” The fairness of repression can be reinterpreted by lying, minimizing, reframing, and blaming. When first asked about the Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor, the Indonesian government claimed that the protesters were carrying weapons (they weren’t), that only 19 people died (271 people were murdered), and that the protesters instigated violence (they didn’t). The American government claimed it did not engage in torture since waterboarding and stress positions leave no lasting (observable) injury. And even if the American government tortures a few arabs, it is just because the alternative is letting a “ticking bomb” detonate on American soil.

One of the more insidious means for regimes to manage outrage is the use of official channels to give an appearance of justice. Ombudsmen, courts, commissions of inquiry, panels of experts, grievance procedures, and any other formal process for dealing with problems can be exploited to reduce public outrage by creating the perception that the problem is being dealt with. Due to the slow and technical nature of these channels, people’s outrage dies down as time passes. Reports are issued, low level lackeys are sacrificed, charges are dropped as public attention dwindles. When questioned about massacres, the Indonesian government claimed they were investigating the issue of “rogue soldiers” killing civilians. Many committee hearings and investigations occurred into Abu Ghraib, but only a few privates were convicted while the preponderance of evidence showed the abuses were systemic.

Notice how each of these five techniques effect either the secureness/accuracy of a communication channel or the receptivity of the audience. Cover ups prevent either condition from being fulfilled. Devaluing targets lowers the receptivity of the audience by lowering the resulting disgust or outrage. What is unjust about mistreating an inhuman target? Believing the victims were violent or aggressive makes violent repression appear to be a more reasonable (less unfair) reaction. It can even be considered “just” to kill peaceful protesters as long as the audience believes these protesters were a serious threat. Similarly, a sense of unfairness about the repression can be dampened with the appearance of sanction through official channels.

If activists have no control over communication channels, the regime can flood the audience with propaganda aimed at lowering their receptivity or discrediting the very existence of the repression. While the internet has provided an invaluable opening for communication, regimes have equal if not superior access to that channel. If every major newspaper and blogger claims violent repression did not happen, even photographic evidence of the act may not convince the relevant audience. In the future, however, the greatest challenges to the truth will not come from an unified “cover story” but from multiple disinformation narratives that create debates over what should be basic factual information. The recent controversy over “fake news” is a good example of this. What if an activist’s website gets labeled “fake news?” What if a trusted source is secretly turned by the regime and comes out against the activists? What if everyone has a different explanation for what happened because the opponent has purposefully created multiple, contradicting narratives?

COUNTERING REGIME “OUTRAGE MANAGEMENT”

Each regime outrage management technique can be countered. Most immediately, the regime’s cover up will fail if activists can expose the actions with video, photographs, eyewitness accounts, and other forms of evidence. In 1991, Indonesia endured yet another massacre, this time two hundred and fifty civilians. The government informed the international community that it was a “misunderstanding” due to protester-instigated violence. Same as they had for decades.

However, these civilians were part of a funeral procession covered by journalists like Amy Goodman and videographers like Max Stahl. The footage was broadcast across television networks inciting international outrage that lead the US Congress to cut off Indonesia’s military aid. However, had this occurred a decade earlier, Suharto’s iron control over media access would have prevented the story from coming out. The cover up would be complete.

Once repression is exposed, activists must be sure to validate the victim. The regime depends on dehumanization to lower the outrage of the public at a perceived injustice. As noted above, simply referring to civilians as “communist sympathizers” allowed the leader of a western nation to condone borderline genocide without raising an eyebrow. However, what if activists had been able to put names and faces on these “communist sympathizers?” At the very least, the Prime Minister’s reaction to the massacres would not have been so flippant.

If the repression cannot be covered up and the victim’s humanity has been acknowledged, the regime must invalidate the injustice itself. The perception of injustice depends on the perception of the government having a disproportionate reaction to the activists. So, the opponent and activist’s struggle is over how the audience perceives the event. The regime’s lying, minimizing, reframing, and blaming must be actively countered. This is why pre-existing procedures and institutions for communicating activist viewpoints was the best predictor for success in political jiu-jitsu.

Only a deep knowledge of the relevant political institutions will protect activists from being entangled in meaningless official channels to give the appearance of justice. The difference between “congressional hearing” and “independent inquiry” could be the difference between a scapegoated bureaucrat and an overthrown dictator. In many cases, no good official channel exists and nonviolent struggle is the only option. Psychological preparations must be made for resisting regime intimidation or bribes.

Successful political jiu-jitsu is not a simple matter of activists encountering repression. Even genocide, carefully reframed, can be stomached by the masses. Every photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. marching depicts the tip of an iceberg: below it are months of planning and the careful crafting of dilemna demonstrations. This means forcing the government to choose between allowing activists to accomplish a protest-related goal or increasing activist support through repression.

If the regime completely dominates the receptive audience’s information channels (ex. news media, AM radio, internet, etc), it can cover-up violent repression, devalue the victims, reinterpret events as not being an injustice, dampening outrage with the appearance of justice, and even bribe or threaten witnesses and sources into recanting. In response, activists must collect the evidence needed to counter official regime statements that the mainstream news media may parrot as truth. They must actively humanize victims that the regime seeks to dehumanize as unworthy of outrage. Careful analysis by relevant experts must be undertaken before allowing regimes to resort to official channels. The longer the regime can drag out an event, the more activists must fight to mobilize people to maintain outrage. Political jiu-jitsu is not a result; it is a process. And when successful, it can crush the world’s most dangerous and most powerful tyrants.

You can Sit-in or Sit out: Nonviolence in the age of Trump

Writing

Editorial Addendum 9/8/2017: When I first asked my husband to write this post, he thought he didn’t think it would be necessary. Since this post was written, the need for it has only grown. 

guest post by Ross Raffin

In order to lead a successful movement, it is not sufficient to simply state “I don’t believe in violence.” Activists must be able to explain to their most extreme colleagues why nonviolence will succeed where violence will fail. And make no mistake, violence will fail.

But will nonviolence succeed?

SUCCESSES IN NONVIOLENT STRUGGLE

In just the past twenty years, repressive, violent dictatorships were overthrown by nonviolent conflict in the Philippines (1986), Czechoslovakia (1989), Bulgaria (1989), Mongolia (1990), Latvia (1991), Thailand (1992), East Germany (1993), Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), Lebanon (2005), Nepal (2006), Tunisia (2010), Egypt (2011), and Ukraine again (2013). The Global Nonviolent Action Database has recorded nearly 70 successful, nonviolent regime changes in the past 100 years. The same techniques used by Martin Luther King Jr., Gandi, and Harvey Milk lead to the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic (killed major political opponents), Victor Yanukovych (imprisoned one opposition candidate and poisoned another), and Ben Ali (top world contender for freedom of press violations in 2000).

As is evident from above, sympathetic state leaders are not necessary for success. Initial approval from the masses is not necessary either. Under Milosevic, many citizens feared that protests would lead to worse conditions. Because they did not believe they were capable of resisting the state, they tried to stop a nascent group of young Serbians called “Otpor.”

This is a commonly ignored part of nonviolent struggle: empowering the masses to resist on their own terms. Otpor’s strategic use of nonviolence chipped away at the myth of Milosevic’s omnipotence and showed the people how they could resist tyranny. By the time they launched the final round of protests, hundreds of thousands of Serbians participated. However, had they acted violently they would never have attained participation from the masses. This makes more sense when considering the motivation behind violence by the state against activists.

VIOLENT REVOLUTION IS INHERENTLY FLAWED

The goal of government repression is to silence and discredit current and potential activists in order to maintain their power. This means state violence not only aims to inhibit activists, it also aims to PROVOKE activists into behaviors which can be used to inhibit their recruitment of potential activists. This is the entire reason for “agent provocateurs.” It is ironic that some activists, then, are preaching the violent doctrine that the repressive state most desires.

Those who see benefits in revolutionary violence do not understand its natural consequences. Violent revolutions depend on secrecy and concentration of power within a core of people with access to weapons and the perceived authority to direct violence. After this new government of killers takes control, the people will remain unempowered against this violent core unless they wish to engage in their own counter-violent revolution.

On its most basic level, violence simply isn’t as effective. A study of conflicts between states and non-state actors found that between 1990 and 2006 violent revolution succeeded only 26% of the time. Nonviolent resistance succeeded 53% of the time. Controlling for level of repression does not change the trend.

The proponents of violent activism also tend to have a tenuous grasp of history. For instance, the American revolution would have been crushed by England’s naval superiority and economic blockades without France’s navy on their side. During the Chinese Revolution, the Nationalists were fighting an invasion by Japan while looting and raping the countryside. Even then, the result was a concentration of power at the expense of the masses. This out-of-touch clique was single-handedly responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of the very people they claimed to represent. The French revolution resulted in the Reign of Terror and Napoleon. The Haitian Revolution was against a distant colonial government; they fought mostly well-armed slave owners who were outnumbered 10:1. France eventually sent in an extra 6,000 soldiers, but Spain invaded mid-way through the revolution and fought alongside Toussaint Louverture. At both stages of the revolution, the rebels firepower matched their opponents.

Considering the on-the-ground experience of most activists, it is entirely understandable that they have bought into the myth of violent revolution. The difference between their experiences and the above campaigns, however, are rooted in differences in how they view a dictator’s power in relation to his subjects.

GOALS OF NONVIOLENT STRUGGLE

A campaign of nonviolent struggle aims to produce certain behaviors from opponents (for instance, congress passing a Civil Rights bill or a dictator fleeing the country). These behaviors come about from one of four end results:

1. Conversion – The opponent accepts the views of activists due to rational argumentation or emotional appeals. For a variety of reasons, this is unlikely to work, namely that conversion of the opponent doesn’t happen without changing their worldview and core beliefs. Among hundreds of recorded cases of nonviolent struggle, only a handful of conversions of opponents have ever achieved anything of value.

2. Accommodation – Opponents do not change their beliefs but give in to activist’s demands because it is calculated to be in the opponent’s best interest. Continual nonviolent conflict creates a spectrum of problems for opponents (internal dissent, hurt profits, hurt reputation, etc) which may not be worth the trouble of fighting.

3. Nonviolent coercion – Widespread noncooperation and other methods paralyzes the opponents ability to stop activists from achieving their goals. A dictator faced with a civilian protest may call for his army to open fire, only to find that they refuse to shoot their own people. A trucking company with unethical practices might find itself economically crippled by mass strikes and cross-industry union support.

4. Disintegration – The destruction of the opponent’s entire system to the point where no organization remains even to accept defeat. While this may make sense when dealing with dictatorships and even managed democracies, there has yet to be a good case for disintegrating a constitutional democracy. Any constitutional amendment imaginable can result from conversion, accommodation, and nonviolent coercion.

These four goals can each be achieved through the same set of nonviolent methods. But to understand why these methods lead to the above goals, it is necessary to talk about the relationship between a dictator and his subjects.

WHY NONVIOLENCE WORKS

A dictator’s ability to suppress dissent depends on maintaining the following myth: “Rulers hold and exercise power, using it to coerce others. The dictator will suppress any who challenge him, and his overwhelming firepower guarantee victory. “

The truth is that no leader, including the most brutal dictator, can rule without the consent of their subjects. That obedience is what gives the dictator power, so power is sapped from a dictator by convincing people to withdraw that consent. The dictator can respond by calling for the army to gun down these activists… except the army happens to be full of “people” as well. The dictator can buy mercenaries… except no tax revenue is coming in because the people refuse to pay, workers are on strike, and bureaucrats refuse to help process existing returns.

Nonviolent struggle, then, aims to sap or sever the sources of the dictator’s power as well as increase the power of the grievance group (those directly effected by the dictator’s oppression) until one of the above four goals is achieved.

THE ORIGIN OF POLITICAL POWER

Power comes from six main sources. Authority or perceived legitimacy leads people to accept the right of a person or group to lead and be obeyed voluntarily. Even with authority, the ruler cannot turn his desires into a reality without human resources (specialists, labor force, bureaucrats), some of whom must possess the necessary skills and knowledge to keep the country’s infrastructure, equipment, and economy running smoothly. Psychological and ideological factors like habit, feelings of moral obligation, self-interest, cultural attitudes towards obedience and submission, presence of a common faith ideology, and other intangible measures contribute to a ruler’s power. The degree to which the ruler controls a country’s material resources (property, natural resources, financial resources, communication and transportation, etc.) also impacts his power. Perhaps the most important resource available to a dictator is is sanctions, the enforcement of obedience. Sanctions can be violent (stopping a protest with deadly force) or nonviolent (seizure of property for those who do not obey).

In order to increase these sources of power, the dictator must rely on a set of institutions and people such as the army, police, business community, religious leaders, working class laborers, and other pillars of support. If the opponent is a business, pillars of support might be their consumers, their suppliers, regulatory agencies, and legislators. Withdrawal of support from enough pillars will diminish the opponent’s power until they must accept the activist’s demands or risk disintegration.

The purpose of nonviolent methods is to withdraw the consent of an opponent’s pillars of support, weakening the opponent’s relative power until they agree to the activist’s terms. This is not done by alienating or trying to destroy pillars of support. Instead, this is done by eroding the loyalty of those institutions until they withdraw their support from the opponent. This is how Slobodan Milosevic, a genocidal maniac who killed anyone who challenged him, was overthrown nonviolently by a student group call “Otpor.”

HOW TO ERODE A DICTATOR’S POWER

When activists are properly disciplined and trained, then any ensuing state repression will drastically erode a dictator’s pillars of support. While Gene Sharp listed nearly 200 different nonviolent methods to erode the opponent’s pillars of support and increase relative power, he grouped these into three overarching categories.

1. Nonviolent Protest and Persuasion – This is what most people think of when they hear “nonviolent activism:” Public speeches, rallies, marches, petitions, symbolic displays, street theater, walk outs, and teach-ins. These are intended to send messages to the opponent as well as shape the perceptions of people the opponent depends on. In democracies, this usually means shaping the perceptions of the voting public.

At the same time, this method aims to empower the grievance group (those most directly oppressed the opponent) to join activists in their efforts. Unfortunately, modern activists have focused almost exclusively on this category. As Gandi learned when fighting for human rights in Africa, the opponent group (oppressors and their core supporters) rarely undergoes conversion. However, if the opponent has vulnerable pillars of support (in the case of the British government, their businesses and the popular support), then protest and persuasion can decrease the opponent’s relative power by eroding the loyalty of those pillars.

2. Noncooperation – This involves people withdrawing consent by choosing not to participate in certain public actions. The most common manifestations are strikes, boycotts, withdrawal of bank deposits, refusal to acknowledge government institutions, nonobedience in absence of supervision, even simple bureacratic footdragging. This is a safer option when struggling against the most repressive dictatorships. Eroding one pillar of support can indirectly erode others. If noncooperation erodes a dictator’s ability to gain tax revenue, he cannot pay his military. The military pillar of support then depends entirely on loyalty to the dictator which depends on the pillar related to perceived legitimacy.

3. Nonviolent Intervention – these methods actively disrupt the normal operations of policies or systems psychologically, physically, socially, economically, or politically. This involves sit-ins, fasts, nonviolent obstruction, guerilla theater, alternative social institutions, overloading facilities and administrative systems, among other active measures. However, they are also the riskiest for whoever is participating.

EVALUATING RISK

The risk involved for any given nonviolent method depends on the country’s responses to actions outside their particular range of normal political action. In a constitutional democracy writing letters to politicians, voting, and public campaigning constitute normal political action and will not be repressed. As long as it is not considered a serious “public disturbance” or sense of challenge to authority, many democracies will even permit nonviolent methods technically deemed illegal (majority of 2003 Iraq war protests without permits or in violation of municipal laws.) Those same actions in a ruthless dictatorship could lead to extra-judicial executions.

While no one should seek out high risk situations, violent repression can drastically increase the ACTIVIST’S power. But this only happens if they can manage how they are perceived by constituents of the relevant pillars of support. A single rock thrown through a window can turn a perceived “peaceful march” into an “anarchic riot.” Opponents, especially those with influence over the media, will use any excuse possible to prove that the activists are so dangerous that violent repression is justified. Appealing to the public’s perception is especially important in democracies where the politicians must justify their repression to potential voters. The same applies if a business’ consumers are the average citizen as well as if the business’ suppliers primarily depend on average citizens as a consumer base. For more repressive regimes, perception by the entire country’s populace may less important than the perception of those in charge of economic and military pillars of support. If activists can maintain nonviolence, they have access to one of the most powerful weapons in their arsenal: political jui-jitsu (covered in the next article).

Whether by conversion, accommodation, nonviolent coercion, or disintegration, nonviolent struggle has accomplished incredible things over the centuries. But this will be impossible if all activists not only practice nonviolence but understand why nonviolence is superior. It isn’t a matter of morality of religion; it’s a matter of history, strategy, and power.

Next week, we’ll look at the most powerful weapon in an activist’s arsenal: political jiu-jitsu.

The Beautiful People that We’ve Ruined

Writing

It has taken months for me to figure out how to write this post. At first I ran away from it, avoiding it, burying it, rejecting it. Then I spent a long time trying to find a way to wrap it in a pretty bow and make it nice. It was always there in the background haunting everything I did. Eventually I couldn’t hide anymore and I decided that I just had to be honest and raw. That’s something I’ve lost in the last few years as I have adjusted to this new environment. I used to scare people like a monster with my mouth and the things that came out of it. So I learned to codeswitch and say it with a smile. But it wasn’t enough, my edgy-ness, my having-lived-life-ness was unprofessional and it was no longer socially acceptable for me to say what I thought. I began to see myself as something that I had to hide and when I couldn’t hide it, I hid from everyone.

So here it is. As honest as I can say it.

When I was a child I would walk through my house and get hit and ask why and the sociopath I pretended to be my father would tell me it was just for gp, general purpose. I got accustomed to it, it was actually one of the less terrible pieces of my existence. Being hit, I could deal with that. I could deal with the insults causally said to me in the house, slut, fat, bitch, whore. The best part of my years were my trips to my grandmother’s house where at least we’d have enough to eat, and instead of the beatings I just got called fat. These were the easiest parts of my existence, so when people ask me why I was successful in school, I don’t know how to tell them that school, with all its ridiculousness, with the lack of books and the food and the never fitting in, was the thing I fantasized about, because at school, I was undeniable.

My mom used to hide my test scores from my siblings to spare them the comparisons. I was the family scapegoat. When I asked her why she was so hard on me in particular she said it was because I could handle it and because she didn’t want me making the same mistakes. This is why my mother never felt the compulsion to tell me that there was anything I did well, she was afraid that if I knew my power that I would be an uncontrollable nightmare. When the sociopath went to jail I was 14, the beatings and the names didn’t stop, though the attempted rapes did and for that I felt blessed. I took the blows and the words from my sister and my grandmother because I knew that it was the only way for them to express their anguish. I’ve had people tell me that they were cruel to me because I was only one who could take it, a lot. That’s why by the time college rolled around, I could survive any critique. And I could also survive that treatment from the people who called me their girlfriend. I survived it by making myself numb, so numb, in fact, that I don’t really remember my childhood and now don’t even know when I dislocate my jaw or hip.

I was weird for a Stanford student in many ways, but the one that seemed to interest people the most was that I was not an outcast in high school. I wasn’t universally loved, either. When I was 14 a group of girls decided that they were frustrated with my popularity and confidence and they shouted whore at me in the hallways and wrote me letters in which they told me how terrible I was. They threatened to beat me up shortly after I had finally escaped someone that had been beating me for the fun of it. I wish I could tell you that the adults intervened but in my neighborhood the only real adults were the more competent kids. So as my now former friends attempted to dethrone me, the black girls at my high school came to my defense and said “if you touch her, then you deal with us.” I was surprised to say the least. I was used to using that line to defend people, just 2 weeks before the mean girl shenanigans started I had a guy beat up for sexually assaulting one of the girls that now threatened me. For six months, this torment continued but it ended up just back-firing and making me more powerful, mostly because they were never able to get me to admit that they had hurt me. Instead I sent their letters back written with comments in impeccable satire. By sophomore year, I was undisputedly running things, and I was doing it from my home because my health forced me into independent study.

People at Stanford didn’t seem to have an explanation for my experience in high school. I never had the heart to explain everything to them and I don’t think they would have heard it if I did. My first boyfriend in college spent one night calling me a whore and telling me it was because I was the kind of girl who dated the kind of guys who beat him up. But I was not that girl, I had more power than any of the men at my school did. I had no way of translating that to anyone and it made people uncomfortable and so, once again, the people around me tore me down to make themselves feel better, and I let them because I was used to being the sacrifice. By the time I reached Stanford, I had no self-esteem. Unlike my peers, I had never had a point in my childhood where I was simply safe and loved. When I was an infant, my mother’s husband held a gun to my head and threatened to kill us all if my mom left him. No one was even at my birth except my teenaged mother and there are almost no pictures of me from my childhood because my grandmother was angry with me for being born. I never developed a basis of worth or a belief in myself. To this day, I only think of myself as having the right to exist if I am doing something for someone else, which is why it has been so hard for me to be ill. My fiancé has faced the uphill battle of teaching a stubborn, brilliant, and profoundly wounded creature to believe that she is a human.

My junior and senior year of college I dated a very confident and happy young man who was the picture of California’s finest. Behind closed doors, he hated it when I upstaged him. When we took classes together, I would spend the evenings afterwards trying to make him feel better about the fact that I was the stronger academic. In the logic class, I solved all of the proofs and he stole my solutions and was happy when a slight mistake in transcription of sentences, not the proofs-mistakes that I was making because my headaches were so severe-would cause him to get a higher grade. I met him after returning from China, an experience that had been painful for me. The people on the trip with me often made me feel excluded, the girls fed on my bodily insecurities and the most banal statements about my childhood disturbed them. I was drinking, heavily, 4 nights out of the week and waking up with tears streaming down my face. I was hurt by the first boy who understood where I came from and called me beautiful even as he fucked other girls to prove to me he could. When I got back from China, my little brother got his girlfriend pregnant while still a senior, and my 13 year old sister was raped. I hid these facts from everyone and so I found a boy who would take joy in my doing so and who hated me when I was most myself. My life only continued to spiral out of control as time went on, and by the time I returned from my first summer in Germany, where I acted as my boyfriend’s house wife, my one positive female role model was dying and I knew that was not going to be able to finish my honors thesis. Instead of understanding that this happened because I was human, I took on all of the culture, exacerbated by all of the abuse, that said that if you didn’t do something it was because you didn’t work hard enough. “No excuses”, I learned, only applied to poor children. For me there is no safety-net, there is no gap year, no rehab and no help getting jobs. It made me constantly aware that despite all I had done, I was always one bad day away from hunger. My failure to write this thesis conveniently made my very insecure and very privileged boyfriend feel much better and he continued to feed the fuel by calling me lazy and picking on my weight with his friends the summer after I graduated in Germany. Of course, he got a lot of help from me when it came time for him to write his honor’s thesis.

Do you see the pattern yet? Do you see how I’ve been torn down by so many people who hated my fire? So many people and so many times, that people made sure I had no idea what I was capable of so that they could feel better about what they weren’t. But this isn’t just a personal story, because I am a woman in a world that does that. When men are sold something it is in order to make them feel and be great, and when women are sold something it is to cover up their inadequacies. Advertising is fundamentally an abusive boyfriend no matter what your background is. I feel the sting of irony as an exceptionally talented historian, who pointed out that Disneyland was bullshit at 4, succumbing to this. On the outside, I was the snarky bitch who smoked cigars while wearing a trench coat and short skirt and told people exactly who they were. On the inside, I was a profoundly damaged little girl who had no self worth. And I wish I could tell you that the turning point happened after breaking up with that boyfriend, and in some ways it did, and in the more surprising ways it didn’t.

When I broke up with him, I promised myself that I would never let anyone do that again and for a while the only way I knew how to prevent that was to become cold and untouchable, so I started letting the image of me as a sassy cat lady build. I put into place what I needed to be in the right relationship, but I hadn’t yet found the way to build a life that would allow me to be my best self. I entered Stanford’s Teacher Education Program (STEP) and suddenly found myself in a program that had a fundamentally core belief that required them to make me feel like shit about myself, because you see in education ideology, people who have an easy time performing do so because they are more confident and take away from the learning of others. It is why as a little girl, I had trained myself to count to ten before answering questions. It was why as a little girl, teachers would relish in my failure, and wouldn’t accommodate me when I was sick. It was why as a little girl, I would get perfect scores and be told it wasn’t enough. Very few teachers were supportive and kind to me in school, which is why my behavior was often atrocious.

STEP got on me early. They would refuse to call on me. Take me aside and tell me that I was hurting the other students. Call me domineering when my adult classmates handed over group assignments to me to finish for everyone. Refuse to give me any credit for any group assignments. Relish and then refuse to help me when I struggled. Pick on me and tell me I would never be good enough. My classmates would come to hate me and tell our supervisors that I was making it hard for them to do their best. They would report when I was sick and take pleasure in tearing my assignments apart. The few who stood up for me would find themselves shut-down. I became a complete nervous shadow of myself, and at precisely the same moment, my body hit its limit. STEP was merciless. It was everything that I was promised would stop when I entered Stanford and when I was an undergrad, Stanford lived up to that. Most professors seemed to love having me in the classroom and encouraged me to be successful. And I wish now, that I had been more open about my childhood and that I had had more support because if I had, I might not be as ill as I am now. Unlike my friends, I had no direction and no networks to figure out what to do with my Stanford degree. I have always been able in the classroom to hide my insecurity with my intelligence, so I never let on that I was confused. I could be ignored because I was white and helping me wouldn’t result in the same kind of public relations coup. I went into STEP because even though I desperately wanted to write and do research, I was dealing with too much and didn’t know that I was good enough to get a PhD. I thought that my failure to write my honors thesis meant that I was incapable because I unable to get past the 3 deaths that happened in the fall of my senior year, while also being forced to run the first-generation low income community group, First Gen Low Income Partnership. But I had no support, no community, no help because I was poor white trash. The only people I ever knew that had college degrees were teachers and everyone kept telling me that I needed to continue my activism for poor students. My boyfriend at the time encouraged me to teach because he was the “better” fit for PhDs. So I went into education.

Education is a female dominated field, and I thought because it was going to be a bunch of people who cared about children that we were all going to be super nice to each other. Which made the shock of reality even more difficult for me. This time it wasn’t one professor, it was a program. It wasn’t one group of girls, it was nearly everyone except those that had to work closest to me. I was ignored, ridiculed and then made to sit in meetings where I was told to apologize for the honor because I was making people feel bad with my presence and words. They took a very badly wounded soul and pushed me into the ground. I guess that’s how I ended up in work environments that replicated the pattern. That’s why I had to leave the classroom prematurely.

My body paid the price for this. It took the damage, quite literally. It took the damage when I was beaten and when I fought as a little girl. It took the damage as I struggled through Stanford, fighting the whole damn way for everything I got. It took the damage when I taught four classes, vomiting in between each one and then sat in class vomiting in secret every half an hour, because I was too afraid to let anyone know that I was sick. It took the damage when a very scared little boy injured me. It took the damage all year, as I struggled to climb up the stairs and into my classroom. It took the damage when I pulled a 14 hour day to prove that I was teaching the kids because some of the women on staff felt the need to tell my supervisor that I was bad at my job because I showed them up. It has taken the damage, being the only consistent protection I’ve ever had.

It has taken it everyday that I’ve hated it for not being thin enough. It has taken it everyday that I joked about how grateful I was to be smart because I was not beautiful. It took it when a boy told me to lose weight because I “could” look better. It took it when a boy told me his friends thought I wasn’t thin enough. It took it when I didn’t stand up for myself when a boy fucked another girl because I thought it was what I deserved. It took it every night I drank so that I could endure the social interactions with my peers who thought appropriate party chatter included bigotry. It took it when I rushed to class after my weekly toradol injection so that I didn’t have to deal with any emails from my supervisors at STEP about how I couldn’t possibly be sick because I could come to class and perform. It took it when I went to work limping only to have to spend vital work time responding to constant emails demanding to know why I wasn’t failing the students like everyone else on campus. It took it every single fucking time.

And what bothers me most, is that my story is not isolated. It is trapped in context. My story is the story of a gifted woman being torn down so as to not offend men. My story is the story of a kind, gentle soul being made rough by women who were scared to find out what her existence meant for them. My story is the story of a passionate, caring individual being isolated because the color of her skin didn’t fit into the narrative. My story is the story of a beautiful, womanly young girl hiding her body because she wanted to be taken seriously.

And I wonder how many gifted, kind, passionate, beautiful people we’ve ruined because we were scared of their power.