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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/20/20

The New Satyagraha: Progressives' Leverage under LOTE

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Updating Gandhi for a Nation "Colonized" by Propaganda

Mahatma Gandhi — and his
Mahatma Gandhi — and his 'truth force' satyagraha movement
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Informed readers will quickly identify satyagraha with Mahatma Gandhi, the world-revered political liberator, patron saint of nonviolent resistance. While I fully intend that identification, my updated application of satyagraha will differ substantially from Gandhi's. Peaceful--yet forceful--resistance, rooted essentially in truth, will be the common denominator.

Invoking a world-historical figure like Gandhi and his satyagraha movement probably seems a wild, bizarre turn in a series discussing progressive strategy under "lesser of two evil" (LOTE) voting. I'd never risk taking it but for two salient facts: 1) the stakes of the next presidency being extremely (indeed, world-historically) high and 2) every previous instance of progressive pressure under LOTE voting--presumably "holding Democrats' feet to the fire"--having failed abominably.

The desperate situation facing progressives/leftists is no laughing matter. Even as respectable a fixture of the "progressive resistance" scenery as RootsAction has implicitly recognized this. RootsAction co-founder Norman Solomon has appropriately "upped the ante" by the brilliant rhetorical touch of saying progressives' must "reject and elect Biden."

As a student of effective political rhetoric, I can't possibly admire Solomon's slogan more. Even the sequencing of words is brilliant: we must reject before we elect. To me, rejecting Biden before electing him (electing him only because Trump poses such a humongous danger) rightly implies that we should put effective resistance to Biden in place long before his prospective inauguration, even using the election itself to recruit for resistance. (Despite touting "finger-rape" rhetoric too controversial for wide adoption, I'm proud to have early proposed such constructive use for such a dismal election. Valid as ever, that proposal simply screams relevance for would-be Biden resisters.)

Here, Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk gets things exactly right in a scathing critique of Bernie Sanders. Bernie's doing absolutely nothing to prepare resistance to Biden from day one of his presidency. In associating Biden's publicly professed "friend" Bernie with their campaign, RootsAction lends credence to the sneering, dismissive language I read in a leftist comment about that campaign. Namely, that "reject and elect" is simply the updated version of "hold their feet to the fire." Solomon's brilliant new coinage need not be that--it could be revolutionary--but unless we think BIG in enacting it (Gandhi-and-satyagraha big), Solomon's rhetorical bang will fade to a pathetic whimper. With great likelihood, to the predictable (if unintended) whimper of sheepdogging for Democrats.

Even "hold their feet to the fire" is superb political rhetoric and deserved a better fate. What discredited it was progressives' unspeakably lame execution: repeated failure to organize a grassroots movement large and obstinate enough to ignite that awe-inspiring fire. While "reject and elect" fits Biden's case so perfectly I'm green with activist envy, unless we think BIG--Gandhi-level big--it's guaranteed to flame out with the same dispiriting pathos.

My heavy emphasis on political rhetoric should underscore a crucial difference between our updated satyagraha movement and Gandhi's. While Gandhi, in both South Africa and India, had to fight literal colonialism, progressives now face the (possibly more daunting) task of reaching and radicalizing minds "colonized" by relentless establishment propaganda . In both cases, obstinate--even pigheaded--insistence on truth is the only remedy.

Literal Colonization vs. "Mental Colonization" by Propaganda

As an out-of-place, budding-intellectual weirdo in my hometown (ironically, once Biden's too) of Scranton, PA, I invented a motto that's long offered consolation. Namely, "Why be normal when you can be normative?" Though coined for personal consolation (by someone frequently neither normal nor normative), that motto seems strikingly relevant to every decolonizing revolutionary's rhetorical (meaning persuasive) task.

So, I don't wish to imply that a revolutionary liberator like Gandhi didn't face the task of decolonizing minds: of awakening them from a pernicious normal to something far more normative and ideal. In fact, Frantz Fanon, both psychiatrist and revolutionary theorist, teaches us that literal decolonization crucially involves overthrowing the colonized mind of each oppressed colonial. A formidable obstacle, for revolutionary liberators like Gandhi and Fanon, is the colonial's "normal" sense of inferiority to his or her oppressor-a sense meticulously cultivated by the oppressor's propaganda.

So, in fighting literal colonization, I don't mean to imply that Gandhi didn't need to fight the figurative "mental colonization" of internalized oppressor propaganda. Our struggle differs from Gandhi's not simply as an either-or matter of literal colonization vs. mental colonization by propaganda; Gandhi indeed had to fight both. But the sheer unnoticed omnipresence of propaganda in our case (insidious, omnipresent propaganda is indeed our "normal") may make our struggle more difficult than Gandhi's, even though he had to fight colonization both literal and figurative. And the fact that our elite oppressors, unlike Gandhi's, both look like us and share our language and culture may prove a huge disadvantage.

So, while I wish to make the case that satyagraha is deeply relevant to resistance and political leverage under Biden--in fact, it may be the only strategy that can work--it will, given our radically different struggle, need to be an adapted in ways substantially different from Gandhi's.

Satyagraha and "Radicalizing the Mainstream"

As politically engaged songwriter Bruce Cockburn memorably sang, "The trouble with normal is it always gets worse." For decades at least, our U.S. normal has gotten worse: ever-increasing economic inequality, endless unjust wars, media consolidation that turns news to elite propaganda, bought-off politicians serving only corporations and plutocrats, inaction (at best) in an ever-worsening climate emergency, and festering popular resentment and scapegoating culminating in the election of dangerous science-denying demagogue Donald Trump. This list could go on and on.

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Patrick Walker is co-founder of Revolt Against Plutocracy (RAP) and the Bernie or Bust movement it spawned. Before that, he cut his activist teeth with the anti-fracking and Occupy Scranton PA movements. No longer with RAP, he wields his pen (more...)

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