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Can non-violent protest and civil disobedience achieve justice in this era?

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The antifa and BLM protests over the last several years were overwhelmingly peaceful. Nonetheless, right-wing media were able to convince tens of millions of Americans that antifa and BLM are violent, radical movements. Right wing media exaggerated the few instances of violence that did occur, and many of those incidents were the result of provocations by groups such as the Proud Boys, or false-flag operations (e.g., this). I read several articles about fake news related to violence, and about how conservative videographers distorted the truth (e.g., this). Republicans politicians regularly rail against antifa. Many Republicans even tried to blame the Jan 6, 2021 insurrection on antifa.

The reason I mention Republican distortion of the truth about antifa and BLM is that some progressive activists call for mass protests, civil disobedience, strikes, boycotts, tax refusal, or other forms of nonviolent resistance to injustice.

Specifically, if the Supreme Court continues its rampage and continues to overrule precedents, many people on the left may feel it necessary to engage in massive civil disobedience and protest. Indeed, already -- given the Supreme Court's rulings about voting rights, campaign finance, women's rights, gun control, and the ability of the EPA to regulate carbon emissions -- there is reason to fear for the future of our democracy and to engage in such resistance. Many Republican states are actively suppressing voting rights. It's not hard to imagine that Republicans win elections in November, 2022 or in 2024 and that the consensus on the left is that the elections were stolen -- because of voter suppression, gerrymandering, media control, and campaign finance.

There is even talk of the Supreme Court voting to allow state legislatures to chose Electoral College electors and to override the votes of the citizens. That could easily prompt massive resistance from the left.

Nonviolent protest may be needed not only to stop Republican attacks on democracy and on civil rights, but also to oppose neoliberal, corporate, militarized assaults on the environment, economic justice, and world peace. Many people think massive civil disobedience is needed to force action to address the climate crisis, to stop tax evasion by the rich, and to bring an end to the out-of-control military-industrial complex, which is now in a proxy war with Russia and which is planning for war with China over Taiwan, despite the risks of nuclear war.

Can civil disobedience, protest and other nonviolent forms of opposition restore democracy, justice and peace? Civil resistance and nonviolent protest worked in the 1960s to end the Vietnam War and to win rights for African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement. Can nonviolent civil resistance work in the present era?

West Midlands Police - Birmingham city centre protests
West Midlands Police - Birmingham city centre protests
(Image by West Midlands Police from flickr)
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There are four reasons to doubt that massive protest and civil disobedience will work without being undermined by disinformation and without causing a violent backlash.

Before I present those four reasons, I need to clarify that I am definitely not calling for violent resistance; that would be much more likely to fail and would also be -- ummm -- violent and immoral.

The first reason is what I described in the first paragraph: no matter how peaceful resistance is, right wingers, neoliberals and military agents will likely be able to portray the resistance as being violent, whether via media spin or via violent provocations and false-flag operations. They've already passed laws allowing drivers to kill protesters. Blocking roads would block ambulances and would likely annoy people trying to go about their business.

The second reason is that corporate and military power has become more concentrated and has taken over more institutions of society. They have become much more sophisticated in their ability to demonize their critics and to prevent and subvert civil protest. The news media are more compliant and have been greatly weakened by loss of ad revenue due to the Internet. In the 1960s and 1970s the New York Times and the Washington Post published excerpts and articles based on the Pentagon Papers. Nowadays, those newspapers have been cheerleaders for the proxy war with Russia. Social media platforms and search engines such as google and bing suppress dissident voices -- often in the name of stopping fake news. Surveillance is more widespread and has moved online. In 2012 Congress passed the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act, which allows the Pentagon and government to propagandize within the U.S. See Newsweek's: Exclusive: Inside the Military's Secret Undercover Army. This well-documented article from MintPress News exposes CIA influence on facebook: Meet The Ex-CIA Agents Deciding Facebook's Content Policy. Likewise, The Federal Bureau of Tweets: Twitter Is Hiring an Alarming Number of FBI Agents.

Opposition to war has been effectively silenced by the power of the MICIMATT (the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank). The MICIMATT controls both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party and, effectively, the media.

The power of the military-industrial complex has, if anything, gotten even greater that it was in the 1960s. About the only thing Republicans and Democrats can agree upon is funding for the Pentagon, which will be over $800 billion next year -- over $1 trillion if you include the Department of Energy, Veterans, and other security-related expenditures. See Call It the National (In)security Budget. Whistleblowers are relentlessly prosecuted. President Obama was particularly zealous in his attacks on whistleblowers. Now the U.S. is going after Julian Assange, who isn't even an American citizen. People who oppose U.S. escalation of the proxy war in Ukraine or who point out U.S. provocations for that war are called Putin apologists.

As Chris Hedges says, Congress, the news media, academia, unions, and all institutions of society have been corrupted. Even Hollywood depends on Pentagon largess to fund its blockbuster films such as Top Gun Maverick. There is even a lack of popular antiwar protest music, like there was in the 1960s.

The third reason that nonviolent protest and civil disobedience are unlikely to work is that the country is much more divided than it was in the 1960s. In the 1960s there was widespread opposition to the Vietnam War and to the injustice of discrimination and segregation against African Americans. In the 1960s there was no powerful, organized right wing group opposed to Civil Rights, unless you count the KKK and the John Birch Society, which were too fringe to be acceptable to most people. The clear justice of the Civil Rights movement and the clear dishonesty and corruption of the Vietnam War resulted in a powerful consensus that forced change.

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Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, activist, writer, and programmer. My op-ed pieces have appeared in the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and elsewhere. See http://WALiberals.org and http://ProgressiveMemes.org for my (more...)
 

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