During the past year, resistance took many forms, and cropped up in many places. It was also exhausting and resisters took many hits. And the struggle(s) are far from over.
I tried to do my share. And in an effort to keep up my own spirits, and maybe offer some tidbits of encouragement to others, I’ve assembled this personal scrapbook. In the age of phone cameras, such documentation has become much easier. If others are moved to share theirs, I look forward to sampling them.
And it all started, of course, before the new year. After November 8, 2016, like many others, I spent many days reenacting this famous painting of “The Scream,” aloud, silently, and in between. I don’t know if it helped or not. Denial is more than a river in Egypt. But then . . .
Also not sure if it helped to drive down to Fayetteville, my old stomping ground, to see the post-victory rally by #45, but I did. It was the same old incoherent bombast, made even more chilling as the prelude to executive action; but the jabber all boiled down to one word: Trouble.
By early December there seemed a ray of light, at least locally: NC media trumpeted that a deal had been reached between the new governor and the rightwing legislature to repeal the infamous, ruinous transphobic “Bathroom Bill.” The day before I called a transgender friend, told her I was going down to the legislature in Raleigh to watch this happen, and then would drive out to her place so we could have a celebratory lunch. Deal!
I was there in the hall all day, with activists on both sides doing their thing in the balcony between the NC House & Senate chambers. The sun finally sank, and in the darkness at the end of that long day, there was no vote, no repeal. And no victory lunch.
Some weeks later a fake kind of “repeal”-but-not-really was voted. The new governor declared victory; the legislature declared victory. The local media declared the story over. Transgender folks did not. Still no victory lunch; not even a victory snack.
Soon the inauguration was upon us.
There were tons of great protest signs; this one may be my favorite.
Rather than watch or listen to the ceremony, I drove south again to Fayetteville. While working at a Quaker peace center there near Fort Bragg, I had taken part in dozens, scores of peaceful vigils and protests.
And some of my old cronies, along with some new ones, were having vigil of mourning and protest there, downtown at what is called the Market House, the symbolic center of the city.
You may recall that in Washington, the inaugural crowd was measly, pathetic. But our Fayetteville gathering was dogged and uplifting, as it had been so many times before.
And the next day, I didn’t go to the Women’s March, but it was overwhelming anyway. The reverberations all the way down in Carolina felt almost physical; and the Raleigh parallel gathering was huge too.
The iconography of the pussy hat inaugurated something else: the age of weaponized humor. The invaders in the White (supremacy) House produced an ongoing supply of howlers as well as endless lies. Mockery was a form of fightback; satire, the crueler the better, was a survival necessity.
Among the early high/lowlights, for me nothing surpassed the historic Bowling Green Massacre, for which one of the administration’s spokeswoman-of-the-moment Kellyanne Conway will long be remembered.
But with most of this humor, the subtext was anything but funny. “Bowling Green” was one small part in the ongoing assault on immigrants, and Muslims. I soon found myself at the Market House in Fayetteville again, to join a protest organized by local Muslims.
This gathering was remarkable in many ways, one being visual: the group was practically wrapped in American flags, some quite large, most being waved by the Muslims.
Listening to their impassioned words, I soon understood why: all too many had come to the U.S. from nations with repressive and violent governments. For all its previous failings, for these Muslims, America was a land of more freedom, safety and opportunity than they had known. The newcomers were patriots in training, others were confirmed. The idea that they might be expelled, or turned into scapegoats in their new country evoked cries of patriotism.
Not many days later, I joined a huge crowd in downtown Raleigh, who listened to Rev. William Barber declaring that he was not going to “bow down” to the new rulers’ tactics or repressive goals.
One of these goals was, and is, to restrict voting rights, a process well underway in North Carolina. I brought out an experienced sign for the event, which attracted the attention of many cameras. It also drew a photobomb effort that, once I discovered it, was very welcome.
By March, I was working with some fellow Quakers to get our bearings and talk about resistance, individual and collective. For this we organized an “Emergency Consultation” at Spring Friends Meeting.
There interested Quakers and some others intensively discussed numerous issues and action possibilities. We didn’t make decisions — this was not the start of new organization, but an event to offer information, encouragement & networking. We also had a bell to ring to wake the countryside, and fine singing to lift the spirit.
In April, Marches for Science coursed through many cities, and the one in Raleigh NC was huge. It too featured a large number of bitingly funny, even prescient signs — who knew the nerds could be so witty?? Yet despite the fine weather and lively speeches, this struggle is ongoing and vast, affecting too many fields of science for a layman to even list.
Some forms of resistance in evidence at the Science March were moving as well as encouraging.
By spring, resistance was not only about big marches, but also about taking citizen concern to members of Congress. I sent dozens of faxes to the two NC Republican senators. I also shared them on social media to broaden their visibility.
Many other resisters were organizing to descend upon the public meetings of regime-supporting Congressmen & women, a great many of whom did not want to face or hear from their constituents. That was true of many Members from Carolina, and still is of some. But . . .
One exception, in early May, was Republican Rep. Mark Walker from the Sixth district, in north central NC, an area which includes Spring Friends Meeting and the Snow Camp Outdoor drama, of which we’ll hear more.
Like the other districts, the 6th has been drastically gerrymandered to make Walker’s reelection seemingly safe. So on a May morning he decided to hold a public meeting, and since I had business out that way, I decided to drop in on it — not to speak, since I’m not a resident, but to observe.
The room, at a community college, was nearly full, and most of those present had come to challenge, not to cheer. A staffer shoved a ticket into my hand when I entered. As I sat down, it was announced that tickets would be drawn from a box to choose questioners.
And the first ticket drawn was — mine??
What? It was true. So I stumbled up to the microphone, trying to think quickly of a question that might get past his well-practiced talking points.
Somehow I succeeded. Walker had previously been a preacher, and so I asked him if he believed in the Ninth of the Ten commandments, the one against “bearing false witness” (i.e., telling lies.) A bit puzzled, he said he did.
So then I asked what he thought about the tally the Washington Post had been publishing each week since inauguration, tracking and documenting #45’s lies, which were running at about 5 per day. Was he okay with that?
Now Walker was really befuddled. As he stuttered, it appeared he might not be exactly sure what the Washington Post was, and he certainly didn’t know anything about this tally. But after much backing and filling, and under my prodding, he did finally manage to come out more or less foursquare against telling lies, without being more specific. Not his best performance.
Other questions were mostly about health care, aka Obamacare, which he was against. As an accidental resister, I felt afterward that I had done okay that morning.
I had gone into Walker’s district that day not for politics, but to work on the summer productions of the Snow Camp Outdoor Theatre. And that work, beginning in early June, took up most of the rest of the summer.
While it might not seem like “summer stock” theatre has much to do with resistance, I would contend that this year, these dramas, were very pertinent.
For one thing, the two plays we present, The Sword of Peace and Pathway to Freedom, deal with issues that are not just historical, but very timely: revolution against an oppressive government, and the Underground Railroad and its resistance to slavery. And they also bring into the arena some of the key values of the Quakers who have lived in the region for 300 years, and faced these upheavals directly, not abstractly.
And for another, these plays bring together an intentionally interracial cast, which has to work together and perform in an area which is host not only to them but to very vocal upholders of the system of slavery and its repressive aftermath.
And for a third, the “counter-resistance” represented by the 45 regime is all around in that area. Not that we were subjected to open hostility (that I’m aware of). But struggles that may be distant for some, are very close by here. and the enthusiastic responses by our audiences suggested repeatedly that the dramas, which were not written with this past year in mid, are nonetheless not merely timely, but even urgent.
They are also a lot of work; and I was helping out there all I could. still am (a viable summer drama program requires year-round effort).
Autumn was a slower time for me; I did a spell in the hospital, and discovered something called “post-surgical depression.” (Yes! It’s not just post- for “partum” any more.) But by late November I was back in the saddle, helping to publicize the hearings of the North Carolina Citizens Commission on Torture , which was an outgrowth of an anti-torture group I’ve worked with for more than ten years.
(NC provided the base for “torture taxi” planes, run by a CIA front not far from Raleigh) that took many people to torture at “black sites.” Guantanamo, and other places, in violation of U.S. and international law. Most were later proven innocent and released. The regime of 45 has made numerous ominous noises about resuming torture.)
There were two other more personal projects underway then. In my career I’ve mostly been a writer. So for me, resistance has involved many writing projects. One that felt urgent recently was the republication of Uncertain Resurrection, a book that first appeared in 1969, which was an account of Dr. King’s ill-fated Poor Peoples Campaign (PPC) in Washington.
2018 will mark the PPC’s 50th anniversary, and NC’s Rev. William Barber as undertaken to revive the PPC this spring and summer.
My book is one of the only accounts of the 1968 PPC. I hoped that getting it back in print could make it a resource for the new Campaign and for others interested in it.
The 1968 effort was marred by numerous mistakes. To be sure, many conditions are different now than in 1968, but there are also parallels. Perhaps by examining the record, organizers of the new PPC could avoid repeating old mistakes, and sidestep some new ones.
Once that book was edited and available, I turned to another. Since 1999, I’ve edited a journal called Quaker Theology. Some might question the relevance of theology to resistance, and regard Quakers, as a small denomination, as of little consequence in the larger struggles we now face.
But of course, as a Quaker I’m biased, and won’t argue that matter here. All I will say is that it’s a matter of faith for me that Quakers have a useful job to do in the larger canvas of social struggle and work for justice, and figuring out how to do that job involves theology among other matters.
But I had fallen behind in putting out the journal since the earthquake of November 2016. So I set out to catch up. And just a week or so ago I finished a double issue of it, with the theme of “Quakers & Resistance.” And whatever one thinks of theology, it turns out that there were (and are) plenty of serious Quakers who have taken their place in resisting injustice, war and racism over more than 350 years; so I had plenty to work with.
Along the way, I attended a special Christmas eve service at Chapel Hill Friends Meeting. In it the group reenacted a practice that was begun by a group of German Quakers, who lived in bomb-wrecked Berlin after the end of World War Two. With no electricity, they lit their silence based meeting with candles, starting with one, glowing dimly in the dusk, then added to by others, starting more candles from the earlier one, and watching the light grow even as the outer darkness deepened.
No formal prayers are said during this process, though some speak as they light their candle. I have always found this ritual very powerful and it was again that evening.
In the following days, as I finished the writing and editing of the journal issue, I needed a cover. And it didn’t take long to decide to use the photo of those candles. And now it’s done, and getting out.
So this is my review of haphazard resistance in the first year of #45. I don’t think of it as a model, and I’m sure others did more, on a larger scale. But it is an example, and I think it shows that, the words of Jesus in Luke 10, “the harvest is plentiful”; that is, no matter what our background, skills, or worldly resources or limitations, there is useful resistance work we can do. And in this time, we ought to be doing it.
Closing this first year of the #45 regime doesn’t mean I’m done with resistance. Although I’m feeling my age (now 75), neither the work nor I am finished. In a few hours, I’ll head out to put in an oar on another project, and still others await.
I’m often tired. And yes, I also often get the blues when I ponder how much there is to be done to get us out of this downward spiral. I’ve been at this, in one way and another, for a long time; maybe too long?
But I still remember what Dr. King used to say, quoting a black woman elder: “We got to keep on keepin’ on.”