Scoundrel Time

Refuel and Redirect

Exhaustion, cynicism, the need to check-out—they’re weighing on us. As the days grow shorter, we feel in our bones the upcoming anniversary of Trump’s election. And so, nearly a year into this resistance work, how do we keep going? How do we affect positive change when it feels like we are barely even able to keep track of—much less, effectively resist—the ongoing onslaught from the current administration?


1) Recognize that fatigue is normal. Necessary, in fact.

In order to complete the work that is ours to do, we absolutely must rest. Taking a break is more than okay—it is essential in order to stay committed for the long haul. So this week, stop. Take a breath. Don’t read any news for twenty-four hours. Practice meditation or go on a walk in the woods or play board games with your family. Then, when you’re feeling revived, use your energy well. It is when we work ceaselessly and without noticeable gains that the resistance feels Sisyphean and cynicism begins to creep in.

2) Play offense, not defense—and learn from the lessons of history

Part of our exhaustion is no doubt coming from the sense that our values, ideals, and fellow citizens have been under constant attack. To simply survive, it has felt necessary to remain on the defensive, putting up shields against an unending torrent of attacks. Being on the defensive, however, may be just our problem. It is time to take an offensive stand. 

As George Lakey explains in a wonderful article for Waging Nonviolence, first published in January of this year:

The last time progressives in the United States faced this degree of danger was when Ronald Reagan became president. One of Reagan’s first acts was to fire the air traffic controllers when they went on strike, putting into question national air safety. Strategically, he chose “shock and awe,” and it worked – most of the U.S. movements for change went on the defensive.

Gandhi and military generals agree: No one wins anything of consequence on the defensive. I define ‘defensive’ as trying to maintain previous gains. U.S. movements in 1980 made many gains in the previous two decades. Understandably, they tried to defend them. As Gandhi and generals would predict, the movements instead lost ground to the “Reagan Revolution” and, for the most part, have lost ground ever since.

One exception stands out: the LGBT movement. Instead of defending, for example, local gains in city human relations commissions, LGBT people escalated in the 1980s with ACT-UP leading the way. They followed up with the campaign for equal marriage and escalated again with the demand for equality in the military.

LBGT people proved that Gandhi and the generals are right: The best defense is an offense.

I hear many American progressives unconsciously talking about Trump defensively, preparing to make precisely the same mistake as an older generation did with Reagan. The LGBT’s lesson is obvious: heighten nonviolent direct action campaigns and start new ones. Instead of defending Obamacare, let’s push for an even more comprehensive health solution, like Medicare for all.

A direct action campaign is defined by a pressing issue, a clear demand, and a target that can yield that demand. Powerful social movements, even those that overthrew military dictatorships, have often been built in exactly this way.

These days, campaign design needs to take account of the recent impact of social media. Because many people have allowed social media to draw them into an isolating bubble, activists need to design campaigns that deliberately increase their base through building relationships ‘beyond the choir.’ Increased use of training may be necessary to maximize impact.

Lakey goes on to explain that one-off demonstrations against Trump’s terrible actions are actually counter-productive:

Protests are by their nature reactive. In these next years, predictably, Trump will act and progressives will react, then Trump will act again and progressives will react again. Trump, an accomplished fighter, knows that staying on the offensive is what enables him to win. Progressives, often led by people with a track record of loss, take the bait and react, over and over.

Simple protests, no matter what the issue, essentially signal to Trump that he is winning — he has manipulated us into reacting.

Take some time this week to research local campaigns fighting for positive, substantial change rather than merely reacting to Trump’s storms. Find one with a liberating vision, and sign on. Here are some good places to start…