Count me among the millions of Americans – apparently 3/4 of the population according to one poll – who don’t want to see Dreamers deported. Trump’s DACA decision is all the varieties of awful that a gazillion writers and activists and politicians have already described online, in the papers, in interviews, and in the streets ever since Jeff Sessions took the podium and threw 800,000 people who deserve better under the bus.
I know that, starting today even, there will be hundreds of demonstrations – marches, vigils, probably some civil disobedience too. And already millions of people are flooding Congressional voicemail boxes and email boxes with protest messages and demands that Congress pass a straight-up Dream Act bill pronto and test DT’s claim to be ready to sign such a bill into law.
And all of that energy and activism will make a difference, which I guess I believe it always does especially if it’s done in a non-violent and intentionally ethical way.
But here’s the thing.
The DACA announcement is just the latest in a series of actions by the Trump Administration that is designed to disrupt, endanger, demoralize, and weaken a part of the American community. Its reverberations go well beyond the Dreamers and their immediate families. Sudden shifts in DACA policy create waves of fear throughout the entire undocumented population, and throughout much of the Latino-American community, American citizens included. (And yes, other immigrant communities too, but given Trump’s long campaign of hating on Mexicans in particular, it’s important to be clear that Latinos are being targeted with a particular set of toxic and bigoted memes.)
Trump’s efforts to repeal the ACA and, in the aftermath of Congress’s failure to pass a bill, his deliberate attempt to sabotage its proper functioning, also bring uncertainty, anxiety, and ultimately political exhaustion to those who rely on the ACA (like my family). Not just the people who use the exchanges – everyone who depends on different parts of the law, like Medicaid recipients, including families w/severely disabled children, is thrown off balance. Even if in the end the ACA stays in place and Trump loses interest in trying to sabotage it, think about the massive amount of contingency planning for worst case scenarios that’s going on in millions of households in this country, and the time, money, and volunteer hours that progressives are putting into trying to keep the law alive. That’s all energy and resources that could otherwise have been used to advance a progressive agenda, redirected down a path that will probably end in at least a partial loss of the hard-fought gains the ACA represented.
The order he issued banning transgender Americans from military service plays out similarly. A specific group is directly harmed, but the entire LGBTQ population suddenly finds itself trying to guess just how far the bigotry will go.
All three examples also include another disruptive element: they all present large, vulnerable blocs of the population with the temptation to enter into intra-group conflict. Without saying a word, the xenophobic / White-Nationalist-sympathizing wing of the Trump Administration is delighted that an attack on Dreamers invites Latino immigrants who are here legally to turn on those who aren’t here legally, including Dreamers who are here through no fault of their own. It invites legal brown-skinned immigrants to think that the white rage that’s demanding a crackdown on the undocumented won’t also someday extend to include them, when the bottom line is that it will. I don’t see any Trump supporters demanding a full investigation into Melania’s papers, despite news reports indicating she initially skirted our immigration laws.
Same thing with pulling the rug out from under the people who rely on the ACA. Divide and conquer. It invites people who have health insurance through employers or even Medicare to see the people who rely on exchange health plans or Medicaid expansion as their competition for scarce resources. And I don’t think I need to spell it out in the case of Trump’s singling out of trans people.
Progressives on Twitter enjoy sarcastically throwing Trump’s campaign trail words back at him, often tweeting the phrase “so much winning” to express their horror and disgust. But if I was Steve Bannon, back in my comfy chair running Breitbart, I think right about now I’d be smoking a celebratory cigar, kicking back, and saying “so much winning” with real conviction. We’re not even 8 months in, and Trump & Co. have destabilized huge sectors of the population, without even getting any laws passed. They’ve not just rolled back the supportive roles of government in vulnerable peoples’ lives, they’ve disrupted millions of peoples’ lives.
Think about it. Without Congress, and without having to expend very much energy, Trump ends DACA and pardons Arpaio and from the comfort of his desk he’s sent shudders through the entire Latino community. Strict application of the letter of the law for you 800,000 Dreamers from now on, but a white racist sheriff convicted of serious crimes against Latinos – citizens and non-citizens alike – is pardoned for breaking the law. That’s not just going to make people south of the border reconsider coming here to work illegally (at the eager invitation of American agri-business, mind you). That’s causing brown-skinned people with Green Cards and even citizenship to question whether this is a safe place for their kids to live, or their grand-kids. That’s what the White Nationalists want. Jackpot.
So, now that I’ve gone and seriously buried the lead, I’ll write the main thing that I wanted to say.
Trump uses his power to disrupt and disorient people – specifically groups of people he regards as hostile, dangerous, or inferior. The “Resistance” is responding in countless energetic ways, but almost entirely through organizing efforts that express opinions loudly and threaten politicians with getting voted out of office in the future. But those kinds of political responses aren’t very disruptive or disorienting for the people who are in Trump’s hard-core base. They expected those kinds of responses. And sure, maybe the Democrats retake the Senate in 2018 and pick up some House seats, but with the huge success of gerrymandering and voter suppression, maybe the Dems put everything they’ve got into get-out-the-vote efforts in 2018 and still come up short. After all, that’s the system we have right now. Dems won a majority of the total US votes for House seats, but the way districts are gerrymandered they’d have to win House races by landslide margins everywhere just to eek out a fragile House majority. Same with the Senate. And Hillary got 3 million more votes than Trump, but she’s not POTUS. So I don’t think that Republicans in Washington are all that scared about 2018 or 2020. And really, are we sure that all those ballot machines w/no paper trail are giving us real numbers? No, we’re not, and that doubt may be baseless and part of a Russian campaign to do just enough to sew that doubt, but… well, if that’s the case then the Russians have succeeded, because I’ve lost confidence in our election system and so have millions of others.
So – I promise I’ll finally get to the point – my wife hates it when I do this by the way – I think that all the activism that’s going on right now is great, but I think DACA should be a wake up call for the Resistance to shift gears and fight disruption with disruption. Non-violently. I can’t stress that enough.
What do I mean?
DACA is the kind of Trump move that makes life intolerably unpredictable, unsafe, and hard to endure for Dreamers and the people closest to them. That’s several million people. And it didn’t take much effort or energy for Trump to do that. So what I’d love to see is activism that assesses the nature of the aggressive disruption caused by a Trump action, and then operates on the principle that that very same kind of personal disruption will serve as a spark for a creative, non-violent activist response that is similarly disruptive, but on a macro level – meaning, for all of American society.
So instead of hundreds of vigils, marches, and scattered arrests of people sitting in front of Trump Tower, or maybe better yet in addition to all those things, I’d like to see college students on dozens of campuses refuse to go to class until a Dream Act is passed. Or high school students all across a region – maybe even just one state, or two or three counties – refuse to go to school. Why students? Out of empathy for the Dreamers.
There are endless creative possibilities, and yes, none of this is new. Gandhi led people with these tactics, and Saul Alinsky describes many examples of non-violent mass disruption of systems that are easy to shut down, and that force different stakeholders in society to get involved in resolving the issue that’s being protested when they would otherwise have remained indifferent or even complicit in the social evil.
I just think if we don’t start ethically disrupting systems we’re going to wake up one day some months from now wondering (a) how Trump is still in power? and (b) how even more large sub-groups of our nation came to be dispossessed of their hard-fought gains.
In France, when the truck-drivers’ union decides it’s getting a raw deal, they go on strike. And they take their 18-wheelers and block all the major highways paralyzing the transportation system. Now that’s not exactly an example of what I’m talking about here, because the French truckers are doing that on their own behalf, and it’s a pretty clear tug of war between owners and labor. But it’s relevant because it’s an example of a “low hanging fruit” disruptive tactic. “We have these trucks that we know how to drive and park… hmm, what could we possibly do with that readily available skill to make our problem everyone’s problem?”
So now Dreamers have to fear for their futures. Almost a million people – many of them still kids – have just been mindfucked by the Administration. Their lives and their families’ lives are now seriously, intolerably disrupted. We need to find a way to share that intolerable disruption widely, without physically harming anyone, until the Dreamers are freed from their undeserved torment. We need to be asking: what’s readily available to all of us who care – not just Dreamers and the people closest to them – but all of us because Trump’s people have a long list of targets. What could we inspire hundreds of thousands of people, maybe even millions, to do, or to suddenly stop doing, that would snarl a social system that most Americans expect to function properly. Non-violently, but with disruptive force. Ideally, there should be something poetic, cleverly symbolic, and memorable about this action.
If we did that, I’ll tell you what – Trump, Bannon, Sessions, Stephen Miller, and their band of xenophobic pirates won’t know what to do at first. And before they can gather decent strategic thinkers to plan their response, Trump will already have had several twitter tirades that will hamper their ability to mount a coherent response. And even if they manage to come up with one, they will finally be playing someone else’s game. And that’s a set of events that I would think the #Resistance should be figuring out how to set in motion and repeat, repeat, repeat.