Property Damage and Egos

There’s been some discussion on social media about what happened at UC Berkeley last week. What I saw ranged from condemnation to support and warning the other side that they’ll play “into the hands of the fascists.” The discussions I am talking about here are those going on among people on the left, not the incitement of murder we’ve seen from some in the GOP. I don’t want to go into the actual topic here – untangling what is violence, whether property damage is violence, etc – because I have a sense that there’s already a rich literature on this discussion from the 1960s. I want to learn before I contribute directly. Instead I want to share some observations about what might be behind at least some of the discussions.

Ultimately, I suspect liberals and anarchists (setting aside, at least for now, how broad-stroke those labels are) want the same thing: Prevent the United States from further declining into an authoritarian, fascist state. We’re all scared as we watch it happening. We disagree on tactics and probably also end points. There might be more common ground than we realize. A lot of rhetoric is getting in the way of seeing our commonalities. And egos.

I noticed that first on the other side: Property damage is perceived as violence because so many of us define ourselves through what we own. Our clothes, our cars, our houses are expressions of ourselves. So, breaking windows and ATMs must hurt someone because somehow they are part of someone. (The break-down of this perception is clearer to see when we’re talking about property of companies…)

As I got more involved in the discussions, I started to notice my own reactions. I don’t like to be accused of collaborating with Nazis. And I don’t like it when someone uses “liberal” as an insult. That’s attachment. I am attached to being seen a certain way: as anti-fascist and open-minded. When that is questioned, indirectly in this case, I have a sense of being personally attacked, become defensive and react. Ironically, I ended up accusing “the other side” of exactly that they were accusing people like me of: Playing into the hands of fascists. When I really was playing into the hands of my ego, something that is probably facilitated on social media because many people we interact there don’t bother to learn who we really are. We react to snippets and ignore context. Again, I had seen this in others. Now, I was doing it myself.

When this happens – when we identify with labels – we are not able to fully engage in a discussion because we’ve become defensive. What can help in situations like this, which I find so challenging to do in the thick of it, is to step away, to take a break, to sort out what’s going on internally. These issues are complicated enough we don’t need to make them more so by defending against (imaginary) threats: The threat against who we are.

Withholding Consent

I sent the following letter to my Senators and the Senate minority leader.

Please withhold consent from the Trump administration! As Adam Jentleson, former deputy chief of staff to Sen. Harry Reid, pointed out in an article in the Washington Post on Friday, withholding consent is a tactic that the Democratic Senators and their Republican allies (the few that there are) can use to stop Trump’s unqualified nominees and his immoral policy agenda.

The Republicans who are not our allies have used this tactic successfully against Obama. Using it now is not revenge but rather using their effective strategy for morally superior ends, including stopping the systematic undermining of our Constitution that Trump has begun by refusing to deal with his conflicts of interest and he is continuing in a deeply disturbing way with the Muslim Ban.

Senator Schumer, I was born and raised in Germany. I came to the US to work toward the reconciliation of the crimes of the Third Reich. I stayed in the US and became a US citizen. Until recently, I thought that comparisons of our times to Hitler and the Nazis were far-fetched. Not any more. The Muslim Ban removed any remaining doubts – and not only because it was released on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This is not the time to stand back and hope that this will pass. It did not in Germany. Let us learn from that gruesome history and fight the rise of similar forces with every tool we have! Please create a coalition of resisters in the Senate, led by all Democrats, that withholds consent from this march toward unAmerican places!

Remembering the Holocaust

Seventy-two years today, Auschwitz was liberated. Two years ago, I visited the memorial sites in Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. The images from that visit are haunting me during this time of a resurgence of the fascist populism that ended up with the murder of 9 million people.

It was quite an emotional visit back in 2015 – and little did I know then that something like we’re facing now was brewing. It is mind-boggling to me that we have forgotten history so quickly that we’re in the midst of repeating it. And I am even more determined to fight this repetition to honor those people who lost their lives in the Holocaust and fighting it back then.

The Ugly Face of Patriarchy

A picture speaks a thousand words, they say, though I will still write my words. First, the picture, though:

It is a photo of white men smirking while they are signing away the lives of women, most of them women of color.

As too often before, these men have gotten into power through lies and deception – and a big dose of religious peddling. Maybe that is the only way they can get into power. Maybe if they didn’t bully their way in, nobody would vote for them. The only way an unfair and brutal status quo can be maintained is through more brutality and injustice.

Gerrymandering & Voter Suppression

As others have pointed out, there are many causes that led us to the disaster we’re in now. The two most influential factors might be gerrymandering and voter suppression.

According to David Daley, the Republicans realized after Obama won that their party was losing ground and that the only way they could regain that ground fast was through purposeful gerrymandering. So, instead of campaigning and convincing voters of their party’s platform, they took advantage of the post-2010 census redistricting to rig the map to their advantage. It worked. The Republicans are now dominating legislatures and have governors in most states and, of course, Congress. This is not because of their popularity – DJT was only elected by less than 30% the electorate, hardly a majority.

In addition to rigging the map, the Republicans took full advantage of the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 by suppressing votes wherever they could. This might’ve led to the “surprising wins” in Wisconsin and other states: People of color who wanted to vote weren’t able to. That’s highly undemocratic.

While several state courts have already struck down some of the gerrymandering attempts as racist, I suspect all of this will get worse. Jeff Sessions has already used the voter fraud ruse to suppress votes, thus as an Attorney General, he is very unlikely to ensure that everybody has access to the voting booth. (It’s a ruse because voter fraud hardly exists.)

I find all this deeply disturbing because it suggests to me that at least those in charge in the Republican party seem to be more interested in obtaining power no matter what than maintaining, let alone improving, our democracy. It is highly immoral.

Inauguration Day Commitment

Sophie Scholl
Janusz Korczak
Rosa Luxemburg
and all the others who resisted quietly and not so quietly, you were my childhood heroes. I will now try to honor your example by continuing your resistance against fascism. I will not go to sleep (again). I will resist. So far, I’ve only been willing to quit my corporate job for my values, giving up money and prestige for a clearer conscience. Now more might be called for. I am ready.

Janusz Korczak decided not to abandon his children not because he thought this would bring down Hitler. He chose death because he knew that his presence would give his children comfort in the last minutes of their lives.

Sophie Scholl simply passed out flyers because she knew that was the right thing to do, that people needed to know what was going on. She also knew that this wouldn’t bring down Hitler. She simply chose to do this because maybe one person would also start resisting or one person would be slightly less afraid.

Totalitarian regimes require our collaboration. They use fear to get us to collaborate because morality and common humanity are not on their side. The more of us refuse to collaborate – big and small – the less total the regime will be.