Image: Stephanie Woodward of Rochester, NY was taken out of her wheelchair and removed from the hallway outside Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office. (AP Photo/Jacquelyne Martin)
During the struggle to keep the Affordable Care Act intact, many of us were horrified by the images of disabled activists being dragged down the hallway outside Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s office. By simply being there and offering only passive resistance, they made a powerful protest.
Since #Charlottesville, I have heard increasing rhetoric about the need for active resistance, with hashtags such as #PunchANazi proliferating on social media. There’s a growing feeling among many on the left that the situation is too dire for nonviolence. They see this as a time to fight back, and they mean that in physical terms.
Some people do this fighting back as part of Antifa (Antifascists) which is not a single organization but a loose network of smaller organizations and individuals. As a movement, it started in Europe and is now very much a part of the scene at demonstrations in the U.S. I first became aware of them during the Black Lives Matter protests in Oakland, where they were infamous for looting and damaging local businesses. However I am also aware that they defended the non-violent clergy and others in Charlottesville, so I am conflicted. I am unwilling to demonize the whole movement as I read in some of the media.
Heather Ure (@riotheatherrr) on Twitter published a thoughtful thread about what the growing acceptance of violence from the left means for disabled protesters. She pointed out that putting down nonviolence or dismissing it erases disabled people, old people, and kids. As Heather wrote:
… for a lot of people, esp./incl. disabled people, “just” being alive is their “punching Nazis.”
— Heather Ure (@riotheatherrr) August 30, 2017
I’d like to take that a step further and say that as a disabled person with certain medical vulnerabilities, I have to stay away from most demonstrations because of the escalation of violence on the left. I’m willing to be beaten up or worse by bad guys, but when friendly fire starts looking likely as well, it seems foolish to go at all. As an aging, fat white woman with a Southern accent, I’m well aware that people make inaccurate assumptions about me all the time. I look and sound like the people you imagine wearing a red MAGA cap.
So I stay away from demonstrations unless it’s the sort of thing where it’s appropriate to wear full rabbi drag (tallit & kipa.) I hate this. I want to be there. I want to stand up for what is right. I just don’t want to get hurt by the people who agree with me.
I also worry that many right-wing Americans are ruled more by fear than by racism per se. (The two are intimately entwined, but that’s another post for another time.) Violence from the left provides a rationalization for more violence from the right. It provides a rationalization for equipping the police like an army. It muddles the line between good guys and bad guys.
This post is more about questions than answers. I don’t have answers for the present situation. I just have questions such as, “How can I be most effective?” I lobby, I teach, I write, I use social media, I vote. It doesn’t feel like enough.
Dear Readers: What do you currently do as part of the #Resistance? What do you feel is your most effective way of fighting anti-Semitism, white supremacy, racism, homophobia, and all the other evils of our time?
Some of you may be tempted to reassure me or to tell me what you think I should do. Not interested, sorry. But I would love to hear what you are doing.
15 thoughts on “#Resistance, #Disability, and #Antifa”
Rabbi – this issue is more complex. America has a history of threats against our human rights, our democracy, security, from Anarchist, Anarcho-Communist movements that have created this “Antifa” campaign to hijack legitimate peaceful and anti-racist movement. My detailed input at:
Thank you for all the information, realcourage. I think it’s always worth while to look closely at something before we reject it out of hand. Obviously you’ve done some very close study of this issue.
Antifa is extremely problematic from my point of view as well.
Because I have a speech disability, I use my written words on social media and donate to peaceful and political movements when I can to promote justice and change. Violence only begets more violence and plays right into the hands of the racists and people running the current Presidential administration. I want no part of it!
I agree with you about violence begetting violence, Denise. And yet – what if more people had resisted the Nazis early on in Germany? That’s the argument that I’m hearing from some young people I know, and it’s a tough one to answer.
It’s the uncontrolled, unfocused nature of any violence that puts me off. The lack of clarity about who is the enemy. That sort of nonsense in Nazi Germany would have been ended by lunchtime, by Nazis who were not as self-indulgent.
MAGA is a violent movement; it will not tolerate disagreement, difference, losing, coexistance–or democracy. It hungers to escape the rule of law. MAGA exudes uncontrolled energy & force.
Antifa perceives all that. But it only offers raw counter-force in return.
I spend a couple hours a day absorbing & analyzing the events of the 24-hour cycle, then sending Rsistance emails & petitions to Congress. I also counter Der Fuhrer’s twits of the day with my own aggressively expressed substance, logic, ridicule, copied memes, & links to analytical counter-articles from the online NYT, WaPo, CNN, BBC, & such.
My goals are to deflate MAGA’s sense of “winning”, to make it clear that they are not in the driver’s seat of the USA, & to offer links to the many other Resisters who are twitting there v. the Twit. There are so many of us there, diluting his/their Twit feed, that it feels like I’m doing enough.
I hate the Black mask marauders. All one hears about regarding them is their willingness to mix it up with the cops, or commit vandalism.
They were not at the march Against hate in Berkeley where I was, whic was Oxford and Addison.
At the moment, they strike me as cowards. They don’t actually talk to other people much, as far as I can see.
As for myself I have been using Resist Bot (504-09) to write to our senators about health care, the ban of trans military personal and the President’s warm words regarding the Nazis at Charlottsville. I have turned out for the Women’s March. the March for Science, and the March Against Hate, and encouraged FB friends to use Resist Bot. Some will not, though they are very unhappy with how the LBGTQ community is treated.
I’m discouraged. As you know, my husband died 18 months ago, and now, my country is embracing a cynical manipulator with all their worst views of women, the disabled, P.O.C., and so on. The Left seems disinclined to take these issues seriously, as well, as they are identity issues. this is really unhelpful to say the least.
It IS discouraging, Anne. You make some wonderful points, though.
What was your general impression of the March Against Hate in Berkeley?
Where I was at, peaceful and cheerful. FB is a good way to turn out people, but an infrastructure was lacking: the sound system was poor, and there is not central focal point as yet.
Did not go to the march at the civic center. I know the Black Mask crowd did. They were told to remove their masks or face arrest.
They refused, and I have heard they were tear gassed.
However, I also heard despite this, that there was no vandalism or fights, and only 14 people were arrested.
Did run into some Black Mask machos on the way over to the Addison and Oxford gathering. They were in full Karate regalia, including the karate sticks, which can injure or even kill if in the right hands. My companion asked them to remove their masks but they refused. “Tourists” might take their photo.
Told them I didn’t wear a mask because I am not ashamed to be seen in public at these events.
They were on the way over to Addison to “help”. I don’t think they were welcome. When some hell raisers showed up, Union members locked arms and blocked them from entering the rally area.
I can see marshals at these rallies. Some of these folks are out for blood. They need to be stopped.
But, to summarize, marching is good, but we have to have clearly articulated goals, and make some connections with more mainstream people. Berkeley’s mayor reached out to the March Against Hate, so we were lucky. We need to do the same, because it’s a two way street. MLK’s support team contacted RFK before the “I have a Dream” speech when their sound system failed. That’s why I know about that speech. The public was able to hear it, because RFK replaced the defunct system with the finest equipment he could get.
But the machos will have none of that. One member of our group said she was at first interested in working with them, but was told she had to agree not to comment publicly on their actions, or talk to the press. She declined to work with them.
I agree with her.
I vote. (I have missed voting, because of illness, twice in the 46 years I have been eligible to vote.) I write Congress (and my state legislature when it is in session) through their websites. I get very annoyed by the constant pressure to CALL legislators because “it works better” and “it’s easy” because I simply don’t do phones. Since March, when I heard of some activist group wanting to flood the White House with postcards mailed on March 15th, I have written a post card every month on the 15th, asking the president to release his tax returns, and sometimes mentioning another issue.
I work weekends and late hours on weekdays, and local rallies and political meetings have almost always been when I am at work, but I have managed to go to a few.
I have very little presence on social media and I refuse to argue there, so I seldom comment on politics.
I am perfectly willing to use violence to defend myself or someone else, and as an elderly (but strong!) white lady I would probably have the advantage of surprise, but I do not wish to initiate violence.
Hello, Mary Anne! You and I are doing a lot of the same things. May the day come (and soon!) when our work bears fruit!
Do not fall for the mainstream media narrative and start protesting, fighting in the streets, etc people.
Could all the recent provocations (from both sides) be part of a broader divide and conquer strategy being used by certain entities to bring in more powers limiting freedoms, for both said ‘sides’ and society in general? Order from chaos, heard that before?
What I’ve observed is that many if not all from Antifa appear to have no knowledge about what they claim to be against, are totally irrational and avoid any intelligent debate on issues, while the Conservatives appear in many cases to be nearly as bad, if not violent from what I’ve read this far.
What’s required is for the people to come together, whatever their views. Stay off the streets. Don’t get emotional. I feel that rioting may be a part of a bigger agenda. Stay safe people.
My greatest concern about Antifa aside from the violence is that they are helping to create a narrative that is very convenient for the far right. On the other hand, I have heard from clergy who were in Charlottesville that Antifa was very helpful. My tendency, though, is to stay away from violence as a tactic.
I use social media to post information about how and where to take legal and legislative action. Early on, I created a Guide to Digital Activism (http://bit.ly/2mePbug) to help people new to Twitter and Facebook, or new to social media relative to activism. I don’t go to rallies, marches, or riots because I already have enough physical challenges thankyouverymuch. Plus, as a writer and artist, I believe writing and art are powerful tools for protest.
Meredith, I love your guide! Thank you so much for sharing it!
I stick to phone calls and letters to congressional representatives, state or federal about the issues (and their lack of responsiveness to me as a voting constituent) as well as writing the President.
I panic too easily in large crowds, so don’t do rallies, but very supportive of friends who do them. organized activities are effective in letting the public see there are many people supportive of a given point of view, but i don’t know of anyone who has changed their opinion because of a march or rally. if anything the counter protests seem to generate more sympathy for the (unsavory) agenda. it’s backwards, but seems to be what happens.
if people are open to sharing views, am willing to sit down and talk. i hope that one on one discussion is more effective at convincing people to at least consider another point of view.
thanks for your encouragement for your readers to be involved in some form.