Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of pessimism about resistance efforts. “Demonstrations don’t work, people are just being distracted by them,” “Petitions don’t work, nobody reads them,” “Contacting senators won’t work, they don’t listen anyway.” These kinds of statements are not only self-defeating, they are completely false.
I’ve been involved in resistance movements of many kinds over the course of several decades. I’ve seen and heard all of this kind of counter-productive thinking before. I can say with absolute certainly that ALL forms of resistance work, because I have seen their successes — not just once, but many times. Here is a list, based on my experience of things that work:
1) Demonstrations work. They are the tangible, physical form of resistance. Anti-war demonstrations between 1969 and 1973 prevented Nixon from dropping nuclear weapons on Vietnam, and brought an end to the war. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo march in Buenos Aires toppled a brutal military dictatorship. The Civil Rights movement would not have been successful without demonstrations. Demonstrations are working now. They are focusing and politicizing millions of people. After the Women’s March 20,000 people signed up to help swing districts from Republican to Democrat. Today we saw our first victory in Iowa. And the spontaneous Muslim ban demonstrations galvanized the country, prompting dozens of editorials and thousands of dollars in donations to the ACLU and civil rights groups.
2) Writing letters to the editor works. The Opinions page is the most widely read section of any newspaper, making it an excellent platform for spreading information and for influencing public opinion. Letters also influence editorial policy because newspapers cater to their readership. My letters to the New York Times and Boston Globe during the Iraq war were circulated so widely that I had people contacting me from all over the country, asking what they could do.
3) Calling your senators and congressmen at the federal and state levels works. Aides keep a tally of how many people phone regarding various issues. This affects how representatives vote. If their electorate swings in a certain direction they can count on votes swinging that way as well.
4) Writing and visiting your representatives both work. Emails are not as effective as hard copy. Stacks of postcards and letters piling up in an office are hard to ignore. A person knocking on the door is even harder to ignore.
5) Petitions work. The ongoing UK petition calling for a cancellation of Trump’s State Visit has garnered over 1.7 million signatures as of today. It will be discussed in Parliament on February 20, and the opposition is already calling for a postponement of the visit. Petitions in the US work equally as well. The 6 million signatures on the petition calling for the Electoral College to elect Hillary made the news many times over. This brought attention to public dissatisfaction with the election and spawned a raft of activists. Petitions don’t have to be huge to be effective. I have personally delivered petitions with as few as 10,000 signatures which won me meetings with federal officials. Those meetings go into the record, along with the petition.
6) Voting works. Your vote counts, and so do the votes of many others. You can help get the vote out in swing districts. As few as 200 votes can make all the difference in state elections. Go to swingleft.org to see if there is a swing district near you.
7) Boycotts work. Grab Your Wallet has been successful in getting many companies to drop Trump products, and Adstrike has been successful in getting companies to drop their ads from Breitbart. Yesterday, I tweeted a complaint to a company about their ad on Breitbart. Today, they informed me that they had removed their ad.
8) Social media works. What a great platform Facebook is for getting information out quickly! Facebook is the platform that got millions of people to march on January 21, and it will be the tool to assemble many more demonstrations. And don’t underestimate Twitter. Both of these are fast and easy ways to form resistance networks and to share breaking news and information. Follow resisters on Twitter and befriend them on Facebook.
9) Joining organizations works. Organizations have years of experience and often have legal staff. Join as many as suit your interests. Organizations have clout. When they approach representatives they speak for the thousands of people they represent.
10) Giving money works. Donating to organizations keeps them up and running. Donating to political campaigns helps them win. I donate to all Democratic campaigns, even if it’s only a little bit. It is enormously satisfying when they win.
The bottom line is that ALL of these things work. You don’t have to choose one over the other, just do as many as you can. The sum total of all of these when multiplied by millions of people is a resistance movement.
The trick to resistance is persistence. Results can be slow in coming. Sometimes they take years. And while you are resisting, your efforts will be reviled and minimized by the opposition. Your own side will splinter into meaningless debates about the best courses of action to take. Fifth columnists will sow disarray and spread pessimism. You will be told that we are powerless, that Trump and his cronies are too powerful, that demonstrations are a worthless distraction. And people who are supposedly in sympathy with you will betray the goals and aspirations of the movement. You will experience frustration, periods of defeat, setbacks. This is what it is like to fight a war.
You are what it takes to win a war.