To summarize: a movement needs to generate mass disobedience to an objectionable governmental practice or law–and win the approval of non-movement members in the process. For the civil rights movement, that meant refusing to abide by the practices and legal statutes that were segregation de facto and de jure. The mass disobedience found that sweet spot where, finally, the government lost its will to uphold those practices and laws. Yes, it took some time. But, finally, the spectacle of arresting people who were just trying to be treated equally was no longer supportable.
For the anti-war movement, it was draft resistance. Not as clear that public opinion was won over to the side of the resisters, but draft law came close to being unenforceable and the easy way out was to create the “all volunteer” army. That move, of course, was the government’s way of sidestepping the larger issue of the anti-war movement: citizens’ ability to stop the government from waging war. That ability has not been gained, while ending the draft took away a crucial leverage spot and made anti-war movements much more difficult to sustain.
Pretty obviously, protesting–and rectifying–discrimination is harder. In the cases of segregation and the draft there is a law to disobey. But in the case of discrimination, you are trying to get the government to enforce the law against your opponents. Now the government and the legal system needs to be your adversary, and is not your antagonist. That greatly limits the stage, doesn’t provide for dramatic confrontations, or mass disobedience. Prodding the government to action is a tough one–and, I am starting to think, the real source of my perplexity about what forms effective action today could take.
That would seem to go in spades for a constitutional crisis. Since the 2000 election, with the follow-ups of the illegal Iraq War and torture, and now the shenanigans of the Trump administration, we have seemingly discovered that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to call the government to account. If the “system” worked in calling the Nixon administration to account for its crimes, that still suggested that only the government could successfully curb the government. And since 2000 there is no evidence of the government having the wherewithal to call itself to account.
I read the other day someone talking about how the people would take to the streets if Trump fired the special prosecutor or pardoned himself and his family. But it is unclear how taking to the streets would have any impact. The pessimist in me says that as long as daily life was not disrupted, the republic would tolerate massive malfeasance. One, because the issues–the rule of law etc.–are so arcane, and two, because it doesn’t feel like it hits people where they live.
Oddly enough, Trump’s crimes are sort of victimless; they damage our democracy, perhaps irreparably, but they don’t seem to harm anyone in particular. I was wondering about this in terms of “standing.” Could I sue (and who would I sue) for damages because my vote was rendered meaningless through election fraud? Would I be granted “standing” to bring such a suit? And what would be the remedy if I won such a case? It is unimaginable that there would be a “do-over” of the election? And yet, what else could be suitable recompense?
I wish I had something better to offer. A successful movement has to get a large number of people to consider themselves as members of a wronged collective. Post-2008, the unemployed and the defrauded quite conspicuously failed to make that leap. Somehow losing your job or losing your home was experienced as an individual misfortune, not something that tied you to many others with whom you should unite to protest against your lot. And, again, that would have been a case of trying to get the government to do something, rather than protesting against or disobeying a government action.
As long as normal life is mostly left in peace, we seem to be left with the ballot box. But not only have Republicans worked hard to shelter themselves from democracy (through gerrymandering, voter suppression and the like), but politicians have more reasons than ever to listen to the powerful few as opposed to the powerless many.
North Carolina’s Moral Mondays seem to prove this point. They have been sustained over an admirably long time–and seem to have had no impact at all except to harden the hearts of our Scrooge-like state legislators.
All of this might mean that party politics is really the only game in town. Leftists need to engineer a take-over of the Democratic party akin the the take-over of the Republican party by its right-wing. Only the primary threat makes politicians answerable to voters when the general election districts are gerrymandered.