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Cobb writes: "With a Republican majority that has mostly shown compliance with Trump, despite his contempt for the norms of democracy, the fear is that he will achieve much of what he wants. Even if he accomplishes only half, the landscape of American politics and policy will be radically altered. This prospect has recalled another phenomenon of the nineteen-sixties: the conviction that 'democracy is in the streets.'"

Protest against Donald Trump. (photo: Jim Vondruska/NurPhoto/Getty Images)
Protest against Donald Trump. (photo: Jim Vondruska/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

The Return of Civil Disobedience

By Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker

01 January 17


The sixties produced a conviction that “democracy is in the streets.” The Trump era may echo that.

n December 6th, less than a month after the election, Vice-President Joe Biden, who was in New York to receive the Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award, for his decades of public service, used the occasion to urge Americans not to despair. “I remind people, ’68 was really a bad year,” he said, and “America didn’t break.” He added, “It’s as bad now, but I’m hopeful.” And bad it was. The man for whom Biden’s award was named was assassinated in 1968. So was Martin Luther King, Jr. Riots erupted in more than a hundred cities, and violence broke out at the Democratic National Convention, in Chicago. The year closed with the hairbreadth victory of a law-and-order Presidential nominee whose Southern strategy of racial politicking remade the electoral map. Whatever innocence had survived the tumult of the five years since the murder of John F. Kennedy was gone.

It was telling that Biden had to sift through nearly a half century of history to find a precedent for the current malaise among liberals and progressives, but the comparison was not entirely fitting. Throughout Richard Nixon’s Presidency, Democrats maintained majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The efforts of the antiwar movement to end American involvement in Vietnam had stalled, but Nixon’s first years in office saw the enactment of several progressive measures, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Clean Air Act, as well as the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2016, the Republicans won the White House, maintained control of both chambers of Congress, and secured the ability to create a conservative Supreme Court majority that could last a generation or more. Donald Trump, a man with minimal restraint, has been awarded maximal power.

Last summer, the A.C.L.U. issued a report highlighting the ways in which Trump’s proposals on a number of issues would violate the Bill of Rights. After his victory, the A.C.L.U.’s home page featured an image of him with the caption “See You in Court.” In November, Trump tweeted that he would have won the popular vote but for millions of illegal ballots cast. This was not just a window into the conspiratorial and fantasist mind-set of the President-elect but a looming threat to voting rights. Ten days after the election, the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund released a statement opposing the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, as Attorney General, based on his record of hostility to voting rights and on the fact that he’d once brought unsubstantiated charges of voter fraud against civil-rights activists. But, with a Republican majority that has mostly shown compliance with Trump, despite his contempt for the norms of democracy, the fear is that he will achieve much of what he wants. Even if he accomplishes only half, the landscape of American politics and policy will be radically altered. This prospect has recalled another phenomenon of the nineteen-sixties: the conviction that “democracy is in the streets.”

Movements are born in the moments when abstract principles become concrete concerns. MoveOn arose in response to what was perceived as the Republican congressional overreach that resulted in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. The Occupy movement was a backlash to the financial crisis. The message of Black Lives Matter was inspired by the death of Trayvon Martin and the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. Occupy’s version of anti-corporate populism helped to create the climate in which Senator Bernie Sanders’s insurgent campaign could not only exist but essentially shape the Democratic Party platform. Black Lives Matter brought national attention to local instances of police brutality, prompting the Obama Administration to launch the Task Force on 21st Century Policing and helping defeat prosecutors in Chicago and Cleveland, who had sought reëlection after initially failing to bring charges against police officers accused of using excessive force.

Last July, when the Army Corps of Engineers gave final approval for the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, anxious that the pipeline would threaten their water supply, started an online petition and filed a lawsuit to halt construction. Thousands of activists, including members of Black Lives Matter, and two thousand military veterans went to Standing Rock, to protest on the Sioux’s behalf; last month, they endured rubber bullets and water hoses fired in freezing temperatures. On December 4th, the Army Corps announced that it would look for an alternate route. But, since Rick Perry, Trump’s choice for Energy Secretary, sits on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline (and in which Trump, until recently, owned stock), protesters are settling in for a long winter.

In that context, the waves of protests in Portland, Los Angeles, Oakland, New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., in the days after the election look less like spontaneous outrage and more like a preview of what the next four years may hold. Unlike the specific protests that emerged during the Obama Administration, the post-election demonstrations have been directed at the general state of American democracy. Two hundred thousand women are expected to assemble in front of the Capitol, on January 21st, the day after the Inauguration, for the Women’s March on Washington. Born of one woman’s invitation to forty friends, the event is meant as a rejoinder to the fact that a candidate with a troubling history regarding women’s rights—one who actually bragged about committing sexual assault—has made it to the White House.

The first Inauguration of George W. Bush, in 2001, saw mass protests driven by the sentiment that the election had been stolen. The protests that greet Trump will, in all probability, exceed them: some twenty other groups have also applied for march permits. Given his history with African-Americans, Muslims, Latinos, immigrants, unionized labor, environmentalists, and people with disabilities, it is not hard to imagine that there will be many more to come. The Congress is unlikely to check the new President, but democracy may thrive in the states, the courts, the next elections, and, lest the lessons of the sixties be forgotten, the streets. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+19 # mashiguo 2017-01-01 12:24
Trump will shoot them.
+5 # Jaax88 2017-01-01 17:32
"Loose talk" as one commentator faulted me for on another thread, but realistic.
+13 # DongiC 2017-01-01 13:04
That would multiply the number of protesters in the streets. Do you think Trump would be so stupid?
+67 # HowardMH 2017-01-01 14:41
I'm not sure but I really think Drumpf the narcissistic man-child psycho, orange fuehrer, certified loon, Pig-Headed ignorant idiot will certainly be the U.S.s worst nightmare in the last hundred years.
-1 # revhen 2017-01-03 15:28
+24 # pegasus4508 2017-01-01 16:13
trump is that stupid. Haven't you paid attention?
+18 # treerapper 2017-01-02 04:21
DT is not stupid. Rather he's one crafty, contemptuous son of a bitch who is completely self-consumed - a megalomaniac of the sort that Hitler was. DT doesn't care one cahoots about laws that don't benefit him and so, the 3-Card Monte player thinks he can con his way to getting whatever he wants via words bites on Twitter and the like.

The nightmare is more the cast of malevolent characters he has selected for his cabinet combined with the tea-party lunatics that populate the right side of the aisle in Congress. Righteous zealotry combined with corporatists and complete self absorption is one horrific pot of soup that is completely indigestible for sane humans.
-50 # jimmyjames 2017-01-01 14:45
In spite of what the Trump Presidency may affect our nation, our foreign policy, or our politics, the USA was and is in dire need of a shakeup which Trump will deliver - good or bad. I, for one, am eagerly awaiting the shake-up.
+19 # pegasus4508 2017-01-01 16:15
White privilege is a wonderful thing in trumplandia.
+44 # ericlipps 2017-01-01 16:51
Shaking up a mixed drink is one thing. Shaking up a bottle of nitroglycerine is another. Guess which better describes the United States at this point in time?
+6 # LionMousePudding 2017-01-02 02:38
You are a white man with a job I take it? Still, even you can breathe polluted air or eat bacteria-laden meat.
+38 # librarian1984 2017-01-01 14:58
We're going to need some better music.
+18 # Radscal 2017-01-01 18:15
We made it to 2017! Hurrah!

Debbie, "The Sane Progressive" posted a video yesterday that ended up being a very optimistic and powerful view of the awakening that took hold over many in 2016.

We must maintain and expand the amazing progressive energy that coalesced around the Bernie Sanders campaign. And we must explore new ways to reach out to the 99%. With Google, Facebook, the WaPo and NY Times leading the charge to enforce "true news" mandates passed by Congress, the battlefield in the ongoing Information Wars is being pulled out from under us, so I hope that smart people are laying the new ground on which we can take a stand.
+7 # economagic 2017-01-01 20:21
Hey, there were some GREAT protest songs in the 60s, even though some of the mass renditions were really bad. I heard a really bad new one this week, sung in Marrakech.
+13 # 2017-01-01 15:01
"now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my brain he'll keep. And as the night begins to wane, I pray the lord I'll still be sane."
Best we can do right now.
-67 # Floe 2017-01-01 15:04
I just think it's a waste of our life, of our energy, of our thinking and of our emotions to get tied up with anything that politicians do. Why do people rally in the streets asking for government to change? When has it ever changed? Oh those little crumbs? That's all you can come up with?

If you are asking the government or rallying against the government, then you are saying they own you. You are asking them to please, please, reform yourselves (in the way specified) It's all so infantile. Like asking mommy or daddy. Like a collective tantrum.
+51 # wrknight 2017-01-01 15:41
Quoting Floe:
I just think it's a waste of our life, of our energy, of our thinking and of our emotions to get tied up with anything that politicians do...
That would be well and good if the politicians wouldn't get tied up with what I do. But, unfortunately, while they may not impact you negatively, they have impacted me and those whom I love - and not in any positive way.
+32 # Bic Parker 2017-01-01 15:42
There are lives in the balance!
+8 # pegasus4508 2017-01-01 16:17
Unless you live in a republican controlled state. Real pain for real people. Do you live abroad? Cause if you live here, government does not have to control your life to negatively affect it. I guess you are white and affluent. Or just hateful and ignorant?
+36 # Victhpooh 2017-01-01 15:19
As a veteran of many many street protests in New York City and DC, I would not be very eager to go to one now. The police are armed like the military and if they are ordered to, they will act like the military. I am worried that our streets are going to look like a Third World nation in the middle of a rebellion. I do not think Trump will take kindly us exercising to our right to assembly!
+26 # Cassandra2012 2017-01-01 16:00
He has no real concept of democracy or the constitution or especially, the value of the 1st amendment!!!
-9 # lfeuille 2017-01-01 16:45
True, but neither does Obama with his "ministry of truth". Trump is just cruder and louder.
+14 # Radscal 2017-01-01 18:37
Precisely. The Obama Administration orchestrated the brutal, nationwide crackdown on the Occupy Movement.

His Justice Department responded to police killing of unarmed blacks by waving their fingers and asking the killers to police themselves, even as he called protesters "thugs."

He (and most of the Democratic Party, and their Republican colleagues) were just fine with the brutal assaults on the peaceful Water Protectors.

And importantly, the Surveillance State has learned how to target and take out the leadership of dissenters, preventing or weakening protests preemptively.
+17 # pegasus4508 2017-01-01 16:19
Our rights are decided by the states and cities in which WE live. You do control those elected officials. It is about time you put people in power who are on your side.
+12 # Jaax88 2017-01-01 17:52
Decidedly defeatist. If the people give up whatever power they have, those in power will have and use more and more of it. You can count on that. No telling what trump and his gang will do, but looking at his nominated appointees it is a good guess many progressives, liberals, centerists Demos and independents will not like what is likely to happen.

If Blacks in Alabama and Mississippi took your attitude it is likely the civil rights movement would have been stillborn.
+29 # Radscal 2017-01-01 18:24
I was and am impressed that 4,000 veterans went to join the DAPL Water Protectors. I understand their leadership has already targeted the Flint MI lead poisoning, and are investigating other protests to join.

What will happen when that militarized police is ordered to brutally assault veterans?

Either they will attack peaceful veterans, creating some of the most unpleasant optics the 0.01% could get. And possibly, resulting in another "shot heard round the world."

Or, significant numbers of the enforcers for the 0.01% will refuse orders, which has been the turning point for every successful non-violent revolution.

Either way, this would be a significant boost for the various movements for substantial progress.

So, I hope to see uniformed veterans en masse at targeted protests across the country.
+5 # MD426 2017-01-02 11:18
Remember Kent State!
+5 # Radscal 2017-01-02 15:01
I do. I don't remember a line of veterans standing between the students and the "chicken hawk" National Guard killers. But the media did present that with a wee tad bit of nuance. Although, they largely ignored the similar murders at Jackson State.

I also remember how large numbers of Vietnam War Veterans joining the anti-war protests forced the media to change their narrative on us.
+6 # sjporter 2017-01-02 23:39
Radscal - Thank you for bringing up Standing Rock resistance and the vets who've gone there to support them. I think the Water Protectors at Standing Rock are heroes - the those who have been there for months and the vets who went there, following the moral imperative the felt. The unarmed, peaceful Protectors of the Sacred have endured much, and we have much to learn from them.
+24 # willsud24 2017-01-01 15:30
Blah, blah, blah...the left has been asleep for eight years while Obama has pushed charter schools, private prisons, the TPP, Bush's tax cuts, a Republican healthcare plan and expanded our wars in the Middle East from two to eight.

Further, Obama failed to stand up for unions, did nothing for the protesters in North Dakota, shut down Occupy Wall Street using violence and expanded offshore oil drilling and fracking nationwide. With "liberals" like Obama in office, who needs Republicans?

I know we all think that Trump's election is the end of the world, but maybe it will wake the left up to some of the horrible things that our country is doing under the banner of neoliberalism. Maybe the next time we have to choose between a candidate like Bernie Sanders and a corporate Democrat, we'll make the right choice.
+28 # wrknight 2017-01-01 15:48
Unfortunately, you are right.

But don't limit yourself to the next opportunity to vote for president. There will be an opportunity in two years to change the Congress and put a stop to Trump's destruction. So make damned sure you vote in '18.
+16 # willsud24 2017-01-01 16:21
Oh I will definitely vote in 18', but I'm beyond expecting much from our corporate controlled Democratic Party.
-3 # wrknight 2017-01-01 18:15
Try voting Green.
-2 # pegasus4508 2017-01-01 16:29
Actually, he isn't right and I am sure never voted before Bernie. He has yet to figure out the difference between what the federal government does and does not do. Or, what his state has the right to do on it's own. Like bust unions. I sure wish they still taught civics. However, there are still tons of books. Perhaps Willsud24 might invest in a few hundred for himself and his friends.
-4 # pegasus4508 2017-01-01 16:26
Liar! Obama never pushed private prisons and recently signed a mandate for no private companies to run federal jails.He has NOTHING to do with states rights. Charter schools. another lie and states rights. Unions - states rights. State rights is YOUR job. YOU elected those officials who want private prisons, charter schools and no unions. YOU did that. I will give you the TPP, but after that, hell no.
Now the new trump pick is a lobbyist for charter schools. Remember, people on RSN can both read and comprehend. You would do well to remember that.
As for electing a candidate, that is up to the people who vote. And Bernie lost. All by himself.
+23 # wrknight 2017-01-01 18:23
No, Bernie didn't lose all by himself. He had lots of help from the DNC who had programed Clinton's nomination way back in '08.

You need to learn about party politics. To run for office on a party ticket, you must first be a loyal party member. As an independent Bernie was not a LOYAL Democrat and the party would not and did not allow him to run on their ticket. They opposed him every inch of the way.
+11 # ReconFire 2017-01-01 18:51
Quoting pegasus4508:

As for electing a candidate, that is up to the people who vote. And Bernie lost. All by himself.

Now who's the liar?
It' hard to elect a candidate when the sys's rigged.
-1 # willsud24 2017-01-01 21:48
Good lord Pegasus, get a clue. Why do you think Donald Trump was able to win the presidency? Neoliberalism has failed and Obama has failed. If Democrats continue to act as corporate puppets, people will continue to flock to Republicans. Obama promised real change and sold us out from day one.

Obama has expanded our wars in the Middle East and his cabinet was filled with executives from Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. Obama did NOTHING on climate change in 8 years and don't cite the Paris agreement, because all the leading scientists are saying that agreement is laughable. Obama is a complete failure and the Clinton/Obama brand of corporate neoliberalism is why we have Trump now. Get out of the party and go be a Republican. We don't want you or need you!
0 # kyzipster 2017-01-04 17:35
We have Trump because enough people voted for him and the GOP brand and their blatant obstruction and extremism.

Many of us will be missing Obama's veto pen shortly.

Enjoy the show, keep blaming Obama if you wish, he'll be forgotten soon enough.
+18 # lfeuille 2017-01-01 16:48
I'm not optimistic on that score. I believe Bernie was the legitimate winner and was cheated using the same tricks the were used against Hillary in the general election. But no one in power is trying to clean up the system so it won't happen again.
+6 # Floridatexan 2017-01-01 17:42
I love Bernie Sanders. His candidacy was a long shot and even he was well aware of it. When he didn't get the nomination, he supported Hillary Clinton. So did I at that point. Did you?
+12 # wrknight 2017-01-01 18:28
I would have voted for Sanders in a heartbeat, but Clinton when was nominated I voted for Jill Stein. I cannot bring myself to vote for someone I do not respect and do not want for public office regardless of the alternative.

Never forget. When you fill out your ballot, you are voting FOR a candidate, not AGAINST another candidate. Win or lose, I will only vote for someone I believe will represent me and my values while in public office. Clinton failed to meet that requirement as did Trump.
+4 # MD426 2017-01-02 11:25
I admire and appreciate your idealism. I had to put mine aside and vote AGAINST a candidate and I wish more people had done the same.
+2 # Radscal 2017-01-02 15:03
I am thankful that we don't have a President Clinton II threatening war with Russia and preventing the liberation of Syria with her "no fly zone."

A few days ago, Aleppo was able to celebrate Christmas for the first time in 5 years, now that HRC's/Obama's "moderate" head-choppers have been driven out.

Here's some film of post-"rebel" Aleppo you won't be seeing on the Western Corporate TV.

I am hopeful that the "left" that fell in line with HRC will at least stand up to Trump and the Republicans in ways they never did to Obama and never would have to HRC.
+42 # broompusher 2017-01-01 15:44
I became consciously aware I was an adrenaline junkie in 1967 in Berkeley where I was part of a demonstration against the war. Preeminent in my memory is the aroma of skull blood and vinegar-soaked bandannas somehow slipping through air smoked with tire fires and tear gas.
I cannot fictionalize the reality of youths cursing and hurling stones, chanted slogans bouncing off storefronts, and the pushback by rednecks and Hells Angels swinging tire bats and axe handles.
In the story-lines we demonstrators tried to tell, the main story line was narrated by the police in full battle array plowing their swat-armored trucks down the avenues. Children and women tilled to the gutters held up peace signs in self-defense. The police ignored them, intent only on clubbing longhairs like me.
My one personal unwavering element was, after the first chants began to swell,and as the police bullhorns were raised to warn that we were illegal and subject to arrest, but before the hurling of bottles, the tying on of bandannas, and before the burning tear gas, I would always need to take a long piss against some dumpster or light pole. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t pissing out of fear. I was marking territory. I always had to do that; I always took that piss. I wonder, does marking territory open channels to adrenaline? If so, my body was clearing the way, because an adrenaline rush is addictive. I look forward to pissing on Trump's parade. At age 74 that's what's left for me.
+16 # pegasus4508 2017-01-01 16:30
May God Bless you and yours these next 4 years. Welcome!
+16 # Cdesignpdx 2017-01-01 18:22
I was there, too. Was witness to the head bashing. The Vietnam war was the introduction of our militarized police. Since, I have seen their escalation—anot her corporate war—and don't think any of this will end well.
+4 # DongiC 2017-01-01 21:09
broompusher---y ou're a pisser, that's for sure.
+3 # Realist1948 2017-01-01 16:15
IMHO massive street protests of Trump's inauguration would be counter-product ive. Although I'm appalled by the thought of this man becoming president, his election is the legal outcome of a flawed but legal process. Protesting at this time plays into the "sore loser / snowflake" narrative that Trump supporters parrot.

I think it's better that we "keep our powder dry" and wait until Trump does something outrageous and/or illegal as president. I don't think we'll have to wait long. And while we wait, we can continue to mock him. (Small-scale daily protests near the White House may serve to remind Trump that he is unpopular).

Thin-skinned narcissist that he is, he may become too flummoxed to do much more than tweet obsessively.
0 # kyzipster 2017-01-05 12:22
I'm very supportive of the Women's March on Washington the day after the Inauguration.

I don't believe it's about demonstrating as sore losers, it's a strong statement against GOP attacks on women's rights. A message to the religious right warriors empowered by this election. Silence is a dangerous response.

I don't think we should consider the right-wing narrative for one second when it comes to righteous protest, or any other mainstream narrative. Sometimes there is simply right and wrong and the truth often prevails if we're persistent.

We've seen it more recently with the Iraq War protests, Occupy Wall Street, Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter. Who cares what they say about it on Fox News and Breitbart? These movements eventually overcame much of the partisan propaganda in the media and raised the consciousness of many.
+25 # djnova50 2017-01-01 16:34
Our democracy has been compromised for a very long time. It has nothing to do with Trump and the Democrats have been just as complicit as the Republicans. Also, I think the people have been complicit, as well for allowing our democracy to be taken from us.
-5 # RNLDaWy 2017-01-01 17:43
Not even close to '68 .. keep drinking the Koolade folks!!!
0 # wrknight 2017-01-01 18:35
The big ones will come later.
+8 # Vardoz 2017-01-01 19:00
Actually the treats to our survival are now so severe that our resistance may have to grow regardless of the dangers. Be sure to wear protective gear. Gas masks, ear protectors, bullet proof vests and helmets. People can still be peaceful protestors and protect themselves. Coming out in very big numbers is very important. We did not vote for Fascism and an oppressive police state. Our hearts are good and true. The police states agenda for us is abusive. How much are we supposed to endure?
+2 # sjporter 2017-01-02 23:33
Rachel Maddow does a superb job of researching and explaining the topics she covers. I see her excellent coverage of things, but other media never seem to pick up on her work. These are the kinds of information that could either be used to block some of the most offensive of Trump's Cabinet picks, or to call Trump himself up on charges.

Rachel Maddow had a fascinating piece on Trump already doing some more pay-for-play. The piece was on this HUGE mine in Indonesia, being mined and leased by a US company, when a high -level Indonesian politician - who Trump was ballyhooing in 2015 as a great man - got caught bribing the company and was fired. Miraculously the audiotapes vanished, even though everyone had heard them, so he got his seat back - and now, voila, the mining company is back in business and Trump is already starting construction of his hotel and golf course in Indonesia.

This also should not be missed - it's actually about Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon and his close ties and deal-making with Putin and other unfriendly regimes.

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