This is something of an “ignosce mihi quia peccavi” moment, so please bear with me.
When I first chose the Twitter handle “@Socialism4USA” I knew I was painting a target on the back of my T-shirt. There are a lot of people out there, especially Americans, who have, shall we say, strong feelings about socialism and aren’t afraid to express them.
For the record, I agree with many of them. I hate their idea of socialism too and wouldn’t want it implemented in the United States or anywhere else. It’s intentionally constructed to look like Hell on earth. (The reasons for that would require a separate post that would look like a lecture in a collegiate Labor History class). My vision of socialism for the US is more like these people’s. But it’s hard to put nuance into 140 characters.
I’m afraid that all too often I’ve succumbed to the allure of snark and wit and come up with uncharitable answers to their taunts. And I need to stop.
I’ve been aware of the philosophies of non-violence advocated by men like King and Gandhi for most of my life. In my day and age, how could I not? Gandhi is as much as the father of India as Washington is of America, and he did it with methods that eschewed violence. Martin Luther King, Jr. is likewise held in high regard because he changed the landscape of this country, again by taking violence head-on with non-violence.
I’ve never really applied them to my life, though. I’m just this guy, you know? I post stuff on the Internet that I think is interesting, or insightful, or funny, or admirable or silly or whatever. Non-violence didn’t seem to enter into it.
Then along came the Occupy movement, and as I followed the occupations of first New York, then Boston and London and Melbourne and Nashville and Oakland and Seattle and LA and Buffalo and on into the nooks and crannies of America, I came to see a pattern in the protests. By and large, they were peaceful. They didn’t try to bait police or provoke confrontations. They stood their ground and asserted their rights and often, as in New York and Nashville, prevailed.
The anti-Occupy forces hooted and howled. They pointed to instances where someone had defecated on a police car, or reports of sexual assaults, or properly vandalism and attempted through the magic of the fallacies of composition and division to conclude that (1) all of the Occupy movement is guilty of illicit behavior and (2) that the members of Occupy support or are guilty of these behaviors individually. (I don’t live in New York but I’m guessing that any unsavory behavior you could try to attach to Occupy happens hundreds if not thousands of times throughout Manhattan alone every single night, and always has, and always will.)
They bring back the “dirty hipple” and “commie” shibboleths that we all thought had died out in the sixties. They try to tie Occupy to George Soros (through a chain of association worthy of the Kevin Bacon game) and ACORN (even though ACORN is dead). In fact I created the term “trollmonkeys” for the people posting these lies, half-truths and smears, bringing to mind classic Internet trolls who toss . . . well, not to put too fine a point on it, shit . . . at the walls to see if anything sticks. Thankfully, so far nothing has.
Then I read Captain Paul Chappell’s article How To Destroy The Occupy Movement, And How To Prevent It From Failing. Chappell left the US Army in 2009 after a tour in Baghdad and is currently Peace Leadership Director for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. The article and the comments that follow it are a worthy read, but here’s the Short Attention Span Theater version of it: The way to kill the Occupy movement is to get people to see it as violent. The moment it falls to violence, it starts losing the support of the American people, who right now favor its message. Conversely, the way to ensure its success is to work the principles of non-violence into the movement in such a way that the two are inseparable.
This would not be easy in a movement with a charismatic leader figure like King or Gandhi. It’s infinitely more difficult in a movement like Occupy where there are no leaders and everyone is a leader. It’s all to easy for a group that wants to discredit Occupy, or to cause trouble to further its own agenda, to sneak agents provacateurs into a group and try to gain support for violence. To their credit, most of the Occupy groups have been pretty successful in weeding out these fringe elements, but it’s a constant struggle. It’s especially tough when you hear reports of TV producers telling their reporters and cameramen, “Get me a picture of someone flouting the law!”
Which brings me back to, well, me. Occupy is as much a creature of the Internet as it is of the streets, and I consider myself a member of the support crew for the ground forces who are doing the occupation in meatspace. That makes me liable for any violence I commit in the furtherance of Occupy, and that includes mocking trolls and hurling insults and the like at them. According to Chappell’s article, King never participated in that. He called the white racists who opposed his efforts to create a just society “my sick white brothers and sisters,” defining racism in terms of illness rather than demonizing its participants.
I don’t yet know what waging a non-violent campaign for social justice, real democracy and economic fairness on the Internet looks like. All I know is that I need to be a part of it, and I have a lot of learning to do.