Tuesday, January 31, 2017

10 Actions for Avoiding Protest Burn-Out

Article by Cynthia L. Landrum
With all the Executive Orders fling fast and furious, there's a lot for progressives to respond to right
now, and one of the things I've been worried about is protest burn-out. After having a webpage with an article on protest burn-out crash on me ten times as I tried to load it yesterday, I decided to write my own. So here's some things you can do.

1. Know your energy style. 
 Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Do large crowded protests energize you or deplete you? Do you like sitting down and composing letters to representatives and the press, or do you dread them?  There is a lot of work to be done, and we need people doing a wide variety of things.  So focus on the kind of activities that energize you, and don't beat yourself up for not doing everything.

2. Follow your expertise.
Do you have a lot of experience in an area that might be helpful?  How can you use that strength?  One great example is how lawyers responded to the immigration issue this week by going down to the airports themselves and helping people with legal aid on the spot.  Are you a teacher?  Maybe you can help with a teach-in.  Are you a veteran?  Share what you know about how this is not in America's security interests.  Are you a writer?  Write!  If, like me, you're a great generalist, do a little of this and a little of that.  There's lots of space for you in this movement, because we need people to be flexible and responsive, and a wide variety of skills are needed.  There have been a lot of times campaigns, for example, have asked me to go door-to-door.  I refuse.  That's not my strength.  But if you want someone to spend an hour spreading your message on social media, I'm your gal.

3.  Find friends to do this with you.
Make a plan with a couple of friends who share your passion to engage in this together.  You'll keep each other going and keep each other strong this way.  Protests are easier and more fun if you've got friends to make signs with, share the drive with, and debrief with afterwards.  Don't have good friends you can ask?  Ask for some to partner with you in a Facebook group for local progressives, or in your place of worship.

4.  Similarly, connect to community.
Engaging in social justice can be draining, and having a community of support with you can help.  So find a spiritual community, and join in the local progressives.  In the last week, I've found two local progressive groups on Facebook that I had no idea existed.  In one case, that's because it didn't, and it's new.  Joining them connects me to other people in my community with my values, and then when I go to events, I connect with the people there that I've been talking with online, so it gives a touchstone at the events, as well.

5.  Set your limits for larger actions and smaller actions.
Are you going to get burned out if you protest every weekend?  Know your limits, because there will hopefully be ongoing protests for quite some time.  So if you engage once a month and that will be energizing for you and not burn you out, set that limit -- and keep to it.  It's better to miss the next important big thing but have energy to sustain this.  Similarly, even smaller actions can burn you out, because there are endless ones you can take.  So set yourself a daily or weekly time limit for how much you're going to do.

6.  Know your social media limits.
If you have Facebook friends like mine, all you have to do is open it and you'll be inundated with all the fear, despair, and bad news of the world.  So know how much of that you can take before it depletes you.  Then disconnect from it and do something energizing or community-building or just plain fun.

7.  Find the places where victory is possible.
We need to engage in long-term resistance and protest even when victory isn't in sight, but we also need to have periodic wins.  So make a point of prioritizing some places where victory is possible.  And that brings me to the next point...

8.  Don't forget the local.
With all the action going on at the national level right now, it's easy to forget about local issues.  But local issues are where we can sometimes make a big impact, and it's important to have periodic victories as we engage in this work over the long haul.  We can resist at a local level, too.  Encourage and support your local government in standing up to oppression.

9.  Cut back when necessary.
If you find yourself burning out, don't be afraid to pull back.  Yes, we need large numbers of people to resist and to protest.  But I can count one friend who didn't march on the day of the women's march for every friend who did, and it was still the largest protest in history.  And those friends who didn't march are hopefully energized by what they did instead and by seeing the wonderful photographs of their friends, and ready and excited to engage in the next thing.  So allow yourself to cut back when you have to -- without apology.

10.  Engage in a spiritual practice.
Practice something that keeps you calm and focused, and do it daily and/or engage in it before and after significant social justice work.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Nation versus the State

The current American State was created by the Constitution, a document written in 1787 and adopted by the thirteen states in 1789. By that act, the first post-revolutionary state, the government created by the Articles of Confederation was overthrown. The Constitution established the second post-revolutionary state. You could call the second American Republic.

The authors of the Constitution conceived of the American nation as an ordered society in which white men of property were supreme, and others were subordinate to them, not because the government said so, but because it was the natural order of things. White supremacy was reality, according to them.

Their view was that the nation (the people as a whole) was naturally dominated by white men of property and so the state that they created to govern that white supremacist nation was structured to preserve white rule. The new government was studded with anti-democratic barriers to thwart reform from below. The founders created the strongest central government they could that still lacked the power to interfere with the practice of slavery.

So, White Nationalism is not a strange new ideology. White Nationalism is the founding ideology of these United States. The present government of the United States, the one created by the Constitution of 1789, is a White Nationalist State. We see this today in belief that white Americans are the "real Americans," or that August Wilson is a great black playwright, while Arthur Miller is a great American playwright.

Today, we consider that the American Nation, (the people, the society as a whole) is a multi-cultural nation. We are a multi-cultural people, with all the unity and disunity which naturally flows from that fact. But the structure of the American state is, from its beginning, white nationalist, which makes it a barrier to justice for the multicultural American nation.

The structure of the state, the government, is at odds with the nation, or the people and society.

The question now is whether the present US State, as structured by the US Constitution, can deliver democratic justice, especially to People of Color, and even more particularly, Black People, anytime in the foreseeable future.

If you think that the answer is "yes," then your strategy has to be gain enough political power in the system as it now stands to deliver the reforms needed for justice. How's that being working out?

If you think that the answer is "no," then your strategy has to be to work for structural changes in the government, either through a series of amendments to the present Constitution, or the replacement of the present Constitution by a new one.  But, the prospects of amending the Constitution to create a democratic and just state is that the anti-democratic features of the Constitution are designed to prevent that kind of change.

The alternative is to propose a new Constitution.

I think that it is time for a group of prominent and respected people who represent the full range of the American people be gathered to propose a new, or radically revised, Constitution, one that dismantles the anti-democratic structures of the present one, and yet still protects the civil rights of those with minority opinions.


  • The qualifications to vote and the administration of elections should be standardized across all states: universal, automatic registration, national standards on voting periods and administration etc. 
  • Local policing should be directly accountable to the Federal government with a nation-wide system for civilian review of police conduct. 
  • A nation wide system of equitable public school-funding.
  • The abolition of the Electoral College
  • Positive guarantees of rights to health care, education, housing, food, etc. 
How would democratic self-government in the United States be structured? How could a government be created that would have the power to reverse and repair the injustice and exploitations of centuries of white supremacy? How would get from here to there?

A new people's Constitution written by an all-peoples' Constitutional Convention could establish a goal, a positive vision of our hopes.  

With the election of Trump, people are talking the possible end of the American Republic. But we don't want to just preserve the American Republic. The pre-Trump status quo is not our goal; it was unacceptable, then and now. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Illegitimacy of Donald Trump

Four reasons why Trump is an illegitimate President, in order of importance:

1. He lost the popular vote. The Electoral college is a anti-democratic vestige of the Constitution which violates the principle of the equal protection of the laws.

2. The widespread practice of voter suppression in key states which provided the margin Trump needed in the EC.

3. The participation of the government's internal security forces (the FBI) in an effort to swing the election, by selectively releasing and withholding information about its investigations.

4. Colluding with a foreign government's illegal collection of non-public information and receiving and using that information in its campaign communication.

Again, illegitimate is not illegal. Trump himself has trafficked in the accusation of illegitimacy. The most obvious is his birtherism about President Obama. Another was his repeated statement that Hillary Clinton should not have "been allowed" to run for President.

John Lewis is right.

If #Trump is illegitimate President, as per @repjohnlewis, then elevating Mike Pence isn't the solution.

The illegitimacy of Trump extends to the whole ticket, because the whole administration was elected together. The election of the President/VP together on a Party Ticket (recognized in the 12th amendment) effectively limits the impeachment of a President to cases of individual misconduct. There is no constitutional means for holding a political party accountable for cheating in an election. Yet that is the situation we are in.

What can we do?

I think that it is important to resist any attempt to assign meaning to the idea that "Trump won". Like when people say that Trump won because "the people" don't like Hollywood celebrities, but he didn't win. Like when people say that Trump won because people don't care about his tax returns -- but he didn't win! He didn't win because people don't like political correctness, because he didn't win! The only reason why he is being inaugurated is because our constitution is anti-democratic.

Analysis of why Trump won has to be limited to why Trump carried particular states, but not implying that Trump won because of broad national, cultural trends, because he didn't win. 

Accepting that "Trump won" is the gaslighting of America, trying to manipulate us to think that something happened that did not happen. And the "Trump won" gaslighting is based on the foundational gaslighting of the country: that white people know what is real, and others do not.

Is there a constitutional means to change the party holding the White House, especially when the party of the President controls the House and Senate?

In today's circumstances, it would require: 

1. The election of a new Speaker of the House, either a Democrat, or a respected centrist, by a coalition of Democrats and dissident Republicans.
2. The simultaneous impeachment of the President and Vice President.

Monday, January 02, 2017

The Spiritual and the Political in Unitarian Universalism

I think that we have to stay true to what we have learned in contemporary UUism. 

We put forth an idealistic and utopian set of social values in 1985, the Seven Principles.

Most know the story of the Seven Principles and how they came about. Those that know our theological traditions recognize them as a summation of our public theology, the only kind of theology that the Unitarian Universalists could agree on. Battered and bruised by the intractable humanist/theist conflict, Unitarian Universalists adopted an agnostic pluralism about cosmology and unified around a public theology summed up by the Seven Principles. 

It is not surprising that a statement of public theology would become the cornerstone of our contemporary faith. We have long said that what matters in religion are “deeds not creeds.” And we have long thought, along with all the other practitioners of liberal religion, that the true test of religion was the effect it has on people and its society.

The seven principles describe our vision of the Beloved Community, both in our congregations and in the world at large. And so, we went forth to put them on posters in the entry ways to our sanctuaries, and to carry them on little cards in our wallets to give to curious strangers, and to teach them to our children as the highest order statement of our faith. 

Since then, however, we have learned that the obstacle to the Beloved Community the Principles envision are the systems of oppression that rule our world. 

There are many ways that we came to learn this: the influence of the women’s movement, the leadership of African American Unitarian Universalists, the anti-racism education efforts, the experience of the Welcoming Congregations program, struggle to come to grips with clergy misconduct. All of these, and more, brought home the fact that simple justice, fairness and equity in social relations were prevented by engrained habits and perceptions of reality. Bigotry and prejudice were tips of the iceberg; much more was beneath the surface. 

We learned that to live in the world imagined by our Principles, we had to root out and dismantle systemic injustices.

We also began to see that oppression itself was encoded in human behavior. There is a human proclivity to create and sustain relationships of domination and subordination, a proclivity that requires constant awareness and vigilance to even see. Oppression changes shape and form and surfaces even in institutions and organizations that commit themselves to fighting oppression.

The realization of the pervasiveness of oppression carries with it the knowledge of individual complicity in it. 

To see one’s own complicity with systems of oppression is not possible as an individual. To forego the rewards of that complicity requires a strength beyond individual character. Anti-oppression requires dependence on others, and on sources of personal strength beyond the self: on a covenanted community, and on however conceives of a “higher power.” As James Luther Adams has put it, “there is a sustaining, creating and transforming power”  In other words, sustaining resistance to systemic oppression is spiritual work, bringing the self into dependence on and alignment with that power.  

The realization that the obstacle to justice and equity is systemic oppression irrevocably merges our political/social stance with our spiritual message and religious traditions. 

Our collective path to these revelations has been not a straight line, but by following our noses, UUism is moving from being hyper-respectable to an emerging radicalism. Our story is our story, but lots of others are following the same trajectory. 

We are now a part of a large scale social movement(s) against systemic oppression. 

Our particular angle on this work include (1) the necessity of building local, wholistic communities, (2) the insistence that overcoming systemic oppression is not just political, but a spiritual transformation, and so the process needs time for worship, (3) the importance of holding everyone along the path with love, (4) the necessity of forming children and youth in anti-oppressive values. Not everyone wants to do this work the way that we think it needs to be done, and that's OK. 

Our problem is not knowing what to do, but explaining/teaching that what we have learned is life-giving, empowering knowledge.