Resisting Authoritarianism

As history shows, the slide into an authoritarian regime occurs very slowly over time. The people would, hopefully, rise up if all the repression occurred at once. Rather, the assault on freedom occurs with one change followed by another. Concern over the first thing becomes normalized, and doesn’t appear as bad when compared to the next authoritarian move. Followed by the next normalization and new authoritarian move. I’m reminded of the “domino theory” that was once justification for the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. If Vietnam “fell to communism”, the other countries in Southeast Asia would follow.

Sociologist Juan Jose Linz (Gretchen Casper, Fragile Democracies: The Legacies of Authoritarian Rule, pp. 40–50 (citing Linz 1964) describes authoritarian political systems as:

  1. Limited political pluralism, that is such regimes place constraints on political institutions and groups like legislatures, political parties and interest groups;
  2. A basis for legitimacy based on emotion, especially the identification of the regime as a necessary evil to combat “easily recognizable societal problems” such as enemies of the people or state, underdevelopment or insurgency;
  3. Minimal social mobilization most often caused by constraints on the public such as suppression of political opponents and anti-regime activity;
  4. Informally defined executive power with often vague and shifting, but vast powers.[3]

An unbiased assessment (as opposed to legitimacy based on emotion) shows the current Republican administration and party have moved toward authoritarianism.

Although there is a history that lead to this point, this process began in earnest on the day the current president announced his candidacy, with him demonizing people who were trying to immigrate to our country.

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Donald Trump’s Presidential Announcement

Since then there have been multiple assaults on decency and our democratic norms every day. Continuous movement along the path to authoritarianism. The assaults on freedom of the press and civil liberties have been ongoing. The newest alarming actions are the suppression of the Mueller Report, and the purging of the Department of Homeland Security. How is it even possible we have fallen so low as to allow “purging“?

While this was happening I was focused on other things, mainly our evolving environmental crisis. I believed, and continue to believe, increasing frequency, intensity, damage and cost of environmental disasters would/will break down political systems.

What I had not foreseen was the decision of this administration to not just ignore climate change, but to actively do everything possible to roll back environmental protections, and prop up the fossil fuel industry.

Looking back on other authoritarian regimes, I believe most of us wonder how they could have happened. Wonder why the people allowed them to happen.

I would also hope many of us might wonder what we would have done to prevent those things from happening? What do you think our children are going to think when they find out how little most of us did to stop the separation of children from their families, to stop the endless wars on terrorism, the thousands of civilian deaths from drone attacks? How little most of us did to stop the assault on Mother Earth?

So the real question facing each of us today is what are we going to do now?

The only way this stops is if millions of us say NO.

I have a lot of faith that the youth I have been peripherally involved with in the Sunrise Movement will continue to make positive change. This Movement is founded on the ideas of (1) building people power by pulling millions of young people into their Movement and (2) building political power by using that people power to elect candidates who will stop the movement toward authoritarianism and instead tackle our environmental, economic and social problems.

But we can’t leave it to the young people to solve these things. Now is the time for all of us to engage, however we are able. Time for us to pull our friends and neighbors into these efforts.

As one example, this evening our first FCNL MeetUp will be held here in Indianola. The idea of the MeetUp is to invite our friends and neighbors, most of whom don’t usually get engaged in public, community efforts, to do so. The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) has a 75 year history of providing ways for people to be involved in our political system. Teaching us, and going with us to visit with our Congressional representatives and Senators, so we can talk about our concerns and what legislation we would like those representatives to vote for. FCNL also provides us with information and ways we can talk about issues with our friends and neighbors.

Our MeetUp tonight will be held at The Village, a retirement a community. My friend Rezadad Mohammadi and I will welcome those who attend, and explain briefly what FCNL is. Then we will show everyone the tools provided by FCNL that will allow them to write their own letter about immigration reform, and how to get that letter emailed to their representatives. We want to give people the tools to use, NOT to tell them what they should write.

This is one way we build a movement to give voice to our concerns. Efforts like this, pulling in our friends and neighbors, is how we stop the slide into authoritarianism. You can find much related information on FCNL’s website https://www.fcnl.org/.

The following file is the presentation we plan to use tonight. We encourage you to consider organizing a MeetUp with your friends and neighbors. Here is a link to help you get started with your MeetUp.

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