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Resistance Movements

By Weeden Nichols
Opinion | November 25, 2010

HAYS, Kan. - On the day before Thanksgiving, on NPR, we heard an abundance of commentary on the Transportation Safety Agency's "full-body scans" and "enhanced pat-down procedures" for passengers boarding scheduled airline flights. One of the critical remarks made was that the movement "...had no center." I took this to mean that the speaker thought a movement could not be effective if it were not orchestrated or choreographed by some sort of central entity. I took his words to mean that participants in a resistance movement had to be mere instruments of the central entity and that the role of ordinary participants is only to act in "lock-step" as extensions of that central consciousness. Not only do I disagree, but I firmly submit that spontaneous movements, in which each participant acts according to his or her own understanding, inspiration, and conscience, are the most effective movements. It appears now, as I write on Thanksgiving Day, that the threat of mass refusal to accept the full-body scan fizzled. On the other hand, as a result of this expression of spontaneous resistance, it appears that the government has stated an intent to re-evaluate security techniques and procedures. In any case, the issue has reminded me that spontaneous resistance movements are worthy of examination and discussion.

I will now describe the best example, of which I know, in support of my thesis. Understand that, in providing this example, I am not implying that our own government is excessively authoritarian. The purpose of the example is only to illustrate the effectiveness of spontaneous, non-centered movements. During World War II, after the Nazi conquest of Norway, and the accompanying installation of the Quisling regime, a spontaneous resistance movement immediately commenced. Teachers refused to teach Nazi content or values. Sports teams quit competing, so as not to provide a venue for Nazi propaganda. Likewise, actors ceased acting. Ministers resigned and closed their churches, instead holding informal services in the streets and fields, and in homes. Industrial workers engaged in sabotage. Union leaders defied the Nazis. The supreme court of the land made it clear that it would remain in existence only to hear cases under Norwegian law, but that it would not hear cases involving Nazi laws or regulations. The court was allowed to remain in existence under those terms. The parliament met one last time, to legally transfer the government to a government-in-exile in the United Kingdom, then voted itself out of existence. There was some violent resistance, but that was minor by comparison to the non-violent, spontaneous, resistance. The point is that this massive and continuing resistance was not orchestrated, choreographed, or directed. It arose out of each individual's values, understandings, and conscience.

The TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party movement, in my perception, seems partly spontaneous, partly co-opted, and partly hijacked by special interests. The spontaneous component ought to be of great interest to our government and to our entire society. Of that spontaneous component, it must be understood that each person who is a part of it is acting from his or her own understandings, inclinations, and biases. These are not all the same; however, in the aggregate, one must discern some common sentiment and common reaction to current events and conditions. I am mindful of trends, and I try to have some sympathy for spontaneous movements. In the TEA Party case, I count the indicated trends in thought or reaction as significant, but I personally disagree with most of them. My opinion is that, in an increasingly complex, crowded, and fast-moving world, it is necessary for a government to do more than would or should have been required of a government in simpler times. I do not mind paying taxes, as long as they are equitably assessed and the revenues used fairly and well. I should note here that we in the United States of America endure a lower tax burden than do citizens of most other developed countries. Many find an obstacle in the Constitution to many of the functions of government that are now necessary in this complex and crowded world. To this I say that the Constitution is not a sacred document. It is worthy of great respect, but it is a human document, written and adopted for human benefit. All that works should be retained, but this constitution is over 200 years old. It is probably time for a new constitutional convention. But my opinions on the TEA Party message, taxation, and constitutions are a detour from my point.

The point, relative to the TEA Party is that it is effective, in that it has momentum and will have impact. The Republican Party, which has benefited from the TEA movement in gaining a House majority, will now pay a price. The new members, who are more TEA than Republican, will follow what they consider to be their own mandates, and they will not be highly amenable to direction and control by Republican leadership. The Republican Party, which paid with the dilution of its identity and underlying philosophy when (depending upon one's interpretation of events) it either sold itself or allowed itself to be hijacked by the Religious Right, will now suffer further erosion of identity and clear underlying philosophy, as a result of either selling itself or allowing itself to be hijacked the TEA Party. Winning in the short run may not be as important as remaining who you are in the long run, and continuing to offer a principled alternative to the electorate.

Regardless, truly spontaneous movements are effective. Decision makers fail to take note at their peril.


8 Comments

I'm always amused when those in the Tea Party start in on taxes, especially business taxes. If you listen carefully to their rants, however, you'll always hear them say, "We have the highest business tax rate in the industrialized world." True enough. But the question isn't the tax rate, it's the tax paid. With the loopholes, deductions, and outright preferences that their lobbyists garner for them, the corporate taxes paid in this country are toward the bottom of the industrialized world. So it's disingenuous at best when the anti-tax loonies start their laments.


Your forgetting that the internet makes a centralized authority unnecessary. All it takes is a blog, web video, or posting on Facebook to give thousands of people ideas to rally around a central cause even without leadership.


You are right, Brad. I had not considered a scenario in which a movement has no central direction, but in which people are receiving direction anyway. I suppose we may have become a nation of sheep, following the bell of the internet Judas goat. Your observation makes the abundant scurrilous forwardings an even more serious matter than I had thought.


Has anyone else observed as I have? I get very few forwarded emails exagerating the negatives of the conservative right and radical religionists. Do I not think about the flood of those kind of forwards because I agree, partially. And it registers with me when I get the negatives against the social, liberal, progressives.

I asked my wife about it and she said her emails were very lopsided, leaning toward criticizing the moderates or liberals. Some, from friends that haven't stopped to even think about how valid they might be.


Weeden, You only need to look at how the teens and college students use the internet, tweets, Facebook, and other tools to create things like flash mobs.
Ken, the internet certainly does allow a faster flow of information. In the old days streetcorner newspaper kids would be selling "EXTRA" editions when hot stories came out. Now we just get them on the internet. DRUDGE often covers stories days before they hit the papers or evening news.


You are right Brad! - the internet certainly does allow a faster flow of information-

And the more ridiculous and preposterous the information, the faster and further it spreads.


Well, I am convinced that a mass action of some kind can be, and often is, precipitated by something "catchy" that arrives via the web. I wouldn't exactly call that phenomenon a movement, though. I would view it as something like an infection. I have to believe that a "movement" is the result of a shared human yearning or fear. In other words, I think there is always substance to a true movement.


Weedon: thanks for a very thoughtful essay. For another perspective from an unwilling combatant in Bush's covert war who does use spontaneous resistance on an almost daily basis to it, see my essay regarding the true origins of the Tea Party, here: http://dontfearyourfreedom.blogspot.com/2010/05/not-quite-same-tea-in-palins-tea-party.html.

You may first wish to read the bottom of the sidebar first, at "Why I Write This Blog."

The reason our government instituted against all Anerican citizens (and anyone in their purview) it's undeniable police state in which we live is not to fight terrorism, but to engage in it under the guise of legitimacy. That is why it is prosecuting its war just as George W. Bush said it would: covertly. The Tea Party is just one means of shaping public perception and behavior to acclimatize us to accept what is, ultimately, fascism. The one war you can never win is the one you don't know that you're in. Movements like the Tea Party represent a very recognizable tool that once secret forces of our government has used on numerous occasions in other countries to take out if power legitimate governments, for the purpose of placing new, pro-Anglo/Arab/American interests in power. It is this status quo which seeks to replace any form of self-representation of American citizens with its own authoritarian governance mechanisms that is at work here.


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