(This final section of a transcribed recent talk by Chris Hedges begins at about 57:40 on the video linked below.)
As the state increases the level of violence against nonviolent dissent, we must never respond with violence. The use of violence, including property destruction and taunting the police, is a gift to the security and surveillance state. It allows the state to demonize and isolate a mass movement. It drives away the bulk of the population.
Violence against the state is used by the authorities to justify greater forms of control and repression. The corporate state understands and welcomes the language of force. This is a game the government will always win and we will always lose. If we are perceived as a flag-burning, rock-throwing, angry mob that embraces violence, we will be easily crushed. We can succeed only if we win the hearts and minds of the wider public and ultimately many of those within the structures of power, including the police (applause).
When violence is used against nonviolent protesters demanding basic forms of justice it exposes the weakness of the state. It de-legitimizes those in power. It prompts a passive population to respond with active support for the protesters. It creates internal divisions within the structures of power that, as I witnessed in the revolutions in Eastern Europe, paralyze and defeat those in authority.
Martin Luther King, Jr. held marches in Birmingham, Alabama, rather than in Albany, Georgia, because he knew Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner “Bull” Connor would overreact and expose the city’s racist structures.
The acts of resistance — including the massive street protests the day after the inauguration and later the demonstrations that grew out of the ban on Muslims, the Department of Energy’s refusal to give the Trump administration a list of employees that worked on climate change, acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ refusal to enforce the travel ban, and hundreds of State Department staff members’ signing of a memo opposing the immigration restrictions — terrify those around Trump.
We have the power to make any country ungovernable. But we do not have much time. Corporate power is global. It will make it harder and harder to organize, to get into the streets, to carry out nationwide strikes, including within the federal bureaucracy. And this resistance must also be accompanied by an alternative vision of a socialist, anti-capitalist society. Because the enemy is, in the end, not Trump or Bannon, it is corporate power. And if we do not dismantle corporate power, we will never stop fascism’s seduction of the white working class and unemployed.
Now is the time not to cooperate. Now is the time to shut down the systems of power. Now is the time to resist. It is our last chance.
The fanatics are moving with lightening speed. So should we.
Hope comes from the numerous protests that have been mounted in the streets, at town halls, led by First Nations people, held by members of Congress, and at flash points such as Standing Rock. It may also come from the 2.5 million civil servants within the U.S. federal government if a significant number refuse to cooperate.
We must engage in these battles on the local and the national level. We must in our own community mobilize to prevent the deportation of undocumented workers, the evictions from homes of the unemployed, those with disabilities, the elderly or those living on small, fixed incomes.
The reclaiming of our democracy will only happen when we make our physical presence felt in public spaces.
We once had within our capitalist democracy, liberal institutions — the press, labor, third parties, civic and church groups, public broadcasting, well-funded public universities, — that were capable of responding to outside pressure from movements.
They did so imperfectly.
They provided only enough reforms to save the capitalist system from widespread unrest or, with the breakdown of capitalism in the 1930s, from revolution. They never addressed white supremacy and institutional racism, misogyny, or the cruelty that is endemic to capitalism. But they had the ability to ameliorate the suffering of the poor and working men and women.
These liberal institutions exist now only in name. They are props in the democratic facade. There are, as the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin wrote, no institutions certainly left in the United States that can authentically be called democratic.
We will have to build new radical movements and, most importantly, new, parallel institutions that challenge the hegemony of corporate power. It will not be easy. It will take time. We must not be seduced by foundation money and grants from established institutions that blunt the radical restructuring of society. Trusting in the system to carry out reform and wrest back our democracy ensures our enslavement.
We will have to pit power against power. We will have to defy the rules. We cannot be predictable. We must disrupt the machinery of governments. And none of this will come by forming flash mobs on the Internet. It will come by building real and enduring relationships within our communities the old way — person by person. It will come when we take time to listen. And we have to surprise those in authority. And these kinds of protest — not the choreographed boutique activism where you stay within the “free speech area” or are politely escorted to jail (laughter) — are greeted with real anger by the state.
If we are to succeed, we will have to make alliances with people in groups who professed political stances are different from ours and at times unpalatable to us.
We will have to shed our ideological purity.
The Chicago organizer Saul Alinsky argued that the ideological rigidity of the Left — sometimes that can be epitomized in identity politics and political correctness — effectively severed it from the lives of working men and women.
This was especially true during the Vietnam War, when college students led the anti-war protests and the sons of the working class did the fighting and dying in Vietnam. But it is true today also, as liberals and the Left dismiss Trump supporters as irredeemable racists and bigots and ignore their legitimate feelings of betrayal and very real suffering (applause). Condemning all those who support Trump is political suicide. Alinsky detested such moral litmus tests. He insisted that there were “no permanent enemies, no permanent allies, only permanent power.”
We must acknowledge our own failures on the Left, our elitism, our arrogance, our own misogyny, our refusal to root our politics locally in our communities. Rosa Luxemburg understood that unless we first address the most pressing economic and physical needs of the destitute — something understood by Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, and Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution, — we will never gain credibility or build an effective resistance movement.
Revolt surges up from below. Politics is a game of fear. Those who do not have the ability to make the power elites afraid do not succeed. The movements that opened up the democratic space in America — the abolitionists, the suffragists, the communists, the socialists, anarchists, the civil rights and labor movements,— developed a critical mass, a militancy that forced the centers of power to respond.
The platitudes about justice, equality and democracy are just that. Only when power is threatened does it react. Appealing to its better nature is useless. It doesn’t have one.
The days ahead will be dark and frightening. But as Immanuel Kant reminds us, “If justice perishes, human life on Earth has lost its meaning.” The moment we rise up to defy radical evil we are victorious. The moment we stand alongside the oppressed and accept being treated like the oppressed, we are victorious.
The moment we hold up a flickering light in the darkness for others to see another narrative, another way of being, we are victorious. The moment we reopen a public library, or save a public school, or provide a sanctuary to a battered woman or affordable housing — we are victorious. The moment we thwart the building of a pipeline or fracking site, we are victorious. And the moment those in power fear us, we are victorious (cheers and prolonged applause).
If nothing else, let those who come after us say we tried. Let them say that we kept hope alive. Let our lives be an example of the empathy and justice that all authoritarian regimes and dictatorships seek to eradicate. Let us love our neighbors as ourselves.
(standing ovation with cheers and prolonged applause)