Thousands of Native Americans marched through Washington DC on Friday to protest against the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota that opponents say threatens the local water supply and crosses scared Native American lands. Demonstrators erected a tipi outside Trump International Hotel in the city before the march culminated in a rally in Lafayette Square, close to the White HouseContinue reading...
The Native Nations Rise march – the culmination of a four-day protest – brought thousands on to the streets in support of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe
After more than a year of protests at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, thousands of Native Americans and activists brought the fight to the nation’s capital to demand indigenous rights and raise awareness about issues affecting the communities.
The event, the culmination of a four-day protest in the capital, was led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which has been involved in a longstanding dispute with authorities over the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota, culminating in a two-mile march through Washington and rally in front of the White House.Continue reading...
Sanders says ‘despair is not an option’; the ACLU plans to thwart Trump with ‘Freedom Cities’; the Statue of Liberty dims – coincidentally? – on women’s day
• Bernie Sanders has warned that Donald Trump is aiming to move the US “towards authoritarianism”, in an interview with the Guardian.
My life will be defined as before and after i saw this pic.twitter.com/mMMRBtsR6iContinue reading...
Campuses can be a site of powerful protest and activism – if students and faculty use some care
Canniness is a virtue, at least for organizers. When protest goes well – the women’s marches, the airport demonstrations – it helps immeasurably, limiting the right’s ability to act or at least exacting a high price in political capital. But protest can go badly too, and when it does it gives the bad guys a gift.
I should have gotten a chance to see this close up last week, because Middlebury College in Vermont, where I teach, had a protest go mostly sour. But since my mother was taken to the emergency room early in the week, I was camped out in her hospital room, not on campus. Still, the picture of events that emerges from Facebook and campus chat rooms is fairly clear.Continue reading...
We have been surprised by the furore caused by our book giveaway of some classic dystopian novels at the Book Hive in Norwich (Strange tale of writer’s bookshop boycott, 1 March). While Susan Hill’s reaction seemed largely to be aimed at the bookshop, we would like to put the record straight regarding our actions as members of the book group who started all this. Neither we, nor the Hive, were promoting “anti-Trump” literature. How could we be? These classic books were written well before Donald Trump came on the scene. Our worry was that Trump’s behaviour and values could become normalised. We felt that awareness and debate must be kept alive and sharp to help prevent this.
As book lovers we believe in the power of literature to engage the imagination and intellect, to make connections between imagined and real worlds and to help us reflect critically on what is going on – and, yes, ultimately to take action to help build a more socially just world. We are following up our “giveaway” with informal get-togethers for readers to keep the conversation going.
Book group members
We asked readers to show us what the resistance movement looks like. What we got back shows it’s taken root in many forms
Resistance, in its simplest form, is refusing to accept what you are told by those with power. As part of The Resistance Now, a new project from the Guardian dedicated to covering the people, ideas and discussions of the resistance movement, we asked our readers to show us how they are taking a stand.
The piece evokes a cancerous growth that has taken over its host
She embodied all the layers of of what the march represented: strength, beauty and diversity.Continue reading...
by Phil WilmotEmbed from Getty Images
Niger. Uganda. Mali. Malawi. Zambia. The world’s youngest populations — some of them with a median age of 15 years old — live in Africa.
Consider the implications: In all of these countries, the voting age is 18. Assuming elections are completely devoid of fraud and everyone who can vote turns out at the booths, there is still no democracy — no possible rule by the majority. After all, the majority cannot vote.
Meanwhile, a survey of national leaders paints a contrasting picture. Uganda’s dictator Yoweri Museveni is 72 years old and has been in power for 31 years. (His first attempt to abolish constitutional age limits was thwarted by women last year.) About three-quarters of Uganda’s population has never lived under another head of state. Mali’s Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is also 72 years old. Peter Mutharika of Malawi is at least 76 years of age.
In Zimbabwe, the median age is 20 years old, which is 10 years younger than the world’s median age. Its dictator, Robert Mugabe, turned 93 years old on February 21. He is now three or four generations older than the majority of his country.
Why does such a vast canyon of political power exist between Africa’s elderly oligarchy and the youthful majority?
The African Union convened and passed the African Youth Charter in 2006. In it, the heads of state — who were present at the general assembly — defined youth as those between ages 15 and 35. In other words, your youth begins when you are older than almost half of your country’s population; it ends when you already have multiple children old enough to attend school.
This overly inclusive rhetoric of “youth” has been used by political elites to justify the unemployment and exploitation of massive populations across Africa — many of whom are taking on serious life responsibilities like getting married, starting a career and raising children. Yet, according to their governments, they are still youth. Their time has not yet come.
Acceptance of their subjugated position — based solely on the factor of age — has isolated young adults from seizing political control of their countries. They settle for competition in “youth parliaments,” which are devoid of any real power. Regimes arrange youth dialogues, lacking any genuine will to follow through on the results of these dialogues, to further decorate the façade of democracy.
Not all have settled for this co-optation, of course. In 2014, for instance, an uprising in Burkina Faso ousted President Blaise Compaoré, who was born in 1951 and had enjoyed a 27-year presidency.
The young people of Burkina Faso are not alone. Throughout Africa, so-called youth are struggling to take back their destinies from the gerontocracies that stole them.
Get them out before more damage is done
One such young activist, Promise Mkwananzi of Zimbabwe’s #Tajamuka/Sesjikile (meaning “agitated”) movement, is determined to see Mugabe off before he dies. Mkwananzi filed a case against Mugabe, claiming that he is too frail and unfit to rule.
Although the case was dismissed on the basis that Mugabe had not been served at the proper location, Mkwananzi’s spirits are high. “We showed that the president can be challenged and scared him out of his wits,” he said. “The judges had to hide behind technicalities and shied away from the merits of the case. He may have succeeded in destroying my generation’s hope, but he cannot be permitted to destroy my children’s hope too.”Embed from Getty Images
Before the recent overthrow of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who had clung to power for 22 years, an activist told me, “We cannot wait until Jammeh dies because more will be killed, tortured or disappeared. We need to rise up and finish them before they finish us.”
The desperation for immediate change is an obvious concern for anyone trying to survive in a place where dead bodies are common sightings, and not every African has the opportunity to wait. Some dictators are fairly young. Democratic Republic of the Congo President Joseph Kabila is only 45 years old and has been refusing to hold elections due to what he calls a lack of money (in the world’s most mineral-rich country). Meanwhile, Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza — who is in the middle of an illegal third term — is 53 years old and still plays soccer.
The point is simple: Dictators are a problem now, and the problems they pose aren’t going anywhere without some sort of change. As Zimbabwean activist Raymond Chibatamoto said, “Whether Mugabe dies in power or not, his leadership years are genocidal. We must avoid a repeat.”
Deaths of presidents entrench African regimes
Such “repeats” — where rule of an authoritarian is inherited by his offspring or inner circle — seem to be the main product of an African dictator’s death. In my home of Uganda, I continually hear people say, “Let’s just wait until the old man dies.” History tells us such surrender holds no promise.
When Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi died in 2012, a successor — Hailemariam Desalegn — was appointed. In a single month, Desalegn’s interim position became permanent. Political space in Ethiopia has remained dreadfully thin under the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s lengthened administration.
Few counterexamples exist. There is no evidence that the passing of a head of state leads to democratic transition in Africa. In most instances, as in the case of Desalegn’s tenure, political space closes all the more.
Upon reviewing 79 dictators who passed away while in office, researchers Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz found that regimes endured in 92 percent of the cases. They also discovered that coups and revolts upon an autocrat’s death occurred only 6 percent of the time.
As they noted, “Death in office, it turns out, is a remarkably unremarkable event.”
Like father, like son
Family dynasties are making their mark on the continent.
Burials of important African men are often characterized by luxury and pomp. Self-important patriarchs want to ensure their survivors continue their legacy. My wife, a Lango of northern Uganda, often reminds me I shouldn’t take this intergenerational patriarchy lightly. “The success of your children will be attributed to you,” she says. “All blame for their mistakes is attributed to me, their mother.”
This is why Africans are so rarely shocked whenever state leadership is passed on to family members.Embed from Getty Images
In 2013, Uganda’s defected spy chief David Sejusa called for investigations into President Museveni’s alleged plans to kill those who opposed the Muhoozi Project, an alleged scheme to pass on the dictator’s seat to his son Kainerugaba Muhoozi.
A similar plot is unraveling now in Angola. On February 3, dictator Jose Eduardo dos Santos reaffirmed his commitment not to run for another term. During his 38 years in power, he has reneged on such promises numerous times, but on this occasion the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola party has presented defense minister João Lourenço as its new candidate. Behind the curtain is dos Santos’ daughter Isabel, Africa’s richest female billionaire thanks to blood diamonds and the family’s grip on the oil sector. The presiding dictator seems to be moving his chess pieces ahead of a political transition to maintain the family’s grip on Angola’s wealth of natural resources.
Mugabe, two decades older than most of the next oldest African dictators, is an extreme case. As party loyalists commence the infighting, his wife Grace Mugabe, age 51, has elbowed her way into the mix.
“If God decides to take him, then we would rather field him as a corpse,” she said at a rally in eastern Zimbabwe earlier this month, taking her prior commitment to push him around in a wheelchair to the next level. Absurd as it sounds, such rhetoric hints at her own serious bid to remain close to the seat of power.
What about the wayward son?
Today many dictators send their children to study in Europe or North America, where education and exposure to new ideas could conceivably foster a kinder brand of leadership upon succession. Yet, even where there appears to be hope for such an outcome, regime structures have been so viciously consolidated that the next generation oftentimes has difficulty changing the way the game is played.
Africa, of course, has no monopoly on this lesson. When North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il died in 2011, some expected the youthful Kim Jong-un — a fan of American basketball and western pop culture — to be a bit less draconian. Nothing significant, however, has changed since the 2011 transition. If anything, he has been more outwardly aggressive than his father.
Meanwhile, in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad, who succeeded his father Hafez in 2000, showed an early promise toward reform. A brief surge in freedom of expression and the release of 600 political prisoners gave Syrians optimism for a new age. However, the old guard, having enjoyed access to the political levers during Hafez’s government, squelched the young leader’s influence. Bashar’s brutality intensified thereafter.
While gerontocracy and nepotism are global phenomena, they are particularly common in Africa. If dictators die today, tomorrow may be no better.
The task in deposing the despots rests in the hands of the hundreds of millions of African youth. Only the rising generations will be able to respond to the challenges ahead for a continent ravaged by centuries of oppression.
African gerontocracy is not the only narrative
To say Africa was inevitably destined for gerontocratic pseudo-democracy with the rise of nation-states would be too simplistic of a narrative. Too many anecdotes run contrary to rule by elderly patriarchs, who often defend their prolonged control of national governments by accusing dissidents of violating patriarchal African culture.
“Ancient Kemet had a system called ‘Maat’ where the masculine and feminine principles were in perfect balance,” said Oyaka Makmot, one of the founders of Uganda’s Popular Resistance Against Life Presidency, which unsuccessfully tried to stop Museveni from abolishing presidential term limits. “The society thrived and built a great civilization that is in many ways unrivaled in it’s creativity and innovation. However, as Kemet went into decline, the masculine began to dominate the feminine.”
Oyaka further noted that most African societies established systems whereby elders were selected on the basis of their integrity and good social standing, but as the masculine began to dominate the feminine, dictatorship became the norm.
“Whereas gerontocracy once tried and tested people of character to be leaders,” Makmot explained, “it is now a system used by corrupt leaders to entrench themselves in power.”Embed from Getty Images
If one former African head-of-state has shown that young people can lead their country forward, it is Thomas Sankara — also known as “Africa’s Che Guevara.” Assuming power in 1983, he urgently vaccinated millions of Burkinabé who had lacked access to proper health care. Corrupt leaders of the previous administration agonized through public, televised trials. Female genital mutilation and forced marriages were banned. Land was redistributed from feudal landlords to peasants, and Burkino Faso — formerly a donor dependent country — attained food sufficiency within four years.
Even in pre-colonial governance structures, according to Makmot, one finds examples of young leaders who diligently served their tribes.
“The Omukama [King] of Bunyoro [modern midwestern Uganda] known as Kabalega was only 17 years old when he became king,” Makmot said. “Some missionaries documented successful caesarian sections performed in the late 19th century [during Kabalega’s tenure].”
Kabalega allied with the nearby Lango tribe and staved off the British for five years, eventually conceding in 1899. (Under the British scorched-earth approach, surgical equipment used by the celebrated surgeons of Bunyoro was looted.) To this day, Kabalega is championed for his leadership, even as other older leaders from neighboring tribes sold themselves out to colonialists.
“Many visionary leaders led their nations between the ages of 17 and 40,” Makmot said. “What I would like the young people of Africa to do is resolve to retire every single leader above the age of 50.”
While such a goal may seem out of reach, it’s not hard to see some momentum in its direction. For starters, Makmot and his comrades are continuing to participate in nonviolent resistance against Museveni. Then there’s the Anglophone Cameroonians, who are rising up against Paul Biya amidst an Internet blackout, and the Sudanese — at home and in the diaspora — who are putting pressure on Omar al-Bashir. Gambians are already enjoying the recent exile of Yahya Jammeh.
Given this picture, perhaps Africa’s young people are becoming the very change they wish to see.
Photographer David Moriya started photographing protesters against Donald Trump’s presidency on the day after the inauguration, and at subsequent marches he started sharing his pictures with demonstrators. This grew into the Resistance Photography Project, which shares images of demonstrations with people who march, and with non-profits, such as the ACLU and the New York Immigration Coalition, to use free of charge. Moriya says of the project ‘we’re making ourselves heard, now let us be seen’Continue reading...
As a powerful grassroots movement emerges, some want to use it for their own gain. The history of the Tea Party has important lessons on how to avoid that
The fury that is currently welling up against our demagogue president is a gorgeous thing. The women’s march on Washington bowled me over by its sheer numbers. The town hall meetings calling Republican representatives to account are delicious payback for decades of phony populism. The combination of the two is one of the healthiest political developments I have seen in many years.
But opportunism never sleeps, and with the rage and the resistance of recent weeks some far less noble characters have seen a chance to develop a new con. They’re up on the resistance bandwagon right now, rending their garments, shaking their fists, and praying that no one holds them responsible for the dead end into which they’ve steered us over the years. Inveighing loudly against Trump has become, for the people I am describing, a means of rescuing an ideology that has proven a disaster.Continue reading...
The former prime minister needed to be escorted by police after accidentally running the gauntlet of a CFMEU rally against penalty rate reductions in Sydney’s CBD on Thursday. The 77-year-old former Liberal leader had been attending a conference on Pitt Street when he walked out on to the street to find dozens of people shouting, booing him, holding up CFMEU flags and making profane gesturesContinue reading...
Greek farmers armed with shepherd’s crooks and stones are confronted by riot police outside the agriculture ministry in central Athens during a protest against bailout-related income cuts. More than 1,000 farmers, most of whom had travelled overnight from the island of Crete, took part in the demonstrationContinue reading...
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we asked readers about their everyday successes. Here are a selection of responses
The theme of International Women’s Day this year is #BeBoldForChange. People are being encouraged to take groundbreaking action to help improve gender equality. We asked you to share stories about the battles you’ve won in this area, from fighting for a pay rise to calling out sexist stereotyping.Continue reading...
Mainstream feminism has failed. Perhaps the most shocking example is the life expectancy of black trans women – in Latin America, it’s 35 years. The brutality of that statistic was on display again when two black trans women in New Orleans were killed within a matter of days last February. Since the new year, there are reports that seven transgender women across the US have been killed. The reality of poverty, violence, and discrimination in the lives of trans women of colour is just one reason why organisers of today’s Women’s Strike have mobilised to revert the innocuous “women’s month” back to its radical predecessor known as International Women’s Day.Continue reading...
Feminism is having a mainstream moment, but organizers of the national strike say the movement must reach out to women who cannot afford to take part
International Women’s Day has never had the kind of robust presence in the United States it enjoys abroad. For years, while foreign leaders made speeches and citizens of other countries held rallies, the main signal to many in the US that 8 March was any different might have been that day’s Google Doodle.
Then Donald Trump was elected president.
Tens of millions of women have neither the benefits nor the flexibility to take the day off in protestContinue reading...
An International Women’s Day demonstration in Petrograd on 8 March 1917 led to the overthrow of the tsar
The first day of the Russian Revolution – 8 March (23 February in the old Russian calendar) – was International Women’s Day, an important day in the socialist calendar. By midday of that day in 1917 there were tens of thousands of mainly women congregating on the Nevsky Prospekt, the principal avenue in the centre of the Russian capital, Petrograd, and banners started to appear.
The slogans on the banners were patriotic but also made forceful demands for change: “Feed the children of the defenders of the motherland,” read one; another said: “Supplement the ration of soldiers’ families, defenders of freedom and the people’s peace.”Continue reading...
International Women’s Day 2017 set to be one of the most political yet, with women in more than 50 countries downing tools
Women in more than 50 countries will go on strike from paid and unpaid labour on Wednesday while millions more will be taking part in direct action on what is set to be one of the most political International Women’s Days in history.
From Thailand to Poland, the United States to Australia, the first International Women’s Strike will see action on both the industrial and domestic fronts, with participants keen to show solidarity with an energised global women’s movement.Continue reading...
The action planned for International Women’s Day is a powerful weapon. Women withdrawing their labour have inspired Greek drama and changed the face of Icelandic politics
There is a plan to mark this International Women’s Day with a global strike; women everywhere expressing their solidarity with one another by withdrawing their labour. There is a good chance that by the time you read this, you will already be at work. There is another good chance that, if you are committed to global women’s solidarity, the work you do is already more valuable to women than it is to the patriarchy, and, by withdrawing it, you are not even cutting off your nose to spite your face, you are cutting off your nose to spite someone else’s face. And then there’s the pitfall common to all strike action: that you redistribute oppression, if only in the form of inconvenience, to people who were previously on your side, while leaving unaffected the people you truly want to notice.
Specific to women-only action is the question, knocking about since the worldwide Women’s Marches in January, over whether or not this is a good time to be excluding men, just as a united front of everybody with a shared view of humanity is most important. Janelle Brown, from the activist group Sisters Uncut, reminds us that the practical benefits of women-only spaces can outweigh the theoretical downsides: “Just not having men in the room makes decision-making much quicker. When there’s no interrupting – no bravado, essentially – you get shit done.”Continue reading...
Only the Vietnam era protests match the size and breadth of the movement unleashed by the election of Donald Trump. One point of comparison: The massive march and rally against the Vietnam War in 1969 was the largest political demonstration in American history until the even more massive Women’s March in January.
All around us we can see signs that the movement has only just begun. Consider, for instance, that a large percentage of those in the Women’s March engaged in their very first street protest. Or that thousands of protesters spontaneously flocked to airports to challenge the anti-Muslim ban. Or that hundreds of citizens have confronted their local congressional representatives at their offices and town hall meetings about the potential repeal of Obamacare and other Trump/Republican policies.
As activists prepare for future demonstrations, many are rightfully concerned about the potential disruptions by those using Black Bloc tactics, which involve engaging in property destruction and physical attacks on police and others. They often appear at demonstrations dressed in black and cover their faces to disguise their identities. Their numbers have been relatively small to date. But they garner an outsized amount of media coverage, such as a violent protest in Berkeley to block an appearance by an alt-right provocateur or the punching of a white nationalist during Trump’s inauguration. The result is that an otherwise peaceful demonstration’s primary message can get lost in a fog of rock throwing and tear gas. Even worse, fewer people are likely to turn up at future protests, and potential allies get turned off.
This is not a new phenomenon. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. confronted this issue. So did those of us active in the struggle against the Vietnam War. I played a major role in organizing the national antiwar demonstrations between 1967 and 1971, as well as dozens of smaller actions during that time. Today’s protest organizers and participants can learn much from our experiences on the frontlines a half century ago.
A good place to start is to consider the Weathermen, the most prominent of the counterparts to the Black Bloc in our day. As proponents of violent street tactics, the Weathermen capitalized on an aspect of the ‘60s counterculture that glorified violent revolution. Posters displaying romanticized images of Che Guevara, Viet Cong soldiers (especially women fighters) and Black Panthers with guns were plastered on many walls.
The Weathermen didn’t just spout revolutionary rhetoric. One of their most memorable actions was what they proclaimed as the “Days of Rage.” They urged people to join them in Chicago in early October 1969 to “Bring the War Home.” They recruited extensively among white working-class youths to come to the city with helmets and such weapons as clubs, prepared to vandalize businesses and cars as well as assault police. They believed their action would help provoke an uprising against the capitalist state.
During the “Days of Rage,” the Weathermen did not attach themselves to a larger peaceful demonstration. They were on their own. So, the action provides a great case study about the feasibility of violent street tactics.
For starters, they discovered that it was hard to find recruits for their violent street army. Only about 300 people showed up despite months of effort. And they found it harder to enlist support for their actions even among those who were friendly with them politically. In fact, Fred Hampton, the leader of the Black Panther Party in Chicago, publicly denounced the group’s action, fearing it would turn off potential allies and lead to intensified police repression. “We believe that the Weathermen action is anarchistic, opportunistic, individualistic, chauvinistic and Custeristic [referring to General George Custer’s suicidal Last Stand]. It’s child’s play. It’s folly.”
It would not be overstating the case to say that the “Days of Rage” was a flop. They did trash some stores and engage in fights with police. But Chicago police easily contained their violence and rounded up virtually all of the militants and charged them with stiff crimes. Some suffered serious injuries, and several were shot by police (none fatally). The Weathermen soon gave up on violent street protests, became the Weather Underground and confined themselves to symbolic bombings of such targets as police stations and a bathroom in the U.S. Capitol.
In short, the “Days of Rage” shows the ineffectiveness of violent street tactics unless combined with a larger peaceful protest. The Black Bloc anarchists understand this reality, too. They need us as a cover for their actions. Put another way: We don’t need them, but they need us. So, the primary way to deal with those who advocate violent tactics is to isolate them, do everything possible to separate them from the peaceful demonstration. That was one of our goals in 1969 when organizing the November 15 antiwar march on Washington, D.C.
As organizers, we knew that it was not enough to stop potential disrupters. We knew we had to make sure that the demonstration itself would channel people’s indignation with the war more creatively than yet another conventional march and rally. People take to the streets because they are upset, angry or disillusioned. They want to express their outrage as powerfully as possible. Although some people prefer disruption for its own sake, almost everyone else wants to deliver their message so that it leads to positive social change, not make matters worse.
We adopted a tactic first used by a group of Quakers the previous summer. To personalize the war’s impact, that group read the names of the American soldiers killed in Vietnam from the steps of the Capitol. Their weekly civil disobedience action received a lot of media attention, particularly after some members of Congress joined them. Before long, peace groups throughout the land were reading the names of the war dead in their town squares and other public spaces.
For our demonstration in Washington, we planned what we called the “March Against Death.” Here is how Time magazine described it at the time: “Disciplined in organization, friendly in mood, [the march] started at Arlington National Cemetery, went past the front of the White House and on to the west side of the Capitol. Walking single file and grouped by states, the protesters carried devotional candles and 24-in. by 8-in. cardboard signs, each bearing the name of a man killed in action or a Vietnamese village destroyed by the war. The candles flickering in the wind, the funereal rolling of drums, the hush over most of the line of march — but above all, the endless recitation of names of dead servicemen and gutted villages as each marcher passed the White House — were impressive drama.”
First in line was the widow of a fallen serviceman, followed by 45,000 marchers (the number of Americans killed in the war to that date). After walking the four-mile route, the marchers reached the Capitol, where they placed their placards in coffins. The march began the evening of November 13 and went on for 36 hours. No one who was there would ever forget. It also set the tone for the massive march and rally.
While the “March Against Death” was taking place, we were busily training marshals who would oversee the demonstration — that is, essentially be our own force of nonviolent peacekeepers. We were rightfully concerned that groups of Weathermen-style protesters would disrupt our demonstration regardless of how creative our tactics were. The Chicago action had taken place only a month earlier, and we knew that there were many individuals and small groups for whom the appeal of violent street tactics had not diminished.
With the help of several churches that provided us with spaces, we recruited trainers, many with previous experience in nonviolent training. After giving an overview of the march’s objectives and logistics, we had the trainees do several role-playing exercises. For instance, we had a scenario where a group of Weathermen-style protesters tried to disrupt the march by trying to get people to join them in more “militant” actions. One tactic we suggested was to get the marchers to sing the then-popular John Lennon tune “Give Peace Chance” to divert attention from the disrupters. Another was to get the marshals to link their arms to separate the disrupters from the rest of the marchers.
At the end of the two-hour-long session, the newly trained marshals were given a white armband and told where to meet the next day. We trained more than 4,000 marshals who were deployed along the entire route of the march. The armbands were an important symbol to help us isolate would-be disrupters.
Although there were a few incidents after the rally had broken up, they did not detract from the powerful message that the half-million war opponents in Washington conveyed to the public and the nation’s leaders. The war didn’t end the next day, or even the next year, but the peace movement played a major role in stopping it — something that was unprecedented in American history.
Not everyone was pleased with our marshals. In Clara Bingham’s interview of Weathermen leader Bill Ayers for her recently published book, “Witness to the Revolution,” Ayers said: “…the problem with the mass mobilizations at that time was that the militants — us — were always contained. We were pushed aside by peace marshals and demonstration marshals.”
The man in the White House also did not like the peaceful character of our actions. In “Nixonland,” historian Rick Perlstein tells a story that indicates what kind of protest Richard Nixon would have preferred: “A briefing paper came to the president’s desk in the middle of March  instructing him to expect increased violence on college campuses that spring. ‘Good!’ he wrote across the face.”
This anecdote points out another significant lesson from the Vietnam era. Governments invariably welcome violent protests. With soldiers, police and huge arsenals of weapons, they know how to deal with any form of violence. They also infiltrate protest groups with provocateurs to stir up violence — something we experienced repeatedly then and is certainly happening today. The Black Bloc is especially vulnerable to infiltration because of their anonymity. And, as we learned then, those in power will willfully mischaracterize peaceful demonstrators as violent to help turn those in the middle against us.
What makes any resort to violence, including property destruction, on the part of the movement especially dangerous today is the current occupant of the White House. Most of us have seen video clips of the campaign rally last year where Trump said he would like to see a heckler “carried out on a stretcher.”
We can only imagine what this man would do if given any excuse to fully deploy the forces of violent repression against us. Nor can we forget that this man has shown a willingness, if not eagerness, to encourage his gun-toting supporters to turn on his opponents.
The movement must keep its focus on the issues. We must not allow ourselves to get distracted. Too many lives are threatened by Trump’s reckless rhetoric and heartless policies. We can succeed, just as we did in stopping the Vietnam War. It will take time, but we can create a more just and peaceful society. It starts with us.
Zoe Williams is right, we should be doing a lot more marching (Brexit is Theresa May’s Falklands war: a weapon of mass distraction, 6 March). We need to draw attention to the ravaging impact of this government’s continuing and demonstrably failed austerity programme. That is why this coming April, together with a group of social work colleagues and people who use our services and are experiencing the brunt of the cuts and welfare reform, I will be marching 100 miles from Birmingham to Liverpool, to issue the call to Boot Out Austerity! We will set off from the head office of the British Association of Social Workers in Birmingham on 19 April, and arrive in Liverpool on 25 April, the day before our annual conference. To find out more and to join us, go to www.boot-out-austerity.co.uk.
Chair, British Association of Social Workers
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