Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
by Katie Loncke, originally published at BPF/Turning Wheel Media
Dear practitioners: time to talk strategy!
As Buddhists or spiritual people committed to justice, what will we do about hateful, ultra-conservative, quasi-fascist movements like the rise of Donald Trump?
For a while now, I’ve been hearing growing interest among progressive Buddhists in attending Trump rallies near us. (Shoutout to the bodhisattva Buddhist activist Maia Duerr and the very interesting Facebook group she moderates called Sangha In The Streets (SITS!). It seems the hope is to somehow influence the atmosphere, even in a tiny way — or at least to not remain passive. After last night’s protests that ultimately shut down Trump’s Chicago rally, I’d love broach a more in-depth tactical and strategic conversation. How might we approach a progressive intervention into these hatred-charged spaces?
Here are 5 concrete ways that Buddhists alarmed by Trump’s ascendency might try to do something about it.
1. Donate to Free the Chicago Protesters
Simple and useful. In the spirit of dana (generosity), mudita (sympathetic joy), or good old solidarity, you can send material love and support to the Chicago Trump protesters by donating here.
Pros: No direct confrontation. For those with certain types of PTSD, trouble with large crowds, or greater consequences for risking arrest, you can still support activists who put their bodies on the line.
Cons: Giving online is beautiful, but can also feel a little alienating. Depending on your situation, it might also be hard on the wallet. A nice supplement or substitute might be taking the time to write a love note or postcard and send it to the Chicago Community Bond Fund, expressing your personal gratitude to protesters.
2. Help Shut Down a Trump Rally Near You
Chicago represents a milestone in Trump bird-dogging not only because of the sheer number of protesters, but because they disrupted the rally — loudly and forcefully — to the point of shutting it down. They had a clear goal, and they achieved it. If it suits you, you can try to find out which groups in your area would like to accomplish something similar, and try to gather numbers big enough to make it happen.
Pros: Highly engaging. Un-welcoming Trump’s brand of bigotry in your region, and risking the ire / assault of his supporters, might be a form of compassionate confrontation that cascades in a series of positive effects — from bonding with fellow protesters to sending a firm, clear message worldwide. And if you’re a member of one of the groups he’s been demonizing — Muslims, Mexicans, Black folks, poor folks, women… a lot of us — it might feel especially empowering to block the billionaire’s platform for preaching hate.
Cons: Highly enraging. When force meets force, things tend to escalate. Trump rallies are, by nature and design, events of intense, highly-charged spectacle and mass activity. As protest against them increases, I think many of us worry that his supporters’ pushback could get someone killed, inside or outside an official event.
3. Protest In Smaller Doses To Keep Up the Pressure
Previous interruptions at Trump rallies have succeeded in piercing the program *enough,* with sufficient vigor, to register and document the aggressive responses of Trump and his supporters. This builds a record of the threat, and has come close (arguably) to exposing Trump’s activities as incitement to violence: technically a crime.
Yesterday news commentator Rachel Maddow compiled a timeline showcasing Trump’s encouragements of violence at his rallies in recent months.
Pros: More doable. Requires fewer people, and builds on the larger context of pressure, now that scrutiny on all Trump’s rallies will likely heighten.
Cons: Still scary, and might fan the flames. Again: these rallies are designed to be loud and aggressive affairs, so action must be assertive in some sense to get attention. Trump fans seem to feed on the energy of protesters getting muscled out of the arena. One pro-Trump rallier was recently charged with assault after sucker-punching a protester (a Black man) as he was being pulled out the door by security. Watch the video above for footage of that attack.
4. Share A Narrative
Then you have folks whose aim is not to disrupt the rally directly, but to document the event (particularly interactions with the crowd) from an outsider’s perspective. Young white liberals have described attending a Trump rally as a joke, thinking it’d be good for a laugh, and leaving feeling nauseated and scared by the vitriol of the crowd. Muslim activists in St. Louis offered free donuts to Trump ralliers standing in line to enter the event, trying to maintain a cheerful disposition despite being screamed at in some instances.
Pros: Least risky form of attendance. Maybe you’ll strike up conversation with a few people there; maybe not. Your main audience will likely be the folks you recount the experience to afterward (by video, writing, or conversation), and among these, the people closer to you on the spectrum of allies might respect that you went to see things firsthand, for yourself.
Cons: Honestly I’m not sure how useful this tactic is at this point. Thanks in part to the Chicago protesters, most folks familiar with Trump will probably solidify their opinion about violence at his rallies. The firsthand narratives of Buddhists may not really change anyone’s mind one way or the other. I could be wrong about that, though. Not yet fully awakened; no powers of omniscience. 🙂
5. Find Other Ways to Relate to Pro-Trump People
Last night on Facebook, reflecting on the electric beauty of Chicago, I wrote this:
Fanciful, sure. A bit of a joke. But I’ve been reading Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan lately, and I do wonder.
In meditation practice, I’ve heard teachers prescribe different techniques for dealing with the Five Hinderances that throw us off our center: craving, aversion, sleepiness, restlessness, and doubt. The remedies are category-specific; we have different tools and techniques for handling different challenges. If we’re sleepy and we can change our body position to a more alert one (like sitting up if we’re lying down, or standing if we’re sitting), that might help. If we’re overwhelmed with lustful feelings, we can meditate on all the pus, blood, and phlegm in the body, the stages of decomposition of a corpse, and other un-lusty stuff.
What we don’t do is dissolve aversion by getting mad at ourselves for being distracted. That would just be layering on more aversion, more disgust. And we don’t overcome craving by diving headlong into elaborate fantasies about how much better life will be, once we improve our powers of concentration.
A lot of folks seem to be saying that the only way to deal with violent bigots and proto-fascists is to shut them down. Perhaps in a pacifist manner, perhaps using minimum force for self defense, or with a more militant approach. And I get it, 100%. One side of my family has dealt with anti-Black terrorism in the Americas; the other side dealt with the Holocaust of Jews in Europe. In Trump we are witnessing a very serious collective manifestation of racist, sexist, ableist, xenophobic hatred. His attitudes, particularly if they gain traction with the military segment of U.S. conservatives, are bone-chilling, if not entirely shocking. (Who could honestly be shocked by U.S. violence and fundamentalism at this point?)
But it’s precisely the seriousness of the threat that makes me wonder about expanding our vocabulary of response. Would shutting down all Trump rallies help to quell the violent fanaticism of his candidacy? I’m not so sure.
The Buddha taught:
Never indeed is hatred stilled by hatred;
it will only be stilled by non-hatred —
this is an eternal law.
The translation, by Ven. K. Piyatissa Thera, interests me because it doesn’t say anything about “love.” What would it mean if we didn’t have to “love” oppressors (or would-be oppressors) in order to “still” or neutralize their harmful behaviors? What would it mean to approach Trump’s scalding, steaming fanaticism not only by disrupting it, but also by trying to cool it down? Not in a snide, patronizing way, and not in a wishy-washy, magical-thinking way, either.
Honestly, when I think of the forces powerful enough to overcome extreme human belligerence, what comes to mind are snacks and soothing sedatives. (Self-chosen, of course.)
That, and another human being to vent to, who takes our frustrations seriously, even if they disagree.
This also means, I think, that if anyone is going to take on the responsibility, and risk, of attempting to genuinely connect with Trump fans… it should probably be white people. Maybe even white folks who can relate to the conditions that might drive a person to support Trump. Kind of like Veterans Against War… Reformed Conservatives Against Narcissistic Trump? (ReCANT?)
Regardless, it’s not only a matter of practicality to defeat Trump’s views. It’s also a matter of healing, of growing, as we defeat them. Selecting our modes of resistance — not in a “more convenient season,” or according to “another man’s timetable,” to paraphrase Dr. King — but according to our own chosen ways of being, is also a matter of asserting and cultivating dignity. Of evolving, personally and politically.
What do you think? How would you like to see Buddhists confronting bigotry, inside or outside of Trump’s rallies?