RefuseFascism.org contributor Coco Das is interviewing supporters about their involvement with Refuse Fascism. This interview is with an educator who was active in Texas and attended the November 4th rally and march in Austin, Texas. He now lives in Oklahoma.
Can you remember when you first heard about Refuse Fascism and your reaction to that first call that laid out that this was a fascist regime and that it was necessary to drive them out?
I went to so many protests at the capitol that I don’t actually remember which one it was. At one of the protests, I ran into an organizer from Houston. It was the day before they were having a meeting so I took some of the information and read it and went to the meeting the next day. That was the first time, probably early February.
What was it that compelled you to go to that meeting? You got involved, you threw your hat into this movement. Why?
I had been sensing similarities with Donald Trump’s rhetoric to what I knew about Hitler, as soon as he started his campaign. Especially working with children of immigrant families, in the spring of 2016, even they were having a lot of anxieties about it. I didn’t really think that he would win because it just seemed so awful but once he did win, I was very worried because I saw so many similarities and I was very opposed to all of the policies he was promoting. It honestly seemed like a joke to me. So many of his policies seemed so absurd and dangerous, so I was excited to find people that were willing to mobilize people. I remember at the Women’s March, I was so energized by that. There were so many people. I remember I went home and made a little poster that said, “This will not take 4 years.” I put that up on our door so that every time we left our house, we would see that. And that was even before I heard about Refuse Fascism. I could feel all of that energy of people so outraged and I thought, we could use this energy to get rid of him. We don’t need to wait four years. This is a dangerous man.
As someone with ties to a lot of progressive groups, can you talk about your assessment of what the resistance has been this past year, what it has achieved and where it has fallen short? Do you have any reflection on this and what needs to happen in general, not just with RF?
I think we have seen pretty unprecedented levels of participation, in calling elected officials, having protests, and I think that has been really inspiring to a lot of people. But then I also feel like there has been a failure of the various groups to work together and really build their movements together. That was some of the cool stuff that I thought we were doing, like when we had that solidarity meeting in Austin and we tried to bring together these different groups. Refuse Fascism had gone to all these different marches that were all opposed to the same person, but weren’t necessarily communicating with each other. There was the tax march, the science march, the May Day immigrant march, Muslim Solidarity day, the people’s climate mobilization. While it was unprecedented, I think maybe it was also ineffectual so far.
Why? What is the root of that?
Just that these people are still in power and they’re still going to be pushing their agenda. The Muslim Ban is still being fought by the courts, but it’s not like he’s going to give up on that. Clearly they’re willing to keep pushing it. I think they just brought another suit to try to re-litigate it, so that’s clearly something they’re going to keep pushing. That narrative is very helpful for them. That was one of the big things he was running on, that fear of “terrorism.” Immigrants are still being detained. I mean, that was a problem under Obama but now the rhetoric is so different.
I was just reading about a guy who was in Mexico for the holidays and ran into a waiter who was having trouble speaking Spanish in Mexico. It turned out that he was a Dreamer who had been accused of being gang-affiliated and deported, and had been in the U.S. since he was 2 and now was deported. DACA still hasn’t been re-instated. The Democrats really didn’t put up a fight for that. So all these minority groups that are being targeted are still being targeted, and the democrats are kind of content to wait.
It kind of reminds me of what you and I were talking about when I was driving up to Minnesota in mid-December. How beneficial this regime is to the Democrats because they’re able to be like, “Oh, vote for us,” but deportation was horrible under Obama and we continued to bomb and kill people with drones all over the middle east, and that expanded under Obama.
It sets the bar really low for the Democrats.
Yeah, we were pretty fascist before in that we had sent so many people to prison and we had police killings of so many people before Trump. It’s really easy to sound better than him, but we were horrible before Trump. I feel like this is a moment of outrage that can be used to fix a lot of these horrible parts of our recent history. The Democrats are content to just wait and get voted back in, but that won’t fix a lot of this.
One thing that struck me about you is that when you see a problem, you’re serious about investigating it. I got the book Anatomy of Fascism from you, actually. You started this investigation of fascism. I think it’s important for people to see the big picture of what fascism is. But all the millions of people who need to be in the streets against this are not necessarily going out and investigating fascism and getting a full understanding of it. Do you have thoughts on how to keep getting that understanding out to people so that they feel the need to act?
I think one of the paragraphs in the Refuse Fascism call that is really powerful and that hasn’t yet happened is the closing of the window. We kind of take for granted that this won’t happen, that this country has checks and balances. What I learned about other fascist regimes is that they had similar reactions from citizens. Especially reading The Nazi Conscience where there was outrage. It wasn’t that all Germans were excited that these things were happening, but it became part of the bureaucracy of the state and they were willing to let it happen. It didn’t happen immediately. It was a slow degradation.
It hasn’t even been a year since Trump was inaugurated. No, millions of Jewish people weren’t killed in the first year of Hitler in power, but there have been so many similarities. There keep being more and more horrible scandals that you would think would be enough that we haven’t yet responded to because people are content to wait. It was a little over a year, I think, after Hitler took power that he did that Night of the Long Knives where he assassinated a bunch of political rivals. I feel like so much of Trump’s base would be okay with something like that. So the question is would that be the red line for people?
So this concept of sustained, non-violent protest that demands this regime step down from power is not something that we’re used to in this country, but people have done it in other countries (South Korea is a good example.) To me that seems like a missing element in a lot of the protests, the sustained part and the demand that they step down. What is your take on that? How do you see that working and do you have some thoughts on what it would take to get there.
I would agree with the analysis that there hasn’t been the demand and the sustained part of it, which kind of shows the ineffectualness of a one-day protest. Here in Oklahoma there was a protest against the tax bill and I went to it. There were 600 people that came, but then obviously the tax bill passed. Just by doing it one day we didn’t actually change anything. I feel like that reflection piece is important of what did it take in the past to really create change? There is a lack of historical understanding of what it took even in this country for mass, non-violent protests to really have an effect. It wasn’t like Martin Luther King just went to Washington one day and there were 100,000 people there to listen to his I Have a Dream speech. It took a long period of sustained action. I think a serious examination of our history would be really important for people. The other thing I think really needs to be examined or shared is the concept of solidarity. There have been so many different groups that have grievances that I still feel like really need to unite. This has been so horrible for so many of us, let’s get rid of it.
What do you think it is about the sustained part of it that matters? Why is it important to have a sustained presence in the streets?
I think it forces them to respond. There are two times that I’ve seen that happen. The one time was the first time the Muslim ban went into effect and people flooded the airports and stayed at the airports until people were released. That worked. You could ask the question, what would have happened if there was a one-day protest and then everyone went home. Would all of the people who had been detained been released? Or would they have just waited for the courts. The other time I saw it was with the Dreamers in December, doing so much direct action in DC, and it didn’t work. I think it wasn’t as big. The Muslim Ban had all sorts of people and there were lawyers, there working pro-bono, and from what I saw the DACA activists were mostly by themselves. From what I saw there was even a healthcare protest the same day and they weren’t organizing together. That’s kind of back to the other point of the lack of solidarity.
Yeah, I think there is something there that needs to be overcome. I think what the Dreamers did was so necessary and so brave, but there were elements missing. One, all of the millions of people who are not Dreamers actually need to get into this fight. And two, they’re appealing to the Democratic Party and the normal channels of doing things. I think in this case, the Democratic Party has proven that they’re agenda is something else, it’s not to actually protect Dreamers. I think that was a bitter and devastating lesson for a lot of people that has real consequences. People are going to be deported, in some cases to places they’ve never been.
So, related to achievements and shortcomings, Refuse Fascism did a summation that was in this opening talk to the December meetings. I was wondering what your take on that was, especially on this contradiction between the outrage that people are feeling and the relative lack of urgency in acting.
I think it’s accurate. It kind of comes back to the part of the window closing. Until that happens, people will be complacent. Not complacent but what we’re saying can’t be confirmed until it’s too late. What we’re saying can’t be proven to be true until it’s too late. So it’s a challenge to convince the people that it’s enough of a probability that they will try to shut down dissent, that they are filling up all the judgeships with these super conservative Trump appointees, and that they are slowly remaking the structure of the federal government. Making everyone feel the need to act is a challenge. Another good reminder is how quickly we went to war multiple times in the first decade of the 2000’s, and how complicit the Democrats were. In that first vote after September 11th, the authorization vote, there was only one person who dissented. Clearly, Donald Trump would love to start a war and I feel like that will also be a moment when it will be too late. Once a war starts, people are much worse at critical thinking and more prone to blind patriotism.
The other thing I appreciated about the summation in the opening talk was the acknowledgment that not enough prominent voices have called for what we’re calling for. How do we connect with people like Shaun King who retweets pictures of protests in South Korea? People who are showing that they’re fed up and ready.
You brought a lot of creativity to outreach. For example, going to the PRIDE festival with you and doing the No Trump sing-along was a great way to unleash the outrage people were feeling and channel it toward something that has potential to mobilize people. Do you have thoughts on how to continue to unleash that kind of creativity so that more and more people can be organized? Everyone doesn’t have to participate in the same way. How do we invite a lot of creative ideas for spreading the message that this is the way to stop this regime?
I think one thing would be breaking through the viral nature of the internet. Finding some way to do that. I feel like that isn’t something we have successfully done yet. Honestly, I think the only viral reaction we’ve had so far was when the super conspiracy theorists were putting out that there was going to be a civil war on November 4th. So we have to find a way to create something that other people want to share and also re-create.
Is there anything else you want to add?
Two things that stand out. One is the war on truth and how devastating that is. Trump has been so successful at that, and that has so many repercussions internationally and makes it difficult to build a movement here, when there is so much confusion about what’s true. I think that’s one of the most dangerous parts about his presidency. That’s another similarity with Hitler, attacking free press and pushing the narrative that you shouldn’t trust them. There are so many people willing to believe them. What impact does that have on democracy?
Also, we kind of touched on it but I was reading today about how Jeff Sessions is trying to roll back the Obama administration’s policy of not enforcing federal drug laws in states that have legalized marijuana. It reminded me of some ways that our country was bordering on fascism before with mass incarceration of millions of people. I’m re-reading The New Jim Crow and seeing how complacent Americans were for so long. It’s less than a year since they’ve been in power and they’re already trying to take us back in that direction. We owe it to everyone to stand up against that. We were complacent because Obama was president and it seemed like everything was good, but we now have people who are willing to totally dehumanize people and profit from that dehumanization. We have to understand how quickly that can escalate.