American civil unrest and America’s social imagination

Plainclothes officers in Portland, under the Federal direction of Donald Trump, abducted BLM protesters this summer. In Tennessee, lawmakers are currently finding ways to charge those protesting at the Capitol with felony offenses. Tear gas and rubber bullets in addition to ordinary violence are being used by police and Federal agents with punitive abandon.

All this happened because George Floyd did something that I myself did on accident years ago: I had a counterfeit bill in my wallet while buying a sandwich during my lunch break at work. I think I must have gotten the fake bill in some change. Anyway, the old lady who rung me up took the bill and held it up to a fluorescent light. Her face lit up and she said “Hey, check this out!” I went back there with her and she showed me how she knew it was fake. We both kind of giggled over it, I paid with plastic instead and ate my lunch. George Floyd was asphyxiated by a cop for doing the same thing, though.

Obviously, I have nothing but love and support for #BlackLivesMatter. The authoritarian crack down and violence used against both protestors and bystanders has brought something out in this country that may be very difficult to ameliorate or pacify. This is something that could, potentially, involve every American soon. Like I said in my post about trans rights and the modern left though, this is also something I hope I am wrong about.

Tennessee lawmakers wish to charge protestors with felonies (entailing revoked voting rights and a six year prison sentence) if they do things such as block access to public places. In July, Nikki Stone was arrested in New York for spray painting the lenses of security cameras.

One of the main assets of marginalized political groups in America is civil disobedience: civil defiance of laws that we have a principled disagreement with. By imposing draconian consequences for non-violent law-breaking, Tennessee and New York state officials are taking specific aim at the means of civil discourse between law enforcement, lawmakers and the public.

The civil part of civil disobedience usually gets less attention than the disobedience. It is important, though, because if the legal disobedience is civil and hurts no one, it remains a statement. One can agree or disagree with a statement and the person making a statement can be engaged in discussion. If legal defiance stops being civil, it becomes either insurrection or terrorism.

Adding insult to injury, legislators in Tennessee are citing the possibility of violent revolt as a justification for this crack down. What these policies will do, though, is strongly discourage people from non-violent legal defiance. This could send the message that nonviolent activism will not be heard and push people toward violence. GOP lawmakers may engineer a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For many American millennials and zoomers, nothing like this has happened before in our lives. More Americans than usual lately have had to grapple with how to respond to something outside of our personal and/or moral frame of reference. For some, the first taste was the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville during the summer of 2017. The authoritarianism of the Trump administration could make a second term of his presidency feel like an existential threat. There are also just as many Trump supporters on the other end of the spectrum that see a potential Biden presidency as equally threatening for their own reasons.

The last time there was violent civil unrest escalating as a presidential election draws closer was before the time of millennials and zoomers, though. It was the American Civil War.

I’m not saying that I believe the upcoming election will be that catastrophic, but I think it’s a possibility that needs to be acknowledged. Without any prior experiences to draw from, violent activism is unexplored territory for a lot of people. While many people in America are heavily armed, the majority of those armed individuals have no idea what a military combat situation feels like.

If the authoritarianism ramps up, the armed civilians are set up for death and defeat. So then we will have people who are traumatized, humiliated and heavily armed. With situations that we have no basis for comparison for, it is difficult to know limits.

Some of those armed people belong to anti-racist groups like the Not Fucking Around Coalition. While the trauma, grief and anguish they are feeling are as alive now as they were at America’s birth, many of the individuals themselves are as new to the lived experience of combat as the right-wing militias.

If more states follow the recent examples of Tennessee and New York and non-violent activism becomes illegal, that’s only going to leave one more outlet. If any militia groups tried to wage war on the government now, they would be swiftly and painfully quelled. Wounds create resentment, everyone loves an underdog and martyrs provide moral validation. The military response to such an event could create emotional and psychological momentum that could rebound destructively.

If I sound like I’m catastrophising, it’s because the American government simply won’t quit lately. Trump has engineered a nationwide postal service emergency in order to thwart mail-in voting and criminal charges that prevent voting are being weaponized against protestors. Every day there is a new civil rights violation to read about. With so much pressure coming from above, it does not seem likely that those below will simply do nothing.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/08/13/tennessee-camping-felony-capitol/%3foutputType=amp

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8573305/amp/NYPD-release-clip-woman-throwing-paint-security-camera-pushed-unmarked-car.html

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2020/08/15/us/post-office-vote-by-mail.amp.html

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