An Open Letter to Nonviolence Advocates

I urge the nonviolence  community to develop a plan for how to minimize violence at political demonstrations. One option is to form a “white shirt community” whose members wear white T-shirts and stand between potentially violent forces, such as the police, neo-fascists, white supremacists, and the Black Bloc or antifa.

Properly organized, a large gathering of those who believe in nonviolence could consider various options, adopt a plan for action, and sign up people to implement it. Well-organized nonviolent measures could help discourage provocations by demonstrators and overreactions by police.

Rather than organize their own demonstrations, violence-prone anarchists hijack peaceful demonstrations. One rationale they use is self-defense. They claim to be protecting themselves against police violence. If violent anarchists attacked white-shirt teams, they could not use that argument.

Another justification they employ is preventive violence. They say they want to “nip in the bud” fascism before it flowers. But their actions promote fascism.

Neutrality and a “diversity of tactics” are not working. While primarily putting their efforts into life-affirming nonviolent demonstrations, and without taking a stand on defensive violence, advocates of nonviolence need to unite to counter those who initiate violence.

The time has come for the nonviolence community to solidify and take steps to help prevent, or at least minimize, violence at peaceful political demonstrations.

Love Overcomes Hate in San Francisco

Though the organizer has a different story, I suspect the reason he cancelled the Patriot Prayer rally at Crissy Field in San Francisco on August 26 is that the police had established tight controls that would have greatly minimized the risk of violence, as has happened at other Patriot Prayer rallies in other cities.

The police offered to escort the speakers to the permitted rally, where they would have been surrounded by barricades and police. They could have proceeded, spoken to their small group of supporters, and gotten some press coverage. But wanting to provoke violence, they declined the opportunity to exercise their free speech rights there and tried to conduct a “press conference” in a more inflammatory setting, Alamo Square Park, without a permit. When the police prohibited that, they went to a nearby town, Pacifica, and conducted a tiny, largely ignored event of some sort.

Meanwhile, counter-protesters, who gathered in a number of locations throughout the city during the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, presented a powerful life-affirming message of “peace, love, and understanding.” Many of those protesters eventually converged in Civic Center Plaza, my destination.

While sitting on the grass, resting, waiting to video the large march coming from the Castro District, a KCBS radio reporter conducted a live interview with me, which I recorded. He was very pleased with my contribution. On YouTube, I posted a video of that interview (the audio sounds better on a phone or tablet than it does on a full sound system), as well as a video of the pre-rally and the march as it arrived. All in all, a wonderful day and a good example of the preferred method of  “Countering Violent Anarchists,” as I argued in that post.

Indivisible SF instructed their members not to criticize violence-prone demonstrators when questioned by the media. But after interviewing folks at the “Interfaith Gathering Against Hate,” most of whom affirmed such criticism, as I reported in that piece, I took a different approach. I told KCBS, “I want to promote nonviolence over against violence, whether initiated by the right or the left.”

That formulation leaves open the question of violence that is truly defensive, but it rejects preventive violence that aims to “nip in the bud” fascism before it flowers — if only because such violence is counterproductive.

Eva Paterson Lights Up the Temple

Prior to going to the August 25 “Interfaith Gathering Against Hate” at Temple Emanua-El, which featured Eva Paterson as guest speaker, I received an email from Indivisible SF that provided guidance for how their members should respond to media inquiries at the expected Patriot Prayer rally that had been set for Crissy Field in San Francisco the next day  (before the organizer cancelled it after the San Francisco police communicated their vigorous plan to prevent violence). Those instructions included:

Do not criticize any other activist groups or activists. You can say, “That’s not an effort that we organized,” “No, I am not a part of that group,” or “We took a different approach of…” but that’s all.
If you are asked about violence or disruption, you can say that Indivisible SF is nonviolent and is here to demonstrate our opposition, not to antagonize or silence.
The media may try to bait you into either criticizing or condoning violent counter protests. Don’t do it! This feeds their “both sides” narrative and can be used to hurt our allies, even ones who didn’t actually commit any violence. Just come back to what we believe and why we are here.

Having mixed feelings about that guidance, as people gathered at the Temple, I asked several participants if they believe nonviolence advocates should publicly criticize those who initiate violence in efforts to shut down or silence free speech by neo-fascists or white supremacists. Most of them said yes, we should criticize them, though one or two were not certain. Many of them said they consider it a difficult and important question.

I also asked one if he believes that the nonviolence community should come together to develop a common plan for how to minimize violence at demonstrations. He replied in the affirmative and elaborated with great passion about the current fragmentation.

I also took note of one respondent’s suggestion that we organize a well-trained team of nonviolence advocates who would travel and engage in well-structured dialogues about race and related issues with folks with whom we have strong disagreements. He recommended bearing in mind the report from one former neo-fascist who said that what led to his conversion was hearing people talk about how neo-fascist statements affect them personally.

The interfaith service itself was marvelous. One highlight for me was the Jewish music. Another was Episcopal Mark Andrus’ statement that he has concluded he was wrong that Trump’s election was a 1939 moment — because as it has turned out, we have learned from the 1930s that we must resist. And the Buddhist Reverend Ron Kobata quoted a passage from Howard Thurman recommending that you ask yourself, What is it that makes you come alive?

Though she faced a tight time limit, Eva managed to get in a number of strong points. Early on, she asked the participants to meditate on and connect with all of the people in the world who are not bigots. I believe she said they constitute a majority.

After presenting some statistics on the increase in hate crimes in the United States, she said:

We need to show up for each other at other’s events and physically bear witness.
Believe a Higher Power will get us through this.
We must do this with love. We have to try to love them — or at least wish they would go away, which elicited considerable laughter.
We must stand up against evil and bigotry.
Remember the world is a beautiful place.
Art knows no fear.

And with that final comment, she closed with two poems.

The low road
By Marge Piercy

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can’t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.
Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again and they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

Still I Rise
By Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like suns and like moons,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.


My 1:20 minute video of the event is on YouTube at

Countering Violent Anarchists

Especially on the West Coast, it seems, violence-prone anarchists are notorious for hijacking peaceful demonstrations. Rarely do they organize their own demonstrations and openly call for people to fight the police or rampage through commercial districts. Instead, they hide under the cover of nonviolent marches, throw rocks and other objects to provoke the police, engage in street fighting, and then blame the police.

This pattern poses a real threat to prospects for progressive change. Witness the law-and-order campaigns of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and the rise of the Right in the 1980s. How to deal with that threat is a pressing concern.

Arguing with violence-prone anarchists is a waste of time, as is the case with any other true believer. It just reinforces their beliefs. The more they argue their case, it hardens.

The most effective response was demonstrated Saturday, August 19 in Boston. When white nationalists rallied in the Boston Common, a much larger,  life-affirming, non-violent demonstration countered them. Rather than dwelling on “if it bleeds, it leads” violence, the media coverage made a positive point.

Nevertheless, it’s helpful to understand the arguments of the violent anarchists, if only for those instances when one is engaged with someone who is uninformed or has an open mind. “The Rise of the Violent Left” by Peter Beinart in the September issue of The Atlantic helps provide  clarity, as does a weak two-part Democracy Now program in which a proponent of the antifascist “antifa,” Mark Bray, makes a case for violence. On Democracy Now, Bray does not dispute Beinart’s reporting of the facts and offers no logical refutation of Beinart’s argument.

Bray argues that neo-fascists in the United States pose such a serious threat that anti-fascists are entitled to assume the power of the State and, by any means necessary, forcefully prevent neo-fascists from meeting or appearing in public. They want to “nip fascism in the bud.” That violence is justified, they say, because the State has no legitimacy and can justifiably be ignored or attacked.

Beinart points out the obvious contradiction. Anti-authoritarians end up being supremely authoritarian. They claim the authority to apply physical force to suppress noxious expressions of opinion so those seeds will not flower into a full-blown threat.

Bray repeatedly cites European history to justify his violence. But he neglects several points. Fascism in the United States has been suppressed without vigilante violence. Violent street-fighting here led to Nixon and Reagan. The anti-fascists in Europe, I believe, did not display a massive commitment to the kind of nonviolence shown in Boston Saturday. And the mainstream reaction to Charlottesville demonstrates that fascism is not the threat projected by Bray and the antifa — unless the anarchists provoke so much violence that the forces of repression are strengthened.

Cornel West told Democracy Now that in Charlottesville antifa defended him and 20 other antifascists, many of whom were clergy, and saved their lives. I have not seen solid reporting on that situation and suspect that he exaggerated the threat.

But even if he is correct, two facts are clear. The use of physical force to restrain violent people is justified. But that is not the antifa strategy. Antifa does not limit itself to using violence to defend against active physical threats.They affirm preventive violence.

Second, if West and his cohort had responded to any such threat with Kingian nonviolence and lost their lives, many more neo-fascists would be in jail facing long prison terms, those deaths would have strengthened the anti-fascist movement manyfold, and the “both sides” argument would have had even less credibility.

Nonviolent peace forces can help protect demonstrators. We need to develop new ways to do that absent massive demonstrations like Boston. But ultimately, the willingness to endure a physical attack or even risk one’s life is required.

Like young men in some Fight Club, the violent neo-fascists and the violent anti-fascists feed on each other. The best antidote to their madness is a massive outpouring of love.

Crazy Like A Fox?

Rachel Maddow’s show last night reminded me of my long-held suspicion that Trump’s “madness” may be part of a political strategy. He may want to keep his base solid at 33% and then hope that a major crisis will enable him to expand it enough to win again in 2020. It certainly seems that he’ll be able to win Republican primaries!

You can watch the 19-minute video of her show, titled “Donald Trump remarks aid white supremacists’ political ambitions,” at

The summary there reads:
Rachel Maddow looks at the history of Ku Klux Klan in American politics and its quest for power and points out that it was no accident that Donald Trump helped give racists legitimacy with his remarks about the deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Here are my notes:
Demo convention 1924
Smith vs. MacAdoo, who had the support of the Klan,
which was a powerful force.
Marched in robes and hoods in large numbers
Thought they could make the call
Smith was Catholic
Anti-Klan plank lost by one vote
Provoked riots on convention floor
Brought out police
20,000 then marched in New Jersey across the river
Democrats could not bridge the split
Convention went on for 16 days
Could not pick a candidate
No air conditioning
103 ballots, a record
Finally picked a nobody
John Davis
The Klan flexed its muscle
Time for another show of power
August 1925 marched in DC
50,000 in formation
1927, 1,000 march in New York City, Queens
Fought with police
Seven men arrested, including Fred Trump, Donald’s father
Donald denies it
But Fred’s signature is published on the arrest form
The white supremacists have always sought mainstream power
“Now a modern President appears to be picking them.”
Trump: “There were many people in that rally other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists…. protesting very quietly…. innocently”
Trump did not go rogue spontaneously
He planned to say what he said
He took his notes from Saturday with him
“It was not a mistake. At some point it’s going to have to stop being treated as a surprise…. This is on purpose.”
The President is trying to build up a long-standing force for political power
that is still a force
He did not accidentally praise neo-Nazis
“He is now doing what he can to help them come back…. and so far it is working”
This persistent violent racist fascistic element in American culture.
Heads up. This is not a mistake. He is not screwing this up.

My comment:
So it may not be a ploy for his personal power.
He may actually believe what he has been saying.






My Summer of Love

Grow up repressed, uptight, depressed.

Summer 1962
Read the Beat classic,
Ferlinghetti’s “I am perpetually waiting for a rebirth of wonder.”

My first day in Berkeley,
Go to North Beach, hang out with the Beats.

the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Go to my first protest.

At my student co-op,
Two graduate students
Reinterpret the Christian myths I had rejected in high school.

Spring ‘63
James Baldwin speaks on campus.
Not caring who sees
Leave with tears streaming down my face.
First time I’ve cried since childhood.

Read everything Baldwin has written.

Christmas vacation,
Decide to get involved in the civil rights movement.
The Lucky Stores shop-in,
The Sheraton Palace sit-in,
The Auto Row demonstrations.
Protesting hiring discrimination.
All victorious.

A year in Dallas
Integrate the Piccadilly Cafeteria
Gather canned goods for Mississippi Freedom Summer
Go to the last leg of the march from Selma to Montgomery.
After we stop for gas,
Look over my shoulder

Northaven Methodist Church
Single Adults Group.
Produce “After the Fall” and “The American Dream.”
Take part in an Esalen-style workshop in Austin.
Still a virgin, the foot massage is pure ecstasy.

September ‘65
Return to my student co-op in Berkeley.
Drugs are everywhere.
Read Varieties of Religious Experience,
The Tibetan Book of the Dead,
Timothy Leary’s advice,
Go backpacking in Yosemite,
Drop LSD,
Feel as one with the universe,
Never the same again.

Become immersed in the human potential movement.
Study humanistic psychology.

On weekends hang out on Haight Street,
Make fun of folks on the Grey Line bus tour who gawk at us,
Listen to the San Francisco Sound.
My favorite scene is the Avalon Ballroom on Sunday night.
It seems more authentic.

The Counter Culture liberates me.
Learn how to have fun,
Go with the flow.

June ‘66
Four-day conference on LSD at UC Extension, San Francisco
With Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Huston Smith, and others.
Send my notes to Dr. Bob Beavers, my former boss,
Who uses them for a lecture at Southwestern Medical Center.

While walking across the Pacific School of Religion campus,
See a friend from Dallas.
He introduces his companion, the school’s Placement Officer,
Who tells me PSR has an existentialist psychologist on its faculty.

January 1967
The underground newspaper, the Oracle, calls for
“A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In”
In Golden Gate Park
To unify the political radicals and the hippies.
Already demonstrating against the Vietnam War,
I agree completely.

A wonderful event.
What I remember most
Allen Ginsberg chanting OM
As the sun sets.

That semester, as chair of the co-op’s Education Committee,
Invite Charles McCoy from the Pacific School of Religion to speak.
After the event, we chat.
When he learns of my history with the Church,
And my interest in “coffee house ministry,”
He suggests I apply to PSR.

In my application, I say I want to “organize communities of faith, love, and action,”
To integrate the personal, the spiritual, the social, and the political.
Which is what I’ve been trying to do ever since.

That summer,
Sign up for the University’s experimental Residence College.
200 students, no grades, no requirements.
Someone nominates me to serve as Co-coordinator.
I’m elected.

One event is unforgettable.
A panel discussion on civil rights features Ron Dellums,
Then a city councilman.
During the discussion
From the back of the audience
A young, charismatic black man from Oakland speaks.
He’s furious about police brutality.
His name is Huey Newton.
Less than six months before he and others had formed the
Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.

Read The Politics of Experience by R.D. Laing,
The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich,
Coming of Age in America by Edgar Friedenberg.
Write a paper on those books.

Judy Wheeler from New York comes to research us.
I welcome her.
She buys a case of wine.
Great discussion.
Take her to her hotel.
She invites me to her Greenwich Village apartment.

Hitchhike to New York.
Driving through the Holland Tunnel
Open the sunroof of the VW bus
Stand on the bed
Scream at the top of my lungs.

The first night,
Judy leaves the door to her bedroom cracked open,
But I sleep on the couch.
The second night
She seduces me.

How fitting that I have my first sexual experience
During the Summer of Love
With a woman nine years older than me.
A great introduction to sex.
God bless you, Mrs. Robinson.
Just released, The Graduate nails it.

During the day Judy goes to work.
I write “An Evaluation of the Residence College”
For the student newspaper
As they requested.
It reads, in part:

By the end of the summer, a very large number of students had…come to reject… the dehumanizing, alienating world of higher education,..the emphasis…upon behavioral performance,… [and] the values, worldviews, and procedures undergirding most American institutions … all woven one into the other….

The entire education experience…seems to be extremely well-designed to graduate reliable cogs in the marvelous machine of unparalleled material progress…. The essence of our critique is that America is spiritually decadent….
Creative expression of one’s true self, whether in art, thought, or personal relationships, is not nurtured…. Inner strength is seen as a threat; so the ground for a stable sense of autonomy is undercut…. Our educators demonstrate little concern for the souls of their students even though they are in the very process of inflicting enormous damage upon those souls….

So much is made of usefulness that man himself is reduced to a mere instrument….

What is needed is encouragement of integrity, rather than dishonesty; … appreciation of the remarkable breadth of human creativity, rather than merely the powers of the intellect; illumination of the value of freedom, rather than the expediency of submission; nurturance of flexible autonomy, rather than brittle automatons; … ecstasy, as well as rational self-understanding; education, rather than manipulation; love, rather than mistrust….

At the seminary that fall,
My only chapel service
Consists entirely of the words and music of Bob Dylan.
The school President is not happy.
I did not read from Scripture.

Later that semester,
For my Worship and the Arts class,
A 90-minute piece of total theater
In the sanctuary.
Inspired by Nietzsche.
We call it “A Sort of Modern-Day Dionysian Rite.”
Invite the Berkeley community.
Black out the windows
For the light show.
Two students from UC
Wearing bathing suits
Covered in fluorescent paint
Dance under a blacklight.
The School President thinks they’re naked.
We place mattresses on the floor
Bring out wine, fruit, cheese, and bread.
Invite everyone to get comfortable.

The next day the student body President
Proposes to the School President
A special service
To re-consecrate the sanctuary.
He declines.

1967 ends with great enthusiasm and hope.
1968 hits and reality bites back.
Personally, if I could, I’d go back to 67.


NOTE: This is a slightly edited version of the 8/14 post.

The Anti-Trump Obsession

The preoccupation with Trump’s threat to democracy is worse than a distraction. It threatens democracy, according to “Trump Isn’t a Threat to Our Democracy. Hysteria Is,” by Samuel Moyn and David Priestland in today’s New York Times.

They argue that Trump’s “threat to our liberal freedoms and institutions” is not “the overwhelmingly important political issue” we face. Rather, “underlying social and economic problems” are “the real source of danger…and only more economic fairness and solidarity can keep populists like him out.”

Even if Trump wants to seize power unconstitutionally  “there is no reason to think he could succeed.”

The more serious risk is the counterproductive impact of exaggerating the threat.

Excessive focus on liberal fundamentals, like basic freedoms or the rule of law, could prove self-defeating. By postponing serious efforts to give greater priority to social justice, [that approach] treats warning signs as a death sentence, while allowing the real disease to fester….

[That obsession] often exacerbates the social and international conflicts it seeks to resolve. This approach to politics threatens to widen the already yawning gulf between liberal groups and their opponents, while distracting from the deeply rooted forces that have been fueling right-wing populist politics, notably economic inequalities and status resentments.

Moyn and Priestland believe market fundamentalism is “helping to destroy the social mobility and economic opportunity that underpins a well-functioning democracy.” Given that reality,

a dysfunctional economy, not lurking tyranny, is what needs attention if recent electoral choices are to be explained — and voting patterns are to be changed in the future. Yet there is too little recognition of the need for new direction in either party. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York recently declared that the Democrats have merely failed to get their message across…. Those who act as though democracy is constantly on the precipice are likely to miss the path that leads not simply to fuller justice but to true safety.

The Trump soap opera is addictive. No scriptwriter could have imagined the absurdity. Exactly how the System’s administrators will usher him out of the White House will be interesting.

But every minute I indulge in the latest “breaking news” is another minute that I do not try to do what I can to address those “deeply rooted forces that have been fueling right-wing populist politics.”

Many factors contributed to Trump’s victory. But one key factor is that many white racists and others with racist tendencies forget or don’t realize that they are “pawns in a game.” To counter those manipulations, we need to illuminate how the game is played, and then redesign the rules.

A Rational Foreign Policy

American mainstream media often report that leaders of other countries aggravate foreign conflicts to consolidate their power. Rarely do they apply that same analysis to the United States.

Identity, both personal and national, is often based on opposition to “the other.” We worship Saviors, like Obama, and we scapegoat Demons, like Trump — or vice versa — and identify with supporters of the Savior over against supporters of the Demon, whom we dismiss as hopeless, irredeemable, deplorables whose needs we can ignore.

The same binary approach applies to foreign policy. We take sides and support the good guys against the bad guys. Why do we take sides in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, or the Sunnis against the Shiites? Do those conflicts threaten the survival of the United States?

Did Communism really threaten Capitalism? Why did Kennedy exaggerate the nuclear power of the Soviet Union? Does North Korea really pose a threat to the United States or our allies, since they know an attack would be suicidal?

How much of a threat are “radical Islamist terrorists”?  With our bombing, don’t we create more terrorists than we kill? Didn’t England survive the I.R.A.? Haven’t domestic terrorists killed more Americans than Islamists have? Why do we call the former a crime and the latter an act of terror?

The decision to declare a “war on terror,” rather than treat those acts as crimes, was fateful. The result is a self-perpetuating military conflict that appears to be never-ending. A global Marshall Plan to fight poverty would be far more productive.

Pledging to stop seeking regime change and apologizing for past efforts would help as well. Russia, Iran, and North Korea have good reason to be paranoid.

The mainstream commentary on North Korea offers some sign of hope. Numerous pundits have acknowledged that we may need to accept some North Korean nuclear capacity, rather than demanding that they eliminate it entirely.

But the political is personal. So long as we base our individual identity on opposition to enemies, we will be vulnerable to being manipulated by appeals to our national identity. Once we demonize, the more easily we demonize.

Affirming our membership in the human family offers more potential

Then perhaps we could declare an end to the “war of terror.”