A Voice in the Wilderness: Micah White

I think we’re in a very dangerous kind of, pre-civil war moment in America, actually. What I’m saying is, either the United States continues the tradition that whoever wins the election by any means, is the president, or we start a new tradition that’s like, “Well, maybe you won the election, but we’re going to overthrow you afterward.”
Doesn’t that sound like a dangerous thing for the Left then, as well? If we had been activists during the Cultural Revolution, we would be painting banners with calligraphy and marching down the streets, or whatever. I think until we’re willing to have that conversation, then I’m sorry, but we’re not going to see the change we want. Basically Morsi got into power because the secular youth didn’t put forward a viable candidate to govern the country when they toppled Mubarak. One of the things you’re saying, is that you’ve tried every form of activism except the mainstream one, electoral politics. I remember what I was like when I was 19. Super, super dark stuff. It — I don’t know if we have a word for it — it’s like the backside. We need to get away from thinking about finding singular individuals who are going to make decisions we agree with, and start figuring out, “How do we get individuals who are going to make decisions that I’ve decided on? Lenora Fulani? To explore the effectiveness of protest as resistance, I reached out, once again, to Micah White, PhD, author of The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution published in 2016 by Knopf Canada. He’s killing people in the streets. I know full well that the problems we have seen since the inauguration were not born out of a single presidential campaign: they are ideas, practices, and beliefs about people that existed far before they were uttered from the podium during a Trump stump speech. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think people who try to pretend like everything’s going to swing back to the progressive establishment, and that somehow Elizabeth Warren’s going to become the next president, or that Bernie Sanders is somehow going to rise from the ash, aren’t serious. I’ve been active since I was 13, and I get it; but now looking back, at 34 years old, 21 years of activism, I realize that we do this thing which is really self-destructive, which is that we celebrate the people who are protesting for the very first time, the people who are 19, 20 in the streets. Right now, the horrible thing to think about, is that Donald Trump most likely won the presidency with the support of a foreign government. That’s what he’s really talking about, is that we are entering into a world historic moment of life and death. Everyone thought Mussolini was bad, and then Hitler showed up. That’s the revolutionary history of the Left. I love the activist community, for this reason. Come on. I wouldn’t call it centrist, because I think that what you do is, you work with the extreme Left and the extreme Right, and it doesn’t pull you toward the center. Let’s just pray that it’s more like a gentle handover of power to Mike Pence, and not the alternative, because — and this is really controversial — but when I look in my heart, right now, and I ask myself, “Would I rather support the Russian puppet, or a military coup?” I’m not so sure that I want to support a military coup. Lenora Fulani ran for president. I’ve done all of it. She worked with Left and Right, and Lefts hated her for that. No, not postcards.” It’s dangerous, I keep saying this, but people don’t listen! Rousseau argued that the sovereign wasn’t the king; rather, the sovereign for Rousseau was this kind of mystical force that emerges when large numbers of a population that are representative of that city or state get together and then decide on things together. Obviously, it’s terrifying to have Donald Trump be president of the United States, because we realize that comes with immense power. It’s beautiful. Right. Would you call hers a centrist position? It’s not the reality. If you’re fed up with the fact that maybe it’s not any better, then is that a place we can organize around, almost a kind of neo-Baconian rebellion type thing, across these supposed differences? By progressive you mean a Democratic Party progressive, right? What did you mean by that? But that’s not happening, because the whole administration would be caught up in the scenario that I’m describing. She was on every state ballot, 50 state ballots. President Trump steps down, and everything goes just fine. Let’s all experiment on that. People before World War II felt this same way. Over the years, I’ve been talking about Five Star Movement, and some people hate it. Or do you need to be educated in certain ways? No. What are some of your frustrations currently, with all of this? There are two different options, and I think people have to realize that Trump just did what I’m saying needs to happen for the Left. They say, “Now that you’ve marched, send postcards!” It’s like, all of a sudden, the activist world gets obsessed with certain tactics, like postcards. China being a counterweight to Russia. But I think that’s precisely why Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton lost, is because they didn’t embrace populism. If we wanted to create an exact analogue to Trump, then one option could be to create some sort of social movement, that is maybe backed by China, for example. We take these beautiful pictures of them, and then we use that as a justification to not to do that deeper thing, which is to ask, “Who’s going to govern?” Most presidents of the United States are 50, 60, 70 years old? Is Donald Trump walking us into a war that we’re going to lose? In terms of strategizing, I wonder if keeping the false dichotomy of the Left and the Right makes sense anymore, in terms of people’s actual lives. It sounds like Icarus flying straight into the eye of the sun. That being said, when Micah and I did talk, Barack Obama was president, and the Justice Department, while far from perfect, had reinvigorated the Civil Rights Division. She’s still alive, people. The Left went out, physically captured the sovereign, killed the sovereign, and instituted a new government. What I’m saying is, it has to be both numerous, representative, and diverse. Their goal is not to take power and govern; their goal is to influence the decision-makers. But there’s another vision of populism, which is a kind of horizontal, or democratic populism, or maybe you would even call it a leaderless populism, which is that the people themselves are going to make the decisions that benefit them. I think that what Americans are about to experience is the Arab Spring. Right. We can do that, yet we can’t even win an election. We deployed these very effectively against Communist regimes in multiple countries. Why do I have to wait until 2017 to learn about someone who did this in 1988? There are no large-scale assemblies of the people that can exert power over governments. We know what happened. Notice how, from a political theory perspective, activists have been unable to use protest to sway the executive and legislative branches of government — the two branches that are supposed to be influence-able by protest — and so now we find activists claiming that they are influencing the judicial branch — the branch of government that is supposed to be above influence and concerned only with the law. When we brought Occupy Wall Street to this country, we specifically, at that time, linked it to the spirit of the Arab Spring. Does that mean that the Left would have to have support of a foreign government in order to win the election? And to have that conversation, we have to of go back and trace where the idea of sovereignty comes from. Did I have any idea of reality? Maybe we need to hack their computers. Is there some way, in the internet age, of gaining group consensus in a way that we can move forward without a leader? But please, let’s be realistic, too. He was famous though, because he would stand on the streets of Athens and he would scream the truth at people. I better go turn toward violence.” That’s the danger here, you see what I’m saying? And Mussolini, let’s look at how Mussolini ended his life, and last moments of his life and all that stuff. Who instigates? The most powerful and positive political figure is someone who has access to the nuclear codes, and doesn’t use them. Protest is literally behaviors designed to create social change, specifically, I would say, through a revolution, which means a change in legal regime. Like a line that’s pulled into circle by bending the ends until they meet? I think that’s absolutely right. I don’t really care which one we choose. What would you like to see the Left do, in say the next six months to a year, and how would you measure progress or success? They absolutely hate the idea that we should work with people on the right. DeRay’s great, but he’s not a theorist of activism. I remember right before Trump, I used to go to DC sometimes, and I’d be like, “Good God, look at all the construction that’s happening here.” It’s like DC was a money cow. They make good people on the streets, it’s great. Look,” one of his famous examples is he tells people, “I don’t need a cup to drink water. And to be clear I’m not talking about electing progressives; I’m talking about electing a social movement. That’s what’s happening. What I’m saying is, when they created this story, they even said that it was inevitable, like Christians did. It blows my mind. It’s ridiculous! I do think we need to get over this obsession with just being on the left, you know? It said: “Don’t tell anyone. It’s not worried about non-violence if it’s some Alabama sheriff.” In our last interview and you said violence is hard to talk about, but in your Guardian piece, the women storm the armory at the beginning of the French Revolution, and they come out armed, go to the palace, and are able to get in. Lenora Fulani. ¤
Justin Campbell is an English professor and freelance writer living in Los Angeles. Do activists have any evidence for this claim? Imagine a real social movement we have, like Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street, trying to make a complex decision together about how we should govern the United States, or what kind of health insurance we should have. From the perspective that protest is supposed to get the people into power and govern, activists are obviously failing. Yes, or even just, if there’s not going to be a charismatic leader, who leads? We’re secularists. I love it. He did, yes. The Right, on the other hand, does have this story, this vision. While this kind of vision scares the Left, we have to ask ourselves: Why does it scare us? No, it’s not going to be a 19-year-old, let’s just be real. James Baldwin in a television interview in the mid-1960s has the following to say about violence: “We, [Americans], are produced by a civilization which has always glorified violence, unless the Negro had the gun. Those countries are both multi-party systems, though. I think all protest at this point that isn’t backed by a political movement that can take power is implicitly an argument in favor of a military coup. I know I’m saying all this stuff, and you’re like, “What does he know?” Well, I started as an activist as a teen. Does a third party ever have a chance to break into the mainstream, or does a movement have take over a party, like the Tea Party did back in 2009, 2010. What charge, what challenge? Do you think that is a viable short-term solution? You can’t just have one group or another in charge. This is because they were so discouraged by the experience of the 20th-century revolutions. Why is everyone getting so worked up?” Then you have the other side of the left, which is currently saying, “No, the Republicans are burning down the house, while the Democrats are still inside playing Monopoly, hoping to win the board game.” What do you think about this image? I think much more deep state machinations are at work. Imagine that! Whatever! Right now, what frustrates you the most? Let’s split into two groups and do both. The great thing is that there’s not that many, I think it’s a dozen or so, but to identify where those communities are, what positions will be up for grabs, and then figure out how to use social protest to win, by any means necessary. Let’s look at the origin of the terms “Left” and “Right.” It’s just referring to where different parties sat during the French Revolution; it doesn’t mean exactly what we’re trying to say. People can look into that. “Oh, you rich people, the way you’re living is disturbing. They’re human. We don’t have to wait two years. The Green Party in 2016 did not get on every state ballot. Is it going to be a 19-year-old? That’s the next step. In his book Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance, he talks about the fact that the Right has a very strong sense of political motivation, that’s almost like a spiritual energy, that the Left can’t seem to generate. Who would have been the people calling for the death of the king? Why do they hate it? Up until the 20th century, the Left was motivated by, basically, a religious idea that many people have been oppressed, forever, but [gasp] lo and behold, capitalism has created a situation where the oppressed have some sort of great power. It’s happening this year, 2017. Look, democracy as we knew it, is over. They should be asking, “How do we govern, as a social movement?” That’s what we should be trying to figure out right now. Can anybody participate? Because a military coup is what will end up happening eventually. We don’t have any vision of real revolution that puts The People into power. There could be a war. I just discovered her myself. Most activists aren’t politicians. Donald Trump’s probably more like Mussolini, and there could be another Hitler coming our way. We act as if it’s so difficult to organize something like the Women’s March, and yet we’re amazing at it. We can get them to march, we can get them to occupy, we can get them to riot, we can get them to jump up and down, we can get them to meditate. And then, all of a sudden, things start going wrong, and the mood shifts against Morsi, and the intelligence community and the military orchestrate a second revolution, and a lot of the secular youth in their country, jump on it. They have created a color revolution in our country. I do think that we will see that as long as we understand that that’s a problem, and not run away from it, we could solve it. That’s the challenge that’s staring us in the face right now, and that’s the challenge that we have to solve. She’s an African-American woman and she ran for president in 1988. When they exert their general will together, that’s how you manifest sovereignty. Yes, that’s correct. I ran for mayor in my tiny town, and I lost, and now people are like, “See? No one wants to talk about this, but I’m going to tell people the truth: there is an election this year. Couldn’t the Right do the same thing to the leaders of the Left? I created a social movement. He’s the Muslim Brotherhood. It only took like three months to organize. Some would say they did make the government to change its course. I get it. And I don’t know, I feel like telling people to send postcards is dangerous, because there were a certain percentage of people, like for example in the Women’s March, who went home and heard that the next action was going to be, “send postcards,” and a certain percentage of those people may turn to themselves and say, “You know what? Well, I think that what’s at the bottom of what’s happened here, is that the Left has given up on the possibility and desirability of revolution. What about the protests at the airports after the immigration executive order? What I’m saying though, is that there’s one area, this one big area that I never experimented with until recently, an area that activists refuse to experiment with, which is, gaining power through elections. Seriously, it’s time to just stop with this whole infantile rejection of electoral politics. MICAH WHITE: The issue of sovereignty is the most important question that activists need to be thinking about right now. This is because the United States became very good at creating what I would call “color revolutions” abroad. And there’s a sense in which his issues are not left or right. Then I think, though, that if you want to talk about specifically who we should be learning from, right now in the United States, I’m going to tell you who I think we should be learning from. Don’t you think electoral politics is always going to pull us into the system, and it’ll never really work?” and I said to this person, “Why are we concerned about Donald Trump, then? What DeRay is talking about is like living a beautiful spiritual life. Telling the truth and these kind of things, are great, they’re wonderful, but people who say that that is what protest is, are really just misleading us, and they’re pushing us to forget the fact that, let’s be real: Who would have been the DeRay or the Micah White during the French revolutions? He spoke with me from his home in rural Oregon. They hate this. Then, little more than a year ago, when I thought of protest, I was thinking specifically about the Black Lives Matter movement. Look at the resources of the US government, and then ask yourself, what if a social movement had those resources? If I were in Eygpt during the Arab Spring, I’m not so sure I would have been against Morsi. Let’s talk about that, let’s talk about these elections in 2017, and how we’re going to win them. That’s not what activism is; that’s something else. Even Hitler would talk about creating a thousand-year Reich. Diogenes the Cynic was a man who lived in a barrel. China provides the same resources that Russia provided to Donald Trump, to this movement. That’s one option. ISIS has gained sovereignty in their territories, but at what cost? Who is Dr. We have to solve those challenges, instead of avoiding them. That being said, I do think that either we figure this out, or we will enter into a rehash of World War II. Eventually, yes. That metaphor is perfect. All the leaks coming out basically show that Russia owns Trump, and that the government had this information during the election, but didn’t act on it, because they wanted to protect the transfer of power and protect the notion of elections as a powerful, magical ritual. Donald Trump hasn’t even said anything. That’s it. We need to grab control of the state in order to change how the state functions, and we need to grab control of the resources of the state in order to put them to good use. On the one hand, it’s really good. That would be the best possible scenario. One of the benefits of this paradigm is that it transforms repeated failure into victory. “We’re all going to go to heaven,” says the Christian, “if we do certain behaviors,” and the Communists said, “We’re all going to gain some sort of power on earth, if we do certain behaviors.”
The Left gave up on that vision, which means that now, we don’t have a story line. Regardless, let’s be orienting in the direction of action, otherwise we are all totally screwed. If we don’t solve that challenge, if we keep avoiding that challenge, there could be some super dark stuff. We can get them to do anything, so what should we get them to do?”
I think what gets me frustrated is basically that we’ve allowed our imaginations to atrophy, and we’ve allowed ourselves to give up on the hope of revolution. I think that is definitely part of it. I don’t want to be alarmist, but at the same time I do want to say that the good thing about Donald Trump is that he’s firmly moved us into world historic time. A white supremacist is our president right now, with Russian ties.” Like, seriously? One position is a kind of authoritarian populism that says, “We need a strong, charismatic, single individual to make decisions for us,” and that’s Donald Trump, that’s Putin. As I said, when I say these kind of things, I get so much pushback from the Left. Like the old saying: “Even a broken clock is right twice a day” — it could be possible that our protests are entirely ineffective and that we are ascribing a causal connection between our actions and change when there isn’t one. Or is it just cathartic, a way to release some steam? That’s not going to do anything. I’ve been to Palestine. What I’m saying is that she knows it’s possible. I think we could solve it. In closing, if people didn’t get anything else out of this interview, what would you want them to walk away with, whether they be on the left, or on the right, or in the middle, or in outer space? Who on the left talks about that kind of stuff? Fair enough. Some people on the left may hear what you just said as being overly apocalyptic. I live in rural Oregon, and I can see that. I’ve talked to other activists and they feel the same way. Do I think it’s the preferable one? It is dangerous for us to keep taking legitimate revolutionary energy, and channeling it into behaviors that people know will not breed social change. I personally think elections are more viable and more realistic; if we look at violence, then we’re forced to look at groups like ISIS. That’s interesting. Why should I believe that judges are more influenced by protest than the president? His work has been published in The Millions and the African-American Review. They have stories about the decline of civilization, the decline of Western civilization, reviving this Western civilization. Only the Muslim Brotherhood did that, so the Muslim Brotherhood got into power. I would call it an alliance, a strategic alliance. I personally think we should start a third party. When you go back, you find that the notion of sovereignty that American activism is using, which happens to be the same notion that most democracies use as well, actually, are ideas that were inherited from the work of Rousseau, the 18th-century Swiss-born French philosopher. We would have billions and trillions of dollars. All the language of revolution has been taken over by people who use it lightly and I’m like, “I’m sorry, it’s not a resistance yet, guys.” I don’t know. I remain optimistic, and I also think that this form of organization is superior in the long run, and so it’s just a matter of figuring out, “How do we do it?” That, again, is a challenge for activists to figure out — people like DeRay and others should be figuring that out. Or, to be even more specific: Perhaps the form of protest used by lawyers was effective while the form of protest used by the people at airports was not. It’s just something that no one wants to talk about. Exactly. And then right after that there was Fascism. You feel maybe better in the moment, but, ultimately, you’re not affecting anything. Like I said earlier, that would be China, and I think that once you start going down that path, then it does become very alarming. I think what I’m saying, is, there are people out there who we can learn from, but again, notice she didn’t just stay on the left. Let’s be real, I think we all know Donald Trump is some sort of sexual pervert. Maybe we need to relocate there, and become voters. Again, why don’t we start a discussion among activists, and identify those communities? How do you make the case for that when those things — nuclear weapons, the military — are what some on the left feel like they are fighting against in the first place? We’ll eventually get there. We know where we need to go, which is that we need to figure out how to build a social movement that can win elections, and govern, and make complex decisions together. I’m looking out my window right now at a house whose siding is all blown off; he doesn’t even have money to put proper siding on his own house. Destiny is not always on our side. MARCH 23, 2017

WHEN I FIRST spoke with Micah White for the Los Angeles Review of Books, it was the fall of 2015. This movement uses those resources to get into power. If we had been activists during the American Revolution, we would be going and tarring and feathering people. What happened during World War II? Electing Democratic progressives as a goal still assumes that what’s holding us back is that we don’t have good people in positions of power. The Left say to me, “No, you should only talk about Podemos, because Podemos is fully on the left.” Meanwhile, Five Star Movement is doing way better than Podemos. It points back to the idea that the people, many people, can have power. I’ve written about how they have been studying these revolutions, that they had a gathering of military leaders a couple years ago, around how to build a color revolution, how to counter color revolutions, and so now they’ve created a color revolution in the United States. Populism is the future; but populism’s not going be a leftist or a rightist movement. We didn’t achieve that with Obama, but now it has been achieved, in a way, through Donald Trump, who I would say is our Mohamed Morsi. I was just in Egypt, meeting with some Egyptian activists, and we talked about what happened in the second half of the Arab Spring there. I didn’t have any idea. They’re both populist. If that’s true, then we have to have a revolution. It is. She should be in every single interview right now. Ultimately, I think the two paths might collapse into one path, and that’s the danger that we face right now. Let’s be real, the Germans had a Communist revolution in 1919, and no one even talks about it; it failed, a Spartacus uprising. Electoral politics comes with challenges. One of the issues that’s been raised to you, I know, a million times about Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street, is this idea that they’re leaderless movements. I think this ties into what I call the worship of youth. Please show me that I’m wrong. He has made America great again, because the greatest generation in America was the one that fought World War II. If electoral politics always results in lame weakness that doesn’t create revolutionary change, why are we so concerned about Donald Trump?” Oh wait, we actually don’t believe what this person said about electoral politics in our hearts; we just use that as a justification to keep ourselves from doing what scares us. Right. That being said, they were dealing with hereditary political power, where the ultimate sovereign has to be someone in blood lineage. Is this a principle of revolution, or is the fact that they were armed specific to the context of that revolution? That’s it. Again, the world I think is dividing into basically, two positions. But maybe it was the lawyers and not the protesters who temporarily blocked the immigration order? It’s almost as if some are fighting without expecting to ever get into power. I think that People’s Democracy might lie on the other side of Donald Trump. You’re not supposed to just flee from the sin of reality; you’re supposed to immerse yourself in the sins of reality, and maintain your course. Totally. Flood him with postcards! Totally. What if he was a radical communist, and we were seeing these articles coming out like this, accusing him of “treason”? I think also it’s temperament. But if you want to know who is really winning, just ask yourself: Who is the president? Well, John the Baptist, I believe, baptized Jesus Christ. Because, look. It didn’t work.” I think that’s like, okay, it’s the first time I’d ever tried something like that, and I still got 20 percent of the vote. Looking back, it feels like we were speaking to a tremendously different world. Get him out of here!”
Well, if we go through impeachment in the traditional sense the next leader would be Mike Pence. That being said, I do think that if activists could kind of swallow that bad taste they get by engaging in politics, we could be quite good at it. We all pretend like Hillary Clinton was the first, but here’s a black woman who did this. In 1988, Dr. We could do that! So essentially you’re saying that there is no way to get the government to do what you want them to do? I don’t appreciate that obsession anymore. Don’t put this letter online, this is an off-line guerrilla campaign.” The guerrilla campaign was to send letters to Donald Trump saying basically, “You don’t represent us,” and the goal was to just flood him with postcards. It’s happened again now with Donald Trump and Putin and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, who kills drug users. That’s a different thing, and that’s really important. That is not true. If only the proletariat were to grab control of their machines, that only they know how to operate, then they would instantly have greater power than the people who own the machines. Who among us is going to govern? It has to do with giving power to the people and benefiting their lives concretely. What would you want them to walk away with? This country is only concerned about non-violence if it seems that I’m going to get violent. I don’t want to take it to that level, but I’m just saying, that it’s possible that our fears are real. And then, lo and behold, a couple weeks later, the Women’s March happens, and what does the Women’s March say? They say, “Yeah, we need to get rid of Morsi. If this were 1933, what should people have done? I just think, what if we are in a moment before World War III? I’ve done all forms of activism, every form. I don’t think this will happen, though. A figure we don’t even know about yet. The 99 percent is not 100 percent Left or 100 percent Right. The economy is terrible. Millions of people were sent to death camps. They’re the ones who would tell you that, “Look, we had Nixon. His whole theory was that governments are just when the people making the decisions are both numerous and representative of the population. We should be celebrating ourselves more often for how good large numbers of people to do behaviors together. I’m not a politician; so when I ran a campaign for mayor, I didn’t act like a politician, which alienated people, who felt like, “I don’t understand why you’re doing these behaviors. I would argue that those color revolutions have come home to roost. Well, if I get to be John the Baptist, who is somehow going to bump into some activist down the road, and say something to this activist, and then they go and create the thing that I’ve been dreaming of, then I’m quite happy. Again, there’re these people who’ve been ostracized, but who they hold wisdom, and we need to start tapping into it. It’s not that we don’t have good people in positions of power, it’s that we don’t have The People, we don’t have a social movement in power. Donald Trump is not reading their postcards. Now, Donald Trump is president, the attorney general was deemed too racist to be approved as a federal judge in the mid-1980s by both sides of the congressional aisle, and, while protest still needs to be focused on law enforcement, it’s now more frequently discussed in terms of resistance to the machinations of the current administration as a whole. Then let’s look at the second half of the Arab Spring. We know that’s where we need to go, so what we need to be doing in the next six to eight months, is, even though, let me see … What are we at, February? We really need to stop asking people to do things that will not create a change that we want. There’s something really gross in that file of theirs about him. We talked about Simon Critchley a lot during our last talk, and I actually returned to his work again, recently, in light of the election. How do we generate that? They were right. Right now, though, if you were to ask which one actually works, sadly, authoritarian populism does, and the other doesn’t. He’s talking about performance, doing social marketing, but at the end of the day, what he’s talking about is not protest. It’s more complicated than that. Or is it just a story that makes us feel better: we did a rain dance, it drizzled, and we are happy to think we caused the rain. A few weeks ago, I got a letter in the mail, and it had no return address. I think that that is probably the cleanest and most exciting and most viable way to move forward. We didn’t achieve what they achieved in the Egyptian Arab Spring; there, they toppled their dictator, and put a new person into power. So, yes one scenario is that this is just going to be some sort of Watergate, Nixon-type thing. That we’ve decided on, together?” That’s the difference. Russia just moved their missiles, violating a treaty with the United States, to test Donald Trump. People could die. We’d better start gathering our resources for a real resistance movement.” Stop using the word “resistance” until you’re living in underground cells and eating bats. That mood came here in 2011, and it led to the first stage, which was a kind of mass, social movement in the streets. Thus we have two options: we can either do what Donald Trump did, which is enter into the Democratic Party, seize control of it from the top, or we can build a third party that is on the ballot of 50 states. It’s like being a savant in mathematics and not knowing how to eat with a fork. Literally, it’s not going anywhere, because we lack those mechanisms. I want to see it, though. But, from the perspective that protest is just designed to influence the people in power then activists are often able to convince themselves they’re winning. I’ve been arrested for blocking traffic to try to protest the war. They absolutely hate it because the Five Star Movement has right-wing elements to it, but also has left-wing elements to it, and they hate that. And not just win them, but govern afterward, and then use that as a stepping stone to 2018. It’s proof. There is another layer to this question that I find very interesting. I know it’s scary, but that’s what I’m saying. Worse than Donald Trump. That’s what I think. We should all be grateful to be alive right now. I think that that’s what we need — a new form of populism, to counter Donald Trump, and unless we have that, then the progressive establishment will cheer a military government. This is levied as a critique against their effectiveness. I’m an activist.” A lot of it, I think is that people who are drawn to activism aren’t necessarily the same people who are drawn to politics. Is protest then useful as a part of this larger mechanism of revolution? I get it though; some of these Black Lives Matter activists got a lot of fellowships, and it got really cushy up there. At the same time, we can bring that intelligence to a different game, and it could be quite beautiful. Be realistic, people. And to be honest, I’m like, “People, can we please just stop it? Who do you see building this kind of movement? The rest of Americans have rundown buildings, rundown houses, the shops are out of business, people can barely make enough to live. You even said yourself that it doesn’t seem like the Left is listening or ready for what you’re saying. So when I got home, I could totally get that resentment, because that kind of opulence is not the reality for the rest of Americans. I think the reality is that the world is messy and dirty, and there’s this Sufi, spiritual reading that talks about how you’re not supposed to just shut yourself up in the Cave. In essence, I think it’s troubling, on all sides. Donald Trump showed us that we could! They are historically defined, and they are arbitrary. Look. Whenever someone tries to tell me that a revolutionary government is not possible, I’m like, “Who is our president right now? In our last interview, you were prophetic in identifying the rift in the country between the coasts and the center of the country. I saw him up there the other day, fixing his roof by himself. Our country has been taken over by a clique of puppets, who, probably all have some sort of really terrible blackmail material on them. When you go the military coup route, you can’t get back to that other side. In this particular case, I’d ask: How do we know that protests at airports influenced the judicial branch’s decision on Trump’s immigration executive order? Not speaking truth on the streets. I’m not the only person who feels like we are entering into a prewar period, okay? There’s a difference. Nixon was just as bad and we survived him. It’s time to just stop closing our eyes to the fact that we can obviously figure this one out. What I think that I’m trying to get across to people is that we as activists need to always ask ourselves, “Why are we doing these specific behaviors?” We need to understand that the specific behaviors that we’re choosing to do, they’re arbitrary. Look, it’s very clear what’s happening, and I don’t like to tell the future, but here’s what I’m going to say. The powerful vision that motivated Nazis was the idea of creating a thousand-year government. I think that the People’s Democracy in Egypt could have been on the other side of Morsi. Protest, essentially, is our means of responding to the entire federal government. Sometimes I see you as a John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness. This claim immediately makes me skeptical. That’s real stuff. What’s happened is that, over time, we’ve had a collapse of the kind of sovereignty Rousseau wrote about, such that now, sovereignty has become synonymous with the sovereign, with the president, with the king, and sovereignty has been concentrated into the hands of one single, absolute individual, like we saw with 20th-century dictators. Do you mean, who would take part in this kind of movement? Everyone’s telling me it’s impossible but here’s a black woman in 1988 who did this. Isn’t it more likely that they were influenced by constitutional legal arguments and the protesters just happen to be on the right side of the Constitution? One of the things you’ve said in your Guardian article is that “in America, there is no pro-democracy anti-establishment party,” and then you mention that the Pirate Party in Sweden and Italy’s Five Star Movement as examples for where the Left could go. But, you know, if someone thinks that I’m wrong, like the “Our Revolution, Bernie Sanders” people, fine. Yeah, I think that’s the only solution. There’s an off-year election in multiple communities, and we have an opportunity to test out our ability to build a social movement to win elections in this year. Collectively. The point here is that we do need to bring a little bit more realization of the historical severity of our situation, and a little bit more urgency, not urgency of like, “Let’s rush into the streets,” but urgency that says, “We’ve got to think really carefully right now. The activist DeRay McKesson was on Pod Save America, and he said that the protests that he has experienced through Black Lives Matter taught him that, “protest is about telling the truth in public.” Is “telling the truth in public” what youth are doing in the street? Where does the secular Left find this kind of unifying spiritual energy? If we’re not willing to develop an approach toward actually taking power and governing, then everything else that we’re doing is meaningless. Think about this. It’s not enough to say we’re going to topple Donald Trump, or influence Donald Trump. I think the European movements, especially the Five Star Movement in Italy, have taken steps toward solving that, and that the Five Star Movement in Italy does make complex decisions together, about the direction of the movement and the legislation they should be proposing, and this kind of stuff. There’s some poor, minimum-wage worker in the White House who takes your postcards, and throws them in the trash. Things are really dark right now for a lot of Americans. We could also be right. The women during the French Revolution marched on Versailles, brought out the king and the queen and his entourage and his court, and they marched them back to Paris under a threat of violence, and then within a few years the king was killed. That’s just where we’re at. Finally, I’d like to say that there is a pernicious paradigm of protest that says our street protests are simply designed to provide proof of public opinion. Let’s put it that way. My core message is this: all activism needs to be oriented around taking power and governing. Is your view of another civil war in that same kind of prophetic spirit? One of the things Critchley also pointed out in 2008, is that “[t]here’s an increasing sense amongst, especially people on the left,” that “electoral politics is irrelevant to the lives of citizens,” leading to what he calls “passive nihilism.” This is essentially the belief, consciously or subconsciously, that I’m just my own island, I’m just going to go to my mindfulness class, go to my meditation, and I can just kind of not do anything and that the arc of the universe bends toward justice. I guess what I’m saying is that I see violence and elections as two different paths, and I leave it up to activists themselves to choose. Russia has learned the art of the color revolution. A politician would never do that,” and I’m like, “I know. If we, as a social movement, were president of the United States, we would also have immense power. It’s gone. I think that’s why I like “populist” instead, because populism points back to democracy. The hubris embedded in that kind of vision scares the shit out of me. It doesn’t scare me! We’re at a period right now with large-scale, creative explosion and innovation; all kinds of new tactics. We would have, for example, nuclear weapons. Until you’re hiding resistance leaders in your attic. I think we’re amazing at getting lots of people to do behaviors. We talked last time about what you call the collective epiphany, but what are some strategies for generating these collective epiphanies around multiple causes? But can marching in the street really carry the political load that people are asking it to bear? Every generation protests in their own culturally dependent way, so let’s stop being obsessed with the specific, historically defined and culturally defined way that we protest right now, and let’s think strategically and say to ourselves, “Okay, we can get large numbers of people to do any behavior that we want. We know, going back to Rousseau, that if we’re going to revive sovereignty — that’s what we’re trying to do, revive sovereignty, bring it back from the dead — if we’re going to try to revive sovereignty, the group that ultimately makes decisions about our community and our city has to be both numerous — it has to have lots of people involved — and representatively diverse. No. Is this kind of passivity how we arrived at our currently political moment? Therefore it makes perfect sense that they would have to kill a specific individual in order to achieve revolution. Everyone should be talking to Dr. Everyone’s rejecting populism. That’s how I feel. You said nobody wants to hear this. We saw this kind of collective epiphany energy at those Tea Party rallies in 2009 and 2010 that lead them to back candidates who took seats in the House and the Senate in the midterm elections. You lose that window of opportunity. Maybe we need the support of China. What you’re describing feels like Star Wars. Here’s what I would compare what he said to: We had an example of this in ancient Greece; we had Diogenes the Cynic. Literally. They should have taken it a little more seriously! But it’s quite possible that we will be stuck here forever. What’s really funny, though, about the activist scene, is they’ll get these ideas, and then all of a sudden, everyone has to do it. You go to DC and it’s like, “Where’s all this money coming from?”
It’s like Versailles, in a way. I think right now the sad thing is that populism’s become like a dirty word. Implicit here is the deeper question of how do we, as activists, know when our protests are effective in creating change. Trump was elected president. Right now, in the United States, we have a window of opportunity, which is, we could elect an equally radical, leftist candidate into power in four years. But I also think, it’s temperament. We would have a military. Everyone calls themselves “progressives,” but we don’t have any story of what we’re progressing toward. How much does being armed play in their success, in your opinion? The people who voted for Donald Trump who are low income, who want their jobs back, who want their idea of the Dream restored; did their lives change from the eighth of November to the ninth? I have my two hands.” It’s beautiful, it’s lovely, it’s wonderful, but Diogenes the Cynic didn’t have political power. He throws them in the trash. Totally. It’s easy to start thinking about protest like that, but it’s not the reality. You don’t need possessions. Is this just saying that “We may not be able to have this revolution now, but in the meantime, we can annoy the crap out of the people making decisions”? You lose that window. Please, youth, keep protesting. I’ve done direct action in Palestine, nonviolent direct action, I put my body on the line. Come on. He had no property, he had no items, he wore a sack. That’s the crisis that we’re in; the concept of sovereignty that initially activated contemporary activism is dead! I just got a message on Facebook that said, “Look, Micah, I’ve been listening to your stuff. If we alienate people from the possibility that positive protest that can actually achieve regime change in the United States, then we’re going to have a much darker scenario. That was what a revolution was, literally. It doesn’t exist anymore. ¤
JUSTIN CAMPBELL: I want to start with a two-part question based on your recent piece in the Guardian entitled “Without a path from protest to power, the Women’s March will end up like Occupy.” There, you worry that the Women’s March might be “destined to be an ineffective, feel-good spectacle adorned with pink pussy hats.” Women were marching, you write, based on “a false theory of how the people can assert sovereign power over their elected president.” In your mind, what is sovereign power exactly, and if peaceful protest isn’t how we exert this kind of power, how do we exert it effectively? People in the liberal establishment were living it up under Obama, you know? His life sucks because of your postcards. It’s great, and we need that, but that’s not what protest is. So there’s been this kind of meme floating around that we should bombard our representatives with letters and notes and calls. So this next question is obviously me baiting you and you don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to. We can create an event with four million marchers. Today, the person who is given sovereign power is actually just the person who’s gone through some sort of magical ritual that we call “elections.” We know that those elections can be bought, can be hacked by a foreign power, and still, we’ll accept them as legitimate. I think a more preferable one would be an actually grassroots American social movement à la Occupy Wall Street meets Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March, all rolled into one glorious People’s Democracy. Is this like when you get older and realize, okay, maybe I should have a savings account, or things like that? I think it’s time to start getting a little more historical, but the core idea is: Activism is oriented around taking power, and then governing. Look. On Twitter, no less. It’s like — it’s a joke. Their kind of thinking is the kind of thinking that didn’t allow the Egyptian activists to build a credible alternative to Morsi and why Egypt has a military dictatorship right now.