I have been thinking pretty hard about your encouragement that we embrace both civility and confrontation. Earlier this week, you shared, noting that, within this frame, violence was not an option:
I honestly believe this: Some people are equipped to engage positively, even with people they heartily disagree with, and they should do that. Some people are better at protest and creating discomfort and heightening contradictions, and they should do that. And if two people have different ways of fighting, battling, resisting an opposing what they both see as evil, perhaps they should welcome each other to the fight instead of castigating each other over tactics.
It is the advice I often share with organizations and communities I work with as they work to counter hate: Not everyone has the same orientation, role, disposition, or skill set. Not everyone has to do the same thing.
In fact, while a “united front” may sound appealing, it often only comes at the cost of silencing dissent within a countermovement. For the groups I work with, this almost always means a push to exclude people who are too radical, too confrontational, and too queer in order to prioritize a civil and holier-than-thou response. (I work with Mennonites a lot, and we love to feel superior while allowing their most vulnerable to be abused.) It places the needs of already-respected people to feel respectable at the center of the countereffort and lets those people who are most vulnerable–the ones being narrowly targeted by anti-gay groups–that their queerness isn’t welcome. It’s a frustrating thing to watch, and it points to a problem within the group that anti-gay groups expose, one that is bigger, I think, that a short-term assault from such overt hate groups.
A better tactic, I think, is one that honors the multiple gifts of activists and assumes that different audiences will respond differently to different messages and media and that, consequently, many different messages should be delivered in many different ways. Such a strategy also shows opponents–and here we are talking about people who lie in order to cover up for a fascist administration, not just people you don’t personally like–that you are not bound by the laws of civility. That itself can be a powerful message that makes it less likely that you would need to violate those bounds.
It’s a lesson I learned from a Bible story in 1 Chronicles 12. The longer story warrants further discussion, but the applicable part is this: David has been banished, but armies are flocking to him in preparation for his rise to the position of king over Israel. According to the opening verses of the chapter,
they were among the warriors who helped him in battle; they were armed with bows and were able to shoot arrows or to sling stones right-handed or left-handed; they were relatives of Saul from the tribe of Benjamin
Later verses explain that
they were brave warriors, ready for battle and able to handle the shield and spear. Their faces were the faces of lions, and they were as swift as gazelles in the mountains.
The passages highlight opposing pairs: bows and slingshots, right-handedness and left-handedness, relatives of Saul within an army rising against him, competency on offense (spear) and defense (shield), lions and gazelles.
In short, everyone was ready in all possible ways. All options were on the table, and David’s men were prepared to use all of them. If a soldier’s right hand was injured, he could use his left. There was no weakness. There was no slowing down. You fought like a lion and like a gazelle.
Above, members of the Gibborim, David’s highly trained army of “mighty men,” as depicted by 19th century French artist Jacques Joseph Tissot. David rose to power as “all who were distressed or indebted or discontented rallied around him” (2nd Samuel 22:2).
Civility and confrontation are both strategies, and, in opposing fascism (which is what we are talking about here. This is not a typical political debate, in which it is rude if one looks at one’s watch. This is about the rise of a dictator.), we have to use both. Every hand is needed now.