By Bill Mefford
Last week during the National Prayer Breakfast, which took place at the Washington Hilton Hotel, a small group of us held signs and sang songs outside as attendees walked by. We had been told to bring signs which weren’t negative or controversial in any way. Part of the reason was because the organizers had reached out to evangelicals and they wanted to make sure the evangelicals “felt welcome” at the protest. So, there were a lot of signs that had statements about God’s love for immigrants and refugees. There were lots of praise songs and old-time protest songs that were sung. And lots of people who were attending the prayer breakfast uncomfortably hurried through our lines as we stood on the public sidewalk (Hilton management kicked us off their property) and avoided eye-contact with us, not to mention any conversation that a couple of us tried to engage them in.
All in all, the protest was pretty lame.
I’ll be honest right off the bat. I am pretty uncomfortable critiquing people who take any action to protest President Haman. The man represents the single greatest threat to peace, global stability, and the promotion of the rights and dignity of the most vulnerable in the world today. In two short weeks he has more than proven himself a total and complete menace as he seems to revel and glory in the misery and suffering of others. So, anyone who wants to take him on is almost automatically always on my side. Every time he loses a battle, whatever that might be, the cause of justice and righteousness wins.
So, yes my friends, feel free to protest at every turn the most damaging leader the world has seen in some time. But I hope we can start figuring out which protests are going to have impact and leave behind the protests that are designed to make groups like evangelicals feel good.
One thing we need to do is to understand who it is we are actually dealing with here. This is not President Romney or President McCain; two men who I have significant differences with, but both of whom would likely be somewhat responsive to political pressure in some way. When you organize to pressure decision-makers like this you always leave them an out; a way to save face while meeting most or even some of our demands.
Let me give a quick example. A number of years ago, my friend and colleague Laura Markle Downton and I were working together when she discovered the methodist church actually owned stock in private prison corporations. As so many people worked to end mass incarceration the umc was making significant money off of the very thing we were working to dismantle. So, Laura and I began to share with people what was happening through a petition that folks could sign. We never named the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (GBPHB) who had made this investment specifically, but those who signed the petition knew exactly who we were talking about and they not only signed the petition, they made calls to the GBPHB urging our complete divestment. Just a few months later GBPHB bowed to the pressure it was feeling and divested. A few months after that a group of bishops and the head of GBPHB congratulated themselves at a rally against private prisons while at General Conference.
But we didn’t care who got the credit. The important thing is that we had divested and the umc will never invest itself in private prison corporations again. Everyone was allowed to benefit from the pressure we mobilized and the goal was achieved.
The thing with donald trump though is that he does not look for win-win resolutions. He is narcissistic and cannot stand the thought that he might have failed at something or that someone has got the better of him. He doesn’t just want to win, he wants to destroy his opposition. In other words, traditional methods of organizing do not apply. The same old process of a slow escalation that organizers have used time and time again in the past will not work.
Standing outside a hotel singing songs and holding signs that are nice and not too provocative might make evangelicals feel good, but they won’t do anything to stop the madman in the Oval Office.
We have to remember that the little support donald trump maintains comes from those who view him, with affection, as the Strict Father who sees things in absolutes and demands unqualified control so that he can defend his children who are subservient to him. I encourage you to read Moral Politics by George Lakoff for more information on this. I have a white, evangelical friend who defended trump’s Muslim ban (though he refused to acknowledge it was a Muslim ban) by saying trump is a good father protecting his children by locking the door. That is truly sickening image, but it was very real to him.
Therefore, to combat donald trump I want to suggest we focus on two avenues. One is framing. Many of us refuse to place his name after the word “President.” I have repeatedly named him President Haman because I honestly believe he is as dangerous and narcissistic as Haman in the book of Esther. Regardless of what you call him, he is an illegitimate president because of his loss of the popular vote and because of his moral barrenness.
Legitimacy is enormously important to trump. The White House has spent literally days trying to legitimize his presidency by defending the size of the crowd at his inauguration. So many of us were scratching our heads – no president ever before spent so much time on something so stupid. But obviously, he and his senior staff know a weak spot for trump is his legitimacy. He has to have that to maintain his position as the Strict Father. Therefore, it is terribly important that we never grant him legitimacy; that we do not refer to him as “President,” that we don’t do what others have dangerously challenged us to do, “to just give him a chance.” We won’t give him a chance. Someone so abusive and who revels in the suffering of others does not deserve to have a chance; he does not deserve to be given legitimacy. Thus, we should never refer to him as “President (name).” He is the Accidental President. He is President Haman.
Second thing I will say for now is that we have a chance to thwart many of his goals if, again, we undermine his presidency by showing he is not in control and his values are not ones to live by. Too many times, especially among many of my colleagues in DC, we want to argue his policies. We do need to point out how dangerous and nonsensical his policies are (because they in fact are dangerous and nonsensical), but we need to go further and live out a higher set of values. The core of these values is to live boldly into the reality that President Haman is not in control. He is the Accidental President without legitimacy and without control of those who are supposedly subservient to him. We are not subservient. In fact, I strongly want to suggest that it is imperative for those who claim to follow Jesus and who long for the Kingdom came to preach about and incarnate in his own teachings that we never give our allegiance to someone whose life, values, and proposed values are so antithetical to Jesus’ Beloved Community.
This means that we live out the values of love, passion for justice, disciplined community, and mutuality, especially with the groups President Haman tries to marginalize with his bullying. What does this look like? This looks like providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants as trump and President Bannon begin to unleash ICE agents in mass raids and deportations. This looks like standing firm in mutual relationships with people who are marginalized and refusing to bow down, as Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman.
And this looks like mass civil disobedience actions. We must accept the fact that many of us are going to arrested repeatedly during this administration’s term in office. We must continue to offer our bodies in RESISTANCE to the injustice implemented by this administration.
Take the example of the National Prayer Breakfast action. What we did by silently standing outside with non-provocative signs was to remain the Strict Father’s subservient children. We have to be willing to create chaos and confusion while remaining peacefully disciplined and acting in love and invitation. What we should have done instead is to gather 200-300 people to sit-in in front of the doors of the Hilton, refusing to leave until the Muslim Ban is rescinded. Our message would be simple – “you can’t go in to pray until our Muslim and refugee sisters and brothers can come in to live.” I have no idea if evangelicals would participate in that action (I imagine those who care about refugees would), but I also don’t give a damn. This is about protesting refugees remember, not making evangelicals feel more comfortable.
Now, civil disobedience is an entirely different creature when you do it on private property – there can be some real consequences. But this is what we must do. When we do this the Hilton and the administration will have to face the horrible picture of arresting 200-300 peaceful people who simply want to stand for religious freedom for Muslims and for justice for refugees. But we must be ready to sacrifice. This isn’t for the faint-hearted, but as we, in discipline and love and invitation refuse to bow down to Haman, we can show that what donald trump is doing is creating chaos. Though he bullies and strong-arms people, he is not in control. He is not keeping people safe. His strong leadership is a façade.
I truly believe this is how we can endure such a horrible person. And in enduring we do more than just face down an abusive, narcissistic, racist, misogynistic, lying, serial sexual predator. We actually save lives. And that is what our RESISTANCE is all about.