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The Uncivil Servant: “Resistance” to Trump? Not Yet

Mitchell Abidor
February 9, 2017

by Mitchell Abidor

MY INBOX is full of emails referring to “resistance” to Trump, his regime, and its measures. Jewish Currents’ Blog-Shmog has a piece by the veteran activist Richard Greeman entitled “Popular Resistance to the Trump Regime.” I received an email this morning from CAIR –- the Council on American-Islamic Relations -- laying out its activities and saying, “This is what resistance looks like.”

I beg to differ.

As yet we have seen no resistance to Trump. What we’ve seen is protest against Trump, anger at Trump, demonstrations against Trump, but resistance is quite another thing.

Resistance means just that: actively resisting a measure or a man or a regime, fighting to block and prevent its implementation; preventing a government by any means necessary from carrying out iniquitous measures. Resistance requires risk, personal risk. Resistance was fighting the Nazis, tossing anti-fascist leaflets under Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, or Salazar, providing active assistance to the Algerian FLN in its fight against French imperialism. That is resistance. What was done in the South during the voting rights campaign was resistance. Those who burned their draft cards during the Vietnam War, or refused to be called up and went to jail or into exile, resisted. The rest of us protested. Thus far we march, and, the march over, we go to see a film or to Starbucks. To call what we do resistance is an insult to those who have really put their futures on the line, their lives on the line, to those who lost them. We make our voices heard, we feel good about doing so, but we haven’t resisted.

WE MARCH, in our cities and our airports, but we’ve done nothing to prevent the implementation of any of Trump’s measures. The courts have taken care of that for us. No one smashed the barriers at JFK’s Terminal 4 to free immigrants and refugees. We didn’t resist, we protested, and the difference is not just a nuance.

There is no doubt but that the time will come when there will be resistance, either by blocking trucks delivering material for the wall between the U.S. and Mexico, or by protecting the undocumented during immigration raids, or by engaging in some other form of civil disobedience –- violent or not –- against what has been and will be cooked up by Trump/Bannon/Pence.

What resistance requires was never more beautifully, movingly, and accurately described than in Mario Savio’s famous speech at Sproul Hall in December 1964:

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus -- and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it -- that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all!!

The machine confronting us truly is “so odious” that it “makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part.” The movement that has begun will hopefully give birth to the resistance to Trump that will eventually occur. But we shouldn’t yet flatter ourselves that it has. We’ve not yet “put [our] bodies on the gears and upon the wheels.” Hopefully, enough of us will eventually stand in the way of the machine that we will prevent its functioning. Then we can truly say, “This is what resistance looks like.”

Mitchell Abidor, a contributing writer to Jewish Currents, is the recipient of a Hemingway Grant from the French Ministry of Culture for his translation of Emmanuel Bove’s A Raskolnikoff. His other new books include Voices of the Paris Commune and his collection of writings by and about the anarchist “propagandists of the deed,” Death to Bourgeois Society. His translations of the poetry of Benjamin Fondane can be found in the collection Cinepoems and Others, published by NYRB Poetry. To read his article about the Manouchian Group of the French Resistance, click here.

Mitchell Abidor, a contributing writer to Jewish Currents, is a writer and translator living in Brooklyn. Among his books are a translation of Victor Serge’s Notebooks 1936-1947, May Made Me: An Oral History of My 1968 in France, and I’ll Forget it When I Die, a history of the Bisbee Deportation of 1917. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Liberties, Dissent, The New York Review of Books, and many other publications.