Secession And The Politics Of Radical Nonviolent Confrontation

Critics of secession in the United States often summarily dismiss it with the following reference to the Civil War.  “We’ve been there, done that, and it didn’t work out so well.”  What that myopic view overlooks is the possible relevance of five highly successful, nonviolent political movements in the second half of the twentieth century, two of which were outright secessions and the other three possessing secession-like characteristics.  These radical political movements include:  (1) the American Civil Rights Movement, (2) the Vietnam War Protest Movement, (3) the Eastern European Anti-Communist Movement, (4) the Soviet Union Anti-Communist Movement, and (5) the South African Anti-Apartheid Movement.  Although there were isolated pockets of violence in each of these political movements, they were, for the most part, nonviolent.

Without exception each of the five political movements adhered to the following five-step paradigm:  (1) Identification of the principal opposition political leaders to be targeted.  (2) Challenging their legitimacy and moral authority.  (3)  Ridiculing them and their supporters.  (4)  Publicizing their improprieties.  (5)  Completely discrediting them.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1954 outlawing racial segregation in the public schools was perceived by many as a declaration of war against Southern segregationists, the Civil Rights Movement did not really get underway until the early 1960s after a series of high-profile acts of violence against black children and civil rights workers in the South.  Civil rights activists, the clergy, and liberal Northern political leaders began challenging the moral authority of well-known Southern segregationists such as Governors Ross Barnett of Mississippi, George W. Wallace of Alabama, and Lester Maddox of Georgia.  Although The Movement was never very unified, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of nonviolent confrontation soon became the paradigm of choice.  With the death of President John F. Kennedy and the ascendancy of Lyndon B. Johnson to the Presidency, the credibility of racial segregation plunged, paving the way for the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, the metaphorical trophies of the Civil Rights Movement.

Almost from the outset the Anti-War Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s was far more militant than its predecessor, the Civil Rights Movement.  The marches and demonstrations were larger, more frequent, and more intense.  The lives of many of the college age demonstrators were on the line, since they faced compulsory military service and the possibility of being shipped off to Vietnam.  The targets were President Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the Pentagon, and the military-industrial complex.  This was not kid’s stuff.  It was not about sweetness and light.  It was hardball!  Anyone supporting the war in Vietnam was subject to ridicule.  Apologists for the war were called “mother-fucking , fascist pigs.”  The Anti-War Movement was energized by images of body bags and flag-draped coffins each night on the evening news, innocent civilians being torched by napalm in Vietnam, and college kids fleeing to Canada.  By the time President Richard Nixon called an end to the war in 1973, the moral authority of the U.S. Government was at an all-time low.  The White House, the Congress, General William Westmoreland, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the entire military-industrial complex had been thoroughly discredited.

The six Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were all brought down by effectively discrediting the leaders of these regimes—by demonstrating unequivocally that they had lost their moral authority.  The Communist government of Poland was not toppled in 1989 by Solidarity Leader Lech Walesa politely suggesting that President Wojciech Jaruzelski should step down.  Rather it, as well as the five other Eastern European Communist governments, was brought down by a sophisticated mixture of confrontation, negotiation, and testing of limits spread out over several years.  Ultimately it was a question of political will.  The political will of the people trumped the will of the government to stay in power.  The emperor was found to have no clothes both in the Soviet Union as well as in its Eastern European satellites.  The Soviet Union nonviolently imploded in 1991.  Earlier that year tiny Slovenia seceded from Serbia employing a similar strategy with a minimum loss of life.

South Africa followed much the same paradigm to rid itself of its apartheid government and replace it with a democracy.  Both South Africa and Poland attracted huge international political support for their respective independence movements.  There can be little doubt that the international boycott of companies doing business in South Africa helped bring down the racist regime.

If an American state is to be successful in its attempt to secede from the Union, its Congressional Delegation, its Governor, its Council of State, and its other major political opinion leaders must be thoroughly discredited to the point of ridicule.  They and the people in the state who support them with their votes must personally be held morally responsible for:

  1. The illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  2. The acts of genocide perpetrated by our ally Israel against the Palestinians with our unconditional support.
  3. The presence of 1,000 American military bases in 153 countries.
  4. Our continued development of weapons of mass destruction and the so-called missile defense system.
  5. The Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act.
  6. The illegal practices of rendition of terrorist suspects, prisoner abuse and torture, and citizen surveillance.
  7. The highly racist war on terror.
  8. Multi-trillion dollar deficits.
  9. A failing health care system whose costs are totally out of control.
  10. A one size fits all immigration policy.
  11. A government which is owned, operated, and controlled by Wall Street, Corporate America, and the Israeli Lobby.
  12. A government which panders to the rich and powerful.
  13. A government which has lost its moral authority, is unsustainable, and unfixable.

Secession is not for the faint of heart.  If you are into wanting to make everyone happy, then secession is not for you.  But secession just may be the only morally defensible game in town!

Imagine…Free Vermont

Thomas H. Naylor

June 30, 2010