• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal


Is it time for our Spring fundraiser already? If you enjoy what we offer, and have the means, please consider donating. The sooner we reach our modest goal, the faster we can get back to business as (un)usual. Please, stay safe and we’ll see you down the road.

Participatory Evolution

The big black pickup truck plunged into the protesters blocking the parking lot and I cringed, viscerally, as though I could feel it myself — this merciless crush of steel against flesh.

I was recovering from a bicycle injury when I watched the event on the news last week, as members of the Never Again movement stood their ground to shut down the Wyatt Detention Facility, in Central Falls, R.I. I had fallen a few days earlier; my face hit the sidewalk. I was far too close to my own trauma not to feel a horrified empathy as I watched the video.

And ever since then I’ve been thinking about the paradoxical courage of nonviolent resistance, nonviolent demand for change and the cessation of “legal” wrongs — from Jim Crow to colonial exploitation to the maintenance of concentration camps (in Germany, in the United States). The core paradox of nonviolent protest against such legally sanctioned immoralities is that, if you block a driveway with your body or simply cross a bridge, you’re depending on the humanity of those you confront, who are armed with the weapons they hold or the vehicles they are driving, to keep them from acting on their anger and harming or killing you.

Is this not the essence of courage? You are bringing nothing but yourself, empowered solely by the force of moral compassion — the way the world should be — to a confrontational demand for change. This doesn’t even compute as rational in a win-lose world. You are not setting your cause for justice and fairness aside as you engage the enemy in an armed shootout, with the plan to implement new social rules after you win. You are creating a new reality as you fight for it. Nonviolent protest is a confrontation between parallel universes: love vs. hate. This is, perhaps, the definition of evolution.

And it doesn’t come without pain.

Thus, on the evening of Aug. 14, some 500 Never Again protesters stood outside the Wyatt Detention Facility, a privately owned prison under contract with ICE, which was holding over 100 immigrant detainees, who were being denied needed medical care and enduring other inhumane conditions. Around 9 p.m., there was a shift change at the facility and some of the protesters placed themselves at the entrance to the main parking lot. This was indeed directly confrontational; they wanted to temporarily disrupt prison operations.

A short while later, the employee in the black pickup truck turned into the lot, blaring his horn at the protesters. As they pounded on the hood of his truck he gunned forward into the protesters, two of whom wound up being hospitalized (one man suffering a broken leg and internal bleeding). A short while later, half a dozen officers marched resolutely out of the facility and blasted the crowd with pepper spray, causing three more protesters, including a woman in her 70s, to be hospitalized.

That was it, except for the viral video and the news coverage. Even though the officers and the facility “won,” dispersing the crowd and clearing the parking lot, the driver who impulsively rammed the protesters was placed on administrative leave and shortly thereafter “resigned.”

The Rhode Island ACLU later declared, in a statement, that the facility’s response to the protest was “an attempt to chill the exercise of First Amendment rights by hundreds of peaceful protestors.” It was also “completely unacceptable uses of force.”

Maybe so, but I would add that it is also much, much more than that. The protesters were not standing outside the Wyatt Detention Facility out of some random desire to exercise a First Amendment right, but because of outrage at the facility’s relationship with ICE and the American government’s detention of immigrants. Whether they were acting within a constitutional right or utterly outside of their legal rights was irrelevant. They were claiming, in the moment, the right to interrupt the nation’s establishment of concentration camps and its indefinite detention of primarily Latin American asylum seekers — people fleeing, often with their children, desperate conditions in their native countries, partially caused by U.S. actions over the last six or seven decades.

They were, once again, crossing Edmund Pettus Bridge, walking unarmed into a confrontation with a domestic army of club-wielding police. They were walking with Martin Luther King, with Mahatma Gandhi, with Nelson Mandela.

“Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind,” Gandhi said. “It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”

With these words in mind, I revisit my painful viewing of the pickup truck confrontation at the private prison. For a moment, as I watched the video and felt the pain being inflicted, I imagined Tiananmen Square — government forces breaking up a nonviolent protest with rifles and tanks, killing hundreds or maybe thousands in their determination to maintain dominance.

How is nonviolence more powerful than the weapons of war? It may not appear to be the case in the moment, but in the long run, the weapon-wielders lose. The opposite of nonviolence isn’t violence. The opposite is ignorance.

“As Jews, we’ve been taught to never let anything like the Holocaust happen again. This crisis isn’t happening just at the border. It’s happening in our communities all around the country.” Thus reads a Never Again Is Now recruitment declaration.

“. . . At our protest in August, a guard at the Wyatt drove his truck through a line of peaceful protesters blocking a parking lot. Shortly after, more guards came out and pepper-sprayed the crowd. These tactics were used to scare us away and make us give up, but instead we’re more determined than ever to shut down these systems of state-sanctioned violence. We need anyone and everyone to throw themselves into the gears of the system. We need our politicians to take drastic action to shut down ICE immediately and ensure safety for people fleeing to the United States. Until they do, we’re going to make it impossible for ICE to do business as usual. We refuse to wait and see what happens next.”

I would add: This is participatory evolution.

More articles by:

Robert Koehler is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Weekend Edition
May 29, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Tim Wise
Protest, Uprisings, and Race War
Nick Pemberton
White Supremacy is the Virus; Police are the Vector
T.J. Coles
What’s NATO Up to These Days? Provoking Russia, Draining Healthcare Budgets and Protecting Its Own from COVID
Benjamin Dangl
Bibles at the Barricades: How the Right Seized Power in Bolivia
Kevin Alexander Gray - Jeffrey St. Clair - JoAnn Wypijewski
There is No Peace: an Incitement to Justice
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Few Good Sadists
Jeff Mackler
The Plague of Racist Cop Murders: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Joshua Frank
In Search of a Lost Socialism
Charles Pierson
Who are the “Wrong Hands” in Yemen?
Andrew Levine
Trump Is Unbeatable in the Race to the Bottom and So Is the GOP
David Schultz
Trump isn’t the Pope and This Ain’t the Middle Ages
Ramzy Baroud
Political Ambiguity or a Doomsday Weapon: Why Abbas Abandoned Oslo
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
A Growing Wave of Bankruptcies Threatens U.S. Recovery
Joseph Natoli
Conditions Close at Hand
N.D. Jayaprakash
No Lessons Learned From Bhopal: the Toxic Chemical Leak at LG Polymers India 
Ron Jacobs
The Odyssey of Elias Demetracopoulos
J.P. Linstroth
Arundhati Roy on Indian Migrant-Worker Oppression and India’s Fateful COVID Crisis
Melvin Goodman
Goodness Gracious, David Ignatius!!
Roger Harris
Blaming the COVID-19 Pandemic on Too Many Humans:  a Critique of Overpopulation Ideology
Sonali Kolhatkar
For America’s Wealthiest, the Pandemic is a Time to Profit
Prabir Purkayastha
U.S. Declares a Vaccine War on the World
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the Telecom Crisis
Paul Buhle
Why Does W.E.B. Du Bois Matter Today?
Mike Bader
The Only Way to Save Grizzlies: Connect Their Habitats
Dave Lindorff
Pandemic Crisis and Recession Can Spark a Fight for Real Change in the US
Nyla Ali Khan
The Sociopolitical and Historical Context That Shaped Kashmiri Women Like My Grandmother in the 1940s
Louis Proyect
Does Neo-Feudalism Define Our Current Epoch?
Ralph Nader
S. David Freeman: Seven Decades of Participating in Power for All of Us
Norman Solomon
Amy Klobuchar, Minneapolis Police and Her VP Quest
Maria Paez Victor
Venezuela in the 2020 Pandemic
Ron Mitchell
Defending Our Public Lands: One Man’s Legacy
Nomi Prins 
The Great Depression, Coronavirus Style: Crashes, Then and Now
Richard C. Gross
About That City on A Hill
Kathleen Wallace
An Oath for Hypocrites
Eve Ottenberg
Common Preservation or Extinction?
Graham Peebles
Air Pollution Mental Illness and Covid-19
Unearned Income for All
Evan Jones
The Machine Stops
Nicky Reid
Proudhon v. Facebook: A Mutualist Solution to Cyber Tyranny
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What is a “Native” Plant in a Changing World?
Shailly Gupta Barnes
Why are Our Leaders Still Putting Their Faith in the Rich?
John Kendall Hawkins
In Search of the Chosŏn People of Lost Korea
Nick Licata
How Hydroxychloroquine Could Help Trump…Politically
Jill Richardson
Tens of Millions of Are Out of Work, Why on Earth is Trump Trying to Cut Food Aid?
Susan Block
Incel Terrorism