July 17, 2013 —
According to numerous public health studies, just washing your hands on a regular basis—a simple, mundane activity if ever there was one—actually provides one of the most effective measures for preventing the spread of many diseases. Preventing the spread of the “social disease” called fascism is a bit more complex, but many of the preventive measures that are available to each and every one of us are similarly simple and mundane.
But before we can understand how that works, first we need to recognize that fascism is more than just a form (or style, actually) of government. It is not just a matter of structure—of laws, agencies and regulations. It is also a cultural phenomenon in which the media, the arts, the educational system, the church, and all the other institutions, traditions and customs that make up “society” are enlisted (or drafted) into the cause of imposing the artificial “unity” that fascist propaganda makes to seem so attractive. And to the extent that individual citizens accept and internalize the fascist agenda, it affects even our day-to-day interpersonal relationships.
So, counter-fascist actions must take place at all three levels—the structural, the cultural and the personal. Of these three, perhaps the cultural is most important, for in order to establish their dominance, fascists first need to create an apparent groundswell of “popular support” for the structural changes they desire. (It is far more likely that fascist power will be established in the USA through apparently “free and fair” elections than through some kind of armed rebellion or coup d’etat.)
What kinds of tools do we have, then, in our “counterfascist toolbox”?
The first tool is simple vigilance—just paying attention, and keeping ourselves informed about what is going on, both in our immediate vicinity and in other places around the country. Not paranoia, mind you; fearfulness can paralyze us, and make us think we are powerless when in fact we are not. Legislatures are still passing laws in the open, even if some of those laws are being composed behind closed doors by special interests. (If you haven’t heard of an outfit called “ALEC,” you might want to check out www.alecexposed.org;  it’s a good place to start.)
Centeredness—the ability to maintain calm, rational equanimity in the face of stress or provocation—counters the tendency to panic, or take rash, impulsive and ultimately counterproductive action. Many physical and spiritual disciplines exist that help develop this quality, from meditation and prayer to martial arts and tightrope walking. As we develop centeredness, we become better able to think clearly when we might otherwise get caught up in the emotion of the moment.
Centeredness supports courage, another important tool to have handy. Countering fascism on the everyday, interpersonal level might mean interrupting or contradicting someone else’s oppressive attitudes or mistaken assumptions, and risking some kind of immediate personal blowback. Countering it on the structural or cultural levels might mean taking a visible public stand, risking arrest, or worse. (Check out what’s been happening in Texas lately, or in North Carolina with the “Moral Mondays” protests.)
The creation and maintenance of community is also crucial, and here I mean “community” in two different senses of the word. First, it is obviously important to surround oneself with like-minded and supportive people, but it is also equally important to reach out across ideological boundaries and create a wider sense of “community” among people who do not agree on everything. Fascism, of whatever stripe, thrives on the easy delineation of groups between “Us” and “Them,” and we should muddle those borders whenever possible. (This means resisting the strong temptation to dehumanize and belittle those with whom we disagree on this issue or that, instead searching to find areas of common ground where communication becomes possible.)
Finally, what can we do with these and the many other tools we have? Press for ever-greater openness, transparency, and accountability in both government and business. Encourage greater civic participation, whether at the polling place, on the street, or in the workplace. Strive to reduce the power of corporations over the government, and of government over the people. Use the power of community both to celebrate the diversity that enriches our lives, and to lessen the differences that divide us.
And most of all, refuse to remain silent.
[This is the last in Mendler’s series of op-ed columns on fascism.]