Last month concerned citizens rallied in Olympia in solidarity with protestors in fifty state capitals. We had hoped to convince electors to vote their conscience. In light of all that has passed since then, it seems naïve to have hoped they might step out of the party line.
Those who lived through the rise of Hitler see history repeating itself. As a student of history, I looked back even further. When Trump bragged, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” I thought of the Latin phrase, agere et pati, ‘to act and to endure,’ a perfect description of medieval society.
Bodiam Castle, East Sussex.
There’s a striking parallel between our current social order and that of the Middle Ages, in which the wealthy ruling class acted and peasants endured. Peasants made up ninety percent of the population. Lords squeezed serfs for taxes plus three days of unpaid work per week. The church exacted two more unpaid workdays, and a compulsory tithe, 10% of their income, forcing peasants to live hand to mouth. Nobility had the power of life and death over them, while the church tortured and executed dissenters. Protest was not an option.
Traitors Gate, Tower of London. They go in, but they don’t come out.
Like Trump and the GOP, the nobility and the church had their snits, but mostly they scratched each other’s back. Nobles gave financial support to the church, and the church justified the social order by declaring it God’s will that nobles should possess all the wealth and power, and God’s will that peasants and serfs should live to serve them.
To cement the pact, the church placed highborn second sons into powerful positions in its own hierarchy. This artful deal resulted in feudal nobility with an iron grip on peasants, and peasants who were taught from birth to endure their sorry lot and wait obediently for their reward in Heaven. Nothing changed for centuries.
Burying plague victims.
It took the Black Death to upset the fruit basket. The plague hit Europe in 1347, killing half the population over the next five years. With the workforce so reduced, nobles hadn’t the manpower to till their fields or chase down runaway serfs. Surviving peasants finally had some choice about whom to work for, and could demand decent wages or leave, maybe even to learn a trade in the city. At last upward mobility was possible, and the middle class got a toehold in society.
Thirty-five years later, in 1381, to pay for its pricey Hundred Years War with France, the English government imposed its fourth Poll (per head) Tax in four years. It was a regressive tax, hardest on peasants, who shouldered as much of the Poll Tax burden as the wealthiest landowners. Just when the peasants thought it couldn’t get worse…
King Richard II
…King Richard II issued The Statute of Laborers, capping wages and forcing workers to accept the same miserable conditions they had labored under before the plague struck. The new law threatened severe punishment to serfs and peasants who dared seek better conditions or higher wages. It also forbad merchants and tradesmen to charge the market price for goods and services, and ordered a return to pre-plague prices. King Richard even tried to cut the only social security the poor had by forbidding beggars to beg. In other words, he wanted to make England great again.
In an unprecedented protest, 60,000 peasants marched to London to demand an audience with the king. 2000 protestors died in the ensuing violence, and others did too, including the archbishop, the king’s treasurer, and a number of tax collectors. The peasants dispersed after the king made promises, which he broke, and granted pardons for the rebels, which he revoked. Rebels were hunted down and executed.
Richard II meets with rebels by Jean Froissant.
After the dust settled, it might’ve seemed like nothing had changed, but historian Michael Postan says the revolt made history, “as a landmark in social development and a typical instance of working-class revolt against oppression.” If only for fear of another uprising, peasants were treated with more respect, the hated Poll Tax was never again raised, and it marked the end of feudalism. Most importantly, peasants set their sights on astonishing new, if distant goals; freedom, equality, and democracy.
We face difficult days ahead. Our hard won democracy has deteriorated into an oligarchy—a nation ruled by a small elite group of the obscenely wealthy. Any power or constitutional rights we lose to Trump and the Republicans will be difficult to recover. In D.C., the House, the Senate, and the White House are controlled by Republicans. Trump hasn’t assumed office yet and they’re already ripping apart social and political safeguards, unbalancing our delicate system of checks and balances.
We can’t afford to surrender to despair or even resignation. We must resist. Since the Peasants’ Revolt, we’ve had shining examples of nonviolent civil disobedience from heroines and heroes like Harriet Tubman, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez, Lech Walesa, and the Standing Rock Lakota. Nonviolent movements like the Underground Railroad, the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, United Farm Workers, and the Dakota Access Pipeline Resistance have brought change that makes a difference in all our lives. Not without sacrifice, but with hope, courage, and determination.
Harriet Tubman, civil rights activist, abolitionist, humanitarian.
Solidarity in Communist Poland began with strikes to demand a free trade union, and resulted in freedom and democracy for the Polish people. There was the Velvet Revolution of Czechoslovakia. The Singing Revolution in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania began with people gathering to sing national songs forbidden by the Communists. Four years later they were independent nations, free of Soviet rule.
Every protest matters. It’s an act of faith, almost a prayer. Not the kind in which you petition for a miracle or just a quick win. The kind that lends you strength to endure however long it takes, but also transforms you from silent sufferer to person of action. You’ll be there for those who have no voice, or who need help finding their own voice. You’ll be there to inform the public and to lift each other up, to remind yourself that you are not alone.
Each act of resistance repays a debt to those who fought and sacrificed on a battlefield, in a courtroom, or on a picket line to make our lives better. And each act of resistance is a gift to our children and grandchildren. One day this will all be history. When people look back, and they always do, I hope to be remembered for fighting for what’s right. It’s time to call out the lies, write our congress, gather those signatures, and save our nation from a shameful demise. It’s time to put our boots on the ground.
Copyright 2017 Naomi Baltuck
My problem is that I am not sure how much longer my boots can afford to walk on this ground, financially speaking, nor how much longer my will has the strength. I feel – futility, hopelessness, frustration. What has brought us to the point where tonight on Facebook, a man told me Michelle Obama is a tranvestite? Has any sense, any intelligence, all reason, completely left us? I weep. I weep. That we can no longer recognize honor, intelligence, grace, despite our beliefs. . . . I weep.
Oh, my dear Carol, I wish I could hug you and bring you a cup of tea or, better yet, a glass of wine. I have been on edge too, since the election. Couldn’t bring myself to post or write much of anything at all, except FB rants about He-who-shall-not-be-named. But we can’t give up hope. Tonight Thom and I were live-streaming the Edmonds City Council Meeting, when they had the public speak out, then voted unanimously to declare our city a safe city, no matter what your skin color, religion, sexual orientation, economic situation, nationality. It made me cry with relief that there are still like-minded people so close to home. I’m determined to get more involved locally; I watched my first city council meeting, which I’ve never done before. But I think we both need to make a greater effort to take better care of ourselves until it doesn’t feel quite so raw. Most people are taking down their holiday lights, but I keep putting up more and more twinkle lights ins ide my house, where I can see them, as if they will protect me from the next horrible news story. But they are warm and soothing. Watch some good movies instead of scrolling Facebook, which is relentless and depressing. It’s time to turn on Netflix and watch Roman Holiday! Take good care of yourself.
Well said my friend! So many Canadians feel as you do…we have a Conservative element here who are already wanting to copy the republican example,who have said”Let’s take a page from Trump’s book.” We need to be vigilant and to but boots on the ground!
It is tempting to stay with my despair and hopelessness over America and your examples of ordinary folk through history who did not give in but persisted to make change are reminders that inspire and encourage me! Thank you!
I have been fighting despair, but I think it helps to write it down, and get moving again. I will be more politically active locally, because that’s someplace we can all start–ripples in the pond. Be well, stay strong! Love, n
An excellent post, Naomi. Despair has been my constant companion. Can the country recover from the damage which will occur in our lifetimes? I’m knitting pussyhats for the women’s march. My sister is going to DC. I’m a tiny pebble in Pittsburgh. Good to read your blog, strength in like mindedness and encouragement.
Thank you, Ruth. I have been quietly suffering in silence and despair, but taking actin feels much better than to be acted upon. Knitting pussyhats is an important form of expression! I hear yarn shops everywhere are running out of pink yarn! Good luck to your sister, and to us all! We will need it.
Naomi, this is a splendid post. So thoughtful and thorough! Yes, we face more dark times. We shall see where it all leads.
Thank you, Michael. Sending good thoughts your way.
Wow…you nailed it! I’m already showing it to folks….and filling my calendar with resistance events. Thanks
Sent from my iPad
Thank you, Deb. I’ve heard that in order to overcome stage fright, you need to teach the butterflies in your stomach to fly in formation. Since the election I’ve had all these random thoughts of despair and rants and disappointment flying wildly in my head, and sitting down to write about it–teaching them to fly in formation–has really helped. To act, instead of being acted upon! Like you, I am filling up my calendar with resistance events.
Hear hear on the resistance, and the standing up for what is right, Naomi.
Well done, Naomi, and timely. I’ve just listened to Trump’s first press conference, after last night listening to Obama’s farewell address. I’m still stunned that on January 20th a statesman will be replaced by a monstrous narcissist. On January 21st I’ll join a group of local women to stand in support of the women’s march on Washington. Hard days ahead.
Thank you, Cathryn. It is painful to watch our wonderful dignified humanitarian eloquent president vacate the office for a racist misogynistic blustering bullying ignorant psychopath who surely a criminal hiding his shady deals. Good luck with the march. I hope to be marching in solidarity here in Seattle.
Oy, A Dangerous Radical! Thank-goddess! Went to a demonstration on Monday in freezing weather and 250 of us came together on the Boston Common to call out to our legislators “Don’t confirm denyers and criminals.”
Have a train ticket for DC’s Women’s March on the 21st. You are so right. There are times you simply have to get out, put your body in their way, and be counted. You are the best.
How wonderful that you get to go to D.C.! I will be marching in solidarity with you here in Seattle. Bea will be home from Mongolia then for less than a week. I hope we can do some intergenerational rabble rousing. You are the best!
Hi. Hi. Hi, Naomi. Happy New Year. Great to see you.
A thought provoking post. Food for thought. ❤ 🙂
Oh, so good to hear from you! Thank you for the visit–I have been off the grid, traveling and, after the election, curled up in the fetal position under the covers. Time to bust out and do some marching!
It’s a new world, isn’t it? God help us all. ❤
No kidding, Tess!
Well said, Naomi. We watch with astonishment here in Ireland where we are also dealing with Brexit and now a bit of a political crisis in Northern Ireland. It’s key that we don’t panic but turning away isn’t the answer either. I think you’re right about being engaged.
Good luck with your America.
Hi Jean, I was in Scotland last October and heard a lot about Brexit from the folks there. Wishing us all peace and prosperity this coming year, but that seems like a long shot.
Long shots can be great in some contexts so if politics is a game, let it be golf!
Thank you for taking a thoughtful stand here. It’s important, I think, for reasonable people to speak.
Thank you for taking the time to visit and read the post. It is SO important that we speak out. This is not the time to be passive or to suffer in silence.
Excellent post Naomi! I do feel we are entering a dangerous time for all of us. And our answers are in taking action on the grass roots level. There is a need to pay close attention to who we are putting in our local public offices because they become the ones we’re sending to Washington DC. It’s our Senators and Congress Women who have the ability to block and defend us against Trump. My ‘boots on the ground’ is to carry forth the hope that Obama instills in me.
Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts. I really do believe that a grassroots movement is crucial. I am already grieving at the thought of Obama vacating the White House for that racist misogynistic blustering bullying ignorant psychopath who surely a criminal hiding his shady deals.
Wow! Many parallels indeed. Thanks for the history lesson. I’m a bit like Carol here. Hubby and I are within 3 years of our plan to retire to southern Spain. So when the shock of election day happened my immediate reaction was “Get me out of this country!!!” I’ve come around a little bit but I just don’t think I have the stamina to protest or march. There is a local women’s march on 1/21 that I likely won’t attend. But I’ve made calls, sent emails to my senators and the justice department. I can do that much. So although I’ve calmed down a bit since that horrid day (I was up all night with a migraine and had to call in sick to work the next day) but my focus now is getting my kid to college and then getting ready to leave the country. I admire you for wanting to fight. Thanks for this inspiring and educational post.
Hi Toby, I hope you are feeling better! I am coming out of my cocoon of depression and denial and joining the resistance! I marched on January 21st in Seattle, and it was inspiring–they say at least 135,000 showed up. Must do a post on that! Going to a rally this weekend to support a church that was vandalized for its support of the gay community. Best of luck to us all–this too shall pass!
Thank you for marching!! Both hubby and daughter marched but not together. I can’t handle crowds but I was there in spirit! St. Paul’s march was expecting 25,000 and got 90,000 plus!! And that was the story all around the country. It was quite inspiring indeed!! and the protests just continue. Agreed that this too shall pass. I’d rather it be before the chump blows up the world. We shall see…..
We must also remind ourselves that the creep does NOT have a mandate, nor does he have the will of the people. I just hope that something is done about all the voter suppression. That definitely was a factor (again) in this election.
Voter suppression, lies and lies and more lies, Comey’s interference, not to mention Putin’s. And now Trump is bullying his way into office clearly unfit, but with all kinds of illegal conflicts and possibly treasonous conniving connections. It is horrifying and sickening.
right, right and right!! we can only hope that some republicans will turn and FINALLY put country first!!! I was happy to see Lindsay Graham and John McCain seeking an investigation. guess we’ll see what comes of that. He’s despicable and I’m hoping collusion is found so that he can be tried for treason!! ‘course we need those republicans with a conscience…..
I am wondering how many Republicans have a conscience. They are like thugs in a candy store–the first they tried to do was dissolve the ethics committee so they could get away with anything. Well, they are still getting away with anything because they won’t break out of party lines, even though they must know what they’re doing is wrong. We cannot let down our guard for an instant.
There are so many factors and I suspect that much of the shenanigans were illegal. Voter suppression was surely a factor. There was fishy stuff going on with the voting machines and voter suppression when George Bush was elected, but they never got to the bottom of that. Hard not to be discouraged.
Sharing this. We all need to be vigilant, active citizens.
Thank you, Lisa!
Naomi, I jumped out of my skin when I read that Senate was starting to shred the Affordable Care Act. Will they let people die? The answer is “no”. Kind regards, Micheline
Dear Micheline, there seems to be no end to the destruction. There was an article about T ordering the execution of the five surviving turkeys pardoned by President Obama on the Thanksgivings he was in office, and I had to read it twice to realize that it was satire. T is systematically destroying every good thing Obama was able to accomplish during his two terms. A sad thing when the president is such a petty bitchy buffoon that we can’t tell the difference between satire and actual news.
Quite brilliant post Naomi, thank you. Just as a history lesson I love how you summed up pertinent times in history where the people fought back and prevailed, at least to some degree.
There’s no doubt that our generation have messed up pretty well. The world over, the political/ruling classes have looked to the short term and their own narrow interests. Major issues such as climate change, housing issues, health care crises, extreme poverty are paid lip service only as there are no votes in them. And also because there is little these days of real substance between the established parties in ideology.
Maybe the many brilliant kids (including yours and mine) will forge a real change without the need for storming the barricades.
Meanwhile – and call me complacent – I don’t believe even the snake Trump comes into power with evil intent. Hopefully the checks and balances are sufficient to deal with the extreme stuff.
Even here in Jersey, beneath the cigar smoke, there is real discontent with an incompetent government but life for too many is too comfortable to actually break out the pitchforks 🙂
Thanks for writing, Roy. I have to disagree with you about T. He is systematically destroying every good thing Obama has accomplished over his time in office, no matter the effect is has on the poor, the sick, the elderly. It is all about greed and power. Very telling that the first act of the Republicans–working in the dead of night, like thieves and rats–was to try to dissolve the ethics committee.
I’m nearer to agreeing with you three weeks after my last comment Naomi. I honestly didn’t think he and his colleagues would be so overtly ruthless. There are many now who wished they’d turned out to vote instead of assuming that HC would stroll in.
You tell it so beautifully. I can’t imagine what it must be like for you in America. I know I’m suddenly finding myself acutely aware of how much I don’t understand about politics, particularly international politics, and history.
Because of Brexit, working and living in the EU is going to become more complex. I spent 7 months of last year in out of England in 2016. But when I compare to the problems you face in America mine seem insignificant.
I fear ignorance, and the huge empathy gap there seems to be for people who are in any way different.
Have courage. Get the mud on your boots.
Dear Catherine, wishing you and England can weather the storm. I don’t think people knew what they were voting for there. Many here have no regrets, but others will understand too soon that by putting a tyrant into office they have destroyed their own lifelines to health insurance and social security. T doesn’t care about the little people–once he gets what he wants, in this case their vote, he chews them up and spits them out without a backward glance, or maybe just a nasty tweet. Wishing you all the best. Here’s to mud on the boots!
Thank you so much for all this fascinating history. I didn’t take history classes in college, and wish I had. I tweeted a link recommending this post. Also, thanks for speaking out, and taking a strong stand.
HI Maureen, thanks for sharing your generous response. History is one long juicy story, if only we knew it. Thanks for the tweet! Here’s to mud on the boots!