50 years ago I attended the very first Rolling Stones concert in Zurich, Switzerland, in April 1967. It was held in the largest indoor sports stadium in town. I was a high school student with a group of friends. I remember standing on my chair with my girl friend on my shoulders, to catch a glimpse of Mick Jagger. The concert was marred by some rowdy young people. They trashed the chairs and the next day’s press was not friendly!
For me, this was the first of a series of “demonstrations” by restless young people that spread across the globe in the late 1960s. Their most famed leaders were people like Angela Davis (in California) and Daniel Cohn Bendit, a student leader in France, nicknamed “Dany le Rouge”. The demonstrations were ubiquitous, even in peaceful and wealthy Zurich! What was initially lacking it seemed, was a cause or an issue. While one of my best friends promptly bought Mao’s little red book and brought it to school for all to see, most of us were still learning about the issues: the domino theory, invoked to justify the US involvement in Vietnam, the intractable Israel/Arab conflict, and the subsequent 7 day war, etc. But then, there were those TV images of Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire in Saigon. Very soon the anti-war sentiment was adopted as our cause.
Ultimately, the resistance to the war paid off. With worldwide un-abating demonstrations, the war was ended under President Nixon. Neither the Democratic party nor the Republican party (both had been involved in the war over the years), were able to harness this anti-war movement, which was probably the largest resistance movement in my lifetime. Although the anti-war sentiment was widespread, this was most visibly a movement of young people, often but not always, overlapping with the “hippie” subculture and with those enthralled by the Woodstock music festival.
A quite different example of widespread resistance was the Arab Spring. This movement was concentrated in the Arab/Muslim world. The cause was to overthrow a number of corrupt regimes that people had grown to hate. The demand for regime change and social justice had inclusive appeal, uniting people from different groups in society. The resistance followers were not necessarily defined by their socio-economic status, their age or their politics (religious factions versus pro-western secular factions). The opposition to those in power was the common thread.
Then we had the resistance of the Tea Party which was born the moment the United States elected it’s first African-American President. Republican power brokers met on inauguration day to plot the demise of the Obama presidency. The nascent Tea Party groups were all to eager to join a resistance, which coalesced around the issue of healthcare and the mocking term ‘Obamacare’ was coined. Compared to the anti-war resistance, this was a different demographic: older folks, much more slanted to the political right and, one has to suspect, quite a few people with racist feelings.
Our current anti-Trump resistance is widespread and worldwide! It involves both old and young. It is still struggling to find a single hallmark issue. Because of the tsunami of radical changes imposed by Presidential executive orders it is difficult to choose a single issue. The resistance is, however, united in its strong anti-Trump sentiment. It is too early to tell what will become of it and whether it will survive. Will it be adopt by the Democratic Party, as the Tea Party movement was adopted by the Republicans and ultimately shaped the policies of the Republican party?
Political resistance movements of this magnitude are likely to have consequences. Just like the Vietnam war was ended by the anti-war movement, autocratic regimes were toppled during the Arab Spring, and the US government was shut down by the Tea Party, the anti-Trump resistance will eventually have consequences.