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5 Ways Buddhists Can Counter Trump’s Bigotry

We need something more concrete than an idea,
and more alive than a program.

~ Thomas Merton

Dear practitioners: time to talk strategy!

As Buddhists or spiritual people committed to justice, what will we do about hateful, ultra-conservative, quasi-fascist movements like the rise of Donald Trump?

For a while now, I’ve been hearing growing interest among progressive Buddhists in attending Trump rallies near us. (Shoutout to the bodhisattva Buddhist activist Maia Duerr and the very interesting Facebook group she moderates called Sangha In The Streets (SITS!). It seems the hope is to somehow influence the atmosphere, even in a tiny way — or at least to not remain passive. After last night’s protests that ultimately shut down Trump’s Chicago rally, I’d love broach a more in-depth tactical and strategic conversation. How might we approach a progressive intervention into these hatred-charged spaces?

Here are 5 concrete ways that Buddhists alarmed by Trump’s ascendency might try to do something about it.

1. Donate to Free the Chicago Protesters

Simple and useful. In the spirit of dana (generosity), mudita (sympathetic joy), or good old solidarity, you can send material love and support to the Chicago Trump protesters by donating here.

Pros: No direct confrontation. For those with certain types of PTSD, trouble with large crowds, or greater consequences for risking arrest, you can still support activists who put their bodies on the line.

Cons: Giving online is beautiful, but can also feel a little alienating. Depending on your situation, it might also be hard on the wallet. A nice supplement or substitute might be taking the time to write a love note or postcard and send it to the Chicago Community Bond Fund, expressing your personal gratitude to protesters.

2. Help Shut Down a Trump Rally Near You

Chicago represents a milestone in Trump bird-dogging not only because of the sheer number of protesters, but because they disrupted the rally — loudly and forcefully — to the point of shutting it down. They had a clear goal, and they achieved it. If it suits you, you can try to find out which groups in your area would like to accomplish something similar, and try to gather numbers big enough to make it happen.

Pros: Highly engaging. Un-welcoming Trump’s brand of bigotry in your region, and risking the ire / assault of his supporters, might be a form of compassionate confrontation that cascades in a series of positive effects — from bonding with fellow protesters to sending a firm, clear message worldwide. And if you’re a member of one of the groups he’s been demonizing — Muslims, Mexicans, Black folks, poor folks, women… a lot of us — it might feel especially empowering to block the billionaire’s platform for preaching hate.

Cons: Highly enraging. When force meets force, things tend to escalate. Trump rallies are, by nature and design, events of intense, highly-charged spectacle and mass activity. As protest against them increases, I think many of us worry that his supporters’ pushback could get someone killed, inside or outside an official event.

3. Protest In Smaller Doses To Keep Up the Pressure

Previous interruptions at Trump rallies have succeeded in piercing the program *enough,* with sufficient vigor, to register and document the aggressive responses of Trump and his supporters. This builds a record of the threat, and has come close (arguably) to exposing Trump’s activities as incitement to violence: technically a crime.

Yesterday news commentator Rachel Maddow compiled a timeline showcasing Trump’s encouragements of violence at his rallies in recent months.

Pros: More doable. Requires fewer people, and builds on the larger context of pressure, now that scrutiny on all Trump’s rallies will likely heighten.

Cons: Still scary, and might fan the flames. Again: these rallies are designed to be loud and aggressive affairs, so action must be assertive in some sense to get attention. Trump fans seem to feed on the energy of protesters getting muscled out of the arena. One pro-Trump rallier was recently charged with assault after sucker-punching a protester (a Black man) as he was being pulled out the door by security. Watch the video above for footage of that attack.

4. Share A Narrative

Then you have folks whose aim is not to disrupt the rally directly, but to document the event (particularly interactions with the crowd) from an outsider’s perspective. Young white liberals have described attending a Trump rally as a joke, thinking it’d be good for a laugh, and leaving feeling nauseated and scared by the vitriol of the crowd. Muslim activists in St. Louis offered free donuts to Trump ralliers standing in line to enter the event, trying to maintain a cheerful disposition despite being screamed at in some instances.

Muslim Wielding Doughnuts Fight Hate at STL Trump Rally. We gave away over 300 doughnuts & met 1,000 + people. Please Like & Share 2 Min Video.

Posted by Faizan Syed on Friday, March 11, 2016

Pros: Least risky form of attendance. Maybe you’ll strike up conversation with a few people there; maybe not. Your main audience will likely be the folks you recount the experience to afterward (by video, writing, or conversation), and among these, the people closer to you on the spectrum of allies might respect that you went to see things firsthand, for yourself.

Cons: Honestly I’m not sure how useful this tactic is at this point. Thanks in part to the Chicago protesters, most folks familiar with Trump will probably solidify their opinion about violence at his rallies. The firsthand narratives of Buddhists may not really change anyone’s mind one way or the other. I could be wrong about that, though. Not yet fully awakened; no powers of omniscience. :)

5. Find Other Ways to Relate to Pro-Trump People

Last night on Facebook, reflecting on the electric beauty of Chicago, I wrote this:

trump billionaire bites


Fanciful, sure. A bit of a joke. But I’ve been reading Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan lately, and I do wonder.

In meditation practice, I’ve heard teachers prescribe different techniques for dealing with the Five Hinderances that throw us off our center: craving, aversion, sleepiness, restlessness, and doubt. The remedies are category-specific; we have different tools and techniques for handling different challenges. If we’re sleepy and we can change our body position to a more alert one (like sitting up if we’re lying down, or standing if we’re sitting), that might help. If we’re overwhelmed with lustful feelings, we can meditate on all the pus, blood, and phlegm in the body, the stages of decomposition of a corpse, and other un-lusty stuff.

What we don’t do is dissolve aversion by getting mad at ourselves for being distracted. That would just be layering on more aversion, more disgust. And we don’t overcome craving by diving headlong into elaborate fantasies about how much better life will be, once we improve our powers of concentration.

A lot of folks seem to be saying that the only way to deal with violent bigots and proto-fascists is to shut them down. Perhaps in a pacifist manner, perhaps using minimum force for self defense, or with a more militant approach. And I get it, 100%. One side of my family has dealt with anti-Black terrorism in the Americas; the other side dealt with the Holocaust of Jews in Europe. In Trump we are witnessing a very serious collective manifestation of racist, sexist, ableist, xenophobic hatred. His attitudes, particularly if they gain traction with the military segment of U.S. conservatives, are bone-chilling, if not entirely shocking. (Who could honestly be shocked by U.S. violence and fundamentalism at this point?)

But it’s precisely the seriousness of the threat that makes me wonder about expanding our vocabulary of response. Would shutting down all Trump rallies help to quell the violent fanaticism of his candidacy? I’m not so sure.

The Buddha taught:

Never indeed is hatred stilled by hatred;

it will only be stilled by non-hatred —

this is an eternal law.


The translation, by Ven. K. Piyatissa Thera, interests me because it doesn’t say anything about “love.” What would it mean if we didn’t have to “love” oppressors (or would-be oppressors) in order to “still” or neutralize their harmful behaviors? What would it mean to approach Trump’s scalding, steaming fanaticism not only by disrupting it, but also by trying to cool it down? Not in a snide, patronizing way, and not in a wishy-washy, magical-thinking way, either.

Honestly, when I think of the forces powerful enough to overcome extreme human belligerence, what comes to mind are snacks and soothing sedatives. (Self-chosen, of course.)

That, and another human being to vent to, who takes our frustrations seriously, even if they disagree.

This also means, I think, that if anyone is going to take on the responsibility, and risk, of attempting to genuinely connect with Trump fans… it should probably be white people. Maybe even white folks who can relate to the conditions that might drive a person to support Trump. Kind of like Veterans Against War… Reformed Conservatives Against Narcissistic Trump? (ReCANT?)


Regardless, it’s not only a matter of practicality to defeat Trump’s views. It’s also a matter of healing, of growing, as we defeat them. Selecting our modes of resistance — not in a “more convenient season,” or according to “another man’s timetable,” to paraphrase Dr. King — but according to our own chosen ways of being, is also a matter of asserting and cultivating dignity. Of evolving, personally and politically.


What do you think? How would you like to see Buddhists confronting bigotry, inside or outside of Trump’s rallies?

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Comments (16)

  • Joey King

    I am also a member of Veterans For Peace and we have a Veterans Challange Islamopobia campaign that has protested Trump rallies. We have also been outreaching to Muslims at the chapter level.

    I was initially for protesting at Trump rallies, but have been questioning that strategy of late, especially after the shut-down in Chicago. Did the protesters change one mind in Chicago? I doubt it. In fact, they may have had the opposite effect.

    Would a silent vigil be more effective in changing minds?

  • Katie Loncke

    Hi Joey! Veterans Challenging Islamophobia sounds like an important element of coalition struggle, for sure. Thank you for the work you’re doing.

    I feel you on the polarizing nature of shutdowns, but I actually do think it’s effective in changing minds. Maybe not those of Trump supporters. But thanks to the combination of the protest and the media coverage of Trumps entire *pattern* of inciting his followers to violence against protesters, I think it helps create a climate where “moderates” and people in the middle have a harder time pretending to be neutral. That’s what the goal of a lot of polarizing actions is, I think — including many of MLK’s civil rights movement actions.

    In the same vein, much like the replicability of certain civil rights movement tactics (especially the lunch counter sit-ins, but other ones, too), I think Chicago contributes to changing minds about what’s possible to *accomplish* given enough anti-hate protesters at a Trump rally. (i.e. shutting said rally down.) So I personally feel it’s inspiring and healing to see these images, particularly of Black and Brown folks, in unity with each other and white allies, courageously reclaiming space. This is a form of changing minds that expands what we believe is possible.

    Finally, I think it’s interesting to note that a lot of pundits are contrasting Trump’s reactions to protesters with Sanders’ and Clinton’s responses to their own protesters. I don’t think any of them have been marvelous across the board, but we have seen Sanders, at least in one instance, yielding the mic to Black Lives Matter protesters in Seattle. The more traction this Trump-violent-rally phenomenon gets, the more favorable comparisons I think we’ll see against Sanders. Clinton, probably not so much. She’s been really awful with her public statements lately, anyway.

    When you think about this larger collection of minds to be changed, does it sway you one way or the other about the value of Chicago’s shutdown? If not that’s totally fine, we can agree to disagree. :)

  • césar

    A timely post, as always, Katie. Thank you. This is been quite a primary. The GOP debates have reminded me of the old Jerry Springer Show. As a Buddhist, I would say how will I confront negative emotions, inside. I remember seeing a film about the great Tibetan teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. In the tumultuous early 70’s, (Sound familiar?) during a talk he was giving, a student asked about what to do about the government dropping bombs and starting wars, beating up protesters and all this aggression? Rinpoche, noticing this individuals own state of mind looked at him and said, “I want to talk about the aggression in this room right now.” So profound. These experiences are a mirror for us. A blessing. What is our own state of mind during these times? Is it consumed by the poisons? Anger, desire, ignorance?
    Honestly, I’m not certain how beneficial the protesters involved at Trump rallies are. I don’t know their intentions, cannot read their minds. But I see a lot of aggression from both sides. I’m not talking about physical. Sadly, it’s become physical from the Trump supporters, and I directly attribute that to his incendiary rhetoric. Imagine if an official of Black Lives Matters said some of things he says like punching someone in the face or knock the hell out of him? I feel that it’s not productive to enter his rallies and protest. I wonder if the message is being heard. We know we hear it. We believe it. But his supporters? They are stuck in this frame of mind already. What seems to be happening now is that they are being agitated. And now, because they feel they have permission, are able to strike the protesters. It turns into a circus. A Jerry Springer show. People of intelligence, compassion, reasoning, know what needs to be done. Get out and vote. Mobilize. We can protest outside. We can protest on social media. We can have marches and rallies denouncing this rhetoric. And what will we do when a Trump supporter infiltrates our marches and rallies? As you wonderfully quoted the Buddha, “Never indeed is hatred stilled by hatred”. Recently here in So Cal, their was a KKK rally. Imagine that. It was a disaster as protesters began to attack the KKK. People were hurt. A few stabbed. As I watched the videos of the madness, it was obvious who the aggressors were. This was an example of trying to still hatred, with hatred. I choose to confront my own negative states, with love and compassion. And trust that beneficial activity will come from this. Organically.

    Thanks Katie,
    lots of love

  • Katie Loncke

    Oh, second thing: in my experience, silent vigils are *easily* drowned out and lose their impact in a crowd that big, that loud, and that antagonistic. From what I’ve seen, they seem to work best when there are (1) a ton of participants, and (2) not too much competing hubub. Or if they involve people positioning their bodies in some kind of subversive way, like the lunch counter sit-in, again, or a blockade. A lot of times, too, I feel like people get incensed when confronted with silent opponents, like the silent ones are being snooty. Have you seen silent vigils in the midst of hostile opponents that seemed effective to you?

  • Katie Loncke

    césar, appreciating your stories and wisdom, thank you so much! Seems like we were commenting simultaneously.

    You know, it’s really interesting: having been to a number of Black Lives Matter and black liberation actions lately, even though there is anger present many times, for sure, I have to say that there is also much more nuance in the emotional tenor, and a TON of love, in my experience. At times it’s almost like the love for one another completely eclipses any anger we might feel toward the cops, or city council, or whoever is the ‘target’ or opponent. I think people are so thirsty for these experiences of true collective empowerment. And then, we can also learn to read and discern when the loudness and outcry of the moment is meeting violence with violence, versus when it is meeting violence with a tsunami of loud, unapologetic love — claiming the space to be human in this moment.

    So I don’t know, I feel torn a lot of the time. Many people in my activist community cheered the attacks on the KKK rally. I can understand preferring these counterattacks to just lamenting the KKK while it continues to function. I hope we can stay creative and effective, to stymie the forces of oppression without having to rely on, or resort to, vengeful motivations. But that takes so much work! :) I want to see more of what it looks like.

    deep bows and much love to you,

  • césar

    Thank you for your sharing your insights Katie. And thank you for your work in social activism. I’m very grateful for all your posts. May you always have good conditions for your work and practice to flourish and benefit everyone.

    Deep bows and love to you as well,
    May confusion dawn as wisdom.

  • Katie Loncke

    Likewise, césar, what beautiful well-wishing. Thank you for your wisdom! Deep bows and big hugs.

  • Maia Duerr

    Love this. Thank you, Katie et al. And… this may be helpful for organizing purposes — Mr. T’s campaign event schedule:

  • David Keller

    Thank you for this timely and thought-provoking column and responses.

    Given that many of the protesters are angry, fearful and rightfully expressing objection and indignation at Trump’s messages and his incitement of the millions of his supporters, it is imperative that rallies and protests remain non-violent.

    When, not ‘if,’ mutual violence is unleashed, the entire drama changes, and it will be very difficult to calm people down again. That will be very unfortunate, as the messages will become even further inflamed. I would not be surprised, given our own political history, if provocateurs lead the charge.

    Trump is extremely adept at corralling his supporters’ anger and fear, and upleveling the campaigns can throw things into a maelstrom that will be difficult to untangle. I speak from my fears on this; and I am hoping that with sufficient guidance from ‘the adults in the room’ that this can be avoided.

    Changing minds in politics? Emotions, identity, allegiances, history all play an important role, in ways that are far more powerful than ideas.

    Witnessing of Trump and his many supporters will be very valuable, so that other citizens and voters can notice, take heed, and chose more clearly the paths they wish to go on.

  • Kogen 古 元

    Thank you for this! What a breath of fresh air this morning. Hope to see you guys this summer at Tassajara, should interesting depending on timing.

  • Katie Loncke

    Thanks, all! Hi Maia, David, and Kogen! :) I’ve so appreciated reading folks’ thoughts here and on Facebook. And yes, Kogen, Dawn and I will be coming to teach for a couple of days in May! Hope we run into you.


  • brian brackney

    First off as a matter of principle I am opposed to violating the free speech rights of people no matter how vicious and repugnant their views may be. I will concede that donald trump is vicious but confrontation has only played into his hands.
    Donald trump is a symptom of a very serious problem> that for over a generation progressive politics has existed at the margins of american life and progressives are largely responsible for this.
    very little if any progressive culture is mainstream progressives are intolerant of internal dissent. How many progressive artists have you heard on mainstream radio? Why is the pacifica radio network on life support and has weeks often months long fund drives.
    The only explanation the left offers these days is a paternalistic insulting suggestion that ordinary americans are stupid people brainwashed by the corporate media. The result is resentment against progressives and a situation where someone like donald trump becomes the default leader.
    i am voting for bernie sanders. At the end of the day progressives must be more self critical. We can criticise the american past without reverting to As one political scientist put it Seeing america as the’evil empire” seeing it as americans viewed the soviets during the cold war.
    We need a realistic program not utopian romantic fantasies the list could go on.,
    finally anti-intellectualism is also a problem on the left it must be dealt with

  • AC

    Obviously noone has considered the following:

    1) the bigots are those who do nothing about the criminal activity in the black community, like the loss of lives of innocent children not involved in drive by shooting yet in an uproar when the people who actually were involved in the shooting are arrested. Where’s the justice for those innocents? Where’s the black lives matters group over those poor souls?

    Speaking of black lives matters movement, that brings me to point # 2

    2) It is a hate group. It blames police and everyone else for the arrest of those who have actually done wrong (including killing of innocents, children included, in drive by shootings and drug deals gone wrong) rather than take the blame for what was done.

    3) In light of #2, that not only makes black lives matter movement a hate group, it also makes them racist.

    4) Nothing was ever accomplished blaming everyone except yourself when you are the one who did wrong and this encompasses everyone of every heritage.

    5) There’s only one race in humanity & that’s the human race. All the rest is heritage; not race. To say anything to the contrary is racist.

  • AC

    One more comment relating to # 1 of my previous comment ….

    Chicago & the high mortality & crime rate amongst just black community alone is never address by black lives matters.

    When that whole cesspool of crime is cleaned up & blacks show to themselves their own darn lives matter, then, we’ll see a huge change in so many things. It’ll be like going back to the 60s & 70s when blacks actually felt their lives mattered.

  • Katie Loncke

    Hi AC.

    Your comments are incredibly racist, and frankly I’m not interested in dealing with them or educating you at the moment, beyond to remind you that intra-racial crime is the norm among all racial groups, not something specific to Black communities. If you’re truly interested in an anti-racist education from a Buddhist perspective (which I frankly doubt), White Awake might be a good organization to start with.

    But rather than deleting your comments, I want to leave them up as a reminder to other non-Black Buddhist folks of what we’re dealing with here. Thank you for illustrating many of the common misunderstandings so well, including:

    * Since race is a social construction, not a biological fact, its impacts are not “real” and our best bet is to pretend that race and racism do not exist. In fact, referring to race as if it matters makes us racist.

    * We should not talk about structural racism or anti-Blackness until Black people as a whole become “perfect victims” or conform to dominant social standards of respectability.

    * Black people have no right to complain about structural violence when they, too, commit violence.

    * Non-Black people should be able to dictate the terms of all Black people’s liberation struggles.

    These wrong views are incredibly common, and you’ve laid them out very clearly, so for that, I thank you.

    deep bows,

  • Surak

    AC: “Where’s the justice for those innocent [children]? Where’s the black lives matters group over those poor souls?”

    KL: “Your comments are incredibly racist.”

    Is that what Buddhism taught you to say to people who care about the slaughter of children? You ought to look over the Five Precepts again.

    And you can’t comprehend why Trump is faring so well. Based on your policy comments, I take it you will be grieving when President Trump lowers the crime rate and the unemployment rate by enforcing existing law on immigration. No wonder the left is so marginalized, as brian brackney tried to explain.

    And that is what BFP is, after all – a political movement dressed in saffron.

© 2017 Buddhist Peace Fellowship

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