By Charlie Johnston
In my last few pieces, I have written some very sobering things about what we now face and the stark choices we must make. Now it is time to speak a little about how much fun we are going to have acting as heralds of the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart.
I have mentioned that I am at work putting together a national consortium of believers to support each other and help weather the storm together. We will do the normal things – providing resources on the sort of skills each little pocket of believers need to sustain and defend itself, all built around prayer and worship of our God. But we will do much more than this. I am just not a guy who is comfortable working from a fearful, defensive crouch, waiting for the next shoe to drop. We will engage in a lot of activism and street theatre, designed to expose and puncture the pomposity and absurdity of the new cultural and political elite – and in doing so will rally many of the timid into boldly defending the culture that, under God, has produced the most liberty, prosperity, and opportunity for all of any culture in world history.
We assume (properly, I think) that normal people of good will are the majority in our culture. Yet, while those who are too cowed to assert themselves on behalf of the principles they cherish can be an effective reserve, they are not part of a working majority until they have confidence enough to speak and act boldly. The key purpose of any grassroots organization is to fill ordinary people with confidence that their voice counts and that they can prevail. It accomplishes this, in part, by puncturing the pretensions of the ruling class (preferably with a lot of humor).
I am going to digress a bit here to show how this is done in practice. In 1996, I was the primary architect of a radical new Illinois statewide campaign template in a U.S. Senate Republican Primary. It became known as the “Downstate Strategy” and was subsequently adopted by a lot of campaigns. Statewide candidates spent most of their time around Chicago, for the Chicago area constituted about 60 percent of the vote – and gave short shrift to the 96 counties that comprised “downstate” Illinois – as they comprised only 40 percent of the vote. My central insight was that you could split the Chicago area with the “air game,” – TV ads. If you focused on organization downstate and gave the candidate a dominant personal presence there, you could approach 70 percent of the vote in these counties. It was very labor-intensive, but in modern memory, the biggest showing of an actually conservative candidate in a statewide Republican primary was 29 percent. We would have to be very innovative to actually win. (I could be a little grumpy at times: whenever somebody would tell me, “that’s not the way it is done,” I would growl that if I wanted to get 29 percent, I would do it the way everybody always had – but I intended to win.)
There were a bunch of predicates that had to be accomplished to give this any real chance of success, but two were predominant. First, you had to unify the usually fractious conservatives. Campaigns would always deal with them in discrete sub-groups. Our primary conservative base included Christian conservatives, home schoolers, gun guys, pro-lifers and, somewhat counter-intuitively, bikers’ rights groups. While I would meet with the groups individually, I absolutely refused to organize them separately. I had divided the state up into 17 regions and was adamant that the coordinator of each must be the best available person who got things done we could find – and ALL groups must work through that coordinator. Most outside observers understood how critical unifying conservatives was – even if they had little understanding of how it was successfully accomplished. At least they knew it was key. The second key predicate was diplomatic outreach to the existing establishment. Few recognized that element. Ideologues are often so consumed with the desire to destroy opponents that they never stop to think that, if you make an opponent into an effective ally, you have destroyed a big pocket of opposition. I knew, if few others did, that if we could not recruit and galvanize big chunks of the existing establishment, we could not win.
I hate the impersonal way most big campaigns are run. Generally, a disembodied voice on the phone from the biggest city in the state gives orders to coordinators in the boonies. The coordinators pretend to do big things and spend WAY too much time producing reports to prove it – and the disembodied voice in the city deceives himself that these reports reflect reality. I made it my ethos to personally be in each region at least once every three weeks. The coordinators were not my toadies; they were my friends and colleagues – and we saw each other regularly. I spent about half my time in the Chicago-area office and half on the road. I did not need a report on how many yard signs were up. I would see for myself very quickly. I would routinely bring the candidate in for intense three-day visits to a region, giving the coordinator only the types of events we wanted. If one would ask me where an event should be, I would ask them how I should know – I didn’t live there. It was up to them to tell me. That was usually the first clue an activist had that we really wanted them to coordinate – not just blindly accept orders and be our scapegoats when something went wrong. My goal was to unleash their creative power and then stand behind them as they exercised it. I told all that, for initiatives that affected the whole state, I would consult them but I had the final say. For initiatives that affected their region only, they should always consult me but I would follow their lead. What a crew of robust activists we put together! I didn’t care about reputations from prior campaigns. I wanted people who got things done and made things happen – and I had a technique for identifying who these people were. A lot of my key people had been shut out by their county establishment. At a gathering of all the coordinators from around the state in the last month of the campaign, one of the coordinators dubbed the group as “Charlie’s No-Name Army.” And so it was. They were magnificent!
I encouraged people to act boldly, but never brashly, and to work for maximum impact – that anything less, starting so far behind, would only lead us to defeat. My guy was a second-term state legislator from the Chicago suburbs, Al Salvi. Our opponent was the sitting Lt. Gov., Bob Kustra – with all the establishment unified behind him. On my first round of calls to the state’s 102 county chairmen, the tally was 1 for us and 101 against us. The first newspaper poll taken in the race showed our opponent at 61 percent and us at two percent. Needless to say, the press corps dismissed us early on as a quixotic vanity campaign. Ah, but Salvi had an engaging wit, plenty of charisma, and beneath the surface we were putting together a formidable organization of truly empowered coordinators. The first hint some of the press got that this hopeless campaign might have a few tricks up its sleeve came with the state fair in 1995. In Illinois, they have a separate Republican Day and Democrat Day at the state fair in Springfield, where all the pols of both parties gather and, usually, make some news. My coordinator for the nine-county region (out of Decatur, not Springfield. Springfield is the capitol of Illinois and is a consummate company town of the establishment), had gotten 18 volunteers to sticker for us at the fair. He figured he would try to get a few more and deploy four a day. I suggested that, instead, he put everybody to work on Republican Day only. The press would be paying attention that day and we wanted to own the day. By noon we did. Wearing the bright red Salvi sticker became the thing. Young girls with their halter tops and short shorts were coming to our volunteers and ASKING for a sticker if they didn’t already have one on. The fair was a sea of red and white (our campaign colors) and the press DID notice. Several pieces in the papers around the state noted that, while Salvi could not possibly win, we might make things more interesting that they thought. After every little victory like that, the local folks would have a little party in the evening cheering and savoring the victory – and get right back to work the next day. Oh, I celebrated those little victories with them dozens of times. In the field, I did next to nothing except let the locals show me how good they were and how much they were doing. My job was to give them all the support they needed and be their crony from the center of the campaign. By the last month before election, we had the open support of about 20 county chairmen and the surreptitious support of 30-40 more.
On election night, a reporter for a group of suburban weeklies called me to get my take on our “loss.” Amidst the cheering in the background, I told her, “What loss? We won.” She was stunned – and had to call back the front page. She did come on down to headquarters to join the party. No one person can accomplish something like that. It requires the successful release of the creative energy of hundreds; it does help to have a person who will empower them to act, to stand behind them when they inevitably mess up from time to time, and to celebrate their successes with them. To act boldly, have fun doing it, and never act brashly (even as you convince your opponents that you are an ungovernable group of wild-eyed fanatics). Illinois has devolved into a leftist hellhole. In the late 90’s I had recognized a critical flaw in the state’s election laws that could ultimately be exploited by the establishment to strangle the nascent conservative movement in its crib and lobbied my friends in the legislature to fix it. I could not get much of anybody to see how critical it was, so no action was taken, and by the early years of the new millennium, the establishment had figured out the flaw, exploited it and crushed the conservative movement, leaving aggressive Democrats and weenie Republicans holding all the levers of real power.
That being said, this is the template we will use for the real resistance to the cultural pre-eminence of a corrupt and incoherent elite class, a class which makes the red queen in “Through the Looking Glass” look like a sober realist. (The queen, you may recall, told Alice that sometimes she believed six impossible things before breakfast.)
We will divide the country up into seven to nine large regions. We will start with willing contacts from across the nation. As events develop, some will become the coordinators of the larger regions, working with coordinators of subdivisions of those regions that they appoint. While it will be focused on prayer, preparation, and helping all who participate, each region and sub-region will develop projects to carry out as a group – projects designed to reveal the absurdity and bullying nature of the opposition. Those will, for the most part, be developed by local regions. Some of the sorts of things we might do are, say, in Michigan, have “Haircuts in the Park.” Get 20 or so barbers and hairstylists with lawn chairs cutting and styling the hair of whoever comes. Let the officials send the police to harass them while ignoring rioting, looting and mayhem elsewhere.
All of our people will treat everyone with respect and good cheer – even those who are oppressing us. The contrast with the petty tyrants will speak volumes – just as the conduct of genuinely peaceful civil rights protesters when I was young indicted the conduct of officials who turned firehoses and set dogs on them indicted those officials before the world – and put an end to systemic racism. (Claims that modern America is systemically racist is a cruel, particularly brutal insult to all those who fought so hard with such dignity to secure the rights of all and realize more fully the traditional American dream)
Each region will keep an index of the skills of the people who are part of our movement – doctors, carpenters, builders, lawyers. Like the earliest Christians, we will care for our neighbor regardless of who he is or whether he agrees with us. That does NOT mean we will enable dysfunction – but we will help the hungry, the sick, the hurt whenever they present themselves to us.
In this dark age, we know we can’t boycott everything that causes offense. But that does not mean we can’t boycott anything. Regional leaders and their teams will look to see what can be most effective in their region. Successful projects will be shared with all regional leaders, to be adapted to their own circumstances. With my team back in the Senate race, our coordinator in the Joliet Region came up with a brilliantly designed and executed pamphlet that simply and clearly laid out the issues. We adopted it for the whole state – with him getting full credit. Our coordinator in the Bloomington Region came up with a great rapid response technique. In the Quincy Region, our coordinator came up with a powerful, and enthusiastic chant template. Our Southwestern coordinator was a genius at coming up with interactive projects. We adapted them all to common use, with dozens of other brilliant ideas developed by regional people who had been empowered. We will do the same here.
Decisions on how to act will be made from rational grounds, not emotional ones. If we launch a boycott – regional or national – it will not be based on who is giving the greatest offense. Rather, it will focus on what gives us the greatest chance of success and what most clearly and easily draws the issues up in a way people will understand and react to. I’m not looking for one big victory early on: I want a hundred little victories. Little victories are the father of later big ones – and they help give heart and stiffen the spines of those who know what is right, but are timid, who worry that they don’t want to be all alone.
In settings where a project may bring down the wrath of the flying monkeys of doom from godless left-wing officials, we will seek volunteers who are willing to be arrested without getting violent. Before we ever mount such a project, there will be a corps of volunteers behind the scenes prepared to put up bail for any so abused and to mount legal defenses of the victims of government abuse – and sue the various jurisdictions for unlawful arrest and Constitutional over-reach.
Far too many honest officials think diplomacy means splitting the difference between competing parties with soothing words. Poppycock! If I have one sweet roll and one of my kids wants it all while the other wants to divide it in half, splitting the difference would mean giving the greedy kid three-quarters and the honorable kid a mere quarter. That is not just. We will be just – and an unreasonable demand will be met with a plain “no.” Some of these same officials mimic the style of righteousness while completely neglecting the substance. When I read most pronouncements by, say, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the style of the pieces tries to mimic the dense prose of St. Thomas Aquinas – but it uses that prose in service of falsehoods that are obvious with a little bit of thought – and that people can feel, if many can’t explain, just aren’t right. The power of the greats comes from the substance of what they communicate – not so much the style in which they communicate it. The great communicators have an amazing capacity of telling people what those people largely already know but can’t express. They get so many followers not so much because they give their audience something new, but because the audience is thrilled at the recognition of what they already knew to be true. Adapting the style of a master in service to sophistries may intimidate those people, but it will never spark the recognition of deeply understood truth in them – so it will always fall flat.
We are committed to justice because we are committed to Christ because we are committed to love. Justice empowers people. To treat mercy as if it should be an exemption from consequences is a poverty: that is the type of mercy that gives an addict a fix or an alcoholic a drink. Mercy is designed to give people a life and a hope. The quality of mercy that gives people a life is true justice – not vengeance, but justice. True justice seeks not to crush people, but to re-direct them to habits of life that bring joy and growth – and away from dysfunctions that lead only to more misery. Aristotle said that to love is to will the good of another. Thus, justice and mercy have nothing to do with enabling and normalizing destructive behavior or wreaking vengeance for past wrongs. Authentic justice and mercy ARE to will the good of another – and a pure, objective form of love.
In a wicked time, truth is subversive. And so we will develop, print and pass out “subversive” pamphlets and flyers. For some college students, it will be the first time they have encountered facts and truth, since entering the indoctrination system that has supplanted education.
Most of our leaders, both political and religious, are eunuchs. But make no mistake, I seek to recruit as much of the establishment as I can. Most of them want, in their deepest selves, for their lives to have real meaning, devoted to a good greater than themselves. They don’t want to go on suicide missions, they fear for their jobs and prestige: for many of them the times when they have spoken boldly they have been left standing alone – by us – who should have been as bold in standing for them as we were in criticizing them. You all know here that I speak plainly. But if my criticism of the timid sometimes seems blunted it is because I see half of them not so much as useless eunuchs, but as future robust and bold allies. The problem is that, for now, I don’t know which are which – so I appeal to all while not refraining from criticism altogether. If we act boldly with prudence, we will hearten many – including many of the timid leaders who we never thought would stand. I want them all.
The anti-God left primarily gets its way by bullying everyone. It has been that way for a long time. From the time I first got deeply involved with David Daleiden on the pro-life battles, I constantly maintained that anytime a group has gotten its way by bullying for long enough, bullying is all it has. When you don’t knuckle under, it flounders – for it has nothing else. This method will expose the bullies among us for the empty shells they are.
As I have worked on the conceptualization of this organization, I realized it will need money. It won’t need much, but it will need some. That is a problem for me, because I have basically lived poverty for over a decade now. Most people of modest means see more money in a month than I do in a year or two. I intend for it to stay that way. My needs are simple. I just don’t have extravagant appetites. But I will lead this organization. My method is not to dictate to people what they must do, but to unleash their own creative capacity to actively work while exhorting them to keep faith with God, to stick with the next right step – and it is a largely unique method. So I will establish a small board which will make all decisions involving money, its raising and its administration, while I stick to policy and leadership in all other areas. Any requests I make for living and operational expenses will be made public every year. (For heavens sake, please don’t send money now. I would not have a clue to what to do with it – and it will not be my affair anyway.)
Over the next few weeks you will be given opportunities to join the group as a contact from your region. Over the next few months, you will be given more information on the structure of the organization. By the end of the summer, we will be up and running – operational at all levels. I could use people who have real expertise in interactive databases. If you have something to offer, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Forgive me: plan to wait a week or even a little more for a response. My email traffic is off the charts even without publicly giving an address.
The left always admires the idea of speaking truth to power. We have truth, they have power. And power is about to get a belly full of truth.
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