Berry Craig on confrontation that works Skip to content

Berry Craig on confrontation that works

6 min read

My recent musing on the Wilkinson v. Sanders confrontation prompted some interesting questions from FK editor-webmaster Bruce Maples.

In case you missed the column, I suggested that by not serving Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Virginia café owner Stephanie Wilkinson “unwittingly enabled the viper to play the victim.” I described Sanders as “among the most shameless of Trump courtiers.”

The kerfuffle has sparked a lively debate among those of us whose politics lean leftward. Some say Wilkinson was right to show Sanders the door, politely, because she shares her boss’s unbridled bigotry and shamelessly parrots his lies to the press. Thus, Wilkinson took a principled stand.

Her stand was principled. Sanders is a bigot and a serial dissembler like Trump.

Even so, others of us argue that Wilkinson, however unintentionally, gave Team Trump ammo to shoot back at us. Right on cue, Sanders played the martyr card.

I’m with a different Sanders, the senator from Vermont. (I felt the Bern in the May, 2016, primary before switching to HRC in the general election.)

“What I want to do is win,” he recently said on All in With Chris Hayes. Me, too.

Added Sanders: “I want to move this country in a radically different direction than Donald Trump is, and I’m not sure that yelling at somebody in a restaurant is the way to do it.”

He meant protesters who heckled Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen at a Washington restaurant.

Sanders said the way to derail the Trump train “is exactly the way Alexandria [Ocasio-Cortez] did it; it’s the way that Ben Jealous did it. It’s getting involved in grassroots politics; it is supporting progressive candidates; it is mobilizing people and it is winning elections.”

The way to derail the Trump train is not yelling at people in restaurants. It is getting involved in grassroots politics; it is supporting progressive candidates; it is mobilizing people and it is winning elections.Click To Tweet

Amen. Now to on to Bruce’s questions.

Bruce’s questions, and Berry’s answers, on confrontation

  1. Is there a difference between being civil/uncivil in a one-on-one encounter and being civil/uncivil in a corporate setting?

No matter the setting, reasonable people would define physically or verbally assaulting somebody as uncivil. In word or deed, violence is the ultimate incivility. Clobbering somebody is also against the law, unless it’s self-defense.

So, what about public taunting? Protesters also razzed Sen. Mitch McConnell when he left a Louisville eatery the other day. Like Paul Vitti in Analyze This, I’m conflicted.

To be sure, Nielsen and McConnell are as venal as their president, who shamelessly panders to racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, nativism, militarism, unbridled avarice and religious hatred. The secretary and the senate majority leader are jesters to the court of King Leer, who’s making the White House the white house.

Hence, there’s a good case to be made that Nielsen and McConnell deserved the heckling. On the other hand, does verbally roughing up an opponent—even ones as odious as Sanders, Nielsen and McConnell—turn off some swing voters?

Earlier this year, thousands of Kentuckians rallied at the Capitol to exercise their constitutional right to protest peacefully. GOP Gov. Matt Bevin’s response was uncivil. He popped his cork, claiming that while teachers were in Frankfort denouncing the Republican pension-busting legislation, their students were out of school doing drugs and getting molested. The Bevin administration also acted uncivilly by limiting access to the Capitol by the Poor People’s Campaign. (Attorney General Andy Beshear issued an opinion saying that the restriction is illegal.)

  1. For those who disagree with the actions of the Red Hen manager, is using non-violent civil disobedience also out of bounds? Doing things like blocking traffic will also make people mad at you, I would think.

I’m all in for non-violent civil disobedience. It worked with Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the latter a Gandhi admirer. Gandhi forced the British out of India. MLK and the civil rights movement he helped lead resulted in landmark federal legislation aimed at ending long years of Jim Crow apartheid in the South and in border states like Kentucky.

I reported on the peaceful demonstrations in Frankfort for Forward Kentucky and for the Kentucky State AFL-CIO. (I’m the webmaster-editor.) I went inside the Capitol with the Poor People’s Campaign in protest against the two-at-a-time-only rule. Police stopped the crowd at the metal detectors.

Nobody tried to shove past the officers; everybody sat down and prayed. The two protesters allowed in tried to deliver a list of grievances to Bevin. Another officer stopped them at a velvet rope in the governor’s office and threatened to arrest them if they crossed over. They left the document with an employee and walked away. The rest of the crowd also filed out quietly.

Doubtless, Bevin would have welcomed a confrontation so he could discredit the protesters. The group showed no inclination to accommodate him.

So, who do you think got the good press? If you think it was Bevin, see me about some oceanfront property in Kansas. I’ll sell it to you cheap.

  1. And finally, for persons on both sides of the discussion: At what point do we move from our current position (whatever it is) to a more confrontational position?

Immediately. On his Hardball show the other night, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews says it’s time for the Democrats to play hardball.

He’s not calling for us to take to the barricades and start prying up cobblestones to hurl at cops and troops. He wants Senate Democrats to start by steeling their spines against Trump’s Supreme Court pick who will probably make the right-wing Anthony Kennedy seem like a Bolshevik.

Confrontation in Kentucky

We in Kentucky are already playing hardball and not just in Frankfort. Here are two examples from my neck of the western Kentucky woods.

The Comer town hall

A year ago, tea party-tilting Congressman James Comer, R-Tompkinsville, hosted a town hall meeting in Benton. He wanted to tout his support for repealing the Affordable Care Act. Since Benton is deep in Trump country, Comer probably figured he’d be preaching to the choir.

But when local Democrats heard about the conclave, they and others spread the word by phone, email and social media. The house was packed—with Democrats and kindred spirits. Kay Tillow of Kentuckians for Single Payer drove 236 miles from Louisville.

The crowd didn’t boo, jeer, or try to shout down Comer. But the questions were anything but softball. Almost everybody cheered the questions; few applauded his answers. The congressman got so frustrated that he blurted that if the ACA wasn’t repealed, we’d get single-payer health care. The crowd made the rafters ring with cheers and clapping. Comer was gobsmacked.

The Murray women’s march

In late 2016, a pair of retired Murray State professors—Peter Murphy and his wife, Sarah Gutwirth—were in a slough of despond over Trump’s election. (Weren’t we all?) In keeping with the old union admonition—“Don’t mourn, organize!” the couple got busy lining up support for a sister march to the Jan. 21, 2017, Women’s March on Washington. Murray is also Trump territory. But about 800 people showed up, many of them my union brothers and sisters.


Peaceful civil disobedience is more than marching and protesting. It’s also boycotts—we in labor have a long list of anti-union businesses we don’t patronize and organizations we don’t join. We have a similar list of union or union-friendly firms and groups we do support.

The best confrontation method

But the most powerful peaceful, non-violent protests come at the ballot box. Recently, Democrat John Kerry, the former Massachusetts senator, secretary of state, and my 2004 presidential choice, lamented that only 54 percent of registered voters cast ballots for president in 2016.

Less than 31 percent of Kentuckians who could vote did vote in the 2015 governor’s election.

I suspect most FK readers are regular voters and activists, too.

So, what’s the best way to confront Republicans (and Democrats who are Republicans in all but the party label)? Don’t vote for them.

Get behind candidates who share our values. Don’t just vote for them. Volunteer for them. Go door-to-door. Staff phone banks, pass out leaflets, use social media, and do whatever else it takes. Register people to vote, encourage them to vote, and vote yourself.

Registering voters was a big part of the civil rights movement.

Bruce wrapped up: I don’t think these are idle questions. Each of us, I think, is going to have to answer them for ourselves … and I suspect, sooner rather than later.”

Agreed. I’m wide open to ideas. But my bottom line is the same as Bernie Sanders and Bear Bryant’s, though I’m not an Alabama football fan: “Winning isn’t everything, but it beats coming in second.”

You don’t win by helping the other side, however unwittingly. You lose when you fumble the pigskin, literally or metaphorically.


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