Forty years ago today, the Sandinistas deposed the Nicaraguan dictator Somoza. I have no memory of that particular moment in 1979. When I think of 1979's most important historic moment, I think of the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Iran.
Both of those events had profound influences in the 1980's and beyond.
I could make the argument that the events sparked by the Sandinista victory led us to where we are today with the humanitarian crisis on the border between the U.S. and Mexico. I have distinct memories of President Reagan trying to make us all scared of Communists swarming up from the South and taking over Texas. At the time, most of us assumed that Reagan envisioned an armed invasion, not the kind of movement that we see today of people looking to build new lives in the U.S.
I had no doubt that Texans could have taken care of that kind of armed attack. I often wonder if the Sandinistas hadn't won, would Reagan have been able to manipulate our fears as easily? I don't think so, but humans are easily manipulated by fear, so I could be wrong.
I've been thinking about our current moment of resistance and past time periods too. I'm writing a dystopian novel that takes place not far in the future, but I have a vision of exploring past resistance movements too.
On Tuesday, I was delighted to come across this article in The Nation about the Pledge of Resistance in the 1980s (do an Internet search for Pledge of Resistance, and you'll discover that there have been several). I remember signing the pledge, but would I have really followed through if Reagan had launched a military strike? I was a college kid, so I might have; in many ways, college kids have less to lose and less of a sense of consequences, and in that, I was no different.
The Pledge of Resistance was different than past pledges. The article says, "But the Central American Pledge of Resistance was unique in linking disobedience to an invasion that had not yet happened. By providing a threat of future action, the pledge bore resemblance to the strike votes taken by unions to show unity and demonstrate workers’ readiness to walk off the job. 'The innovation in the ’80s was that the pledge had a trigger event,' explained Jeremy Brecher, a social movement historian. 'It was a very creative way of establishing a nonviolent deterrent.'”
This social justice movement of the 1980's accomplished amazing things, which so few people remember. It was peaceful and less heirarchal than movements of the 60's--and those two factor probably contributed to the success of the movement.
How do I define success? After all, you could argue the fact that we have so many people fleeing those countries in 2019 is because of the failure of the 1980's. I could point to any number of government policy failures that have led us to this moment; are social justice movement failures more to blame than the various governments that have failed in so many ways? I would argue no.
In fact, I would argue that without the social justice movements of the 80's, our current situation would be worse. We might be involved in a decades long hot war, the way we are in the Middle East, if the Pledge of Resistance and other movements hadn't convinced the Reagan administration to back off on threats to invade Central American countries.
As a student in the 1980's, I remember wondering if we made any sort of difference as we protested, as we resisted, as we supported those who did more, like Jubilee Partners who got Central American refugees safely to Canada where they were more likely to win their asylum claims. When I moved to South Florida and had a chance to talk to some of those people who had fled Central America in the 1980's, people who had gone on to build better lives here, I concluded that we did make a difference.
Hopefully future generations will look back on these days of the Trump administration and be able to take courage from what we managed to accomplish.