Source: Waging Nonviolence
The growth of white supremacy and fascism has been noticeable in a number of countries lately, prompting the question: What can we learn from each other? Each country might find “best practices” elsewhere that could be applied at home, in addition to learning from its own past successes.
Americans might be especially drawn to the Swiss example because what has been working for that country addresses not only our current immigration crisis but also the need among progressive U.S. movements to re-learn how to go on the offensive.
According to Flavia Kleiner, a young leader in the movement Operation Libero, the right wing grew steadily for two decades in Switzerland using the issue of immigration. The right-wingers cleverly introduced a series of modest anti-immigrant initiatives — each of which contained some common-sense logic — and used their successes to become the largest political force in Switzerland.
My impression is that the Swiss right-wing’s strategy was like the movement against reproductive choice in the United States — a series of steps designed to chip away at a woman’s right to choose. Switzerland’s established parties reacted to this offensive in the way the Democrats do in the United Sates: by going on the defensive and trying to hold on to previously-won gains. In both countries, the largest parties operate contrary to the folk wisdom that “the best defense is a good offense.”
Kleiner and her friends, however, knew better, and they launched a grassroots initiative. Their crowd-funded, volunteer-based campaign defeated the Swiss People’s party in four major referendum battles from 2016-2018.
Operation Libero did this by ignoring the established parties’ strategy of defending existing immigration policies. Instead, the movement put forward a vision that stressed Switzerland’s progressive values. In their cultural context, they framed the vote as an affirmation of their pluralist constitution, “a pillar of the liberal democracy” that the vast majority of Swiss are proud of. They were so effective at re-framing the referenda that the right wing had to change its own argument and go on the defensive. As a result, the anti-immigrant cause lost its referendum for the fifth time in November.
Can individuals also go on the offensive?
In Denmark, where neo-fascism has been on the rise, Sherin Khankan was getting abusive letters and implied death threats. She led the Mariam mosque in Copenhagen, and was the first female imam, or cleric, in Danish Islam.
From her start in February 2016, she knew her position would arouse controversy in that country. She also expected to be pressured from inside Islam, since one of her major objectives was to use her leadership to challenge patriarchal structures in religious institutions. The result: she didn’t know who would have her back.