PLan de Paris (C. 1900) — Louis Bretez 

Build a Shared Vision with Collaborative Sketching

Out of a silent and subtle mystery emerge images

Defending The Wrong Thing

Something used to trouble me. As I presented design documents to my team they would focus on minor details rather than the big picture. The question of whether a loading spinner should appear in the center or top left of a dialogue became more critical than if the feature to be built was compelling for a user in the first place. People would say things like “I would expect to see….” or “I like it when…”. What about what the customers would expect? What about what the customers like? I felt like I was defending my ideas, constantly. I needed more collaboration from my team members.

A Better Way

Through collaborative sketching (design charrettes), my role as designer has evolved into a more meaningful activity: helping the team understand what we are making, and why people want it.

The Design Charrette

Charrette literally means “chariot” in French. Back in the early 19th century on the streets of Paris, France, student architects were seen frantically sketching last-minute details for their final presentations in the school cart (charrette). The term “charrette” befittingly recalls the fact that teams often make important decisions at the last possible moment.


Designers, Product Managers, Developers (the team) should all participate in the charrette. When charrettes are frequent and the team co-located, some team members may prefer to focus on their current activity. Totally fine, but the designer and product manager may decide that those who have the necessary context should attend.


These rules ensure a safe, creative, and free-flowing environment:

  1. Engage with an open mind
  2. Check your ego at the door
  3. Leave your preconceptions behind
  4. Listen, then respond
  5. Acknowledge the contributions of others
  6. All ideas have value
  7. Begin with the end in mind
  8. Ensure the problem that brought you all together is better understood when you part

Other Teams

When people who work outside of your daily team learn about the design charrettes, they will probably ask if they can join. The opportunity to allow outsiders to catch a glimpse of how your team collaborates will increase the visibility of the problems you are trying to solve. In every case I have seen this play to the team’s advantage since most teams within an organization share similar goals as well as barriers to innovation. The increased transparency will lead to better decision-making and organization-wide recognition of interesting solutions to common problems.

Tools and Materials

Sharing works best when the right tools are provided.

These tools are required:

  1. Black sharpies
  2. 8½×11 printer stock

These tools are optional:

  1. Transparencies for communicating state changes on a UI
  2. Blue, red, or green sharpies
  3. Scissors for making shapes out of the paper and transparencies

Division of Labor

In a smaller 5-8 person charrette the designer should be able to frame the context, pass around materials, and play time keeper. In larger 8+ person charrettes the designer will require assistance with dividing the group up into smaller manageable groups. The groups should hava a balance of roles and specialties.


The convergent-divergent nature of the charrette ensures many ideas are generated very rapidly. Time-box each iteration of sketching and feedback phases to maximize the 1–2 hours an effective charrette requires. The goal is not quality. The goal is a high quantity of ideas.

Begin by framing the problem at-hand. Spend around 5–15 minutes describing and framing the problem that brought everyone together. At minimum, an effective design problem describes:

  1. A precise definition of the activity context
  2. The participant(s) in the activity context
  3. The outcome(s) of the activity context

Creating an activity diagram together, prior to sketching solutions, will increase the shared understanding of the activity context. This understanding will invariably lead to relevant questions and proposed solutions during the sketching activity.

Don’t worry about being too specific. Any pertinent details will emerge during the charrette. This is called inquiry through design.

Iteration One

Ask the group(s) to generate 5 ideas in 5 minutes. In this first iteration, individuals should be sketching independently. People should not talk during this first phase of the activity. Sketching 5 ideas in 5 minutes will get people warmed up and allow the fuzzy and naive solutions to release out in the open.

When the 5 minutes are up, tell everyone to put their sharpies down. Each individual in the group (or groups) now have 2 minutes to describe their ideas at a high level. The 2 minute time limit for each person will ensure everyone gets the opportunity to share their ideas. Let people know they will have more chances to refine their ideas if the charrette stays within the time limits.

After each person has shared their ideas, ask everyone else if they have questions or feedback regarding the ideas. When it appears the conversations have reverted to solution-finding, move on to the next person and ask them to share. Remember, all ideas have value.

Iteration Two

Ask the group members (or each group) to generate at least 2 solutions in 15 minutes. In this iteration, the group members can talk openly and even ask detailed questions of the designer and/or product manager as they talk through and sketch out their ideas. Allowing group members to collaborate ensures a convergence of ideas from the previous iteration.

When the 15 minutes are up, tell everyone to put their sharpies down. If working with multiple groups, choose a group to be the first to present and call the other groups over so everyone can clearly see the sketches and hear the presenters.

Again, allow the group members 2 minutes to describe their ideas.

Continue running iterations in this manner. As ideas emerge and reemerge, capture them succinctly on a whiteboard. The reemergence of ideas may culminate into patterns. Encourage the group to name their patterns. Examples I have seen are magic card and funky tray. These patterns eventually made it into the product with only slightly different names.


The charrette will invariably result in a shared understanding of the problem and the design space. Further refinement and analysis may be required. In software projects the charrette sketches may be easily translated into working prototypes or even production-ready code.

Make the output of the charrette visible so that folks who did not attend may see and experience the journey your team just embarked upon.

Next Story — Explore The Design Space
Currently Reading - Explore The Design Space

Andreas Trepte

Explore The Design Space

Don’t let the best ideas go unnoticed

“Simplicity is not the goal of Lean UX Branding. It is the by-product of a good idea, modest expectations, iterative executions and ruthless cutting.”—Will Evans & Thomas Wendt, Lean UX Branding
“Lean is about being an athlete, not a skeleton.”—Unknown

We don’t have a logo.

I recently received an email from one of the organizers of LAUNCH Festival in San Francisco. If you haven’t heard, LAUNCH was where Dropbox and other notable startups have made their debuts and subsequently secured funding from investors. The LAUNCH organizers proposed a generous offer to Lean UX SF: 50 free LAUNCH tickets for community members. All we had to do was help promote the festival. They also asked us for a logo so they could in-turn promote our community’s participation in the festival. Problem: We didn’t have a logo.

Tap the community.

We also don’t have a budget. But we do have community. Within community an ecosystem of innovation thrives. Through inquiring the community about a logo, we were able to discover elements about our identity. We applied a classic technique from Lean thinking, mathematics, psychology, and the arts called “fully exploring the potential space”. I quickly sent a message out to the Lean UX SF mailing list:

Logo Contest!
The creator of the winning logo design will receive a free ticket to the upcoming LAUNCH event in SF as well as all sorts of fame and notoriety!
- Mike
p.s. No parameters or constraints.

That last part “no parameters or constraints” was not lackadaisical, it was quite intentional. In order to “fully explore the potential space” we had to leave the door open for the Lean UX SF community to explore their identity rather than the organizers exerting their own vision and assumptions. In other words, we were operating in the absence of a clear hypothesis about what a Lean UX SF logo might look like. Rather, we operated under a different hypothesis altogether: The community will guide us toward the best logo.

Modest expectations, iterative improvement, and ruthless cutting.

The email went out to over 1,500 members. Approximately 20 people submitted logos. A few people submitted multiple logos. The more the better! Within a couple of days we had over 25 logo submissions to explore and —unfortunately—24 options to “ruthlessly cut”. It was easy to see a wide range of symbolism and metaphor expressed in all of the ideas, and each one represented a potential expression of the community’s identity. I expressed gratitude and provided feedback to each person who submitted a logo, and the diversity in ideas exceeded my wildest expectations. Each person’s willingness to iterate based on constructive feedback reflected the maturity and professionalism of the community.

Which one?

We don’t have a budget for branding. The LAUNCH festival date was fast approaching. Two factors drove the initial selection process: Execution and Appropriateness. The execution mattered—a lot—because good execution would mean fewer iterations to discover the final logo, which would have to look polished: Being “Lean” doesn’t mean we’re perpetually stuck in sketch mode.

Appropriateness mattered a lot too. While Lean UX might be described by some as a process, that’s not entirely true. The logo would ultimately serve as a signature for a community based on a shared set of values, not a prescriptive or one-size-fits-all process. Also, the logo had to be versatile: it could one day be placed on websites, placards, t-shirts, frisbees, hoodies, etc.

We put it to a vote. The results were too close to call. We put it to a “final” vote, still too close to call. It started to seem like voting served more as a vehicle for conversation about the ideas rather than making a decision. We decided to hold an “electoral vote” (gasp!). I asked my most trusted design critics to choose for us from a set of four finalists. Finally, with a tie-breaker vote by a smaller group of people there was a clear winner.

And the winner is…

The winning logo design was created by Zac Halbert, a recent transplant to the SF Bay Area and Lean UXer. When Zac submitted the idea he said:

“My thinking is that this is a clean look that is representative of a bay area design sensibility, reminiscent of larger organizations like the fire department. A field as new as ours can always use a little bit of borrowed credibility.”
Lean UX SF logo (color)

Other than just “liking” it, we also felt that it fits within the criteria of every good logo:

It’s a circle enclosing one of the most recognizable landmarks in North America, The Golden Gate Bridge.

A clever integration of the letters UX and the bridge might cause a person to pause, look, and inspect it: thus imprinting the logo into their memory (cue evil laughter).

Zac’s inspirations for the logo (a stalwart organization such as the SFFD, and the resilient Golden Gate Bridge) plus his typographical choices build “timeless”-ness directly into the DNA of the logo.

The logo can be printed in one color, it’s vector-based, and we could print or display it in reverse for hoodies, frisbees, placards, pub glasses, etc.

Again, Zac’s inspiration came from larger, more “credible” organizations. Lean UX SF is a community organized by UX practitioners and Lean enthusiasts. Zac’s concept echoes the sense of belonging and camaraderie our community nurtures.

Check out some of the other fine logo designs here:
Lean UX SF Logo Ideas – Finals

Come to a meetup!

Next Story — An Open Letter from a Black Man to His White Family in a Moment of Violence
Currently Reading - An Open Letter from a Black Man to His White Family in a Moment of Violence

An Open Letter from a Black Man to His White Family in a Moment of Violence

Photo credit: Love and Struggle Photos

To the white people I share home with,

I’ve gotten degrees. I’ve been published. I’ve spoken at academic gatherings. I’ve taught classes and workshops. I’ve built up a resume. I’ve gained employment in the acceptable fields of social justice. For years, you told me these were the things I needed to do in order to be listened to.

I’ve participated in direct action. I’ve been arrested. I’ve survived nearly three decades in a country that hates me. I’ve predicted the formation of movements, the swell of riots, months and even years before their occurrences. I don’t know what else I need to do to be legitimized, be validated, to be worthy of being heard and taken seriously.

I am exhausted from trying to get you on board with a movement–one that mirrors those from previous eras you claim to revere, and that has reignited calls for social transformation once heralded by the writers, speakers, musicians and artists you claim to hold dearest. I wonder if you understand what any of the struggles which have occurred during your lifetime were ever actually about.

I am not naive nor arrogant enough to believe my imploring can achieve in this moment what centuries of Black imploring has not been able to. I am not foolish enough to believe this letter will be the letter that changes your minds. I write because I need to speak, because I am in pain. I write because I cannot bear any more condescension, more indifference. I write to tell you I am not going to.

The cry of this moment is Black Lives Matter. If you are not involved, I assume this is a statement you take issue with.

When we say Black Lives Matter, we mean Black people are the experts in their own lives, their own history, their own struggles. We mean your opinions are not necessary, and that debating you is a waste of our valuable energy, mental health and time. We mean you do not get to speak on issues with which you have no experience, which you have not studied nor researched, but on which you feel entitled enough to award yourself authority. We mean you must be quiet and listen to Black people.

You can no longer hide behind your idealism. The very existence of this moment proves your ideals to be misled and hollow.

If legislation alone could save us, the 13th Amendment, Special Field Order №15, and Brown vs. Board would have saved us. If electoral politics alone could save us, then the innumerable Black justices and representatives elected in the last half century would have saved us. If white saviors could save us, we would have been saved a million times over. But we are here and we are dying, and you are watching from the sidelines.

You call me an anarchist. You say you fear chaos. If you knew what it means to be Black, what is happening in your towns and cities daily, you’d know that chaos and bloodshed are already here. They are visited on women, on people of color, on poor people, workers, on immigrants, on trans people, on queer people, and they are done so constantly. Chaos is our bed, our sheets, our water, our front steps, our sidewalks. The systems you insist we trust to address it, the leaders you elected, are its source. Your fear of movement, and your denial of this reality, is what allows it to continue.

This is the last time I will say this to you:

Black people are dying. Every day, Black trans women are dying. Black children are dying. Black mothers and sisters are dying. Maybe I have to die for you to understand what this means.

If the demands of our movement are unclear to you, that is your fault. We have stated them concretely and concisely, over and over again–not just at this moment, but at every time in history Black people have fought for their lives. Don’t pretend that because the sources you read don’t report it, the information is unavailable. Don’t act as though your selective hearing is the result of our lack of organizing. Don’t tell the leaders who have penned the most passionate pleas for justice in US history they need to be more articulate.

And when the police come for me, don’t cry. When I am murdered by a supremacist in the street, don’t mourn me. If I am put in a cage for speaking out, don’t call it a travesty. Because it is happening, has been happening unceasingly for the last five centuries, and you have done nothing to stop it.

Do not feign shock at the inevitable. It disrespects me, and the memory of every Black person your system has purposefully killed.

When I tell you my needs, talk of my pain, my anger, all my stories, it is a privilege and blessing you haven’t earned. It is a profound form of vulnerability I engage not because you deserve it, but because I as a Black person choose to share it with you. I do so for the sole reason that I do not wish to lose you from my life, do not want the most core parts of my existence to be hidden from you. But when you refuse to look, they remain invisible. When you resist seeing, you deprive yourself of authentic entrance into who I truly am, and what I truly need from you.

And your denial cannot protect you, just as my silence cannot protect me.

This movement is happening without you, despite you. But real transformation is not possible unless you listen deeply, sincerely, even when it is painful, and take brave action at your own risk to fight for the things the Black community is demanding of you.

When Black people speak, and you do not listen, you are creating the conditions of a riot. And when you tell us we are exaggerating, playing the martyr, making it all up, then you cannot be surprised when we elect militancy to make you comprehend what you refused to understand when we were peaceful.

A son, brother, nephew and grandson of Black, queer liberation

Next Story — The Fascist Bogeyman
Currently Reading - The Fascist Bogeyman

The Fascist Bogeyman

There’s a noise under the bed and it won’t stop

The current debate about fascism in America has, thus far, centered on the definition. Many publications have been musing in the same direction: “Is Donald Trump a fascist?” (Slate, The New York Times), “Is Donald Trump an Actual Fascist?” (Vanity Fair), “Donald Trump and Fascism: Is He or Isn’t He?” (National Review), etc. People want to know what to call things and that’s understandable, but I’m not sure how useful this exercise is. Fascist is as fascist does, and by the time we can agree on the exact definition it may already be too late.

When I planned to write about ¡No Pasarán!, a new collection about the Spanish Civil War edited by Pete Ayrton, I thought there might be some good lessons in there about fascism. With the Trump campaign improbably continuing and the alt-right Nazi brand on the rise, many of us agree that a solid operational understanding of fascism is increasingly necessary. Whether or not the label applies to our present situation, I’m pretty sure it’s valid when talking about Generalissimo Francisco Franco of the Spanish Falange.

I figured I would outline the historical timeline, cite a couple historical curiosities, draw some ominous connections to the election, get a check, and move on. Instead, I got stuck on a couple anecdotes in one of the pieces, an excerpt of the Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga’s book De Gernika a Guernica. The first is from the village of Fuenteguinaldo, and it happened in 1936 but wasn’t revealed publicly for 70 years:

“Apparently, the Falangists asked the priest to draw up a list of all the reds and atheists in the village … They went from house to house looking for them. At nine o’clock at night, they were taken to the prison in Ciudad Rodrigo, and at four o’clock in the morning, were told they were being released, but, at the door of the prison, a truck was waiting and, instead of taking them home, it brought them here to be killed.”

The second comes from the failed coup attempt in 1981:

“I was living in a village in Castille with fewer than two hundred inhabitants. I became friendly with a young socialist who was a local councillor. When I met him one day, he was looking positively distraught. He had just found out that in February of that year, on the night Colonel Tejero burst into Parliament and the tanks came out onto the streets, the local priest had gone straight to the nearest military barracks intending to hand in a list of local men who should be arrested; my friend’s name was at the top of the list.”

Someone puts your name on a list and you disappear. And maybe all the people who care enough to look for you disappear too. And no one hears what happened until everyone you ever knew is dead. That is, if you’ll excuse my language, the fucking bogeyman. It scares the hell out of me.

There’s a danger to thinking about fascism as something other than human, not just because it is people, but because it presents a temptation to dehistoricize. Fascism becomes something existential, a tyrannical tendency somewhere deep in the character of all people or all societies that needs to be restrained but occasionally breaks free to wreak havoc. Once we start down that path it’s not too long before we get to “We’re all a little bit fascist,” and “Was Alexander the Great a fascist?” That is lazy, useless thinking, the kind of “human nature” nonsense that is the first resort of the uninformed and uninterested.

Monsters and ghouls have always been a part of human community as far as I know, but they each emerge under particular circumstances. Think FernGully: The evil spirit Hexxus is freed from a tree (where it’s been imprisoned) when a timber crew chops it down. Ancient Hexxus seeps out with the character — even the name — of modern pollution. The creature is the externalities of industrial production embodied. It moves like oil and smoke. That pollution makes monsters is not a special insight; everyone knows about Godzilla. But moral pollution, of course, yields demons as well. Monsters show up when some scale is stubbornly uneven, when karma is repressed. Toxic waste dumped in the swamp, but graves disturbed too. That we’ve always had evil isn’t a way to avoid understanding the specifics of its incarnations. Thinking about fascism as a bogeyman in this way could be more useful. What kind of monster is it?

Allow me some speculation. Fascism is a nation-shaped monster. It arises alongside the modern state, and though they share sympathies (and weapons) across borders, fascists are nationalists. One of the conflicts that feeds fascism is between 19th-century ideas about the racial character of states and 20th-century pluralist ones. Our global system is supposedly based on something like collective self-determination, but it’s grafted onto a map drawn by colonial violence and pseudo-scientific ideas about Gauls and Teutons. Fascism is a particular combination of Romantic/Victorian ambitions and modern tools that sparks to life as the two eras grind against each other. Frankenstein with the arms of capitalist industry and the heart of a monarchist. Patriotic young Hitler inhaling mustard gas in the trenches, like a panel from the first issue of a comic book.

One of those modern tools is the list. We’ve always indexed information, but our ability to do so grows in qualitative jumps. To round up all your enemies at a national level is an analytics problem, and it’s one we solved under particular circumstances. The quantitative management of populations doesn’t just happen to emerge around slavery, it emerges out of slavery. And the Civil War didn’t break the line: At the Eugenics Records Office (ERO) in Cold Springs Harbor, New York, so-called scientists of the early 20th century kept lists of the genetically (and racially) undesirable. They embarked on sterilization campaigns and lent their expertise to help halt the flow of immigrants. The Nazis infamously used IBM to manage the Holocaust; the Americans (less infamously) also used IBM to manage the Japanese internment camps. When NYU’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute recreated an ERO office in 2014, they called the exhibit “Haunted Files.” Perhaps our filing systems are haunted too.

Modern liberal states have never truly reconciled their racial character with their democratic pretensions. I’m not clear on how such a thing could be possible; where would a truly pluralist state draw its borders and why? Flipping through a history book it’s hard to argue that the nation-state system doesn’t exist for the arbitrarily divided glory of western Europeans. The official line is that we’re supposed to ignore that part, or be sad. But some people don’t want to ignore it and they aren’t sad. Instead they wonder why we have the nice borders that their conquering “ancestors” drew but all these people on the wrong sides. If taking Mexico’s land for white people was illegitimate, then why haven’t we given it back? And if it was legitimate, then what’s wrong with a wall to protect our side from a reversal? The liberal patriots, they say, are lying to themselves; there is no nationalism that is not ethno-nationalism.

The persistence of the fascist bogeyman suggests that they have a point. The beast can skulk in the basement for decades, feeding off the contradictions at the foundation of the pluralist state and its own waste. This is 2016 and we can’t claim that fascism is a birth pang of the global democratic order, an enemy defeated. (Ghosts, zombies, the terminator: monsters so rarely go away when they’re supposed to.) Fascism seems inextricably tied to what we have, like Dorian Gray’s portrait locked in a closet, consolidating ugliness.

Whether or not they could finish off fascism once and for all, liberals usually aren’t tempted to try. I don’t know if that’s because they sense something irradicable there, but liberals have historically found deals to make with their shadow. Spain is one of the more striking examples. When Franco’s insurgents escalated, the rest of the world agreed to stay neutral so as to stall the already foreseen World War II. But the war had already begun: Hitler and Mussolini flouted the agreement, intervening most dramatically with bombing raids. The Soviet Union breached as well, sending weapons to badly armed Madrid. The western democracies, however, stayed neutral. In return, Franco maintained Spain as a non-belligerent when world-wide hostilities broke out. It’s an agreement that lasted into the 80s.

Part of what makes the Spanish Civil War so important for leftists is the sense that it could have gone the other way. There’s an urban legend that infighting among leftists — communists, anarchists, and Trotskyists — caused the Republic’s defeat. ¡No Pasarán! has accounts of this friendly-ish fire, but no one thinks it decisive compared to German and Italian air power or the western arms embargo. Spanish republicans and their study abroad comrades fought bravely, but the bogeyman has an advantage at the insurgency stage. Violence is its thing.

The bogeyman makes a real offer: Delegate to me your capacity for limitless violence and together we will dominate. That they’re able to do it justifies the undertaking, and they are, under some circumstances, able to do it. A willingness to strike first, to drag your enemies from their beds in the middle of the night, to steal their babies, that’s a force multiplier, especially when combined with the right information technology. There is strength in white nationalist unity. Horrifying, despicable, anti-human strength, but strength still. The fascist image is a bundle of sticks or arrows — the fasces, harder to break. And they are.

I think of the 2015 movie Green Room, about a band of punks who get trapped inside a Nazi club and have to try and fight their way out. Joe Cole plays the drummer Reece, and he’s the only one who shows any sort of confidence, preparation, or leadership when it comes to fighting fascists. With his MMA skills he incapacitates a giant skinhead bouncer and directs the gang to make a break for it. He’s not out a club window one moment before two faceless, nameless Nazi henchmen have stabbed him to death. For me this moment illuminates a basic truth about fascist strategy: It does not matter how smart or brave or capable or strong you are. There are two of us, we have knives, and we’re waiting outside the window.

Liberal democracies are constitutionally vulnerable to the bogeyman. We civilians have already delegated our capacity for violence to the military abroad and the police at home. If there’s a threat to law and order, then the forces of law and order will take care of it. We don’t have to worry about protecting our democracy, there are professionals for that. All we have to do is vote for the right people to manage them. But that plan has risks.

America’s founders thought they could write the standing army out by fiat, and they have been proven very wrong. Liberal democracies maintain giant war machines. Within each of these war machines — as in the religious and business communities — there are cults that worship the bogeyman. Members wear tattoos, patches, insignias to identify each other. They recruit. Some of them go to meetings, most probably don’t. I imagine that many of them get fulfillment from their work. Why wouldn’t fascists feel at home in the police, the border patrol, the army? Asking these organizations to maintain anti-fascist vigilance on behalf of the whole population is a fox and henhouse situation.

If Donald Trump is a fascist — as even the liberal media is beginning to agree — and has a non-negligible chance to winning the presidency, what is the contingency plan? If a Trump administration were to flout what’s left of our democratic norms, how would our system protect itself? I don’t know how Trump polls among active-duty military, but the Fraternal Order of Police has already endorsed him. Part of me thinks “Troops loyal to Hillary Clinton,” is a phrase we could get used to fast, but I’m not sure how many of those there are. Are the Vox dot com technocrats expecting a Seal Team 6 bullet to solve the Trump problem if things get too hairy? It seems remarkable that the two 20th-century American politicians we talk about getting closest to fascist takeovers — Huey Long and George Wallace — were both stymied not by the democratic process but by lone gunmen. That’s a bad defense strategy. Thankfully, it’s not the only one available.

Via Richmond Struggle, anti-fascists in Richmond, VA

Wherever there have been fascists there have also been anti-fascists: Traditionally communists, anarchists, socialists, and some folks who just hate fascists. When left-wing parties have on occasion decided to stand by while fascists targeted liberal governments, anti-fascist elements have still distinguished themselves. Anti-fascism is based on the idea that fascists will use content-neutral liberal norms like freedom of speech and association as a Trojan Horse. By the time the threat seems serious, the knives are already out. Antifa seek to nip the threat in the bud, attacking fascists wherever they’re weak enough to attack. If that means busting up their meetings with baseball bats, then that’s what it means.

In America, we remember the Spanish Civil War mostly through anti-fascist anglophone writers — George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway being the most famous — who decamped for Spain. Unlike fascists and liberals, anti-fascists are internationalists, and no citizenship takes precedence over the struggle. When the call went out for sympathizers to come and defend the Spanish Republic, one young British volunteer, Laurie Lee, called it “the chance to make one grand, uncomplicated gesture of personal sacrifice and faith which may never occur again. Certainly, it was the last time this century that a generation had such an opportunity before the fog of nationalism and mass-slaughter closed in.” Comrades of all sorts of nationalities and particular left-wing political views signed up for the motley “International Brigades.” There was and is a purity to this gesture; to go and risk your life alongside your attacked comrades is among the highest imaginable acts of solidarity. “¡No pasarán!” (They will not pass) is an anti-fascist slogan of such power that it’s still in use today, many decades after it turned out to be a lie.

Because pass they did. The righteous rag-tag army was no match for the German and Italian bombers. Spain stands for anti-fascism across borders, but also the catastrophe of its failure. If there’s one lesson we can learn from the War it’s that fascists don’t always lose. The arc of history is not a missile defense system and sometimes righteous solidarity makes for full prison camps.

For years American anti-fascists have been very effective. Up until the Trump campaign, they had largely prevented white nationalists from meeting in public in cities. It usually works something like this: Antifa finds out where the Nazis are planning to meet and they call the hotel or conference center they’re going to use and explain who exactly “American Renaissance” is, and what will happen if the meeting happens (chaos). Most reputable establishments exercise their right to decline Nazi business. This kind of tactic offends the liberal sensibility, but it’s the only choice. The least violent way to oppose fascism is to disrupt them before they feel strong enough to act in an organized way. I fear that window is closing.

I don’t think Donald Trump is going to be elected president, but the fascists who have found a vessel in his campaign have been licking their lips for months straight. Things are going better than they could have hoped and they won this round a long time ago. I have no doubt they’re thinking about how to organize their engorged base in November’s wake. Fascists aren’t democrats and they don’t need a majority.

The bogeyman is in the closet and he’s making so much noise it’s hard to pretend we can’t hear it. We have a choice to make, if not as a country, then as members of this society. We can get out of bed, open the door, and confront the social infection that is fascism. Or we can pull the sheets up over our heads, pretend history ended 25 years ago, and try to get back to sleep. Maybe the noise will stop on its own — it is possible, even likely. But maybe we’ll wake up with our throats slit. There won’t be a different kind of warning.

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