‘Selma’ controversy brings ‘inspiration vs. results’ debate back into focus. But it’s not either/or; it’s both/and

The new film “Selma” opens in theaters in Columbia Friday. So I haven’t seen it, any more than you have. But I’d like to comment on the controversy regarding the movie’s portrayal of LBJ.

Go read Richard Cohen‘s latest column, headlined “‘Selma’ distorts the truth about LBJ.” A couple of excerpts:

In its need for some dramatic tension, “Selma” asserts that King had to persuade and pressure a recalcitrant Johnson to introduce the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The movie also depicts Johnson authorizing FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to smear King and — as King himself suspected — try to drive him to suicide. It is a profoundly ugly moment.

But a bevy of historians say it never happened. It was Robert F. Kennedy, the former attorney general, whoauthorized the FBI’s bugging of King’s hotel rooms. Yet, for understandable reasons, Kennedy appears nowhere in the film. By 1965, he was no longer the AG and, anyway, he remains a liberal icon. But LBJ — Southern, obscene and, especially when compared to the lithe Kennedy, gross of speech and physique — was made the heavy. He should get a posthumous SAG card….

[Those defending LBJ] include the historian Mark K. Updegrove, director of the LBJ Presidential Library; Diane McWhorter, author of “Carry Me Home”; David J. Garrow, author of “Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference”; and, when it comes to the atmospherics of the Johnson-King relationship, Andrew Young, once King’s deputy. He told The Post that the contentious meeting between King and LBJ depicted in the film was, in fact, cordial. “He and Martin never had that kind of confrontation.” Young was there.

As for Garrow, he told the New York Times that “if the movie suggests LBJ had anything to do with” Hoover’s attempt to destroy King, “that’s truly vile and a real historical crime against LBJ.” The movie depicts exactly that….

As I say, I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve seen the above trailer, which hamhandedly drives home the same falsehood that LBJ, and every other authority figure in the country, stood as a barrier that only MLK’s witness, courage, and eloquence could knock down. (If the filmmakers were not trying to make that point in the trailer, they should go back and try again).

We’ve been here before. Back during the 2008 presidential primaries, Hillary Clinton enraged some when she said that the eloquence of an MLK or a JFK — or, by implication, a Barack Obama — only gets you so far. You need an LBJ to effect real change. She, of course, was casting herself as the savvy insider, the latter-day LBJ. Here’s my column at the time on that subject, to refresh you.

But there’s more here than whether you prefer fine words or practical action. There’s also the constant tension between people who believe sincere passion, emotional purity expressed through public demonstrations by ordinary folk is better, more legitimate, and ultimately more effective than working through a system of laws, through elected representatives, to bring about needed reform.

I don’t have to tell you that I believe in the rule of law, in effecting change through the mechanisms of a republic, as opposed to marching in the streets. I had little patience with Occupy Wall Street, as you’ll recall. And as for the protests following the Ferguson fiasco, I think Dave Barry hit the nail on the head with this passage from his satirical look at the year just past:

Domestically, the big story is in Ferguson, Mo., which is rocked by a wave of sometimes-violent protests following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. The shooting ignites a passionate national debate whose participants have basically as much solid information about what actually happened as they do about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370….

So am I discounting the importance of all those civil rights marches, at Selma and elsewhere? Absolutely not. In fact, I believe they represent the one time in my life that such demonstrations were needed, were essential, and made a positive difference in the country. The moral, peaceful witness that Dr. King and the other marchers placed before the eyes of the country led to the development of a political consensus that made LBJ’s efforts possible. They prepared the ground.

But those protests did NOT force concessions from a hostile country, or hostile leadership in Washington. What they did was force the country to face the reality of Jim Crow. They made it impossible to look away. And the country, the great mass of public opinion, white as well as black, decided that we needed the change that the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act represented. And master legislator-turned-president Johnson was the one who led us through that essential process.

It’s not either/or. It’s not black vs. white, or The People vs. The Man. It’s not passion vs. reason.

It’s both/and. We needed MLK and LBJ.

Cohen calls attention to an earlier piece by Joe Califano, vehemently defending his old boss LBJ from the film’s slander. I like this passage from a recording of the conversation:

On Jan. 15, 1965, LBJ talked to King by telephone about his intention to send a voting rights act to Congress: “There is not going to be anything as effective, though, Doctor, as all [blacks] voting.”

Johnson then articulated a strategy for drawing attention to the injustice of using literacy tests and other barriers to stop black Southerners from voting. “We take the position,” he said, “that every person born in this country, when he reaches a certain age, that he have a right to vote . . .whether it’s a Negro, whether it’s a Mexican, or who it is. . . . I think you can contribute a great deal by getting your leaders and you, yourself, taking very simple examples of discrimination; where a [black] man’s got . . . to quote the first 10 Amendments, . . . and some people don’t have to do that, but when a Negro comes in he’s got to do it, and if we can, just repeat and repeat and repeat.

“And if you can find the worst condition that you run into in Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana or South Carolina . . . and if you just take that one illustration and get it on radio, get it on television, get it in the pulpits, get it in the meetings, get it everyplace you can. Pretty soon the fellow that didn’t do anything but drive a tractor will say, ‘Well, that’s not right, that’s not fair,’ and then that will help us on what we’re going to shove through [Congress] in the end.”…

You have a couple of key points there:

  • First, the president is stating clearly that he not only appreciates what Dr. King is doing, but sees it as essential to educating the public so that it will embrace change. Change will come when that average guy says “that’s not right; that’s not fair.” After that, and not before, you can “shove” reform through Congress.
  • Then, you have his assertion that in the end, however, true change will be effected through the system — by black Americans voting, as well as by raised consciousness among whites. Marching in the streets only gets you so far.

Which is why he pushed so hard for his signature achievement, the Voting Rights Act.

The trailer flits past this image so quickly that I had trouble freezing it on this frame to grab this image. But the reason what happened in Selma was effective was because it caused THIS reaction in mainstream America.

The trailer flits past this image so quickly that I had trouble freezing it on this frame to grab it. But the reason what happened in Selma was effective was because it caused THIS reaction in mainstream America.

38 thoughts on “‘Selma’ controversy brings ‘inspiration vs. results’ debate back into focus. But it’s not either/or; it’s both/and

  1. M.Prince

    I agree with you as far as the movie’s effort to inject conflict and drama where there was none. But though you say we need both – demonstrations/protest and law/policy-making – it sounds as if you’d prefer much, much less vox populi in the mix (as is also reflected in your comment in the previous string in which you expressed a preference for senators elected by state legislatures rather than popular vote).

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      My whole life experience has made me suspicious of emotion — my own as well as others — and has caused me to value deliberation.

      A bunch of people who are in total agreement chanting together in the street tends to leave me dissatisfied. I prefer a deliberate process through which people of very different points of view can be heard by each other and work toward a synthesis. Hence my reference for the Constitution (referring again to that previous conversation), which was both the product of such a process and the means of enabling such interactions going forward.

      The main problem in our political sphere today is that — largely due to pols playing only to the emotions of a crowd that, at least hypothetically, agrees with them on everything (essentially a crowd chanting together in the street) — the deliberative process allowing consensus to emerge from among disparate interests has broken down.

      This is a great national tragedy.

      1. M.Prince

        I would submit that even deliberation is never entirely free of emotion, nor should it be. Moreover, I see “the street” as part of the deliberative process, not something completely separate and distinct from it. And simply because it may not speak with the sort of reasoned balance you may prefer does not make it the lesser element in that process. Nor should it be made to bear the blame for the breakdown of the deliberative process you (correctly) decry.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          We are human, and incapable of Mentat purity in our thought processes. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to empower reason to temper my passions…

          And once I’m standing in the street chanting with the crowd, I’ve sort of lost that battle. Better that I aspire to be on the sidewalk, pointing out the nuances…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            My reference to chanting reminds me of the bumper sticker that I keep meaning to have printed up. It would say, “Never trust anything that can be reduced to a bumper-sticker.”

          2. M.Prince

            To remove passion from the process of history seems to me a fool’s choice. Sure, it might’ve let us avoid things like the “late great unpleasantness,” for one. But we also might never have achieved a number of progressive advances.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    The error that the trailer implies is one that has great relevance today.

    A lot of people, including many who see themselves as still engaged in the civil rights struggle, believe that the marches FORCED America to do what it was opposed to doing, against its will. When the only FORCING was to make it impossible for American to ignore the injustice of Jim Crow. The sense of justice of ordinary people in response to that consciousness-raising was what made profound change possible.

    An illustration of this error is the NAACP’s boycott over the Confederate flag. They believe that the larger society will never grant justice, is OPPOSED to justice, and will only do the right thing if coerced into doing so. So, the boycott attempts to hurt South Carolina until South Carolina does the right thing.

    That’s completely wrongheaded, and it hardens opposition to change.

    What is needed is for South Carolina to grow up and put such foolishness as the flag behind it. This kind of conflict militates against such growth. If it were possible for the NAACP to hurt SC enough to MAKE it take the flag down — which I don’t believe it can do, but set that aside — then nothing would have been accomplished. SC would in no way have become a better place. We’d be no better off; if anything, the bitterness in the state would be worse.

    The key is to appeal to the better angels of our people’s nature. But that can’t happen when, every time the flag issue comes up, the first thing mentioned is the boycott, which immediately causes everyone to choose a side in the counterproductive conflict paradigm…

    1. M.Prince

      And yet the boycott (and demonstrations) did help prompt some groups that otherwise might not have taken an interest in the flag debate (like the Chamber of Commerce) to worry about potential (economic) effects and thus put their weight behind its removal from the top of the State House.

      So if you don’t believe boycotts and demonstrations are (one of) the means to removing the flag, what would be your preferred approach?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          And white South Carolinians, to an extent greater than any other demographic in the country, have an aversion to being MADE to do anything, an aversion that amounts to the pathological. They’d rather die; they’d rather have their world brought down about their ears, than give in (and we have ample historical evidence of this), once they perceive that someone is trying FORCE them to do something…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            And that’s why the boycott won’t work.

            A point I keep making, along with the related point that it would be bad if it DID work, because making SC take down the flag when it didn’t want to — if that were possible — would only lead to more bitterness and racial strife.

          2. Doug Ross

            “And white South Carolinians, to an extent greater than any other demographic in the country, have an aversion to being MADE to do anything, an aversion that amounts to the pathological. ”

            Which demographic groups would you say are on the other end of the aversion spectrum? I can’t think of any.

            Let me see you go tell a group of black men what they must do. Try it and get back to us (once you get out of the hospital).

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Doug, all the evidence is on my side here.

              Yep, there are lots of people who are resistant to the idea of being told what to do. It’s a matter of degree.

              What I’m talking about is the reason that SC wasn’t just one of the states to secede from the Union. It was the FIRST, and it was THE state that precipitated the crisis that led to war, to a greater extent than any other. And that is no historical accident. It had to do with certain characteristics of the white culture of this state.

              You hear a lot of neoConfederates protest that THEIR ancestors didn’t own slaves. And that’s probably true; most whites did not. (This, by the way, is a claim I cannot make. While some of my great-great grandparents were poor and had no slaves, others were slaveholders and part of the elite class that ran the state and called the shots and led us into war.)

              So how did all those poor whites get suckered into giving their lives, their all, in such a cause that was so clearly not in their personal interest? The elites sold them on the idea that THOSE PEOPLE in Washington were trying to tell them how to live their lives. And they just ate that up…

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              In other words, it wasn’t just a matter of a people acting in their own economic interests in a state so dependent on slave labor. In the case of most who fought for the Confederacy, it was about the idea that the federal government could tell South Carolina what to do — even when the individual had no personal vested interest in the issue…

              Which, I realize, flies in the face of your usual theory that it’s always about money. For the slaveholders, for the people in the Legislature leading us into disaster, it was (or to be more accurate, for them it was ALSO about money). For the rest, not so much…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        The boycott didn’t cause business interests to want the flag down. They wanted it down without that.

        In fact, in the years before the boycott started sucking up all the oxygen, we had a very broad swath of South Carolina calling for the removal of the flag — religious leaders, business leaders, all sorts of voices.

        Unfortunately, since the “compromise” of 2000, the loudest voice has been the NAACPs, and that has DISCOURAGED rather than encouraged a broader movement. Flag defenders now characterize any mention of removing the flag as a matter of “knuckling under to the NAACP” and all sorts of moderate voices just prefer to go spend their energies on something else.

        What would I like to see? I’d like good folks who actually want SC to progress to elbow aside the conflict-based boycott drama and retake the stage. I’d like to see, for instance, Vincent Sheheen and Bakari Sellers go beyond their election announcement and make it their business to work steadily toward assembling the elements necessary to get the flag down and move on.

        What happens is that there is a brief eruption of common sense — the Steve Spurrier comments of a few years ago, the Sheheen-Sellers campaign initiative, one of my periodic attempts to renew the conversation here on the blog — and no one takes it up, and everyone moves on to something else. What we need is for more and more of us to say, “We’re not going to stop talking about this,” and rebuild the momentum that we had in 2000.

        One of the problems is that whenever the issue comes up, most news media — who are suckers for the conflict paradigm — are happy to play into the hands of both the NAACP and flag defenders by portraying it as all about the boycott.

        And that makes rational discourse next to impossible…

        1. M.Prince

          Sounds as if you’re saying there is a non-confrontational approach to the matter. But the issue is by its very nature confrontational. SC can be stubbornly resistant to change, as you say, but it’s as much a matter of inertia as it is of active resistance. Flag defenders will characterize efforts to remove the flag as knuckling under to any number of things: to political correctness, to anti-southern sentiment, to ignorance of history, to … well, fill in the blank. Their recalcitrance is part of the equation — so we can’t lay the blame for it at the doorstep of the NAACP, as if it wouldn’t exist otherwise. The inertia, meanwhile, is composed of the rest — most of whom don’t become engaged without some form of agitation.

          Also, I disagree that the business community and other parties’ interest in and willingness to make a real effort to remove the flag from the dome had nothing to do with other influences, including the boycott. They played a big role in building the momentum you speak of. Believe me, I looked at this episode very closely. I wrote a book about it — published by USC Press in 2004.

          1. Barry

            He’s clearly saying- and Brad is right- that boycotts aren’t going to help matters.

            A boycott didn’t get the flag taken off the dome – and won’t get it moved from where it is at.

            I have an entire group of friends that don’t care about the flag- and don’t care if it’s moved – OR NOT.

            But if you start talking NAACP boycott around them- they won’t even talk to you about it. There are a lot like them in South Carolina- mainly they are in the General Assembly.

          2. Barry

            The Boycott had NOTHING to do with the flag being moved. The boycott was announced after the deal was struck to move the flag.

            One of the main reasons the flag was moved was the David Wilkins taking the floor of the House to passionately plead that it was time to do something with it.

            1. M.Prince

              “The boycott was announced after the deal was struck to move the flag.”

              Actually, no. The state chapter of the NAACP proposed the boycott resolution at the NAACP convention in July of 1999, where it was adopted. The action was then endorsed by the national office in October. The boycott officially went into effect on 1 January 2000 (though numerous groups and organizations had already announced their intention to abide by it before then). Legislative action to remove the flag from the dome occurred in April of 2000.

          3. Brad Warthen Post author

            And I wrote the equivalent of a couple of books on it; it just wasn’t organized into book form. 🙂 At some point, I quit counting the number of editorial and columns. I want to say it was around 200 when I quit, but that can’t be. I must be misremembering…

            Within my experience, the business motivation has generally been about economic development. The flag makes us look backward and obsessed with foolishness, so it hurts recruitment. That is apart from the boycott itself; such concerns predate the boycott.

            What I’ve heard from business types over the years seldom takes the form of “This boycott’s killing us; we really need some NCAA events here!” It’s more like, “People from other parts of the country ask, ‘What’s with the flag?’ and we don’t have a good answer.”

            I didn’t propose to “lay the blame for [white recalcitrance] at the doorstep of the NAACP.” But I do say that the boycott plays to it and inflames it, making it harder to have a reasonable conversation. It plays to the strengths of the guys who want to fight rather than reconcile.

            And for me, getting the flag down is ABOUT reconciliation. It’s about growing up and putting away things that pointlessly divide us. In a way, getting the flag down is less a goal than it would be, when it occurs, a sign that we’ve made great progress. A South Carolina that can put away the flag is a South Carolina that can effectively deal with other issues that have such a negative impact on social justice, such as lack of educational and economic opportunities in rural areas, or providing adequate access to health care.

            The kinds of positive, consensus-building conversations that could lead to a general agreement to put the flag behind us are the kinds of conversations that South Carolinians need to be having on a lot of levels. Continuing to have a big “We’re gonna make you take it down!/No you’re not!” fight doesn’t get us anywhere…

            1. Michael Rodgers

              We are now a South Carolina that can put away the flag. Maurice’s BBQ did it. Most people have done it. The banner is furled.
              We’ve just got to give Glenn McConnell his nylon ANV retirement gift and let him do with it as he pleases. Thank you Mr. McConnell for your service.

            2. M.Prince

              The boycott may not have any effect now. But it did in 2000. I wouldn’t claim that the boycott was the sole or primary element driving movement to bring the flag off the dome – though it’s impossible to parse out precisely what role it did play. But it’s insupportable to say that it played no role or that its role was completely negative. While the direct economic effects of the boycott were comparatively small (though not insignificant), the national attention it drew to the flag debate in SC ratcheted up visibility of the issue which in turn contributed significantly to the embarrassment factor, thereby increasing pressure for change. Folks like Sens. Glover, Jackson, AME Rev. Darby and others felt that nothing was moving and nothing would move without raising the pressure. As state NAACP head, Nelson Rivers III, said in regard to the boycott: “We’ve done it every way they asked us. We’ve been nice about it; we’ve been quiet about it; we’ve been invisible about it. Every time they [the legislators] tell us, ‘Not now, we’re in the middle of an election,’ or ‘Not now, we’re doing the budget.’ The bottom line is, we’ve been waiting too long and the time has come for us to make a decision about this.”

            3. M.Prince

              To continue:
              Sure, the boycott made some folks mad. But most of those who said they wouldn’t take the flag down on account of it, like Sens. Ravenel and McConnell, had been saying the same thing before the boycott. They vowed never to bring the flag down with a boycott threat hanging over the state or with a boycott in place – yet that’s what they did in the end. Interestingly, according to a poll in The State taken after the boycott was announced, a slim (51%) majority had finally coalesced around taking the flag down.

            4. M.Prince

              While you’re correct that the state Chamber of Commerce had announced that it favored removing the flag from the dome back as early as the Beasley Administration, there’s no indication they were doing a lot to make that happen. It wasn’t until after the boycott went into effect, for instance, that the body signaled that a state legislator’s stance on the issue would help determine how much financial support that candidate could expect in the next election – a barely veiled threat candidates were unlikely to ignore.

            5. M.Prince

              And lastly, it was the NAACP’s refusal to drop the boycott and its rejection of the compromise plan put together in the Senate that, ironically, allowed flag supporters to embrace that compromise, because it let them save face by claiming they were rescuing the flag from a worse fate: complete removal from the State House grounds. The bulk of folks who supported bringing it off the dome didn’t really care where it went from there. And once it did come down, the boycott lost whatever effectiveness it had – since the vast majority in the state then viewed the matter as settled. Which is of course also what hinders any renewed effort to move it off the grounds now.

            6. Michael Rodgers

              Most of the conversations have been had. Where we are now is as follows: Everyone knows the solution is to, as the Rev. Joseph Darby’s Sep 24, 2009, op-ed is titled, “Put flag in ‘historical context'”. The state legislators are saying, “We already did that.”
              And so the last part of the conversation is yes it was a good effort state legislators but it isn’t quite right, please let’s address this situation, maybe take the flag down, maybe do something else like what Alabama or NC does, to make the historical context crystal clear so we’re not defined as “South Carolina where the Confederate flag still flies.”

            7. Brad Warthen Post author

              M. what you say here — “The boycott may not have any effect now. But it did in 2000.” — is precisely the opposite of what I recall.

              It is SINCE 2000 that the boycott has been a serious factor (and a negative one, in terms of ensuring that we don’t progress), and here’s why: Before the “compromise,” there were many actors, many voices, many elements of society pushing very loudly and publicly to get the flag off the dome. The NAACP was one of many. And the NAACP’s most visible role was probably on King Day at the Dome, when 60,000 people stood on the northern side of the State House, spilling across Gervais and up Main Street, calling for the flag to be lowered.

              That was a weird moment, both a high point and yet one that led to a certain bitterness in civil rights circles for some time to come.

              I was on the Urban League board at the time, so I saw it from that perspective. The Urban League had been a catalyst, if not the main catalyst, in bringing the event about and in recruiting the speakers for the event (the speech by the late Steve Morrison, my fellow board member, was one of the high points). The NAACP was one of many other participating organizations.

              But the NAACP pulled off a PR coup. During the event itself, it surrounded the platform with people in windbreakers with “NAACP” in huge, bold letters on the back, like a sort of security cordon. And in thousands of people’s minds, the event was completely branded “NAACP.” From then on, the annual event has been strongly identified with the NAACP — and many people inaccurately credit NAACP with the success of the big 2000 King Day.

              But I digress.

              My point is this: After the compromise was implemented on July 1, 2000, most of the folks calling for lowering the flag went back to other pursuits. Even I — after one more column in which I served notice that I didn’t consider the matter to be settled (specifically, I wrote about how the Confederate soldier monument had not always been in that location, and there was no particular reason it had to stay there) — moved on to concentrate on such causes as fighting Jim Hodges’ lottery referendum later that year.

              This, unfortunately, left the field to the NAACP, and suddenly, every flag conversation got entangled in how people felt about that organization and its boycott. Whenever I returned to the subject, which I still did frequently, people no longer reacted within the context of those hundreds of pieces I had written in the past decade. It was as though I had not mentioned it before. The reaction was couched entirely as though my call for the flag to come down was a reaction to the boycott.

              It was sucking up all the oxygen, and a serious conversation couldn’t get a foothold. This was decidedly NOT the case in the 90s and in 2000.

              I don’t have the free access to The State’s archives the way I did as an editor there. If I did, I’d do a series of searches to see what proportion of stories mentioning the flag also used the word “boycott.” I’m pretty sure the proportion would be far, far greater after 2000. But I can’t prove it at the moment. I can only share my memory, as someone who was in the middle of the debate, and interacting constantly with the main players…

            8. M.Prince

              “Before the ‘compromise,’ there were many actors, many voices, many elements of society pushing very loudly and publicly to get the flag off the dome.”

              Here I can only reiterate what I said in the final paragraph above: the reason there were no longer “many actors, many voices” was that, for the vast majority of folks, the matter had been settled, done, fini. So, yeah, the only voice left was the NAACP’s, because it was the only major player that rejected the compromise and kept its boycott in place. So it’s no wonder that with the flag down, the boycott became the only thing left to focus on, and so, as you point out, practically the sole topic of conversation (for anybody still interested in discussing it). It wasn’t that it was “sucking up all the oxygen,” it was that it was the only oxygen left that could create a flame, so to speak – because, again, just about everybody felt the move to lawn was the end of the story. Anyway, it seems pretty counterintuitive to me to say, if the NAACP weren’t still sticking to its boycott there’d be more voices out there calling to move the flag off the grounds. There likely wouldn’t be any of those voices anyway.

            9. Brad Warthen Post author

              No, that’s wrong. I speak as one of those voices.

              Before 2000, when I said, “Let’s take down the flag,” I got a lot of positive reinforcement from others willing to join in.

              Since then, every time I bring up the subject, it gets snuffed out by all the negativity surrounding the boycott.

              Similar things happen when others bring up the subject — such as when Steve Spurrier did a few years ago.

              No matter how many times I say, “Just ignore the NAACP. This isn’t ABOUT them or how you feel about them. It’s about doing the right thing,” I haven’t been able to get any traction. Everyone who might join in seems to be waiting for a time when the boycott isn’t poisoning the atmosphere.

              But if people are waiting for the NAACP to see the error of its strategy, they’re waiting in vain. That once-great organization now DEFINES itself in terms of confrontation, confrontation for its own sake…

            10. M.Prince

              I’m sorry, but it seems to me more than ironic that you’re laying blame for the failure to remove the flag from the State House grounds on the very organization that initiated the campaign (in a 1987 resolution) to bring the flag off the dome to begin with and which consistently worked to keep issue in the public eye until it was removed. Again, the primary reason for the lack of momentum now is that so many consider it a settled issue — certainly the bulk of folks in the State House do.

  3. Mark Stewart

    So what you are saying is needed is a sharp, compelling bumper-sticker from the “moderates” who oppose the flying of the Confederate flag at the Statehouse, something that can show to all a swelling consensus that it is time to remove the flag and put it where it belongs?

    Bumper stickers are good that way. They are non-confrontational and when near-ubiquitous a daily sight gain a certain air of actuality, or consensus – especially when seen on cars which resonate socioeconomically. I hate to say this, but it also has to be something that appears specifically to whites… I don’t think it unachievable to obtain a 2/3rd majority consensus from this “group”. That is not out of reach at all in South Carolina.

    Calling all graphic designers and doodlers…

  4. Lynn Teague

    Personally, I prefer reasoning and working with decision-makers to try to find common ground and act on it. I prefer this so much that my iPad’s Google app spontaneously started telling me how many minutes it would take me to get to “work” today, accompanied by a map showing the State House. I dislike some forms of demonstrations, especially when participants may have been misled to some degree about realistic goals for their actions and certainly when those demonstrations become violent. However, I believe that there is a place for public confrontation of decision-makers that is sometimes best filled by orderly demonstrations. A demonstration is undeniable. Decision-makers can’t say, to themselves or to others, that their constituents don’t care. It is understandable that someone who has made a career of persuasive writing prefers that approach, but it doesn’t come easily to everyone, nor does a call to a legislator, and those approaches are not always effective. There is a legitimate place for public group demonstrations, beyond the civil rights demonstrations of the past.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, Lynn, I accept service. My eldest daughter made the point to me, when I was still at the paper, that it was very easy for a guy who had two pages of space waiting for him to fill in the state’s most widely-read newspaper every single day to look down on people demonstrating in the street. Of COURSE I preferred extended, nuanced discourse. It was my own particular… idiom, as Sir Lancelot might have said

      But I have to say that I’ve not seen that many demonstrations in my life that had any sort of positive effect. Above, I mention the King Day at the Dome rally of 2000, which had a positive effect because of sheer mass — at least ten times as many people as I’ve seen in any other political gathering at the State House — and because of diversity of voices speaking.

      That same year, I think Joe Riley’s long walk from Charleston engendered some more momentum for the effort to lower the flag from the Dome. Of course, those events can’t be seen in isolation. They occurred against the backdrop of many other forms of expression over the course of several years.

      But most demonstrations accomplish little, beyond giving the people who attend them a sense of involvement. And I’m afraid that, in these days of the artful drawing of electoral districts by demographics, it’s very easy for many lawmakers to look at a demonstration (depending on its makeup) and say, “Just as I thought. MY constituents don’t care…”

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