And before you answer, “Well, it accomplished a lot in the Civil Rights era 50 years ago,” let me say that I think it did — under those particular circumstances. But that was about a clear and obvious gross injustice supported by law as a matter of policy. The nonviolent resistance, the dignified witness of those marchers, were needed to draw attention to the fact that a state of affairs that was clearly wrong would no longer be tolerated. It was a movement with clear goals, and they were achieved as they should be, through legislation. (If you get HBO, go see “All the Way” for a wonderful dramatization of a time when our political branches still worked as they should.)
Those demonstrations were carefully organized, and the marchers showed up in their Sunday best. Everything about their appearance and demeanor demanded, “Respect me!” And that was good, because respect was what the movement was about. Again, the marchers had clear goals, and they were achieved with remarkable alacrity.
But how many other such movements can we point to? The Vietnam antiwar movement? I don’t think so. Those increasingly boisterous demonstrations went on year after year before the nation just got tired of the war.
Which brings us to the Black Lives Matter movement.
A friend connected to law enforcement observed that the demonstration Sunday evening seemed rather confused and disorganized. I’m not surprised. Remember the rather silly Occupy movement? It was a core principle to those folks that no one be in charge. Well, rattle off the names of some key Black Lives Matter movement leaders. Maybe you can. I can’t.
So far, the first word I can think of to describe BLM is “amorphous.” I don’t know where to grab hold of it. And I don’t know whom to ask, What, precisely, are you trying to achieve? What specific actions do you want to see taken? Yeah, I know, the movement doesn’t want to see cops killing people without justification. We all want that. But what are the specific steps you want taken? How do you get from here to where you want to be?
Is it just about, as Mick Jagger would say, venting your frustration?
The chaotic, disorganized nature of the modern demonstration was on particularly extreme display the other night in Dallas. I’m not talking about that one nut who was killing cops — I certainly wouldn’t blame the demonstrators for that. But I’m talking about the overall scene, as mentioned in this editorial by The Washington Post:
THE SOLUTION to a bad guy with a gun, it is often said, is a good guy with a gun. Yet according to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings (D), there were 20 to 30 good guys openly carrying guns among the protesters whom Dallas police were supervising last Thursday night, when Micah Xavier Johnson began picking off officers. “In the middle of a firefight,” the mayor said Sunday, “it’s hard to pick out the good guys and the bad guys.”…
This is a movement that needs some people in charge, making some rules. And it also needs to decide what it wants our political system to do. Because however much the attendees may wish for a peaceful demonstration, the elements of violence were there even if that one murderous sniper had not shown up.
Of course, I have a prejudice here, one that’s been noted here a number of times: I just don’t hold with taking to the streets, under most circumstances. And I take that way back in history: Calling a Continental Congress to debate and eventually declare independence was the way to go about getting free from King George — shooting at British soldiers in Lexington and Concord more than a year before that declaration was not. Nor was the Boston Tea Party — pure hooliganism, destroying other people’s property — more than a year before that.
Yeah, I know, you’ll say we wouldn’t have gotten to the point of Independence without that year of fighting first, and you may be right. But we can’t know, can we, because that’s not the way it went down.
Over the weekend my wife and I watched the movie “Suffragette.” (Side note: If you’re looking for a “feel-good” movie, this isn’t it — very depressing.) And I found myself recoiling at one of the first scenes — nicely dressed ladies smashing windows with rocks on Oxford Street (no, I couldn’t tell whether it was Selfridge’s).
Yeah, that was preceded by words saying that a generation of more dignified approaches had accomplished nothing. But I was not persuaded. If I were trying to persuade people that I should have the vote, I wouldn’t think that throwing rocks would make anyone think I was good voter material. I’d want to persuade people that having people like me vote would be an actual enhancement to civilization.
(Mind you, I think peaceful marches by the suffragettes were probably one of those cases when, as with the Civil Rights movement, taking to the streets was the thing to do. After all, what else were those ladies going to do — they couldn’t vote.)
Anyway… I am in my own way as unfocused as the Occupy folks were. I’ve gone from talking about peaceful demonstrations and what they accomplish to violence, or at least destruction of property.
Yeah, I know the difference, and no, I don’t know where I’m going with this. But I do know that time and time again, when I see people take to the streets, whether nonviolently or not, I tend to wonder, what is being accomplished here?
I have to wonder do most of these people have jobs? if so, I would like my company to implement their personal leave program because they have generous benefits.
Parents stuck on I-40 during protest call paramedics to help young son
“Bobby Harrell was the paramedic on that call.” So THAT’S what he’s been doing…
One thing I learned from watching “Suffragette,” starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Romola Garai — apparently, the suffragettes were all really, really good-looking. This was something I had not realized before…
Meanwhile, the males of the species were represented by Brendan Gleeson. So we blokes didn’t look so great. Great actor, though. Did you ever see “The Guard?” I loved that…
Sorry about the unevenness of this post. I went into it thinking I had something to say, but it wandered…
If I’d taken the time I used to take on columns for the paper, I could have ironed out the logical inconsistencies and made it more appealing…
I went into it with several ideas, but only got to some of them.
One was that I wanted to raise a question: How precious is the right to vote? It’s a biggie, no question. Very important, even though it’s a little hard to fully appreciate it in an election year such as this one.
But is it the most essential right? Is it the one from which all others spring? Not really, I don’t think. I think the ones entailed in the First Amendment come higher — the ones that add up to freedom of conscience.
What would I be prepared to do to get suffrage if I didn’t have it? March? I suppose so. Break windows? I don’t know about that…
But I would definitely use the other rights I just mentioned. I’d write about it; I’d speak about it. I’d peaceably assemble, and petition the government for redress….
I’m going to make that into a separate post.
At least in the case of the suffragettes they had marched peacefully several times, written letters, and attempted various legal approaches to get the vote. But they couldn’t. Likewise, blacks had no power until the Federal Government got behind them. And at least they supposedly had the right to vote. The women had nothing. The only way to get attention was to raise a ruckus. And they endured a lot. I believe that it was only through their obdurate refusal to take no for an answer that they finally got the vote. If they hadn’t marched, hadn’t protested, and done so in large groups they would have been isolated and overcome. The marching and even the property damage are the only tools that the marginalized have left. Sometimes, it’s also the only way to let other would be protesters know that they aren’t alone. It’s only when the protesters become a large group rather than some small ones, and only when they persist and make it difficult for everyone else to go about their business are they likely to be heard.
Maybe it’s a stretch, but Coxey’s Army in 1894 bolstered the Progressive Movement and foreshadowed the New Deal programs of the CCC and WPA. One of Coxey’s demands was for the federal government to hire unemployed workers for road improvements and other work after the Panic of 1893. Maybe it influenced a young FDR? The New Deal certainly changed the role of the federal government and paved the way for the Great Society and Obamacare. Just a thought.
“Suffragette” commits the double crime of being both dull and depressing.
“And I take that way back in history: Calling a Continental Congress to debate and eventually declare independence was the way to go about getting free from King George — shooting at British soldiers in Lexington and Concord more than a year before that declaration was not. Nor was the Boston Tea Party — pure hooliganism, destroying other people’s property — more than a year before that.
Yeah, I know, you’ll say we wouldn’t have gotten to the point of Independence without that year of fighting first, and you may be right. But we can’t know, can we, because that’s not the way it went down.”
So–you make a historical judgment, and then immediately turn around and deny your competence to make a historical judgment? A couple of things to point out: It wasn’t until the conflict between the colonies and the Mother Country became a rebellion to be suppressed that “getting free from King George” was really on the table. Up to that point the colonists’ big beef was with Parliament, not the king; everything that riled the colonists from the Stamp Act forward to 1774 stemmed from acts of Parliament. After all, since 1688 Britain had been a constitutional monarchy, not an absolute one, with Parliament in the driver’s seat. Americans had actually been loyal subjects; all those statues of King George that were torn down during the Revolution had been erected by the same people who tore them down. Quite a few people (Ben Franklin, for instance) wanted to stay in the Empire, just with a renegotiated role for the colonials. Perhaps the conflict could have been settled short of a break; for well over a century historians have been scratching their heads over the triviality of the squabble. But when it became a rebellion, it was the King’s job to suppress it. That was what forced independence, and led people to start listening to radicals like Tom Paine who advocated doing away with monarchs altogether. You can imagine the Revolution as the product of a high-minded debating club all you want; the reality was wildly different.