Speaking of civil disobedience, Congressman John Lewis will be in Providence on Friday and I can hardly wait to ask the this living legend of the struggle for civil rights what he thinks of the instantly infamous Shout Down at Brown.
Lewis, like those who prevented Ray Kelly from lecturing on his controversial and currently unconstitutional “stop and frisk” policing style, broke the rules of civil society in an effort to force our nation to have a conversation about racism. He was arrested 40 times during the 60’s, and here’s what I heard him say at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington:
“…we used what we had to bring about a nonviolent revolution (applause) And I say to all of the young people that you have to push and to pull to make America what America should be for all of us.”
It’s really worth listening to what this icon said just a few weeks ago about civil disobedience:
There are both obvious similarities and differences in how Lewis pushed and pulled for change during the Civil Rights era compared to the direct action successfully coordinated by a surprisingly organized coalition of Brown students and local community organizers. For one, Lewis broke rules he felt were unjust. And when he did interrupt civil society he did so merely with his presence, or his blackness, as the case was.
It’s worth noting that Gandhi’s world-changing Salt March was in tactic more akin to refusing to pay a bridge toll than shouting down an invited guest. But it’s also worth noting that Nelson Mandella was best known for leading a known-terrorist organization, Spear of the Nation, before doing 27 years hard time for other reasons.
There’s no doubt in my mind that nonviolent resistance is a more effective change agent than its morally inferior cousin civil disobedience. But there is also little doubt in my mind that if local activists want Rhode Island to have a discussion about civil rights, playing by the rules will not work. The left has lost serious ground on important issues that smack of latent racism in recent years, such as voter ID and high stakes testing. Both initiatives, like “stop and frisk,” target minority populations and these angles don’t get a fair share of attention in our marketplace of ideas.
Perhaps it’s telling that the Providence Journal’s day 2 story on this Shout Down at Brown does not offer insight from DARE, the Olneyville Neighborhood Association or Fuerza Laboral but it does have perspectives from both the Heritage Foundation and the CATO Institute – two groups that advocate for low taxes and small government, not civil rights or free speech.
In a way, there is a connection between austerity and what Ray Kelly calls “proactive policing.” It places a higher value on efficiency than individual liberty. When that starts happening, and information gatekeepers like the media and academia, don’t want to talk about it, it’s worth forcing the conversation a little bit.