Yesterday, a New York Times Op-Ed highlighted a few points about the sometimes grim reality of street protests. The piece, entitled ‘Waiting for a Perfect Protest?‘ was written by a group of clergy men and women. In it they explain a popular myth that all of the civil rights protests were nonviolent.
The truth is that nonviolence was an ideal among protesters fighting for civil rights and even though they pursued an education on how to do it, street protests were not always peaceful.
The reality — which is under-discussed but essential to an understanding of our current situation — is that the civil rights work of Dr. King and other leaders was loudly opposed by overt racists and quietly sabotaged by cautious moderates.
They go on:
The civil rights movement was messy, disorderly, confrontational and yes, sometimes violent. Those standing on the sidelines of the current racial-justice movement, waiting for a pristine or flawless exercise of righteous protest, will have a long wait.
Each time they reveal a little more of the reality of street protests and gently refer to ‘the other’ those who were and still are on the sidelines. Those more moderate or conservative Americans who are critical of the efforts of those battling against the real evils of our society: Bigotry, and the injustice and inequality it has perpetuated.
During my time protesting the Iraq War, and organizing during the Occupy movement, I may not have agreed with the people who drove by in pickup trucks and yelled at us to ‘get a job, ‘ but I was not surprised by their sentiments.
Considering myself well beyond surprise, I have been shocked yet captivated by the hypocrisy and shamefulness of the latest rounds of contempt and derision. Even conservative members of the Jewish faith, caught in the meat grinder of arguing against the strategy and tactics of the side fighting against literal Nazis or taking the side of social justice and equality, can’t seem to get it right.
Cue my friend Scott, who just can’t miss another opportunity to further the narrative that it’s more important to call out the violence of Antifa than it is to call out the violence of the Right Wing Extremists. In this round, he mocks the clergy for reminding us there is a grim reality to the history of our country which continues to this day.
There is one dilemma facing progressive calls for action. They can’t grasp that their jargonistic hysteria isn’t the least bit convincing to anyone but them. They argue the point they care passionately about as if to persuade no one who isn’t already desperately on their team, and can’t understand why everyone doesn’t see the world their way. It is, indeed, naive, not to mention unpersuasive, and yet they keep banging their head against the same wall over and over, expecting a different result. You know what that’s the definition of, right?
Yeah, well, nobody told me life was going to be easy.
Unpacking the Southern Strategy
Due to constant dissembling and claims to the contrary, most people today don’t understand the history of the modern Republican Party and the Southern Strategy. From Wikipedia:
In American politics, the southern strategy was a Republican Party electoral strategy to increase political support among white voters in the South by appealing to racism against African Americans. As the Civil Rights Movement and dismantling of Jim Crow laws in the 1950s and 1960s visibly deepened existing racial tensions in much of the Southern United States, Republican politicians such as presidential candidate Richard Nixon and Senator Barry Goldwater developed strategies that successfully contributed to the political realignment of many white, conservative voters in the South to the Republican Party that had traditionally supported the Democratic Party. It also helped push the Republican Party much more to the right.
The fuel for the Southern Strategy engine is as it always has been: racism. While today it is politically challenging to be overtly racist, it’s fair to say conservatives have not exactly embraced minorities, their culture, and all the beautiful gifts diversity and immigration have given our society in America. Racism, and the current strain of nationalism are warm companions. They were also the virulent ideological roots of the NSDAP, also known as Nazi Germany.
What we have seen recently in Charlottesville and cities around the country is the horrible, terrifying legacy of the Southern Strategy laid bare. Young, white men and women, dressed in black armor, emblazoned with white power and Nazi symbols or khakis and white button down shirts (the uniform of America’s well paid, upper-middle class, mostly white office and technology workers). As they marched with torches, as well as Nazi, and Confederate flags, they chanted Nazi slogans and shouted vile, outdated maxims about white supremacy.
What’s a good Conservative leader to do in this situation? Well, what most average Americans don’t know is it would be political suicide for Conservative leaders to finally admit the guys on the side of social justice, fighting bigotry are not only 100% in the right, but that their cause is worthy of the inevitable violence that will ensue when it comes to it. Nazism didn’t go down without a fight last time and showing up to ‘free speech’ marches today armed and armored doesn’t bode well for a peaceful resolution in this century.
And real violence did come. In what was just the next in a long line of domestic terrorism committed by Right Wing Extremists in America, a self-proclaimed Nazi weaponized a car and used it to murder one Antifa protester and injure dozens of others in Charlottesville. One would think, if there was any criticism for violence, a 5 year old could figure out which way it should be pointed.
I honestly don’t think my friend Scott is woefully misinformed (he’s a lot smarter than I am, to be sure) or a shill for the conservative cause. He argues that any violence is wrong, a point upon which we agree. But I am a realist, and I know that violence is also inevitable in a cultural war that has been raging for thousands of years.
However, I also genuinely believe Scott hasn’t thoroughly considered the credibility his thoughtful and nuanced position gives the real shills or the moral peril of normalizing acts of right wing terrorism by criticizing the vanguard of opposing forces.
Some suggest it is the responsibility of the government to stamp out right-wing extremism. However, anyone with more than a casual understanding of the US constitution and out system of justice will know this is not possible. It is the responsibility of everyday citizens to go out there and let the forces of evil know we will not let them rise again. For the sake of morale, those of us who are too old and feeble to fight evil should just root for the good guys.