When you look back at the civil rights movement led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the black community you never saw people fighting or fighting back during a protest. Inspired by Gandhi, and India's battle for civil rights, MLK championed the peaceful approach to protest as an alternative to armed uprising. Peaceful protest was successful.
Millions, black and white, took to the streets in peaceful civil disobedience to authorities. This forced authorities to address the grievances that were the subject of the protests. Yet history recorded no violence, looting, rioting or even disorderly conduct by protesters during those protests. Peaceful protest worked with court cases and legislative efforts to end the Jim Crow laws in the United States.
The white supremacists - aka racists - brought weapons, clubs, dogs, hoses, guns and police. The attacks were brutal. Knowing the attackers were never going to come to justice for the pain that they caused was demoralizing to both the protesters and their loved ones.
Despite this, the protesters never fought or fought back. Before going to a demonstration, those protesting were trained to insure that a positive message would be shown to those in the public and the media. So, during civil rights protests in the 1960s a protester being attacked would run. Or drop into the fetal position to protect head and internal organs. They also sang songs designed to give courage, bond the protesters and shield them from hearing the hateful name calling and insults. Signs were respectful.
Racism was shown for the shameful oppression that it is. There was no opportunity to draw any moral equivalency. The U.S. was shamed into the change that needed to come. Civil rights legislation prevailed.
Today sometimes protests looks like a street brawl. Some protesters come ready to "take the blows" of white supremacist attackers but they are armed with pepper spray, mace, and sticks. Peaceful protest is a shock. In fact, groups like Antifa simply tolerate peaceful allies. Their leaders declare that, "people not ready to get physical on the front lines, shouldn't come." Shouting obscenities has replaced the dignified singing of the past. Attire imitates genitalia at times. Signs include obscenity and vulgar insults. Civil protest of immoral and racist laws has been replaced with disorderly conduct.
Why such a change you may wonder? Protest in the '60s was spearheaded by black leaders (members of the Republican party btw) - with values deeply rooted in the black church. MLK and his followers took non-violent protest and transformed this nation.
Today, civil rights protest against racism is rarely spearheaded by black leaders. Generally if there are any black leaders, they take a back seat within a large liberal coalition (or sometimes conservative coalition) of white led groups. This concession of black power is a trade for funding from the white groups who then lead from their belief systems. Our local protest of the KKK at City Hall last week is an example. The VFW, Socialists, The Green Party, Antifa and many others overshadowed any black participation or leaders. The NAACP received less than 15 minutes speaking time in a rally against white supremacy and racism that lasted about two hours. The nation's premiere organization and experts against racism, one of, if not the main driver of the victories of the '60s - was not running the event. And so it is around the country.
Today's takeover of the civil rights movement is most often secular, violent and without moral surety. The actions of some of these allies give rise to the sense of moral equivalency. This despite the fact that almost all of our citizens agree that white supremacy is not welcome in our nation. Allies in the white conservative community look on in dismay but rarely take to the street except for pro-life rallies.
Perhaps a multicultural mandate for peace (with new leaders and allies who will follow) should rise up and take back leadership of the movement against racism. Regardless of who leads, or participates, today's civil rights movement must return to peaceful protest to win. We need to put the CIVIL back in the civil rights movement.
Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Rachel is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.