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?