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Don’t Fall for the Civility Trick

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While the right goes full fascism, writer after writer in mainstream publications, spills much more ink about the horrors of someone confronting Scott Pruitt or Sarah Huckabee Sanders in a restaurant. In doing so, they are creating utterly absurd versions of the past, such as this ridiculous Wall Street Journal editorial claiming that the good socialists of Michael Harrington’s era would be outraged at the terrible mean socialists of today, which only sort of brushes away all the bombings and blood throwing and direct confrontations by the left of the Vietnam War era. The truth doesn’t matter because it’s all about discrediting the contemporary left.

Meanwhile, in the face of actual incivility, such as the asshole in the picture above, activists have in fact repeatedly moved their ideas forward through direct confrontation that challenges the fascists and warmongers and racists and homophobes wherever they are. This is a good essay on how the gay rights movement used incivility to such effectiveness.

On April 13, 1970, New York Mayor John Lindsay and his wife arrived at the Metropolitan Opera House. It was opening night of the season, and Romeo Et Juliette was playing. The Republican mayor had no idea he was about to be ambushed by members of the newly formed Gay Activist Alliance (GAA). The protesters infiltrated the event, dressed in tuxedos as to blend in with the elite crowd, and shouted “End Police Harassment!” and “Gay Power!” Their pleas, aimed at the mayor, rang through the packed lobby. Despite the headlines made a year earlier during the Stonewall riots, Lindsay had refused to enact a city-wide anti-discrimination ordinance. Gay rights activists would continue to confront him in public over the next two years, showing up to boo, stomp shout, and rush the stage at his weekly television show tapings.

In 1972, in response to the unrelenting pressure, Lindsay at last signed an executive order prohibiting city agencies from discriminating against job candidates based on sexual orientation.

From its inception in the early 1970s through its response to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s, the American gay liberation movement pursued the political strategy of persistent confrontation of public figures. They pioneered this hit-and-run tactic, known as the “zap action,” to court necessary media attention and force homophobic figures and institutions to acknowledge gay rights, a protest technique inspired by other New Left groups like the Yippies and radical feminist collectives. Together, they set the historical precedent of the type of shaming and heckling that has disrupted the routines of GOP leaders as of late.

This of course included ACT-UP one of the bravest and most successful protest movements in American history. These are the actions that we should follow and emulate. Don’t listen to this civility garbage. It’s just a ploy by conservatives to stop the left from succeeding. Unfortunately, liberals will all too often fall into this trap themselves and fret about what those crazy radicals are doing. They also should be ignored. The future of change is direct confrontation with power. Go for it.

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