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The Kids Are Alright

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Look, I am ambivalent about the college occupations and tent camps. I am not sure of this as a strategy and I often don’t see endgames to the idea of occupying space. But what do I care? Why should I be the person telling young people what to do? What I can say is some of the comments on Paul’s post yesterday show a shocking lack of historical context and a myopia that comes from constant attention to the 24-hour media cycle where everything is framed through how it affects the presidential election.

We need to step back here. First, the idea that the civil rights movement DID IT ALL RIGHT AND WHY CAN’T THE KIDS BE LIKE THEY WERE IN 1962 is historical nonsense that comes out the liberal version of the flawed history of civil rights. Let’s look back at my Rosa Parks grave post from last week. Everything we know about Parks is basically wrong, she was a huge supporter of armed Black self-defense, worked with Black Power organizations, and was far from a deeply committed nonviolent activist. How does all of this impact how you see Parks? How does it impact how you see the movement as a whole? Maybe it doesn’t, I don’t know. But it should. The CRM was never some unified organization with General King and the highly trained, disciplined troops doing all of this in a way that would not offend whites. I mean, it wasn’t like that at all.

I would also like to point out that when Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, 25 percent of white Americans approved of King. 25%!!!!! A full 75% either did not care about King or loathed him and everything the CRM stood for. I haven’t seen polling on the actions at Columbia and UCLA, but I’d be shocked if it was less than 25%. The idea that if you DO PROTEST RIGHT, everyone will come around to your position and support you is absolutely ahistorical nonsense. No matter what kind of protest action you do, most people very well may hate it.

Moreover, if you want to blame anyone in all of these protests, blame the administrations. Why be a Laurie Pritchett when you can be a Bull Connor? Pritchett was the sheriff in Albany, Georgia who shut down the town’s integration campaign in 1962 through peacefully arresting everyone, giving the media nothing to talk about, and taking their easily bored attention away from the movement. King realized what happened and so specifically chose Birmingham in 1963 because he knew that Connor was too stupid and violent to do that. It worked. King walked into Birmingham specifically to incite violence. Think of this too–King and Ralph Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth and all these leaders planned the children’s march in Birmingham specifically knowing that kids would likely die and that only the blood of children would gain the national attention necessary to push for what became the Civil Rights Act. This was a sacrifice they were willing and even perhaps eager to make.

The administrations could have handled this in the peaceful way, such as happened at Brown. But with university presidents totally under the thumb of right-wing rich donors, they decided to do the Bull Connor thing and make it all worse. Great job!

So again, the idea of protests of the past being this peaceful thing is completely ahistorical. Even the trained nonviolent activists at the core of the early years of SNCC faced massive skepticism from every southern Black population they worked with and most of the people involved in, say, Mississippi were like, OK I guess don’t arm yourself, but we are walking with you and we are armed and we will shoot back. And that’s in 1962, not 1967 or 1968.

There’s also a massive myopia in the liberal world and especially this website that really thinks the only true version of activism is within the Democratic Party. This is, of course, complete nonsense. What social movement of the past went through a political party structure? Even those who eventually did become part of a liberal Democratic Party, such as the labor movement, most certainly started with communists in the streets raising hell, beating up scabs, getting beaten up by cops, and overall doing none of the things that many commenters on this site think of as acceptable activist behavior. Martin Luther King himself would use Democrats when necessary, but then completely reject the mainstream of the party and come out to oppose the Vietnam War, infuriating Lyndon Johnson.

If you are an activist, you have to do what you think is necessary. If that means occupation, i.e, the anti-Vietnam protests, than OK. There’s another conversation to have within activist communities about strategy, agent provocateurs, the role of individual behavior versus the collective, etc. I am willing to listen and contribute to those conversations. But that’s not the conversation at LGM. The conversation is all HOW WILL THIS AFFECT JOE BIDEN IN NOVEMBER.

I don’t know, it seems to me that a quasi-fascist ethno-nationalist government supported engaging in ethnic cleansing if not genocide and killing tens of thousands of people seems to be a problem worth responding to, especially when Joe Biden supports it! And the fact that Jewish students are highly overrepresented in these protests strongly suggests that we need to not frame this as “defending Israel,” because there are lots of Jewish students, plenty of whom who have relatives in Israel, who are opposing the horrid actions in Gaza. You don’t have to think Hamas are anything but the biggest assholes on the planet to be outraged at what is going on and act on it,

And if 20 year old kids do dumb shit in protests, well, 20 year olds do dumb shit all the time. It’s not as if being disciplined and talking about nonviolence is going to make any difference with the vast majority of people who simply oppose all protest. Again, if you think this is unique or significant, you have to reckon with the widespread white hatred for even the nonviolent tactics of King in 68, especially if you are going back to the student protests of 68 to be fearful of the election this fall. People will vote this fall around a number of issues. If they are going to vote for Donald Trump because of some kids at Columbia acting in a certain way in early May, they were going to vote for Donald Trump anyway.

What we should be doing is supporting students in their activism, not whining that they aren’t doing it in our preferred way. I have no preferred way. Because what do I know about what is the right way? There’s no historical evidence that suggests there is a right way.

So stop whining about the protests and do something.

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