What makes a protest organization effective?
|MLK leading a march in Selma, Alabama to end the suppression of black voting rights.|
From 1954 to 1965, the Civil Rights Movement focused on challenging segregation laws in the South. The earliest and one of the most effective civil rights organization was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Originating from W.E.B. DuBois' Niagara Movement, the NAACP had a mission. They found injustice wherever it existed and then sued to draw attention to the injustice and, hopefully, find legal remedy for it. They continue this quest to this day.
|This image from www.naacp.org|
Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system...
...We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place...
...the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to deprive the states of power to enforce Black Codes or anything else like it. We charge that they are Black Codes. They obviously are Black Codes if you read them. They haven't denied that they are Black Codes, so if the Court wants to very narrowly decide this case, they can decide it on that point.
...now is the time, we submit, that this Court should make it clear that that is not what our Constitution stands for. - (See the full argument here.)
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) emerged in 1957 as a network of local groups committed to non-violent protest. Their first efforts focused on educating and registering black voters in time for the 1960 election.
They also coordinated with local organizations like the Montgomery Improvement Association to protest segregation (Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott) and promote voting rights in Birmingham and Selma.
BTW, there is a new movie out called "Selma" so #marchon.
By 1962, the SCLC also focused on the economic plight of African Americans, many of whom faced discrimination in the workplace and lived in poverty.
All of us learn that MLK had a dream that one day his kids would grow up in a world without racial discrimination, but most forget that the "March on Washington" was actually the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom."
The idea originated with A. Philip Randolph (Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters) who wanted to protest the exclusion of African Americans from wartime jobs in the defense industry back in 1941.
Even so, it didn't happen until 1963 when Randolph and King coordinated their efforts and, working with President Kennedy and other civil rights groups, amassed 200,000 in Washington to promote a comprehensive civil rights bill to stop segregation, protect black voting rights, and end workplace discrimination.
Although there has been some historic debate about the degree of leadership within each of the civil rights groups, no one can deny that King and the SCLC gave some cohesiveness to the network of local movements and added clout to their interactions with politicians and community leaders.
The SNCC or "Snick"
The Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) emerged in 1960 as an offshoot of the "Greensboro Four" sit-in. Although the SCLC and SNCC worked cooperatively in the early years, this youth organization was separate from the SCLC and took on some of the riskiest non-violent protests, like sit-ins and the Freedom Rides.
Although the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) planned the Freedom Rides and started them, it was members of SNCC who continued them when things got ugly.
|Freedom Rider Jim Zwerg after the stop in Montgomery, Alabama|
|John Lewis, the Freedom Rider and SNCC Chairman|
|John Lewis, the Democratic Congressman from Georgia's 5th District|
The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) is a Chicago-based organization that started some of the early protests and worked cooperatively with other civil rights organizations. Although it still exists, the organization was at its height in the early civil rights period. CORE organized some of the early sit-ins in Chicago in the 1940's and the Greensboro Four sit-in in 1960 that sparked other organizations (like SNCC) to start them.
|Four Freshmen at North Carolina A&T State University staged a sit-in |
at the Woolworth's lunch counter.
The Freedom Rides were organized by CORE and the name "Freedom Rides" was coined by one of the first Freedom Riders (and publicity officer), James Peck. Like the other three organizations above, CORE was a non-violent protest organization that worked to end segregation.
|James Peck was attacked on the Freedom Rides in Anniston, Alabama.|
While many argue that this was not nearly enough and we can all agree that the work was not (and is not) finished, these organizations managed to push a reluctant nation and political system into action and achieved tangible and long-lasting results. Even if the work was not done, it was still a significant building block - a step in the right direction.
These early civil rights organizations did something right. So what was it?
First, these organizations were ORGANIZED. They didn't achieve success by accident. They gathered together, set specific goals, planned ways to achieve them, and then implemented the plans.
Second, they were INCLUSIVE. These groups lived by the philosophies they preached. This was not a "blacks only" or "whites only" movement. This was a people's movement. It was comprised of people who shared a common goal of equality and practiced it in their own lives.
Third, these organizations were NON-VIOLENT. They understood the simple concept of "two wrongs do not make a right." The power comes from being right - not from being able to overpower physically.
Today, protest tactics range from simple public awareness campaigns to "hacktivism" to armed rebellion or even terrorism.
|Image from http://securityaffairs.co/wordpress/4986/cyber-crime/they-are-not-what-you-think-they-are-they-are-hacktivists.html|
Is violent protest ever justified? If so, where is the line and who draws it?