Spinning Constructive Disruption

By Barney Blakeney

Things really are spinning – not out of control, but almost to the point of confusion. I’ve been busy the past few weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic and this past week the police murder of George Floyd intensified all that. In the old days I’d flip on the automatic pilot switch and cruise control through. Nowadays that doesn’t work as well. I’m a short-timer. At my age, I gotta get done whatever I need to get done while I still can get it done.

The May 25 police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn. is upstaging the world COVID pandemic in ways unimaginable previously. Who’d think that some socially conscious artist in Syria would be painting a mural about an unarmed Black man in America being killed by police? Apparently the global hypocrisy of American justice is recognized more than we think.

Here in Charleston protesters are on the case in ways I never thought I’d see in this community. I was a kid during the turbulent ‘60s. As race riots took place all across the country, Charleston was relatively calm. After Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated only a few tires in Black neighborhoods were set afire.

The acquittal of the cops who on camera beat the hell out of Rodney King also sparked protests across the country, but Charleston was quiet. Even the brazen murder of Walter Scott or the racially motivated murder of our friends and family at Emanuel AME two months later failed to light a fire in Charleston. You can go back 200 years, and I can’t think of anything that brought Charleston to  mass protest of the kind we see now – well maybe the hospital strike of 1969.

There are those who say the violent protests that occurred in downtown Charleston May 29 is not the kind of protest we need. I disagree. Revolution never is orderly or without casualties. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass said it 200 years ago, “Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

 Did some opportunists take advantage of the noble cause for which most of the protesters were out there? Sure they did. But I heard two store owners say that looters cost them their life savings. Hell, the injustice perpetrated against George Floyd cost him his life!

The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us there is a season for everything. As harsh as it may seem, I believe there is a season and a place for violent protest and the seemingly wanton vandalism and looting that comes with it. Clemson football coach Dabo Sweeney said, “These are challenging times – where there is no challenge, there is no change.”

But just as I believe there is a time and place for disruptive protest, I also believe that disruption must be coupled with constructive collaboration. Heather Gray, whose ‘Justice Initiative’ column I read regularly offered some suggestions. Following is some of what she said:

“What are the demands and/or what are the solutions to this on-going police violence? As Martin Luther King, Jr. has taught us all in his revolutionary activism, ultimately, demonstrations should be coupled with concrete demands.

“I think that one of the sad legacies of the 1960’s civil rights movement was that people seem to think that demonstrations like those in the 1960’s almost magically led to changes, or justice and nothing could be further from the truth. Direct action, as in demonstrations, was largely that last action in a campaign. And when most people demonstrated in the 1960’s they were invariably clear about their demands – they largely knew precisely what they wanted changed in the society.

“Now, I’m sure King had his ‘dreams’ but his primary mission, and those of civil rights activists everywhere, was about ‘action’ coupled with concrete and definitive change. Everyone concerned about injustice should take another look at King’s nonviolent methods. Nonviolent social change requires long, hard and sustained work; research; development of solutions; and, importantly, on-going commitment. It demands far more than bringing folks together to march, demonstrate and wave banners. Mass mobilization or direct action, in fact, is only one part of the nonviolent methods for social change.

“Based on the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, the Kingian method for nonviolent social change is a systematic one. Here is a brief summary: (1) once the problem is identified it is essential to research the issue (i.e. define the problem, who are the key players, who or what is being affected) – the research and analysis should be above reproach as disputed or incorrect facts and figures can completely undermine the efforts for the evolving campaign; (2) based on the research, state clearly what needs to change to solve the problem and identify the strategy for solving the problem; (3) recruit others to join the struggle, share your findings and strategies, get their input if necessary, but essentially seek a commitment from them (i.e. this is the problem, this is what we intend to do, are you with us?) (4) teach them in nonviolent tactics (i.e. being non-confrontational during direct action); (5) attempt to resolve the problem through negotiations (i.e. negotiations with whoever controls the policies needing to be changed); (6) if that doesn’t work, apply pressure through direct action techniques, which at times need to be sustained for a lengthy period (i.e. boycotts, mass demonstrations); (7) negotiate again, and, if necessary, engage in direct action again – often more research is required or more clarity on the solutions needs to be developed; (8) finally, if the problem is solved, seek reconciliation.

And finally Gray said, “The issue that also gets lost is that King sought ‘reconciliation’ with his adversaries and an improvement of life for everyone. This is the end goal and if victory is all that’s wanted then that’s not Kingian nonviolence. Reconciliation is also probably the most difficult aspect of the Kingian philosophy for activists to embrace. In his book “Stride Toward Freedom” King said that the nonviolent methods are not an end in themselves; they are merely a means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.”

Though things are spinning, we must not allow them to spin out of control.

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